“Only women can reform the Church because they are not compromised by power”, a Vatican expert has said.
– Lucetta Scaraffia, founder of a Vatican publication forced out by “clerical self-referentiality”
Lucetta Scaraffia was until 2019 the director of Donne Chiesa Mondo (“Women Church World”), the supplement she founded to official Vatican newpaper L’Osservatore Romano.
After founding the supplement in 2012, Scaraffia and her team worked tirelessly to denounce the inferiority to which women – lay and religious – are subject in the Church.
That criticism of the lack of Catholic women’s rights made headlines in March 2018, when Donne Chiesa Mondo published stories decrying the abuses of power suffered by women religious at the hands of male clerics.
“Women Church World” followed up on those reports of the abuses of power endured by nuns with a series of articles in February 2019 detailing how sisters are also subject to sexual assaults perpetrated by priests and bishops.
But the fearlessness of the women behind the magazine made men in the Vatican nervous, and a change in the leadership of the Vatican media hierachy and at L’Osservatore Romano meant Scaraffia and her board were forced out.
Scaraffia wrote an open letter to the Pope announcing her resignation. In that missive, she denounced a “climate of mistrust and progressive delegitimisation” in the Vatican media structure, as well as a “return to clerical self-referentiality”.
– Some churchmen “have lost contact with reality”: “They are willing to do anything to stay where they are”
After having left her Vatican role, Scaraffia continues to teach modern history at Rome’s La Sapienza University, and to speak out on Church issues.
She has also just published a novel – La Donna Cardinale (“The Woman Cardinal”) – in which she returns – albeit in a different way – to denouncing the situation of women in the Church.
In her new book, Scaraffia paints a portrait of men in the Church who seem to “have lost contact with reality” and who “are willing to do anything to stay where they are”, as the author herself told Italian paper La Repubblica September 18.
To hold on to their influence, some in the Vatican are even driven to blackmail over sex and financial scandals and to immoral investments of Church money in such disreputable activities as prostitution, drugs and migrant smuggling.
Scaraffia said she has first-hand knowledge of how low Vatican officials are capable of stooping. “I have seen them. I was there for seven years. And I was able to see them above all because I am a woman: because they thought I didn’t understand”, she denounced of the muck she witnessed in the Vatican.
Scaraffia said her experience in the Vatican was one of constant sexism, in flagrant disregard of the example of Christ, who “accomplished a revolution by denying the impurity of women” and founded a movement – Christianity – “that sowed the seeds of gender equality”.
The sexism in the Vatican – and in the wider Church – is just as bad if not worse for nuns, Scaraffia denounced, estimating that as many as 30% of the clergy worldwide take sexual advantage of women religious.
– Women “have nothing to lose”: “Let us make them cardinals”
The situation for women in the Church is undoubtedly bleak, but Scaraffia said a figure such as the title character in her book – a woman cardinal – is “unthinkable” only “until women mobilise”.
“Only [women] can reform the Church because they are not compromised with power: they have nothing to lose”, Scaraffia insisted.
The professor and expert called for a change in canon law to allow laywomen to become cardinals.
But she warned against women’s ordination, since that “would mean clericalising and therefore also corrupting the female strength of the Church”.
“Let us make them cardinals”, Scaraffia urged instead.