By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
NEW YORK – Less than two months after serving as delegate in the Bishops Synod on Youth which called women’s leadership within the Church “a duty of justice,” Bishop Frank Caggiano has established a new leadership model in a Connecticut parish, appointing a woman to serve as parish life coordinator.
The appointment of Dr. Eleanor W. Sauers, which was announced on Sunday in a letter to parishioners of St. Anthony of Padua in Fairfield, Connecticut, grants Sauers decision-making authority over a team of priests who will be responsible for sacramental ministry.
“We are at a very particular moment in the history of our Diocese, and indeed, within our Church,” Bishop Caggiano wrote to parishioners. “As I travel throughout Fairfield County, it has become apparent to me that many lay women and men are seeking new ways to serve their parishes, and, in collaboration with the clergy, to create vibrant and thriving communities.”
He went on to note that the appointment was the first of its kind in the diocese of Bridgeport and added that it has support in canon law.
Sauers, who holds a Bachelors degree from Emmanuel College in Boston and a master’s degree and a Doctor of Philosophy from Fordham University’s Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education, had already taken on an extended leadership role within the parish following the untimely death of its former pastor who died at the age of 59 in March.
Bishop Caggiano said his decision to appoint Sauers comes after a period of discernment, which included two meetings with the leadership of the parish.
“Her responsibilities, as it is with any priest or deacon appointed as Administrator, is to work with the parish community to develop and foster its pastoral vision and mission,” he wrote. “She will continue to be present to the parish in times of celebration and sadness. Her education, formation, and experience makes her professionally, academically, and spiritually ready for this role.”
At a Theology on Tap event last month in Washington, D.C., reflecting on the Synod on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment, Bishop Caggiano was asked how he would implement the Synod’s call for concrete inclusion of women in Church leadership.
He said at the time that he hoped to make an announcement in the coming weeks to appoint the first woman to lead a parish within his diocese.
Bishop Caggiano was one of six U.S. bishops who served as delegates during the October Synod in Rome.
“The absence of women’s voices and points of view impoverishes discussion and the path of the church, subtracting a precious contribution from discernment,” declared the final outcome document from the Synod.
“The synod recommends making everyone more aware of the urgency of an inescapable change,” it continued.
Sauers appointment will take effect on January 1, 2019.