Roman Catholic Church

Pope appoints six women to top roles on Vatican council

Pope Francis has appointed six women to oversee the Vatican’s finances


Pope Francis has appointed six women to oversee the Vatican’s finances including Ruth Kelly, the former Labour minister, in the most senior roles ever given to women within the Catholic church’s leadership.

The appointments mark the most significant step by Francis to fulfill his promise of placing women in top positions. Until now, the 15-member Council for the Economy was all male. By statute, the council must include eight bishops – who are always men – and seven laypeople.

“That six are women is a pretty big quota,” said Joshua McElwee, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. “But the important thing here is that these six women are part of a group that essentially oversees all of the financial activities of the Vatican, so obviously that’s a pretty top-level group.”

The female appointees are all European and have high-profile financial backgrounds.

Leslie Ferrar, a former treasurer to Prince Charles, is the other British woman among the team.

The other women are Charlotte Kreuter-Kirchhof and Marija Kolak, both from Germany, and Maria Concepción Osácar Garaicoechea and Eva Castillo Sanz, both from Spain.

The only layman on the council is Alberto Minali, a former director general at Generali, the Italian insurance company.

The appointments come as the Vatican struggles with its finances, with problems worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and a sharp drop in the number of visitors to the Vatican Museums, a cash cow for the Holy See.

Francis created the Council for the Economy in 2014. “It is essentially the board of surveillance for everything financial within the Vatican, with the only person above it being Pope Francis,” said McElwee.

Other women who have obtained prominent positions during Francis’ papacy include Barbara Jatta, who heads up the Vatican Museums, and Francesca Di Giovanni, the undersecretary of the Vatican’s secretariat of state.

Ruth Kelly, 52, was an economics correspondent for the Guardian for four years in the 1990s, and went on to hold a number of cabinet posts and ministerial positions in Labour governments under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, heading up the departments of education, transport, and communities and local government. In the latter role she was also the women’s minister.

At the age of 36, she was the youngest woman to sit in a British cabinet. But Blair’s surprise appointment of Kelly to be education secretary ruffled feathers among colleagues who believed others were better qualified. She had four children – the first born 11 days after the 1997 election – in her first five years as an MP.

Her devout Catholicism and membership of Opus Dei – a secretive, highly conservative and influential group within the Roman Catholic church – antagonised campaigners for women’s and LGBT rights. She rejected calls to break with the group, saying: “It is a private spiritual life and I don’t think it is relevant to my job.”

But she ruled out working at the Department of Health because of her opposition to abortion, and at the Department for International Development because it promoted the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids.

She also came under fire for sending her son, who had dyslexia, to a very expensive private school.

Kelly resigned from the cabinet in 2008, saying she wanted to spend more time with her family, and she did not stand in the 2010 election. She joined HSBC, and moved in 2015 to St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

Farrer, 65, spent seven years as treasurer to the Prince of Wales, and before that worked for KPMG. Since leaving the royal household she has held a number of non-executive directorships, including at the Institute for the Works of Religion, more commonly known as the Vatican bank.

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