Got news? The Vatican women's Page

L’Osservatore Romano reports that it has added a women's page to its Italian-language edition. The four-page insert will be called “Women, Church, World” and will be written “by and for” Catholic women, and will appear on the last Thursday of the month, the semi-official Vatican newspaper reports. The first issue was printed on 31 May 2012 (Feast of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary) and features an interview with Maria Voce, president of the Focolari Movement, an appreciation of the Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, an essay on Joan of Arc, and other women-themed articles. If the first issue is any guide this section will be more of a feminist Catholic feuilleton rather than a throwback to the traditional women's page of day's past.

The front page article in L’Osservatore Romano announcing the new section states:

Historical research is showing how the emancipation and advancement of women is indebted to Christianity from its origins, despite contradictions down the centuries, due above all to the cultural context and, in our day, to persistent prejudices.

The article then notes the fullness of presence of women in the life of the church through history.

And although the female presence in the Church has in some periods seemed to be in the shadows, this makes it no less important. In the second half of the twentieth century the recognition of this element on the part of the Holy See became more decisive, as in 1963 when the new lead role of women in society, especially in that of Christian tradition, was recognized by John XXIII as one of the “signs of the times”.

Then in 1964 it was Paul VI who, with unprecedented determination, invited several women to take part in the Second Vatican Council and, in 1970, proclaimed two women saints  Doctors of the Church: Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila. He was followed by John Paul II – who likewise proclaimed Thérèse of Lisieux a Doctor in 1997 – and by Benedict XVI who has decided on this solemn definition also for one of the greatest women of the Middle Ages, Hildegard of Bingen – as confirmation of an indispensable and valuable presence in Christ's Church.

In an interview in the Italian language section of Zenit, Prof. Lucetta Scaraffia of La Sapienza University in Rome, the editor of the supplement, acknowledged the project will break stereotypes of Catholic women -- inside and outside the church. She accepts that some will not be pleased.

The church world has traditionally misogynistic.Women have been seen as potential competitors for careers inside the church and accepted only if they cancel themselves out by playing a subordinate role. But this position in today's world is unsustainable.

Prof. Scaraffia stated the new section:

will demonstrate how many women are involved in church life ...

and will push for reform by lending:

a hand to a growing need for internal change.

She added that:

Religious and secular women are not only very numerous but they play important and interesting roles in the life of the Church. However, everyone thinks that the Church is made only of cardinals, bishops ... so finally, at least once a month, we will open a window on the fundamental presence, past and present, of women in the Church.

The women's page will also promote a modern Catholic feminism based upon the principle of complementarity -- not interchangeability -- of men and women.

Feminism was and is many things. First, it seeks recognition for the role of women, which often - and precisely in the Church - is undervalued and ignored. But there is a difference between feminism that seeks equality by flattening the distinction between women and men, thereby erasing women's difference from men ... Too often this difference has been synonymous with inequality, but we will defend it and advance a new feminism.

One not centered solely around careers, "sexual freedom, contraception and abortion," she said.

From a journalistic perspective, the addition of a women's page to advance a feminist agenda appears counter intuitive.

In the early Twentieth century women's pages began to appear in the middle or back of newspapers and provided how-to-information to women on marriage, fashion, food, beauty, home improvement and the like. In some more progressive metropolitan newspapers the women's page also ran features on social issues: domestic violence, women in politics, poverty among women, and reports on the growing feminist movements. It also provided an entry for women reporters into a hitherto male dominated profession.

In the 1970's however, most American newspapers dropped the women's page, replacing it with a Lifestyle section that produced soft news stories and features about the arts and personalities designed to attract men and women.

Is introducing a women's page one Thursday a month a good idea? Tell me GetReligion readers, do you agree with the argument put forward by Prof. Scaraffia that this supplement will increase the profile of women in the church?

Or, do you share my disquiet that -- while well intentioned -- this creates a ghetto for women in L'Osservatore Romano? Should the types of articles that Prof. Scaraffia hopes to publish appear more than once a month? Or, should we accept that this is a start and that good writing and solid reporting will see women-themed stories move from the supplement into a regular slot in the news pages?

What say you GetReligion readers?

Please respect our Commenting Policy