Pope Francis has taken two steps to empower women in the Catholic Church's hierarchy, answering calls for change from laypeople, some bishops, and the pope himself. In both cases, women have been appointed to positions that until now have been held only by men, NBC reports. Nathalie Becquart, a French nun, was named Saturday as co-undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops. The body advises the pope and prepares meetings of world bishops held every few years to address major doctrinal issues. Becquart, 52, will be the first woman to have the right to vote in the all-male assemblies. Women have been involved in the synods before, but only men have voted whether to approve documents sent to the pope. In the other appointment, Francis selected Italian magistrate Catia Summaria as promoter of justice in the Vatican’s Court of Appeals, the first woman in that job.
"A door has been opened," said Cardinal Mario Grech, the synod’s secretary-general. "We will see what other steps could be taken in the future." The next synod is planned for fall 2022, per Euronews. A petition urging the vote for women received more than 10,000 signatures at a synod in 2018. A theologian welcomed Becquart's appointment, calling it meaningful. "Synodality is at the heart of Pope Francis' ministry and will be crucial to this legacy," Luigi Gioia said, per the National Catholic Reporter. But it doesn't solve the problem, he said, adding that the number of women and laypeople involved in the synods "remains insignificant." After a seven-week absence, Pope Francis returned to public view Sunday, greeting a Vatican crowd from a window overlooking St. Peter's Square. "In the square again!" he said, per the AP. (Read more Pope Francis stories.)