The founder and the all-female editorial board of the Vatican’s women’s magazine have quit after what they say was a campaign to discredit them and put them “under the direct control of men” 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 a planned April 1 editorial and in an open letter to Pope Francis.
In the editorial, which went to the printer last week but has not been published, magazine founder Lucetta Scaraffia wrote: “We are throwing in the towel because we feel surrounded by a climate of distrust and progressive de-legitimisation.”
Ms Scaraffia told the Associated Press 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 halt distribution.
“After the attempts to put us under control, came the indirect attempts to de-legitimise 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, de-legitimising us as a part of the Holy See’s communications.”
Ms 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, the board said the “conditions no longer exist” to continue working with L’Osservatore, citing its initiatives with other women contributors.
“They are returning to the practice of selecting women who ensure obedience,” the editorial read. “They are returning to clerical self-reference and are giving up that ‘parresia’ (freedom to speak freely) that Pope Francis so often seeks.”
The departures are the latest upheaval in the Vatican’s communications operations, following the abrupt resignations at the end of last year of the Vatican spokesman and his deputy, over strategic differences with Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the dicastery for communications.
Ms 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. However, she was not averse to ruffling feathers with her frequent lament that half of humanity – and the half most responsible for transmitting the faith to future generations – is simply 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 recognised 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.
Mr 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 removed L’Osservatore’s editor, Giovanni Maria Vian, who had been a strong backer of Women Church World, and appointed Mr Monda, a writer and professor of religion, as the new editor.
Mr Monda said in a statement that he fully respected the autonomy of the women’s insert in the wake of the resignation of its editorial board.
He said at most that he suggested ideas and people to contribute to Women Church World.