News Analysis

How Lucetta Scaraffia lost the battle over the Vatican women’s magazine

Lucetta Scaraffia: 'We feel surrounded by a climate of distrust'

What's behind the resignation of one of the Vatican's most influential women?

A kerfuffle erupted last week when the editor of the Vatican newspaper’s monthly women’s magazine supplement abruptly quit, claiming she would be taking the whole editorial board with her.

The move was a shock: Lucetta Scaraffia, the editor of the monthly Donna Chiesa Mondo insert – published in English as Women Church World – started the magazine and had led it since 2012.

There was some confusion on the question of who, exactly, resigned. At least two of the names on the masthead remained. Highly placed sources at the paper also told the Catholic Herald there are members of the editorial board who did not participate in the resignation en masse. The situation is fluid, then, and one presumes whatever negotiations there are, are delicate.

Scaraffia grew the monthly from a four-page cultural insert into a full glossy that has regularly run hard-hitting analysis and insightful commentary in several languages, including Italian, Spanish, French, and English. The February edition contained a major report on the sexual abuse of women – especially women religious – by clerics.

Though she had lots of help along the way, Women Church World was Scaraffia’s “baby”: she told the Catholic Herald she loved it like a child. She never drew a salary.

In a signed editorial shared with the Associated Press and other news outlets a week before it appeared in Women Church World’s April edition, Scaraffia said: “With this number, the editorial board, after seven years, interrupts the publication of Women Church World.” She also shared an open letter to Pope Francis, in which she stated: “We are throwing in the towel because we feel surrounded by a climate of distrust and progressive de-legitimisation.”

Scaraffia’s complaints of delegitimisation reportedly stem in significant part from the reduced role she and her team played in the coverage of women’s issues in L’Osservatore Romano. AP reported that Scaraffia told the news agency L’Osservatore’s editor-in-chief Andrea Monda had plans earlier this year to take over as editor of the magazine, which were scuttled at least temporarily when the editorial board threatened to resign and the Catholic weeklies that distribute translations of Women Church World said they would cease if Scaraffia were not left in charge.

Monda issued a statement last week saying that he never interfered with the editorial autonomy of the women’s monthly. “I have guaranteed Prof Scaraffia and the group of women on the editorial staff the same complete autonomy and the same total freedom that have characterised the monthly insert since its inception,” he said.

But Scaraffia told AP: “After the attempts to put us under control, came the indirect attempts to delegitimise us.” Monda – who replaced the long-serving editor, Giovanni Maria Vian – did bring in women not associated with Women Church World to write for L’Osservatore, “with an editorial line opposed to [ours],” Scaraffia said.

Monda claimed he never intended to delegitimise the women’s supplement. “In creating the daily edition,” Monda wrote, “I sought comparisons that were truly free, not built on the mechanism of one against the others, or of closed groups.” He said he did this, “precisely in the sign of the openness and parrhesia [candour] requested by Pope Francis, with whose words and with whose Magisterium we all identify.”

One can see both sides of the story: on the one hand, Scaraffia was used to having a say in the broadsheet’s editorial decisions, and to the extent that changed under Monda’s leadership, this could have appeared to be a slight; on the other, if an editor-in-chief can’t decide what runs in his paper, he’s not much good to himself or the publication.

The Catholic Herald asked Scaraffia in February if she would be surprised should the Vatican get rid of her? “We’ll have to wait and see,” she replied. Scaraffia apparently decided not to stick around long enough to find out.

The monthly women’s magazine seems likely to continue. “I can offer my assurances that the future of L’Osservatore Romano’s monthly supplement has never been under discussion,” Monda said last week, “and therefore, that its history will continue uninterrupted.”

Robert Mickens reported last Friday for La Croix International that the two full-time staff members tasked to the monthly insert had not resigned. Monda confirmed on Monday that Giulia Galeotti and Silvina Perez – the two full-time staffers – will remain. They are employees of the Holy See and work for the broadsheet – and were not members of the editorial board.

In his statement, Monda also claimed: “In no way did my efforts undermine the scope of the Donna Chiesa Mondo monthly. Indeed, its budget was entirely confirmed and its translation and circulation in other countries always guaranteed, notwithstanding the Curia’s general need for cost-containment.”

That may be, but neither Scaraffia nor the members of the editorial board drew salaries (they were paid for their writing, by the piece), and the magazine had long-standing sponsorship support from the Poste Italiane (the Italian postal service) which placed ads in the Italian edition of the glossy.

Basically, it was a turf war – and Scaraffia lost.