schenkby Christine Schenk, NCR

A plethora of conferences about women have popped up all over Rome in the last three months. The Vatican’s former hard-line freeze on discussing women’s roles may at last be thawing out.

The Pontifical Council for Culture’s controversial February event, “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference,” was the first to break the ice. A month later, Voices of Faith hosted a searingly honestdiscussion by female theologians and activists from inside Vatican walls.

SAINTS REPRESENTED IN CHURCH WINDOWThen, on April 14, the U.S. embassy to the Holy See sponsored an interreligious conference on “Women’s Leadership in Conflict Resolution: Faith Perspectives.” Cardinal Peter Turkson shared a private conversation he had with Pope Francis, who told him he saw no obstacles to a woman or married couples being appointed as the new secretary of justice and peace or as heads of the pontifical councils for the laity and for the family. (Turkson, however, was careful to remind attendees of the need to “de-couple” the question of women’s roles from priestly ordination.)

Most recently, Rome’s Pontifical University Antonianum and four embassies to the Holy See sponsored an April 28 conference on women in the church. Significantly, Catholic Health Association president Sr. Carol Keehan was an invited speaker.

Any time a staunch Affordable Care Act advocate like Keehan is invited to speak at a pontifical university in Rome, it’s a good bet that U.S. nuns aren’t the bad girls of the Bible anymore…

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