Pope Benedict has appointed a lay woman, Flaminia Giovanelli, as a superior in one of its dicasteries, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Each dicastery is headed by a prefect (usually a cardinal or archbishop), assisted by a secretary (usually an archbishop or bishop) and an under-secretary (usually a monsignor or cleric). The only other woman serving as an under-secretary is a Salesian sister, thus making the latest assignment another precedent.
When asked by reporter John Allen about what her appointment says about the Church’s recognition of the talents of women, she answered, “Maybe it’s growing in what I might call a visible way, but it’s always been there, and anyone who knows the life of the church and its mechanisms, including its institutions, knows that women have always had a very important role. Now, I would say, that’s becoming more visible.”
Indeed, the faith is not about titles and power grabs, which is what some confused souls believe in their push for women’s ordination. She is absolutely right that women have always been extremely important, beginning with the foundational fact that all of our joy rests in the fiat of Our Lady. Priests are icons of the Bridegroom, which explains the proscription against women priests. Yet women find that being icons of Holy Mother Church, the Bride, allows them tremendous latitude in their own feminine service, as a story such as this illustrates.
It is particularly intriguing that one of the next major tasks of her office is to promote the beautiful message of Benedict’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. The relationship between love and truth, and justice and peace is profound and inescapable. As Aquinas put it so succinctly, “peace is a product of right order,” and the order of love demands a radical rethinking of how many secular observers look at peace in our time.
Mother Teresa was blunt in her assessment of the disorder of our day, blaming abortion for the woes of the world. In her address to the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994, she noted, “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.” Elsewhere, she explained how that disorder at the heart of the family causes a ripple effect that covered the world.
The hearts of women are integral to the battle over abortion, but peace is broader in scope than their views on reproduction. Peace is founded in their receptivity to God’s invitation to love, which has an order of its own. Pope John Paul II explained this in “The Dignity and Vocation of Women,” where he wrote, “In God’s eternal plan, woman is the one in whom the order of love in the created world of persons takes first root” (MD, 29).
Thus, even the quiet lives of women — often hidden, humble, and limited by a variety of circumstances –can have a tremendous impact on how peace is manifest in the world. It begins when their receptivity of the love of God is translated into concrete expressions of love for those they encounter on a daily basis. Furthermore, their loving collaboration with men can transform corners of the globe that no government agency or corporate project can penetrate.
We should offer our heartiest congratulations Ms. Giovanelli for this ground-breaking honor, as well as our prayers for her effective service for years to come, but remember that this visible honor on the institutional level is only a mirror of what must be lived in every setting.