Whispers in the Loggia has mentioned a number of influential women in Pope Benedict's inner circle and, of course, who could forget Sister Judith Zoebelein, the Franciscan nun who heads the Vatican's Internet team? In 2007, the Pope indicated that he wished to promote more women within the Vatican, though in 2008, Cherie Blair, wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair and a Catholic human rights advocate, publicly took the Pope to task for not doing enough in this regard.
In his remarks last month to a conference organized by the Pontifical Council on the Laity on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's "Mulieris Dignitatem", this Pope showed insight into the discrimination that women still face and the fact that religion is too often misused to justify that inequality:
"Opening the work of the 5th General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate last May in Brazil, I recalled how there still persists a macho mentality that ignores the novelty of Christianity, which recognizes and proclaims the equal dignity and responsibility of women with respect to men. There are certain places and cultures where women are discriminated against and undervalued just for the fact that they are women, where recourse is even had to religious arguments and family, social and cultural pressures to support the disparity between the sexes, where there is consumption of acts of violence against women, making them into objects of abuse and exploitation in advertising and in the consumer and entertainment industries. In the face of such grave and persistent phenomena the commitment of Christians appears all the more urgent, so that they become everywhere the promoters of a culture that recognizes the dignity that belongs to women in law and in reality."
And, as he shows below in a catechetical talk he gave in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI is very aware of the role of women in building the early church:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Having become a disciple of her Son, Mary manifested total trust in him at Cana (cf. Jn 2:5), and followed him to the foot of the Cross where she received from him a maternal mission for all his disciples of all times, represented by John (cf. Jn 19:25-27).