Blink and you would have missed it, but the Vatican has very quietly taken what many Church observers believe is a giant step forward for women's equality, after announcing its first female theologians as Vatican consultants. Last weekend Pope John Paul II appointed the two theologians, Sister Sara Butler of Chicago's University of Saint Mary of the Lake and a one time supporter of women priests, and Barbara Hallensleben of Fribourg University in Switzerland, to the Vatican's influential International Theological Commission, which advises the Pope on theological issues. The former head of the commission and Papal household theologian Cardinal Georges Cottier insisted that the move was not connected to their gender, but one senior Vatican insider said their appointment meant "a barrier has fallen". Cottier said: "They were not chosen because they're women. They were chosen for their competence." He added: "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." Hallensleben, a German who teaches dogmatic theology in Fribourg, said the appointments were a natural step since more women now studied theology in the wake of the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council's reforms which in turn had opened more job possibilities for female theologians. She said: "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. 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." American born Butler has been a supporter of the ordination of women but is now a strong defender of the men only priesthood.
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