An ex-Vatican journalist is standing up to sexism in the Church, recalling that “the Gospels were the first feminist book in history”.

– Church today “still totally in the hands of an elite group of men hardly willing to give up their power”

The Gospels paint a picture of Jesus “as a man exceptionally attentive to women, whom he often chooses as his privileged interlocutors and even places as an example” for men, Lucetta Scaraffia, the founder and former director of the Donne Chiesa Mondo (“Women Church World”) supplement to Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, said in an August 27 interview with the website Sant’Alessandro.

But she added that as soon as Christianity became established and accepted in wider “patriarchal society”, that move “undoubtedly limited” Christianity’s “revolutionary scope with regard to gender equality, even though it has always had to accept the spiritual equality between women and men preached by Jesus, so that alongside the male saints there have always been female saints”.

Scaraffia – who is also a professor of contemporary history at Rome’s La Sapienza University – decried that even despite that radical gender equality preached and practised by Christ, “today the Church presents itself as an institution still totally in the hands of an elite group of men who are hardly willing to give up their power”.

– Female cardinals “would help a lot”

In her latest interview, Scaraffia returned to one of the Church causes that she is most passionate about and which in 2019 cost her her job at Donne Chiesa Mondo: the sex abuse and abuses of power suffered by female religious at the hands of male religious, priests and bishops.

The journalist and historian alleged that women’s invisibility in the Church “is also functional” in the sense in which it is designed to “hide” those abuses of nuns.

“But today, at last, [women religious] are beginning to take courage and denounce” the abuses they are subject to, Scaraffia celebrated.

In terms of what can be done today to remedy the centuries of marginalisation women have suffered in the Church, the founder and former director of Donne Chiesa Mondo said that “certainly the creation of a female cardinal – which can happen even without priestly ordination – would help a lot, because it would be a recognition of women’s right to lead the Church”.

Scaraffia also suggested that journalists covering the Vatican could do more to challenge the fact that Catholic women – and nuns in particular – are too often “without a voice, without recognition, invisible”.

“Vaticanists always interview only cardinals and bishops, as if female religious did not exist, and send us an image of the Church composed only of men dressed in black”, the journalist denounced.

– “The problem of women is one of the most serious and urgent in the Church”

Scaraffia – who has just published a novel, La Donna Cardinale, about a Guatemalan pope named Ignatius who creates a female cardinal to ensure his reforms survive into the future – doubled-down on her call for female equality in the Church in an August 29 interview with Crux.

There she denounced that “today the problem of women is one of the most serious and urgent in the Church”.

Though she explained that “I have never been in favor of the women’s priesthood, which to me seems like a further step toward the clericalisation of the Church”, Scaraffia nonetheless urged that women “must be listened to and must participate in governing the Church as laity”.

The journalist and historian also repeated her call for female cardinals, insisting that women – to begin with, perhaps, “competent and responsible women” elected by women religious – “could and should participate” in the ranks of the pope’s closest advisors.

“Why has no one thought about us?”, Scaraffia lamented.

More on Novena on sexism in the Church:

Young German Catholics appeal for gender justice in Church

Theologian denounces “patriarchal and priestly worldview in which churchmen have been educated to feel doubly superior” to women

Novena guest article: “Church patriarchy is an obstacle to integral human development, integral humanism and integral ecology”

How the cult of the Virgin Mary turned a symbol of female authority into a tool of patriarchy


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.