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Meet Mother Tekla: 'the most powerful woman in Rome'

Profile of an extremely well connected abbess

Meet Mother Tekla: 'the most powerful woman in Rome'

Mother Tekla with Pope John Paul II (picture: AFP/vatican/Osservatore Romano/NCR)

Jason Berry for National Catholic Reporter
Vatican City

June 18, 2013

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If the leadership of American nuns is the vanguard of a progressive spirit up against the Vatican, Mother Tekla Famiglietti is a throwback to the past: an orthodox leader who learned the rules of the game and wields power in the all-male world of the Roman Curia.

The 75-year-old head of an international order and a staunch traditionalist, the Italian-born Mother Tekla has, for more than three decades, built a power base with considerable financial prowess.

She established a long relationship with Pope John Paul II and was among the small group in vigil at the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace the night he died. Her relationship with Pope Benedict XVI was not as warm, and she was kept at a distance from the small circle Benedict called La Famiglia that was central to his daily life. It remains to be seen whether her connections in the Curia will yield access to Pope Francis. But few would disagree that she has already left a distinctive imprint at the Vatican and on the Catholic church.

As the abbess general of the Order of the Most Holy Savior of St. Bridget since 1979, she has cultivated global relationships with everyone from Fidel Castro to casino owners to further the goals of her order. She oversees a small empire of hotels, guesthouses and restaurants from Israel to India and from Darien, Conn., to Assisi, Italy, that bring in big revenue for her order. The media has taken Mother Tekla to task for exploiting nuns who clean, make beds and cook, but her order has also been widely praised for a bold, worldwide initiative against the trafficking of women. She is a unique and complex player in the global Catholic church, often referred to as "the most powerful woman in Rome."

Full Story: Mother Tekla: the most powerful woman in Rome

Source: National Catholic Reporter

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