Pope Francis appoints six women to top posts in progressive step

Pope Francis has appointed six women, including former Labour minister Ruth Kelly, to the council that oversees Vatican finances.

The appointments to one of the Holy See’s most important offices is a progressive step by Francis in fulfilling his promise to improve gender balance.

He has already appointed females as deputy foreign minister, director of the Vatican Museums, and deputy head of the Vatican Press Office, as well as naming four women as councillors to the Synod of Bishops, which prepares major meetings.

Still, Thursday’s new appointments marked the largest number of women named at one time to Vatican posts.

Previously the 15-member Council for the Economy consisted entirely of males.

One cardinal serves as coordinator and the 14 other posts are divided evenly among members of the clergy – always men – and seven laypeople.

The seven-member lay portion now consists of six women and one man. Of the six females, two each are from Britain, Spain and Germany. The sole male lay member is Italian.

Francis established the Council for the Economy, which oversees budgets and sets policy, in 2014 as an international body to oversee the scandal-plagued Vatican finances.

Joshua McElwee, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, told the Guardian ‘it is essentially the board of surveillance for everything financial within the Vatican’, reporting directly to the Pope himself.

The new council is starting its work as the Vatican struggles with its finances, with problems worsened by the coronavirus pandemic forcing it to dip into reserve funds and implement some of the toughest cost control measures ever in the tiny city state.

Ms Kelly served as secretary of state for education and for transport, and as minister for women and equality, under the Labour government between 2004 and 2008.

The other British woman on the council is Leslie Jane Ferrar, who was treasurer to Prince Charles from 2015 to 2017 and now holds a number of non-executive and trustee roles, the Vatican said.

The other four women all have high-profile backgrounds in business, banking and academia.

Francis established the Council for the Economy, which oversees budgets and sets policy, in 2014 as an international body to oversee the scandal-plagued Vatican finances.

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