The pope has appointed a Harvard Law School professor as head of a body of academic advisers to the Holy See, making her the highest-ranking female adviser in the Catholic church.
Hand Professor of Law Mary Ann Glendon was named president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on Tuesday by Pope John Paul II, according to a statement released by the Vatican.
The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences was created by the pope in 1994 to advise the church on its social doctrine from an academic perspective. The body helps keep the church abreast of current scholarship in the social sciences.
Glendon will remain a professor at Harvard while she heads the academy, all 33 members of which are professional academics.
David W. Kennedy, director of the European Law Research Center and Hudson professor of law, said that Glendon’s human rights activism and “commitment to social justice” make her a good fit for the post.
“She’s been very active in the national Catholic scene as an advocate for social justice,” he said.
Glendon’s research interests include bioethics, human rights and international law. Her most recent book is A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In a 1997 speech before a subgroup of the Synod of Bishops, Glendon said that “in today’s harsh economic climate, it is often the church and only the church that lifts up the principles of the priority of human values over economic values, of persons over things.”
Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz said Glendon is an open-minded thinker.
She will “give the pope and the Vatican very sound and moderate advice on issues that are important to the whole world,” Dershowitz said. “Mary Ann Glendon sees all sides of the issues.”
Glendon has served as a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences since its founding.
“She brings a whole career of important contributions to the broader intellectual community as well as to the Catholic community,” Kennedy said.
In 1995, Glendon headed the 22-member Holy See delegation to the U.N.’s Fourth Annual Conference on Women in Beijing. She was the first woman to lead a delegation from the Vatican to a U.N. conference.
Two days before her appointment, the Vatican appointed two female theologians as Vatican consultants for the first time.
“As a message to the lay community, it’s terrific to have a woman in such an important position,” Kennedy said. “She’s been a leader in trying to open doors for women in the Catholic church.”