On his 2007 appointment as editor of
, Gian Maria Vian was widely expected to make a more lively read of the venerable Vatican daily
Several times over, that’s happened in spades — both literally, in the paper’s rapid transition to color presses and free online circulation, and content-wise in giving space to pieces both internally provocative and able to garner wide interest on topics ranging from the Beatles to the Obama administration.
Of all his moves, though, as Vian’s fifth anniversary in the post draws close, perhaps his most significant, consequential choice has been the featured role of the Italian historian Lucetta Scaraffia in his pages as one of the paper’s top contributors — the first woman to bear the distinction in L’Osservatore‘s 150-year history.
The 66 year-old academic — a mason’s daughter who became one of Italy’s founding feminists and described herself as a “heretic” before a conversion experience two decades ago — marked out an iconoclastic path from her first major column, a September 2008 prod to rethink church teaching on brain death as determining the end of life.
While the front-page piece promptly scored a clarification from the Holy See Press Office that the column did not reflect any “position of the Magisterium,” Scaraffia’s profile has only since increased, perhaps as an echo of the Pope’s own 2010 statement that Catholic newspapers should “encourage authentic dialogue between the various members of society” and serve as “training-grounds for comparison and loyal discussion between different opinions.”
More recently, Scaraffia’s standing rose even further as Vian launched a monthly section on women’s issues, an initiative born from an idea of hers.
According to editor and columnist alike, the new feature was undertaken with Benedict’s thumbs-up.
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The background only serves to underscore the columnist’s latest intervention on a Roman “taboo,” one that could mark a significant turn on the church’s long-simmering discussion on issues of gender, power and the role of women.
In an interview with Agence France-Presse published yesterday, Scaraffia (left) amplified points she first aired in a 2010 L’Osservatore piece — namely, that the lack of women in positions of ecclesial decision-making helped give rise to, among other things, the scope and depth of the church’s sex-abuse scandals.
“The pedophilia scandal was almost exclusively male,” Scaraffia told the wire’s Jean-Louis de la Vaissiere.
“If there had been women in positions of power,” she said, “they would not have allowed those things to happen.
“Women have long been reputed as sexually dangerous. But it’s clear that the danger” of abuse and its mishandling by church officials “lay with men and children,” she added.
Elsewhere in the sit-down, Scaraffia spoke of what AFP termed a “lonely battle,” saying that, in some parts of the Curial world, “The indifference is terrible…. There is misogyny in the church.
“It’s a closed world, caught up with issues of power. Many in the clergy are afraid that if women come onto the scene there will be less room for them.
“It’s not possible to go on like this,” she said. “Women in the Church are angry!”
While similar critiques have tended to fire away at the Man in White, however, the columnist praised Pope Benedict, saying that the pontiff — who has long relied on women as key collaborators behind-the-scenes — “has the courage to see things as they are” in tackling the crises facing the church, whether the long trail of abuse or the Vatican’s recent fiasco over the leaking of confidential documents.
As opposed to an approach that “always covered scandals up,” Scaraffia said Benedict “lets them come to light.”
While “many people believe it is better to hide things,” for Benedict, “the church is not protected by silence,” she said.
The Pope “thinks that, for purification, there needs to be shame.”
She added, however, that “if there were women with authority in the church, nothing would be leaked.”
Scaraffia’s latest high-octane turn comes five years after Benedict’s influential “Vice-Pope,” the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB, called for more women to be given leading posts in the church’s central government.
Progress on that front has been a slow plod, however — in early 2010, the Italian development specialist Dr Flaminia Giovanelli was named to the #3 slot at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and last December the Pope tapped Italian Sr Nicoletta Spezzati as an undersecretary of the “Congregation for Religious” to replace the retiring Salesian Sister Enrica Rosanna, the first woman in history to rise to “superior” level in a top Vatican office.