Sunday, July 08, 2012

"Women in the Church Are Angry!": L'Osservatore's "First Lady" Speaks

On his 2007 appointment as editor of L'Osservatore Romano, Gian Maria Vian was widely expected to make a more lively read of the venerable Vatican daily.

Several times over, that's happened in spades -- both literally, in the paper's rapid transition to color presses and free online circulation of its full editions, and content-wise in giving space to pieces both internally provocative and able to score worldwide buzz on topics ranging from the Beatles to the Obama administration.

Of all his moves, though, as Vian's fifth anniversary in the post approaches, perhaps his most significant, consequential move has been the featured role he's given to the Italian historian Lucetta Scaraffia as one of the paper's top contributors -- the first woman to bear that distinction in L'Osservatore's 151-year history.

The 66 year-old academic -- a Mason's daughter who became one of Italy's founding feminists in the '60s and described herself as a "heretic" before a conversion experience two decades ago -- marked out an iconoclastic path from her first major column, a September 2008 prod to rethink the church's teaching that brain death does not constitute the end of life.

While the front-page piece promptly spurred a clarification from the Holy See Press Office that its author's views did not reflect any authoritative "position of the Magisterium," Scaraffia's profile has only increased since, perhaps as an echo of the Pope's own 2010 statement that Catholic newspapers should "encourage authentic dialogue between the various members of society" and serve as "training-grounds for comparison and loyal discussion between different opinions."

In a piece that year for the Papal Paper, Scaraffia said that the Vatican's 1994 permission for girls to become altar servers -- still a topic of heated debate in some church circles -- proved a watershed for women as "entering into the area of the altar signified the end of an attribution of impurity to their sex."

More recently, Scaraffia's standing rose even further this spring as Vian launched a monthly section on women's issues, an initiative born from an idea of hers.

According to editor and columnist alike, the new feature was undertaken with B16's thumbs-up.

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The background only serves to underscore the columnist's latest rattling of a Roman "taboo," one that could mark a significant turn on the church's long-simmering discussion on issues of gender, power and the role of women -- a thread already running high of late in the Stateside news-cycle amid the recent CDF order for reform of the LCWR and the US bishops' charge for religious freedom in the wake of the proposed Federal contraceptive mandate.

In an interview with Agence France-Presse published yesterday, Scaraffia (left) amplified a point she first aired in a 2010 L'Osservatore piece -- namely, that the lack of women in positions of ecclesial decision-making helped give rise to, among other things, the scope and depth of the church's sex-abuse scandals.

"The pedophilia scandal was almost exclusively male," Scaraffia told the wire's Jean-Louis de la Vaissiere.

"If there had been women in positions of power," she said, "they would not have allowed those things to happen.

"Women have long been reputed as sexually dangerous. But it's clear that the danger" of abuse and its mishandling by church officials "lay with men and children," she added.

Elsewhere in the sit-down, Scaraffia spoke of what AFP termed a "lonely battle," saying that, in some parts of the Curial world, "The indifference is terrible.... There is misogyny in the church.

"It's a closed world, caught up with issues of power. Many in the clergy are afraid that if women come onto the scene there will be less room for them.

"It's not possible to go on like this," she said. "Women in the Church are angry!"

While similar critiques have tended to fire away at the Man in White, however, the columnist effusively praised Benedict, saying that the pontiff -- who has long relied on women as key collaborators behind-the-scenes -- "has the courage to see things as they are" in tackling the crises facing the church, whether the long trail of abuse or the Vatican's recent fiasco over the leaking of confidential documents.

As opposed to an approach that "always covered scandals up," Scaraffia said Benedict "lets them come to light."

While "many people believe it is better to hide things," for Benedict, "the church is not protected by silence," she said.

The Pope "thinks that, for purification, there needs to be shame."

She added, however, that "if there were women with authority in the church, nothing would be leaked."

A day after her most recent column appeared
above the fold on the Sunday Osservatore's front-page, Scaraffia's high-octane turn in the wires comes five years after Benedict's influential "Vice-Pope," the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB, called for more women to be given leading posts in the church's central government.

Progress in that regard, however, has been a slow plod -- in early 2010, the Italian development specialist Dr Flaminia Giovanelli was named to the #3 slot at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, while last December the Pope tapped Italian Sr Nicoletta Spezzati as an undersecretary of the "Congregation for Religious" to succeed the retiring Salesian Sister Enrica Rosanna, the first woman in history to rise to the rank of "superior" in a top Vatican office.