Sister Chris Schenk, CSJ and I just happened to be leading a pilgrimage to Rome when news broke of the March 2019 resignations of Lucetta Scaraffia and the all-female editorial board of “Women Church World.” In the days and hours following the resignations many of the friends and sources Sr. Chris and I spoke to while we were on pilgrimage told us to 'sit tight'; that there was more to the story than the black-and-white story of patriarchy silencing women that much of the news media was telling and that it would soon come out.
And, as promised, a more complex story did emerged in the following days. In an article for Commonweal Magazine, Rita Ferrone tells the story of kind of workplace and intellectual territorial dispute:
But then [Monda] published some articles by and about women in the main paper, L’Osservatore Romano—articles Scaraffia had not previewed or endorsed. I read a few of them; they were well written and showed no markedly different approach to those found in Donne Chiesa Mondo. But that was perhaps why they were perceived as a threat.
Having thrown down the gauntlet before the new editor, Scaraffia and her board were being successfully challenged by women who were producing excellent journalism but not on their team; they were no longer the unique female presence at L’Osservatore Romano. The last straw came when Scaraffia and company discovered that the main publication was planning to sponsor a conference about women. At that point they “threw in the towel.”
The two are very close personal friends. They were also colleagues for many years as history professors at the University of Rome.
Even before 2012, however, Vian made Scaraffia one of the Vatican daily's editorialists.
Then shortly after she began overseeing the publication of the monthly women's magazine, Vian named her as his special advisor. He subsequently allowed her to play a key role even in the editorial decisions at the paper.
For instance, several people who work at L'Osservatore Romano told me she not only decided which women were asked to submit outside contributions to the broadsheet, but she also determined which women's issues the paper reported on and the editorial line those pieces took.
In addition, they said Vian gave her freedom to review the paper's pages before they went to press. They said she routinely modified the headlines and content of other sections of L'Osservatore Romano.
In other words, Scaraffia enjoyed certain roles and privileges at L’Osservatore Romano that came along – not with her position as editor of “Women Church World” – but as a former colleague and close personal friend of Vian. And when Vian was gone, so too were these special privileges.
All of this leads Mickens to conclude that “The real reason behind Scaraffia's resignation, from all I can gather, is bitterness over the way her good friend Giovanni Maria Vian was sacked.”
Both Ferrone and Mickens are credible voices and their reporting, analysis, and insight are well worth reading and should undoubtedly be brought into conversation as they illuminate dynamics and particularities that went unreported by other outlets.
When news of the resignations broke, I wrote “Based on early reporting, it seems patriarchy strikes again...”
Even as a fuller picture and protestations that patriarchy isn’t to blame emerged, I stand by that statement.
Mickens notes that Monda was a high school teacher with no journalistic experience who is friends with Fr. Antonio Spadaro, the Jesuit editor of La Civiltà Cattolica and Paolo Ruffini, the prefect of the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications. Now, perhaps Monda himself is neither patriarchal nor clerical, but the circumstances under which he was appointed certainly smell a little patriarchal to me. Consider how this story and its reporting would have been different if the editor at L’Osservatore Romano had been a qualified person or even a qualified woman. Andrea Monda, after all, is a lay man and there is no reason a woman couldn’t have been named to replace Vian.
And if Monda is indeed neither patriarchal nor clerical I feel sorry that he was maligned the way he was in the press. But I feel worse that he was thrown into what appears to have been a powder keg ready to explode without the tools and experience to gracefully diffuse the situation. And so perhaps one of the conversations we might have is how patriarchy hurts men – and indeed the whole Church – as well as women.
Ferrone begins her piece by admitting she’s “never been much enamored of the idea of a ‘women’s supplement’ to L’Osservatore Romano.” And she rhetorically asks, “What does that say about the main publication? That it’s a men’s newspaper—and intends to stay that way?”
And here I think is the real problem – that there was a need for this kind of separate “women’s supplement” in the first place. Women simply aren't "supplemental." They are essential to the Church and the work of the gospel. Scholarship has made it abundantly clear that in both the Jesus movement and in the early Church there was neither “male nor female; for [all were] one in Christ” (Gal 3:28) in early Christianity. Simply patriarchy is incompatible with the Christian life and is antithetical to the gospel.
I can’t help but wonder what our early Christian ancestors would think of the church today. How scandalized, how disappointed they’d be, I think, to discover that women had been eliminated from the ranks of ministry and leadership in the Church and their voices silenced. And how regrettable they’d find it, I think, that the only way we could overcome such silencing would be to give women separate place to raise their voices and explore the topics that are important to them rather than finally and fully incorporate their voices, experiences, and explorations into the whole picture alongside their male counterparts. If we had never silenced women, there wouldn't be the same kind of need for "Women Church World" -- or Catholic Women Preach for that matter -- (or at least it would be filling a very different need), and we wouldn't have found ourselves in this situation in the first place.
Of course, as a gay man, I understand personally that those who have been marginalized and oppressed need a safe space to explore their experience, to tell their stories, to seek friendship and solidarity without censorship whether external or internal and as such "Women Church World" is probably an important part of the healing and empowering process. But we as a Church must do more. We must fully incorporate women at every level of Church ministry, leadership, and decision making -- and that includes the Catholic news media.
I resonate with Ferrone's conclusion: "I wonder if a segregated initiative is really such a good idea over the long run. I would rather see the concerns, expertise, and thoughtfulness that go into the supplement poured into the main publication, and have women’s issues established as an integral part of its usual reporting rather than sequestered in a separate publication. Is having a women’s issue 'on the side' not just another way of saying that men need not pay attention?"
So, fair enough – this particular story, this specific instance may be more than a black-and-white story of the patriarchy silencing women. But patriarchy is still to blame and we can’t let it off the hook because other factors came into play.