VATICAN CITY — Too often in the Catholic Church, “the sacrifices of women are used only to reinforce the power of those who already have it,” wrote the editor of the Vatican newspaper’s monthly section on women in the church.
In the “Woman-Church-World” supplement to L’Osservatore Romano published Jan. 2, editor Lucetta Scaraffia wrote, “A revolution is not needed to give women the place they deserve in the church; it is not indispensable to admit them to the priesthood or even the longed-for, but at the same time feared, diaconate.”
“In fact,” she wrote, “all that is needed is a bit of courage and the prophetic ability to look to the future with positive eyes, accepting changes that often are already written in the order of things.”
The January issue of “Woman-Church-World” was dedicated to a series of articles looking at how, without changing church law or discipline, more could be done within the Catholic Church to treat women as equals, value their contributions and talents and include them in leadership and decision-making at all levels of church life.
A central concern of many of the articles was the lack of investment in educating women, including consecrated women, for leadership in the church and simply not thinking about including them in discussions and planning meetings from the parish level all the way to the Vatican.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law opened to all laypeople, including women, “many possibilities for institutional participation,” but, Scaraffia wrote, “the impediments lie only in the refusal of many to make real an equality already recognized and accepted in theory.”
No legal obstacle exists to women being consulted by the pope as part of his ongoing efforts to reform the Roman Curia, she said, and there is no reason a woman could not be among the people who speak at the pre-conclave meetings of cardinals about the needs of the church before they process into the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope.
Scaraffia argued that the Vatican should rely on organizations like the women’s International Union of Superiors General for advice and input rather than on “the current practice of the hierarchy selecting individual women. In that way, one could avoid a paternalistic relationship to religious women and a selection that risks rewarding not the most competent, but the most obedient.”
“If one really wants to deal a blow to clericalism,” she said, “one must start there, with the women religious.”
She described as a “fig leaf” the approach of appointing a woman or two to mid-level management positions in some Vatican offices and used as an example the fact that while women make up two-thirds of the consecrated religious in the world, there has been only one female undersecretary at a time at the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
Many other women religious perform almost hidden work in the Vatican — running the switchboard, keeping house for cardinals, doing secretarial work.
“It’s like self-sacrifice is the only way to live a religious vocation,” Scaraffia wrote. But, in the end, it simply supports the power and authority the men in charge have.
The January edition of “Woman-Church-World” also included a short article about the Benedictine convent of Fahr, Switzerland, which attracted attention during the world Synod of Bishops in October. The sisters distributed a photo of 15 of their members wearing their traditional, long black habits and holding signs saying, “Votes for Catholic Women,” which was part of a campaign calling for women to be among the voting members of the synod.
“We women are part of this church and therefore we should be able to have our voice heard and make our contributions,” Prioress Irene Gassmann told L’Osservatore.
The 20 sisters at Fahr, she said, have been reflecting for years on the role of women in the church and, in 2016, were among the leaders of a walking pilgrimage to Rome to draw attention to the need to do more to promote women’s involvement in church leadership and decision-making.