Following a newly revamped constitution, the Vatican’s Holy See will now take in three women chosen by Pope Francis into the ‘Dicastery for Bishops’ – one of the oldest and most prestigious organisations in Catholicism.

The three women are nuns Raffaella Petrini and Yvonne Reungoat, and laywoman Maria Lia Zervino – each of whom are the latest in a concerted effort from Pope Francis to enforce gender equality in one of humanity’s oldest, longest-lasting patriarchal organisations.

Who Are The Three Chosen?

The three women were previewed in an interview last week, and hail from South America to Western Europe.

María Lía Zervino

María Lía Zervino

The Argentine president general of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO), Zervino heads one of the oldest such foundations in the world, which represents a massive body of over eight million Catholic women. She also holds a membership with the Association of Consecrated Virgins “Servidoras,” and consults for the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Zervino wrote a powerful open letter back in 2021 addressed to the Pope, with whom she is described as a close friend. In it, she strongly advocated the upliftment of women within Catholicism:

“I dream of a Church that has suitable women as judges in all the courts in which matrimonial cases are processed, in the formation teams of each seminary, and for exercising ministries such as listening, spiritual direction, pastoral health care, care for the planet, defense of human rights, etc., for which, by our nature, women are equally or sometimes better prepared than men,” she wrote. “Not only consecrated women, but how many lay women in all regions of the globe are ready to serve!”

Sister Raffaella Petrini

Sister Raffaella Petrini

Closer to home is 53-year-old Italian Petrini, who hails from Rome. She is the first woman to serve as the secretary general of the Governorate of Vatican City State, making her the second-ranking state representative in the holy city – so much so that Italian media have nicknamed her ‘la Papessa’, or ‘the Popess.’

Apart from now helping choose the world’s bishops, Petrini oversees administrative offices, the police department, the post office, the Vatican’s massive museums, and other responsibilities.

As one of the order’s most educated officials, she started her career by studying political science in Rome, eventually pursuing a doctorate in social sciences at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (AKA the Angelicum), before obtaining a master’s in organizational behaviour from the University of Hartford, Connecticut. She also serves as a professor of welfare economics and sociology at the Angelicum.

She is a member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, based in Meriden, Connecticut. She professed her perpetual vows in 2007 and became a member of the general council in 2017.

Sister Yvonne Reungoat

Sister Yvonne Reungoat

Belonging to the Salesians of Don Bosco, the 77-year-old Sister was born in Plouénan, northwestern France, and spent much of her early life attatched to a religious insitute called the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. She also studied history and geography at the University of Lyon, working as a teacher in the student-city for eleven years.

In 1990, she began serving as delegate of the institute’s provinces of Spain and France for West Africa. In 1991, she was elected superior of the African province of Mother of God, based in Lomé, Togo. By 2008, she came to become the institute’s first non-Italian superior general.

In 2018, Reungoat was elected president of the Union of Major Superiors of Italy. Last year, she was appointed Officer of the Légion d’Honneur, the highest French order of merit.

How Will They Assist The Pope?

Pope Francis

The aforementioned Dicastery for Bishops or Congregatio pro Episcopis is over 400 years old, and therefore has a long history complete with plenty of rules and responsibilities for its members – although its primary focus is to oversee the selection of new bishops, and also schedule the regular five-year ad limina visits to Rome, which every bishop is required to make.

The Dicastery’s members have a well-organized system that has run like clockwork for generations. The three women mentioned above will join in the Dicastery’s Thursday morning meetings, in which the appointments for four of the world’s dioceses (bishop’s districts), of which there are 2,898 in total.

All members receive detailed documentation on each candidate, and in order of seniority, review the information and present their assessments to their colleagues using a ponenze or position paper. A ‘prefect’ then meets with the Pope on Saturday, presenting him with the Dicastery’s various opinions, reviews, and doubts.

While the Pope does have ultimate power over the group’s decision, it’s common for the religious head to agree and eventually, order for an invitation to be extended to the potential new bishop.

(Featured Image Credits: Vatican Media)