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Church News

English nun named by the Pope to lead Vatican policy think-tank

by Premier Journalist

A founding member of the cross-party British political body, the Movement for Christian Democracy, has been named by Pope Francis as the next leader of the Vatican social policy think-tank, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

Dominican Sister Helen Alford is currently dean of the faculty of social sciences at the Angelicum University in Rome, and goes to the Pontifical Academy as its new president.

Commenting to Premier Christian News, the head of the Catholic Digby Stuart College of the University of Roehampton, Professor Francis Davis, said: 

“This appointment puts a British woman in charge not just of a Catholic body but a global intellectual institution of distinction and potential.”

Sister Alford, 58, has been a member of the academy since 2020 and will be the third woman to lead the group of scholars at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Mary Ann Glendon, a professor of law and former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, served as president 2004-2014; and Margaret S. Archer, a British sociologist, served as president 2014-2019.

According to the Catholic News Service, the pontifical academy brings together social scientists — mainly scholars in the fields of economics, sociology, law and political science — to study questions of interest to the Vatican as it develops and promotes the application of Catholic social teaching.

Born in London, Helen Alford worked in industry and earned her Ph.D. in engineering management from Cambridge University before joining the Dominicans. She teaches Catholic social doctrine, business ethics and corporate responsibility.

Speaking shortly before her appointment in Westminster at the annual Michael Fogarty Memorial Lecture, organised by the Movement for Christian Democracy, Sister Helen quoted from the words of Pope Benedict from 2010, “Religion is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital part of the national conversation.”

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