What’s Really Behind the Vatican Newspaper Controversy?

Andrea Monda said he did not interfere in the printing of the monthly companion magazine Donna Chiesa Mondo (Women Church World), in the wake of the resignation of the founder of the multilingual magazine, Lucetta Scaraffia, and its all-female board.

Lucetta Scaraffia reads the special insert on the Theology of Women in L’Osservatore Romano, April 7, 2014.
Lucetta Scaraffia reads the special insert on the Theology of Women in L’Osservatore Romano, April 7, 2014. (photo: Andreas Dueren/CNA)

The new editor of L’Osservatore Romano responded on Tuesday to accusations he had waged a Vatican campaign to discredit women working for a women’s issues supplement of the newspaper.

Andrea Monda said he did not interfere “in any way” in the printing of the monthly magazine but only suggested topics and persons for the publication called Donna Chiesa Mondo (Women Church World).

He also said he guaranteed the magazine “complete autonomy” and “total freedom,” and said its budget had been confirmed.

Earlier Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that the magazine's founder, Lucetta Scaraffia, and its all-female board, had resigned on the grounds they were victims of a “progressive de-legitimization” and complaining that Monda had wanted to take over as editor.

But in a statement Tuesday, Monda denied the accusation, saying “in no way did my efforts undermine the scope” of the publication.

He added that his commitment “has been and continues to be that of empowering the daily edition of L’Osservatore Romano” but “certainly not in terms of competition.” Instead, he said he has sought “complementarity with the supplement.”

The Register contacted both Scaraffia and Monda for comment but they had not responded by the time of publication.

In an editorial to be published April 1, but which Scaraffia shared Tuesday with AP, the board complained of feeling “surrounded by a climate of distrust and progressive de-legitimization.”

Scaraffia told the AP that Monda had said he planned to take over from her as editor but reconsidered after the editorial board had threatened to resign.

“After the attempts to put us under control, came the indirect attempts to delegitimize us,” she continued, and added that other women were brought in to write for L’Osservatore “with an editorial line opposed to ours.”

That resulted, she said, in obscuring their words and “de-legitimizing us as a part of the Holy See’s communications.”

In their editorial, the board members complained that the Vatican was “returning to the practice of selecting women [writers] who ensure obedience,” to a “clerical self-reference” that surrenders “parrhesia (freedom to speak freely) that Pope Francis so often seeks.”

But Monda, who made a point of thanking Scaraffia for her “valuable work,” said “in no way” did he choose anyone “with the criterion of obedience” but rather with “the sign of the openness and parrhesia requested by Pope Francis, with whose words and with whose Magisterium we all identify.”

He gave as an example an upcoming roundtable at the newspaper of 17 “highly regarded theologians and scholars” who contributed to an essay called “The Voice of Women.”

“I can offer my assurances that the future of L’Osservatore Romano’s monthly supplement has never been under discussion,” he wrote in closing, “and therefore, that its history will continue uninterrupted. Without clericalism of any kind.”

An inside Vatican source told the Register Tuesday that at least two women who were working on the magazine are furious with Scaraffia because it wasn’t their decision to resign but she took the decision on her own and presented it to the other women as a fait accompli. 

Hired by Monda’s predecessor, Giovanni Maria Vian, in 2012, Scaraffia became the most well-known woman in the Vatican and is married to the famous Italian secularist intellectual, Ernesto Galli della Loggia.

She has fought what she sees as “Catholic patriarchy” within the Church hierarchy, and expressed concerns about misogyny and careerism among the clergy. She is also no stranger to appealing, through major news agencies, for change.

“It’s not possible to go on like this,” she said in an interview with Agence France Press in 2012. “There is misogyny in the Church [and] women in the Church are angry!”

In February, she brought attention to the sexual abuse of women religious by clergy, which led to Pope Francis publicly recognizing the problem for the first time, and vowing to do something about it.

Last September, in an interview with Corriere della Sera, she complained that “for the Vatican, women don’t exist” and that the “Church has never faced the sexual revolution” that has “infiltrated inside” in the form of sexual abuse. 


Questions of Orthodoxy

But questions were raised about the orthodoxy of some of the content of the magazine under Scaraffia’s leadership. One inside source told the Register there were many problematic pieces in the magazine.

In March 2017, Scaraffia wrote an article in which she said “even more disturbing” than adoption by homosexual couples was the fact that 90% of such court decisions involved male homosexuals, but little prominence was given to their female counterparts.

In June of that year, she wrote a thinly veiled critique of Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching on women, particularly his stress on the complementarity of the sexes.

Some writers who she had contribute to the magazine had little sympathy for orthodox Church’s teaching.

In a 2017 interview in L’Osservatore Romano, Italian author and friend of Scaraffia, Barbara Alberti, praised the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci and wrote that, besides the Italian communist newspaper Il Manifesto, L’Osservatore Romano was “the only newspaper on the left.”

Alberti wrote an article for that month’s edition of Women Church World.

Asked in the Corriere interview who monitors the magazine for orthodoxy, Scaraffia reportedly sighed before saying “everybody and nobody,” adding that some in the Vatican “pretend not to read it.”

One Vatican source called Scaraffia’s departure the consequence of a power struggle. She was one of the last members of the “old guard” to leave the Vatican, the source added, allied not only members such as Vian, but also Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the former sostituto at the Secretariat of State, now the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Scaraffia’s departure is just the latest in a major upheaval of Vatican communications.

Last December, Vian was abruptly asked to step down as editor of L’Osservatore Romano. Prior to that, Msgr. Dario Viganò resigned as the prefect of Vatican communications after the “Lettergate” affair, and Jan. 1, former Vatican spokespeople Greg Burke and Paloma Garcia Ovejero handed in their resignations.