ROME – Nine months after the high-profile departure of the Vatican’s best known in-house critic on women’s issues, the latest edition of a supplement dedicated to women published by the Vatican’s official newspaper suggests that it hasn’t lost its critical edge.
The edition of Donna, Chiesa, Mondo, a monthly supplement to the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, includes prominent and outspoken women such as Italian journalists Stefania Falasca and Romilda Ferrauto, Mexican journalist Valentia Alazraki, as well as Sister Jolanta Kafka, president of the International Union of Superiors General, and Sister Patricia Murray, executive secretary of the body.
The voices of Muslim theologian Shahrzad Houshmand Zadeh and Indian activist Vandana Shiva are also included.
Topics touched on in the January edition range from women deacons to the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, to violence against women and the need to create more spaces for women in the Church.
In April, Lucetta Scaraffia, former Editor-in-Chief of the supplement, resigned along with the 10 other women on the editorial board over what they argued was “a climate of distrust and progressive de-legitimization” created by the new editor of L’Osservatore Romano, Andrea Monda, appointed last December.
Scaraffia, widely considered to be among the most influential women on Vatican affairs, launched the monthly in 2012 and it quickly garnered a reputation for pushing the envelope, advocating for greater inclusion of women in leadership roles in the Catholic Church and, at times, breaching uncomfortable subjects, such as the sexual abuse of women religious by clergy.
At the time of her departure, Scaraffia said she believed there was a loss of women’s “free voice” in the Vatican. However, shortly after she stepped down, Italian journalist Rita Pinci was tapped as coordinator for the monthly.
A feminist and the first woman to become the vice-director of major Italian daily Il Messaggero, Pinci was seen by observers as a source of hope that the bold tone Donna, Chiesa, Mondo at times took would not be lost, and the January 2020 edition likely will be seen as backing that up.
An article by Serena Noceti, professor of Systematic Theology at the Institute of Superior Religious Sciences of Tuscany, focused on women’s ministries after the October Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, specifically mentioning the women’s diaconate.
In the article, Noceti noted how the women’s diaconate in the Amazon was already proposed in 1959 by Bishop León de Uriarte Bengoa, who at the time served in the apostolic vicariate of San León del Amazonas, Peru.
The question of women deacons resurfaced during the October synod, with many prelates arguing in favor.
Noceti indicated openness to the idea, saying the “theological reasons” for ordaining women deacons, which include coordinating pastoral activities and assisting both priests and bishops in their pastoral and, at times, liturgical, duties, are the same as those justifying the reinstitution of the men’s permanent diaconate given during the Second Vatican Council.
“With the sacramental grace of ordination, these women could contribute to a new phase in the building up of the Christian community in the proclamation of the apostolic faith, as ordinary ministers of baptism, in liturgical celebrations and in direct response to the needs of evangelization and pastoral care present in the Amazon,” she said, noting that a deacon is not a priestly role.
Just as in 1959, “once again from the Amazon, the request for deacon women – as a prophetic voice? – reaches the whole Church and urges theology to think in novelty,” she said.
Other contributors also touched on the issue, including Kafka and Murray. However, while the two praised Pope Francis’s words and gestures on women and their inclusion in leadership roles in the Church, they avoided any direct response on the diaconate.
Kafka said the synod discussion was important, particularly helping the Church to better evangelize in the Amazon.
“Not only of the ordained,” she said, adding that “there cannot be ministry without the people of God. If this does not happen, it is not only a problem for women, but for the whole Church.”
Murray also weighed in, saying that while the women’s diaconate is currently being studied by a 2016 commission established by Francis, “we should give much more importance and visibility to all ministries of the Church.”
“The pope has begun a path, a process of formation which has as a goal not a stronger clergy, but a Church that is stronger and more united in difference,” she said.
However, while most contributors were positive about the pope’s efforts to empower and include women to a greater degree, there were also critics.
One was Marinella Perroni, a biblist at the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm, who took issue with Francis’s proposal for a new “theology of women” and suggestions by some prelates for a synod on women.
“From Tertullian to Wojtyla, passing through Augustine, Thomas (Aquinas) or (Hans Urs) von Balthasar, every theologian has always spoken of women,” she said. In different ways and with different tones – with some calling women the “devil’s door” and others praising her “feminine genius” – but each purporting to have “something to say.”
Perroni also said that she and several other women warned against the “very strong risk” the Church would take with a synod on women.
“The unstoppable exodus, both silent and painful, of the many women who have left the Church in these years, is it not perhaps a strong word, a cry, which the women first launched because they do not want people to continue talking about them, but rather, want to be heard?” Perroni said.
Women want to be listened to, she said, “not in the soundproofed places of the many ecclesial assemblies where some women are now invited, always and in any case, as guests. Not in compliance with the best ecclesial etiquette for which their right to speak is recognized, but (not always, but it happens) after careful selection of what can and what can’t be said.”
Recalling the book Guest in their own House published by Sister Carmel McEnroy after the Second Vatican Council, Perroni said the title “has never been so apt.”
“Do not talk to women and, much less about women, while in fact continuing to talk about yourselves,” she said, criticizing what she called a “feminist paternalism” in the Church. Rather than men talking about women, Perroni said everyone should talk about themselves.
“We have great need to listen to men who speak about masculinity. Even in the Church,” she said.
Similarly, Ferrauto and several other women who form part of the “Association of Women in the Vatican,” composed of various women employees of Vatican offices and departments, penned an article criticizing what they said is a lingering ecclesial mentality that tends to see women as less than men.
Women who work in the Vatican “are not passing by, nor are they lending a volunteer service,” she said, noting that while they are paid the same as their male counterparts, “how many of us are women who hold positions of responsibility, who have managed to reach management levels?”
“With the exception of priests, bishops and cardinals responsible for offices and departments, there are still many more men among the laity who make decisions, make choices, administrate and establish the rules,” she said.
Ferrauto questioned the relationship between male supervisors and women employees in the Vatican and pondered whether women “are really aware of their value.”
“It is sad to recognize that there are some women who still live their professional lives in the Vatican uneasily,” she said, noting that these women often “do not find the courage to defend their rights, to speak openly.”
As happens in many societies, she said, women working in the Vatican “are sometimes seen – by men, but also by other women – as people of less intellectual and professional value, always available for service, always docile to what their supervisor commands.”
Praising Francis for his efforts to promote women, including the appointment of several women to prominent positions in Vatican offices, Ferrauto said women’s empowerment in the Church is “not a question of priestly ordination, but of the urgency of breaking the wall of inequality between women and men in the Church.”
Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it
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