Q. I read in a recent National Geographic there were only two countries in the world which do not allow women to vote. One was Saudi Arabia, which for centuries treated women as second-class citizens — not permitting them to be seen in public, for example, except for their eyes, and prohibiting them from driving cars. The other place was Vatican City. Since that article appeared, Saudi Arabia has now extended voting rights to women, leaving the Vatican City State as the only exception. How do you explain that? (Ballston Lake, New York)
A. Your question is a legitimate one, but a bit misleading. In fact, the only election held at the Vatican is the one to choose a new pope, and since the 11th century only cardinals of the church have been eligible to vote. So if you’re one of the 800 citizens of Vatican City State, you don’t get to vote even if you’re a man — unless you happen to be one of the cardinal electors.
The good news, though, is that the number of women working at the Vatican has nearly doubled in the last 10 years, according to a recent study conducted by Vatican Radio. In 2012, a laywoman was named to the position of undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the first laywoman to hold such a high-ranking post in the curial leadership.
Recently, Pope Francis has appointed several women to the International Theological Commission, which assists the Vatican in reviewing doctrinal issues, and, in May of 2016, the pope announced his intention to set up a commission to study the matter of women deacons.
Q. I lost my firstborn son five years ago. Now I have another child, and I have been trying for a year to find a priest to baptize him. In addition to the lingering grief which comes from losing a child, I have both mental and physical illnesses which make it difficult for me to get to church every Sunday.
In fact, I have not been back to church since my child died, but I do pray, and I look forward to teaching my new little boy to pray and to know about God. I believe that my son will not be able to get into heaven unless he is baptized, and I worry about that every day.
My parish said that I would have to attend church for three months before having my child baptized, but I never know how I will feel on a particular Sunday so I can’t guarantee that I will be there. I don’t think it’s fair to my child to deprive him of baptism, of God’s protection and of the chance for heaven just because I am sick. Please tell me what I can do. (City of origin withheld)
A. Normally, to baptize a child a priest needs reasonable assurance that the child will be raised in the Catholic faith. When neither parent has been going to church, your parish has evidently chosen to require three months of regular attendance as a sign of your good intentions.
The parish may be unaware of your personal circumstances and the illnesses that make attendance difficult for you. You might make an appointment with your pastor and discuss your situation.
What you might also do is arrange for another Catholic adult — logically, one of your son’s godparents-to-be — to bring the boy to church as he grows up and to see to his religious education. Comforted by that, your parish may change its mind and schedule the baptism. If not, you might look for a more sympathetic Catholic pastor nearby or write to your bishop and explain the circumstances.
You probably need not worry about your son’s chances for heaven while you seek to work this out. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (in No. 1261) says that “the great mercy of God … and Jesus’ tenderness toward children … allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism.”
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St. Albany, N.Y. 12208.