‘Reform, Not Revolution,’ is the headline of the January 2019 issue of L’Osservatore Romano’s monthly “Women, Church, World,” published on January 2. The writers, who don’t mince their words, make concrete suggestions in terms of women’s participation at the heart the Church, proposing their presence in the “Council of Cardinals” created by the Pope to help him in the reform of the Roman Curia.
“A revolution isn’t necessary to give women the place they deserve in the Church, ‘writes Lucetta Scaraffia in the editorial. It’s not indispensable to grant them the priesthood or the diaconate . . . In fact, it’s sufficient, with a bit of courage and a prophetic capacity, to regard the future with a positive look, accepting the changes that are often inscribed in the order of things.”
In that issue, of some forty pages, she explains, “we try to propose changes that can be carried out now, without touching dogmas or the Code of Canon Law. “However, it’s necessary to “overcome the resistances of those that, without reason or legal support, seek to exclude them (women) from more important roles,” she continues.
The Italian historian laments an obstacle to parity: the lack of formation of women religious compared with that reserved to men religious and to priests. Although at the beginning of the 20th century they were numbered among the first women to be graduated from State Universities, from the vanguard women religious found themselves lagging,” she added.
Lucetta Scaraffia suggests that women — in particular women religious — should be “invited to take part in the numerous organizations, including the Council of Cardinals, established by Francis, exactly one month after his election,” and to speak in the Congregations that precede a Conclave.
To avoid “a selection that risks rewarding not the most competent but the most obedient,” she believes that it is preferable that the feminine presence in the Church “be freely expressed by the Associations,” instead of “having the Hierarchy choose the feminine figures.”
Grey and Obedient Shadows
In a further article, Lucetta Scaraffia continues her analysis. “If one really wants to give a coup to clericalism, it’s necessary to begin by there, by the women religious, and not so much by individual persons . . . but especially in the collective way of already existing Associations . . . because to insert the presence of some women here and there in the Dicasteries, in general isolated and chosen among the most obedient, doesn’t change anything . . . If one thinks that, even in the Congregation for the Religious — given that women constitute almost two-thirds of the total number of Religious — there is only one Under-Secretary, obviously crushed, no matter how much she tries to make her voice heard, by all the priest leaders, one understands that women religious are never listened to in their global reality.”
Recalling “those women religious that — if one observes them from the Holy See or from central institutions of the local Churches — seem only grey and obedient shadows, happy with their modest and forgotten role,” the writer deplores that “in the decisional moments of the life of the Church, women — especially women religious –aren’t provided for, aren’t listened to and that one proceeds as if they didn’t exist.”
Lucetta Scaraffia castigates bluntly “a very rooted prejudice” that “there is no real interest in listening to women religious, that women religious absolutely don’t think anything because they are deprived of education and dedicated to servile tasks . . . I even heard a Vatican leader call Sisters ‘cotton heads,’ to stress their intellectual poverty . . . The numerous Sisters who work ceaselessly in service tasks of different sorts in the Vatican must keep a submissive behavior, accept that their intellectual work, if it’s good, is attributed to the service’s Superior; in essence, they must disappear in as much as individual personalities.”
And to go on: “They are the ones who prefer that it be so, I’m often told,” but “the women’s sacrifice is only used to reinforce the power of those that already have it.”
The Vatican’s monthly asks for women religious a “solid and coherent course of studies,” stressing that ”to have a Sister study isn’t a waste of time.” “It’s not macro-revolutions, but micro-processes, approached, willed and pursued that change history. Macro-revolutions generate violence and hardness. Micro-processes make a change in the concreteness of lived situations . . . In historical processes, women have made a particular contribution without revolutions, managing the everyday with ingenious and critical tenacity.”
“So, for consecrated women, the turning points effected are the fruit of micro-processes, of intuitions, of decisions, of daring <and> sometimes silent actions: from the intelligence at the center of the heart, where one decides for the human and for God, painstakingly.”