By Philippa Hitchen
Thursday March 8th marks International Women’s Day, an event marked in countries around the world to celebrate progress in moving towards equality for women in all areas of political, social and economic life.
The event is also being marked here in Rome with a number of events, sponsored by embassies and other groups seeking to bring women’s voices to the fore.
Fr Luke Hansen is a Jesuit priest and former associate editor of America magazine. As a deacon, he worked at a women’s federal prison in California, a ministry which, he says, significantly affected the way he sees the role of women in the Church.
Fr Luke says his long Jesuit formation brought him into contact with women as spiritual directors and university professors. Women, he says, have already taken on leadership at parish and diocesan level, but one place where they have a less prominent role is in the Vatican. It is an important issue, he adds, “for me to see a greater presence of women in Vatican”.
Commenting on the recent appointment of two new female undersecretaries at the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, Fr Luke says there has been incremental progress. He mentions also the director of the Vatican museums and the first female rector of a pontifical university, but adds these examples “should never be used as an excuse to think we’ve done enough or that the presence of women in strong enough in Curial leadership”.
We have to remain persistent, Fr Luke says, and ensure that qualified women are considered and hired when employment opportunities open up. It’s a process that we must keep moving forward, he says.
Women in ministry
Fr Luke also speaks about his experience serving as a deacon in the federal women’s prison near Oakland in California, an all-female Catholic facility. That experience, he says, “gave me the opportunity to see women ministering to each other, consoling each other, supporting each other in really powerful ways, in ministerial ways”.
He also talks about the stories of sexual violence that he heard, bringing home the reality of how women are treated differently and “are oppressed in every country in the world”. Such inequality, he says, has terrible consequences in women’s lives, and has impacted his views about women in society and the Church. We have to think about the messages we’re sending when women are systematically excluded from certain roles in the church”, he concludes.