World

Founder, editorial board of Vatican women's magazine quit

The founder and all-female editorial board of the Vatican's women's magazine have quit after what they say was a Vatican campaign to discredit them and put them "under the direct control of men," that only increased after they denounced the sexual abuse of nuns by clergy.

Magazine recently denounced sexual abuse of nuns by clergy

Lucetta Scaraffia has resigned as editor in chief of Women Church World, a monthly magazine distributed alongside the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. (Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press)

The founder and all-female editorial board of the Vatican's women's magazine have quit after what they say was a Vatican campaign to discredit them and put them "under the direct control of men," that only increased after they denounced the sexual abuse of nuns by clergy.

The editorial committee of Women Church World, a monthly glossy published alongside the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, made the announcement in the planned April 1 editorial and in an open letter to Pope Francis that was provided Tuesday to The Associated Press.

"We are throwing in the towel because we feel surrounded by a climate of distrust and progressive de-legitimization," founder Lucetta Scaraffia wrote in the open letter.

In the editorial, she wrote: "We believe there are no longer the conditions to continue our collaboration with L'Osservatore Romano."

The decision is a blow to Francis' efforts to give greater decision-making roles to women at the Vatican, a pledge that has in some ways fallen flat despite increased pressures in the #MeToo era. Scaraffia had become perhaps the most prominent woman at the Holy See, even though she never drew a salary for her seven-year leadership of the magazine she founded.

Scaraffia told the AP that the decision was taken after the new editor of L'Osservatore, Andrea Monda, told her earlier this year he would take over as editor. She said he reconsidered after the editorial board threatened to resign and the Catholic weeklies that distribute translations of Women Church World in France, Spain and Latin America, told her they would stop distributing.

"After the attempts to put us under control, came the indirect attempts to delegitimze us," she said, citing other women brought in to write for L'Osservatore "with an editorial line opposed to ours."

The effect, she said, was to "obscure our words, delegitimizing us as a part of the Holy See's communications."

A group of nuns walk through St. Peter's Square at dawn in 2018. The Catholic Church has been facing increasing scrutiny over the abuse of nuns by clergy. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

In a statement, Monda denied having tried to weaken "Women Church World" and said he merely tried to bolster other female voices and viewpoints on the pages of L'Osservatore. He said he always guaranteed the magazine's autonomy, and limited himself to suggesting ideas or possible contributors.

"Seeking to avoid interference with the monthly insert, I asked for a truly free confrontation in the daily paper, not built on the mechanism of one against the other or of closed groups," he said. "And I did so as a sign of openness and of the paressia [freedom to speak truth] requested by Pope Francis."

He said he took note of Scaraffia's "free and autonomous" decision to leave, offered his thanks for her work, and pledged that the magazine would continue on "without clericalism of any sort."

Scaraffia launched the monthly insert in 2012 and oversaw its growth into a stand-alone Vatican magazine as a voice for women, by women and about issues of interest to the entire Catholic Church. Women Church World had enjoyed editorial independence from L'Osservatore, even while being published under its auspices.

In the final editorial, which was sent to the printers last week but hasn't been published, the editorial board cited L'Osservatore's initiatives with other women contributors that they said constituted competing points of view "with the effect of pitting women against one another," with the magazine's editorial staff considered no longer trustworthy.

"Now it seems that a vital initiative has been reduced to silence and that there's a return to the antiquated and arid custom of choosing women considered trustworthy from on-high, under the direct control of men," read the open letter, signed by Scaraffia.

Pope Francis has said he is committed to doing something about the abuse of nuns. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)

The departures are the latest upheaval in the Vatican's communications operations, following the abrupt Dec. 31 resignations of the Vatican spokesman and his deputy over strategic differences with Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the dicastry for communications.

Scaraffia, a history professor and journalist, was perhaps the most high-profile woman at the Vatican, an avowed feminist who nevertheless toed the line on official doctrine. That doesn't mean she didn't ruffle feathers with her frequent lament that half of humanity — and the half most responsible for transmitting the faith to future generations — simply is invisible to the men in charge of the Catholic Church.

She stoked uproar in February when she denounced the sexual abuse of nuns by clergy and the resulting scandal of religious sisters having abortions or giving birth to children who are not recognized by their fathers.

The article prompted Francis to subsequently acknowledge, for the first time, that it was a problem and that he was committed to doing something about it.

It remains unclear what the future will bring for the magazine. The Spanish editions are published and distributed in Spain and parts of Latin America by the Catholic publication Vida Nueva; the French edition is published as an insert to La Vie, a Catholic weekly.

Ruffini's task has been to consolidate all the Vatican's media operations under one roof and with a coherent editorial line. In December he fired L'Osservatore's editor, Giovanni Maria Vian, who had been a strong backer of Women Church World, and appointed Monda, a writer and professor of religion as the new editor.

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