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Founder and staff of Vatican women’s magazine step down, citing pressure over nun abuse stories

Lucetta Scaraffia, shown in Rome in 2018, has resigned from the magazine she founded, Women Church World. The monthly publication was distributed with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. (Domenico Stinellis/AP)

ROME — The founder and staff of an all-female monthly Vatican publication have stepped down en masse, citing what they call a newly difficult work environment and a Vatican attempt to undercut the women’s voices on sensitive issues, including sexual abuse of nuns.

“The whole newsroom has resigned,” Lucetta Scaraffia, who launched Women Church World seven years ago, said in a phone interview.

Scaraffia was known as a comparatively liberal voice inside the city-state’s ancient walls, advocating for a larger role for women in the church and, more recently, devoting editorial space to the long-hidden issue of the abuse of nuns by clergy members.

But Scaraffia said she perceived discomfort with her publication’s work, and she noted that the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, had been publishing pieces that contradicted the Women Church World editorial line. She said her publication’s editorial freedom had also been threatened with an “attempt” to put L’Osservatore Romano’s new top editor, Andrea Monda, in charge of Women Church World.

In an open letter to Pope Francis, Scaraffia accused the church of preferring women chosen by male management and “deemed reliable.”

The resignations were first reported by the Associated Press.

“We are throwing in the towel because we feel surrounded by a climate of mistrust and progressive delegitimization,” the letter to the pope said.

The resignations come at a sensitive time for the Catholic Church, which has been dealing with a cascade of abuse-related cases worldwide and has been trying to show it is now more attuned to the problem. Church officials say they have tried to more closely involve women in the debate over how the Vatican can better respond to abuse. At a summit on clerical abuse in February, several women were given major speaking roles. After one woman’s presentation, Francis delivered an off-the-cuff response, describing the “feminine genius” that he saw reflected in the church.

Pope Francis confirms Catholic clergy members abused nuns

But the Vatican remains a male-dominated world, even as its communications arm has gone through a year of staffing changes and personnel upheaval.

In a statement Tuesday, Monda, who was named last year as the top editor of L’Osservatore Romano, said Scaraffia’s decision had been “free and autonomous.” He did not mention the other resignations. He said the monthly women’s magazine, which is published as an insert with L’Osservatore Romano, was not being “disempowered.”

“In no way have I selected anyone, be it male or female, based on the criterion of obedience,” Monda said. “It is the opposite, avoiding any interference with the monthly magazine, I have supported truly free dialogue, not based on the mechanism of pitting one against the other, or of closed groups.”

In seven years, Women Church World published everything from theological essays to stories about cuisine. But it was the topic of the abuse of nuns that recently captured global attention. An article in February documented instances in which nuns were allegedly abused or raped by clerics and sometimes forced into having abortions. In an interview with Crux, a Catholic publication, Scaraffia said the church had “never accepted taking responsibility” for the abuse and had tried to keep the problem hidden.

Because of the article, Francis was asked about the issue — marking the first time that a pontiff has acknowledged such a form of abuse.

In her open letter to Francis, Scaraffia said that her publication had received many “painful” letters from women describing their experiences and that it was her duty to speak out.

“We couldn’t stay silent anymore; the trust that so many women had put in us would have been gravely wounded,” she wrote.

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