The co-founder of a monthly insert on women's issues in the Vatican newspaper says its pages offer a valuable platform for female perspectives in the Church.
“The monthly insert was created to give a voice to the many women who work in the Catholic Church and are unknown…we would like them to become known and above all, allow them to be heard,” Lucetta Scaraffia told CNA on April 7.
The professor of contemporary history at Rome's Sapienza University co-founded the L'Osservatore Romano's “Women, Church, World” insert in the summer of 2012, along with another laywoman, Italian journalist Ritanna Armeni.
Both women and men who are interested in women's issues write for the four-page insert, covering topics ranging from missionary efforts in developing nations to questions regarding women in government positions. In January of 2014, the insert began to include a page dedicated entirely to the “theology of women,” as a response to Pope Francis' call to develop this area.
“The goal of this monthly insert is that which involves women in the whole world. We search to broaden our collaborators and also to make inquiries and involve women who belong to the Church,” explained Scaraffia.
The global reach of the insert appears to be effective. “(From) outside of Italy we have received many letters, as well as proposals for collaboration – even from missionaries, from women coming from the rest of the world, and also from men writing to us with proposals for articles, asking or suggesting that we interview someone.”
One page of the insert always includes an interview with “a woman in the Catholic world whom we consider important,” noted Scaraffia. “This is not to say that she assumes a role of power,” but rather one “that has significance in the life of the Church.”
And what is the most significant issue for women in the Church today?
“I think that the most important issue for women who are in the Catholic Church is that of making themselves heard, of being heard,” Scaraffia said.
Despite the wide array of talents displayed by women in the Church, the professor of history feels that many members of the hierarchy have a long way to go in understanding how much women have to contribute. Thus she believes that it “serves the Church to listen to the words of women, the experience of women, the proposals of women.”
Scaraffia noted that recent popes have led the way in hearing the voices of women, both personally and sometimes on a more institutional level.
John Paul II is widely known for being the first Pope to dedicate a formal document to the consideration of women.
His apostolic exhortation, “Mulieris Dignitatem,” “revealed all the richness and potential richness of women in the life of the Church, and therefore recognized the necessity of their presence,” remarked Scaraffia.
She described “Mulieris Dignitatem” as “a document that gives the theoretical foundation for a catholic feminism to the women of today…a feminism in which women do not repudiate motherhood but assume it as an important value to defend and claim.”
John Paul II, who once referred to himself as “the feminist Pope,” had women collaborators. “He wasn’t afraid of women – he made friends with them, he knew them, he embraced them.”
The current Pope also displays a desire to have women visibly present in the Church, noted Scaraffia.
She referred to Pope Francis touching specifically on the problem of women experiencing being outside of decision-making roles. The Pope, she added, “has also said that frequently for women, service is confused with servitude.” Just a year into his pontificate, he has begun to appoint women to Vatican commissions which Scaraffia sees as a “very strong signal.”
But the women's insert in L'Osservatore Romano ultimately owes its existence to Francis' predecessor, retired pontiff Benedict XVI.
“Benedict XVI had a great esteem for women and he wanted women to assimilate themselves into the life of the Church. In fact it was he who asked the director of L’Osservatore Romano to make sure that women were written about” in the newspaper, Scaraffia recounted.
“I began to write thanks to Benedict XVI, and also ‘Women, Church, World’ was born thanks to Benedict XVI who had immediately agreed to do it – he was very happy to do so.”
The professor of contemporary history knew the retired pontiff personally and describes him as “a very sweet man, incredibly spiritual and he had an absolute and total respect in his relationships with women.”
Unlike some prelates who take on “a kind of paternalistic rapport” with women, as if they were “a little inferior,” Benedict XVI “rather, did not. He had a great respect for women, great gentleness.”
“He was an exquisite man and I have a great memory of him,” she concluded.