Got news? The Vatican women’s Page

L’Osservatore Romano reports that it has added a women’s page to its Italian-language edition. The four-page insert will be called “Women, Church, World” and will be written “by and for” Catholic women, and will appear on the last Thursday of the month, the semi-official Vatican newspaper reports.

The first issue was printed on 31 May 2012 (Feast of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary) and features an interview with Maria Voce, president of the Focolari Movement, an appreciation of the Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, an essay on Joan of Arc, and other women-themed articles. If the first issue is any guide this section will be more of a feminist Catholic feuilleton rather than a throwback to the traditional women’s page of day’s past.

The front page article in L’Osservatore Romano announcing the new section states:

Historical research is showing how the emancipation and advancement of women is indebted to Christianity from its origins, despite contradictions down the centuries, due above all to the cultural context and, in our day, to persistent prejudices.

The article then notes the fullness of presence of women in the life of the church through history.

And although the female presence in the Church has in some periods seemed to be in the shadows, this makes it no less important. In the second half of the twentieth century the recognition of this element on the part of the Holy See became more decisive, as in 1963 when the new lead role of women in society, especially in that of Christian tradition, was recognized by John XXIII as one of the “signs of the times”.

Then in 1964 it was Paul VI who, with unprecedented determination, invited several women to take part in the Second Vatican Council and, in 1970, proclaimed two women saints  Doctors of the Church: Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila. He was followed by John Paul II – who likewise proclaimed Thérèse of Lisieux a Doctor in 1997 – and by Benedict XVI who has decided on this solemn definition also for one of the greatest women of the Middle Ages, Hildegard of Bingen – as confirmation of an indispensable and valuable presence in Christ’s Church.

In an interview in the Italian language section of Zenit, Prof. Lucetta Scaraffia of La Sapienza University in Rome, the editor of the supplement, acknowledged the project will break stereotypes of Catholic women — inside and outside the church. She accepts that some will not be pleased.

The church world has traditionally misogynistic.Women have been seen as potential competitors for careers inside the church and accepted only if they cancel themselves out by playing a subordinate role. But this position in today’s world is unsustainable.

Prof. Scaraffia stated the new section:

will demonstrate how many women are involved in church life …

and will push for reform by lending:

a hand to a growing need for internal change.

She added that:

Religious and secular women are not only very numerous but they play important and interesting roles in the life of the Church. However, everyone thinks that the Church is made only of cardinals, bishops … so finally, at least once a month, we will open a window on the fundamental presence, past and present, of women in the Church.

The women’s page will also promote a modern Catholic feminism based upon the principle of complementarity — not interchangeability — of men and women.

Feminism was and is many things. First, it seeks recognition for the role of women, which often – and precisely in the Church – is undervalued and ignored. But there is a difference between feminism that seeks equality by flattening the distinction between women and men, thereby erasing women’s difference from men … Too often this difference has been synonymous with inequality, but we will defend it and advance a new feminism.

One not centered solely around careers, “sexual freedom, contraception and abortion,” she said.

From a journalistic perspective, the addition of a women’s page to advance a feminist agenda appears counter intuitive.

In the early Twentieth century women’s pages began to appear in the middle or back of newspapers and provided how-to-information to women on marriage, fashion, food, beauty, home improvement and the like. In some more progressive metropolitan newspapers the women’s page also ran features on social issues: domestic violence, women in politics, poverty among women, and reports on the growing feminist movements. It also provided an entry for women reporters into a hitherto male dominated profession.

In the 1970′s however, most American newspapers dropped the women’s page, replacing it with a Lifestyle section that produced soft news stories and features about the arts and personalities designed to attract men and women.

Is introducing a women’s page one Thursday a month a good idea? Tell me GetReligion readers, do you agree with the argument put forward by Prof. Scaraffia that this supplement will increase the profile of women in the church?

Or, do you share my disquiet that — while well intentioned — this creates a ghetto for women in L’Osservatore Romano? Should the types of articles that Prof. Scaraffia hopes to publish appear more than once a month? Or, should we accept that this is a start and that good writing and solid reporting will see women-themed stories move from the supplement into a regular slot in the news pages?

What say you GetReligion readers?

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  • Richard Mounts

    As I read your comments my first thought was that this section should be included in the English edition; then, it should be included in all the different language editions. But then I remembered it can take the Vatican printing office years to translate the official proceedings of conferences from the Italian to any other language.

    So, as a man who thinks this is a good idea, I’ll be satisfied to see this as a good start, and I’ll do my little bit as a parish councilor to encourage broader dissemintion (just read what I wrote, oops, and no pun intended). I’ve noticed that the Church sometimes works better faster from the ground up.

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    It may be a female ghetto, but it would be the first space in Osservatore Romano specifically allotted to women. So, on the whole, it’d be progress.

  • Jofro

    Honestly speaking, I think a men’s page would make more sense in this day and age!

  • HB

    As a once catholic I admit I could laugh about your more radical or less moderate self-help of keeping the power of definition on women.
    The women should just leave the catholic church and stop the subordination.
    It is shaming to read all the pros and cons whether the women should be taken seriously enough to be just what they are: human beings to do what they want:
    for instance being feminists critisizing the world as it is.
    HB

  • http://www.authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    I think both a men’s page and a women’s page would be helpful. One of the problems of a women’s page is that it implies everything else is for or about men. Just add “also” or “both a women’s and [a men's]” to Jofro’s comment. What it means to be a Catholic man in this world is also something that men need to better understand.

    So, yes, it’s a good idea, especially insofar as it profiles Catholic women living authentic Catholic lives, be it as lay or religious, single or married, working in the home or out, women who are models of success and heroism in what they do, and reflecting the kind of feminism espoused by John Paul II, which seems to be the kind of feminism the article alludes to.

  • John Penta

    I would be forgiving, and mark this as progress. Those not familiar with L’Osservatore Romano should remember that, effectively, it was the Vatican’s version of…Well, Pravda is too harsh (you could generally believe what was written in L’Osservatore Romano!), but neither is the London Gazette an accurate comparison…from at least the 1870s til quite recently.

    It’s now becoming a more normal paper in terms of content, albeit one from a very…different point of view. That, however, *takes time*, and I get the feeling a women’s page is the attempt of L’Osservatore Romano to be more normal…But to take baby steps, so as to figure out how to do it (from their POV) *right*. Which is for the best; better they change slowly than change quickly and lose what makes them special.

  • Bill Wilson

    The advancement of women is indebted to Christianity? Really? Read the Church Fathers, including Jerome and Augustine, to see how early and deeply ingrained misogyny and gynophobia are in Christian belief and practice. One of the Catholic blogs, I believe it was Clerical Whispers, has a thought piece pointing out how the male caste that runs the “church” as defined by the Vatican, has continually perpetuated a system of verbal and emotional abuse against women. That the hierarchs in Rome would see this “women’s” page as a positive step toward equality for our sisters in the faith shows just how clueless these guys are. What planet are they living on?

  • Kris D

    I consider this progress, as long as this women’s page contains serious articles about issues women consider important. The hope is that this page does not degenerate into the equivalent of a Lifestyle section.

  • Juliet

    This is not progress. This is business. The subjects got called out on their games and marketing now is trying to put the mask on Catholicism that lies acceptable with the majority (Economically-speaking, Western persons are feminists) which will place themselves in the ability of defensive stance in arguements over their intellect’s concavity that is, by that way, a conscious ignorance, over people in possession of a vulva.

  • Julia

    I think this is an attempt to influence Cardinals and the powers that be in the Vatican to continue and widen women’s participation in the governance of the Church. I know this Pope and the last several Popes have been trying to add women, but there is huge resistance from tradition-bound Italians who make up the bulk of personnel in the Curia.

    I can see Mary Ann Glendon writing pieces for this insert. She’s the Harvard law professor who was the US Ambassador to the Vatican for a few years and now is the head of some kind of organization in the Vatican. Her daughter, Elizabeth Levi, is a noted art historian who lives in Rome and does programs on the art work in the Vatican for EWTN. There are other Catholic women around the world who could also contribute.

    This could be a lobbying vehicle to shame the stodgy old guys into accepting more women. Protests and screaming will back-fire in Italy. We in the US need to remember that it wasn’t all that long ago that women doctors and lawyers were very rare in this country. I’m 67 and remember being told, when I complained, that I was being paid less than a man for the same job because men are the family bread-winners – when I was married to a student and the single guys who were paid more than me spent their bucks on throwing parties. This was in the early days of the Beatles – to place it in the context of the times.

    US Catholics make up less than 10% of the Catholics in the world. We need to remember that and quit thinking that our culture and our cultural methods should always prevail everywhere. Or that we should expect to get what we want immediately.

    HOWEVER, I would hate to see articles that formerly were in the regular part of the paper moved to a women’s ghetto. It should be an opportunity to

  • Julia

    I hope there would be a story highlighting the large number of women in this country who are chancellors in their dioceses or hold other high-level positions, like the religious sister who is the spokesperson for the US Catholic Bishops Conference. There has got to be women who hold these positions successfully in other countries and can be held up as good examples of what the curia can and should do.

    Italy has quite a few female doctors and lawyers, but if you pay attention to the Italian press, the women who get news coverage are movie stars, prostitutes and politicians’ girlfriends.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Italy has quite a few female doctors and lawyers, but if you pay attention to the Italian press, the women who get news coverage are movie stars, prostitutes and politicians’ girlfriends.

    Ah, so different from America!

  • Julia

    LOL, Will. You have a point.

    But we also have women in the news like Hilary Clinton, Condolezza Rice, women governors and Senators.

    On the other hand, we are decades behind many other countries like Israel, India, the UK, Pakistan, Argentina, etc. who have had women presidents and Prime Ministers.

  • Julia

    Sorry, one more comment.

    I’d like to see features similar to the one at this link to remind Cardinals about how competent women have been and are today.

    http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/features/2012/05/31/ten-catholic-women-who-changed-the-world/

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Good comments, Julia. Thank you.

  • Susan

    I am a Catholic woman, but I am also a working woman in a secular environment directing several hundred staff and managing a budget in the tens of million dollars. I know many people with varied beliefs and think that my experience is pretty normal as an American female with perhaps little more opportunity to meet and socialize with a wide variety of people. As a result, I have a lot of female friends. Today, I sent a copy of this blog posting and responses to several dozen of my female friends who are also RCs asking them to give me their opinions. The response from just about all who were familiar with the newspaper was that the purpose of the L’Osservatore Romano is limited … and a “woman’s page” seems odd and unnecessary. Many of the comments from my friends suggested that the some of the blog responses represent ideas that are much more condescending than any teaching of the Church. Most of the comments simply said that there seems to be a serious misunderstanding of why women are drawn to the Catholic Church. Several of my friends suggested that the “feminist” agenda that is assumed here is essentially secular in nature but not all feminist ideals fall into that category. Many (and it happens to represent my feelings as well) wrote that they never felt “less than” in this Church. A friend who is a professor wrote that one comment (I won’t say which one) was incoherent and that it was so deliciously awful that she was saving it to use as an example of poor writing. Others said (in several different ways), “Are you kidding? Who worries about stuff like this?”

  • andom

    I could agree that this insert is a ‘ghetto’ if women’s studies and women’s studies departments and programs in the universities are ‘ghettos’ too.

  • Julia

    Susan:

    I’ve never felt “less than” in the Catholic Church, but I would like to see more women and lay men in governance at the top.

    Many of the comments from my friends suggested that the some of the blog responses represent ideas that are much more condescending than any teaching of the Church. Most of the comments simply said that there seems to be a serious misunderstanding of why women are drawn to the Catholic Church.

    Could you explain which ideas presented in the comments here are condescending?

    What does any of this have to do with what draws women to the Catholic Church? Are you thinking this insert is meant to evangelize women? I would guess that 99% of the readers of L’Osservatore Romano are already Catholic. It’s not a general circulation paper.

  • Susan

    Julia, you asked “what does any of this have to do with what draws women to the Catholic Church?” Exactly! That is the point. Nothing. Let’s call it the Litany of the Not Concerned”. The “not concerned” about meeting the needs of Catholic women as detailed in a special section in the “Romano”. The “not concerned” about a “push for reform by lending a hand to the growing need for internal change” apparently in the name of addressing “equality” to that other non-consuming concern about finding a place in the “governance of the top.” And the “not interested” in reading about female leaders (successful, of course) who will be setting an example of what the curia can and should be. Catholic women do not worry about whether Cardinals find some of us or any of us competent. How about that non-consuming concern Catholic women have about stereotypes others hold about us. Perhaps this reply will be helpful: ” I thought this type of feminism long dead. It looks dreadfully passe… even primitive.” Hope this clarifies the spirit of the responses I received.


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