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Vatican appoints first female theologians

The Church has named two female theologians as members of the International Theological Commission, but denied the appointments have anything to do with their gender.

Pope John Paul II named the two theologians at the weekend as Sr Sara Butler of Chicago's University of Saint Mary of the Lake and Barbara Hallensleben of Fribourg University in Switzerland.

The list also includes an Australian Redemptorist, Fr Tony Kelly of the Australian Catholic University in Brisbane.

Fr Kelly is Professor of Theology and Head of Sub-Faculty of Philosophy and Theology at the ACU's McAuley Campus. He pursued doctoral and post-doctoral studies in Rome, Toronto and Paris, and was President at Yarra Theological Union, Melbourne, for ten years. He chairs the Forum of Australian Catholic Institutes of Theology and is former President of Australian Catholic Theological Association.

The Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano published the names without comment on Sunday.

Referring to the women on the list, Papal Household theologian Cardinal Georges Cottier said: "They were not chosen because they're women. They were chosen for their competence. It's very positive and I'm very happy."

"Women can bring their own sensitivity to certain problems where men might have a different point of view," he said.

A senior Vatican source remarked that "a barrier has fallen" but said the timing had no link to yesterday's International Women's Day.

Dr Hallensleben, a German who teaches dogmatic theology in Fribourg, said the appointments were a natural step since more women have studied theology after the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council's reforms opened more job possibilities for them.

"My first reaction was not that I was one of the first women appointed but that I now had a new responsibility relating to the theological life of the Church," she told Reuters.

"This shows the Council, not immediately but over a few generations, still bears fruit and provides the impulses it was meant to give to the Church."

Sr Butler, an American systematic theologian who once advocated women's ordination, is now a strong defender of the Church's 2000-year-old tradition of the men-only priesthood.

Vatican appoints first female theologians (Reuters 8/3/04)

Vatican: Two Women Among New 30 Member-International Theological Commission (Vidimus Dominum 8/3/04)
International Theological Commission
International Theological Commission (
Sara Butler: Recent Theological Studies on the Issue (
Anthony J Kelly CSsR Homepage | An Expanding Theology - Faith in a World of Connections

9 Mar 2004