The founder and all-female editorial team of the Vatican’s women’s magazine have resigned over what they say was a campaign to discredit them following the publication of an article that lifted the lid on the widespread abuse of nuns.
Lucetta Scaraffia, the founder of the monthly glossy Women Church World, said she had written a letter to Pope Francis in which she explained that the team was “throwing in the towel” because they felt “surrounded by a climate of distrust and progressive de-legitimisation”. The resignation letter will also be published in the April edition of the magazine.
The editorial team of 11 had worked together on the magazine, which has been published alongside the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, since its launch in 2012. “We are very sad,” Scaraffia said.
The decision to resign was taken after an announcement earlier this year that Andrea Monda, the male editor of L’Osservatore, would be taking over at the magazine too.
Scaraffia said Monda reconsidered after the editorial board threatened to resign and the Catholic weeklies that distribute translations of Women Church World in France, Spain and Latin America, told her they would stop distributing.
“After the attempts to put us under control, came the indirect attempts to delegitimise us,” Scaraffia told Associated Press, citing other women brought in to write for L’Osservatore “with an editorial line opposed to ours”. The effect, she said, was to “obscure our words, delegitimising us as a part of the Holy See’s communications”.
An article written by Scaraffia in February had highlighted cases of nuns being raped or abused by priests and bishops, or being forced to have an abortion or leave the church if they fell pregnant as a result.
Pope Francis acknowledged the issue for the first time a few days after the article was published.
He said more needed to be done to confront the issue, while pointing to the action taken by Pope Benedict XVI against a French order after nuns there had been reduced to “sexual slavery” by priests. The pontiff’s comments came two weeks before a landmark Vatican summit addressing paedophilia within the church.
In Women Church World’s final editorial, the editorial board said the “conditions no longer exist” to continue working with L’Osservatore, citing its initiatives with other female contributors.
“They are returning to the practice of selecting women who ensure obedience,” the editorial read. “They are returning to clerical self-reference and are giving up that ‘parresia’ [freedom to speak freely] that Pope Francis so often seeks.”
The abuse of nuns has been widely known for years, but much like clerical abuse against children, the Holy See – the Catholic Church’s governing body – has been silent and failed to take concrete action against accused priests.
Monda took note of the resignations on Tuesday, thanked the women for their work, and added: “In the few months since I was appointed director, I guaranteed to professor Scaraffia, and to the women’s editorial team, the same total autonomy and the same total freedom that have characterised the monthly supplement since the day it was born, refraining from interfering in any way other than to offer my dutiful contribution (regarding topic suggestions and people to be involved).”
A group of activist Roman Catholics asked the United Nations Thursday to revoke the Vatican’s observer status for failing to protect the rights of women, children and the LGBTQ community.
The group, calling itself Catholics for Human Rights, said in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that the Vatican must be stripped of its status in part because of the “magnitude of rape, sexual violence and torture perpetrated by clergy.”
The activists, including lawyers and theologians, also said the Holy See excludes women from positions of authority and opposes contraception, same-sex marriage and abortion.
In Rome, the Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.N. chief spokesman Stephane Dujarric said it had no immediate reaction. Any change in the Vatican’s status would have to be decided by U.N. member states.
Catholics who disagree with the church’s teachings on abortion or who have been upset at its handling of sexual misconduct allegations have previously made similar demands for the U.N. to downgrade the Vatican’s status as a permanent observer, which allows it to take part in the world body’s policy discussions, but does not give it a vote in the General Assembly.
The Vatican’s role at the U.N. has also been opposed sporadically by groups who say it is a religious organization, not a nation.
Members of the activist group gathered Thursday in a building across the street from the U.N., where the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women was holding its annual conference.
“It’s hard to name a state or religious group that’s done more than the Holy See to thwart the spirit and the letter of the Commission on the Status of Women, which affirms that the fundamental freedoms of all women and girls is essential for the achievement of gender equality,” said one of the activists, Mary Hunt, a theologian from Silver Spring, Maryland. “Today, the institutional church is essentially a global, male-run, top-down corporation whose product is religion.”
A leading French nun has accused the Vatican and Catholic bishops of having sanctioned the spiritual and sexual abuse (including rape, prostitution and forced abortions) of women religious in many countries and on every continent for over 20 years and probably much longer.
“Any criminal organization would not have done worse,” said Dominican nun Sr Véronique Margron, president of the French Conference of Men and Women Religious (CORREF)
She accused the Church leadership of responding to reports if such abuse of nuns with silence, cover-up and in-action. It was shocking, she said.
In an accompanying statement the liberal Catholic We Are Church (WAC) international group noted how in in 1994 Clare-born Medical Missionary of Mary Report
Sr Maura O’Donoghue presented a detailed report on the abuse of nuns by priests to the Vatican based on six years experience in 23 countries and 5 continents.
In 1998 Scottish nun Sr Marie McDonald of the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa presented another report on the abuse of religious women by priests in Africa to the Vatican
It recalled how in 2001 the European Parliament wrote to the Vatican calling for action to be taken about the sexual abuse of religious sisters by priests.
“But all to no avail. Just more silence, more cover-ups and more in-action. But in recent years courageous women who have spoken out despite the pressure to remain silent have highlighted this disgraceful behaviour,” it said
In a statement it continued:“it is a horrifying litany of spiritual and sexual abuse against women religious by men who claimed to be servants of Christ but were in fact servants of lust and power. There must be no more silence, no more cover-ups and No more in-action. The people of the church demand repentance and justice.”
Following the recent Vatican meeting on child safeguarding, attending by Catholic bishops and religious leaders from around the world WAC regretted that it had resulted in “an absence of concrete actions to safeguard children.”
“The clear message remains that any concerns about clerical child abuse should be reported to the civil authorities and not to the church authorities,” it said.
When God died, the official cause was elderly enfeeblement; after reading Frédéric Martel’s exposé of infamy in the Catholic church, I suspect that the old boy committed suicide in remorse, aghast at the crimes and un-Christian sins of organised religion.
Although Martel’s book is published just in time to spoil a pious conference on clerical paedophilia convened by the pope, the abuse of minors is not all that St Peter’s pharisaical heirs have to answer for. The Vatican combines a venality that the mafia might envy with a bigotry worthy of Steve Bannon (who not coincidentally was in Rome for last week’s gathering), and to this already foul mixture it adds an unctuous hypocrisy. The moral fraudulence of the church is Martel’s subject: having spent four years sleuthing in all corners of the Catholic world, he establishes that during the past few papacies the fieriest critics of homosexuality – the cardinals who regarded Aids as a divine judgment, condemned the distribution of condoms in Africa, called gender theory an abomination, and ignored peccadilloes like those of the Cuban priest who administered a special blessing to the penises of little boys – were themselves unabashedly gay.
Some of them cruised in Roman parks, claiming diplomatic immunity whenever they were bothered by the police; others used their smartphones to summon Arab hustlers. Many attended infernally red-lit orgies in the Vatican, with party drugs and strapping seminarians on tap, and quite a few rejoiced in drag-queen nicknames. One financially canny episcopal plutocrat added Rome’s busiest gay sauna to his bulging property portfolio. Martel includes a single incongruously heterosexual anecdote, about a prince of the church who died of a heart attack in Paris while having overenergetic sex with a prostitute called Mimi. Jesuitical spin doctors claimed he’d paid her a visit in the hope of persuading her to repent, which didn’t explain why he was naked when the ambulance arrived.
Is all this a symptom of bad faith, or perhaps of closeted self-disgust? No, it simply reveals the convenient duplicity of Catholicism: as André Gide put it, after the theologian Jacques Maritain failed to dissuade him from publishing his memoir of romps with Arab boys, “I hate lying. That’s where my Protestantism takes refuge. Catholics don’t like the truth.” The scale of the Vatican’s sanctimonious mendacity reminds Martel of the Third Reich, where the euphemisms and evasions of an entire society destroyed “the reality of a common world”.
Visiting a cardinal who is “refined and well pomaded”, Martel is “submerged in a cloud of scent” when he makes a detour to the man’s bathroom and checks his medicine cabinet; inside the Vatican, his astute French nose detects expensive traces of “amber, violet, musk, champaca” when his perfumed interviewees waft towards him. But the prevailing odour in his book is sulphur, a metaphorical stink that alerts Martel to the presence of the devil.
He flinches when introduced to George Pell, the Australian cardinal recently found guilty of sexual abuse in Melbourne (he will be sentenced later this month), whose colleagues in the Vatican treasury called him “Pell Pot” in homage to the bloodthirsty Cambodian dictator Pol Pot. Martel manages not to feel frightened on this occasion, but is glad never to have encountered two Latin American priests who strike him as unequivocally “evil”. In Mexico, the “diabolical” Marcial Maciel amassed “insane levels of wealth” and indulged in systematic “sexual violence”, while of course exhibiting pious meekness on public occasions; in Colombia, López Trujillo – like Maciel, now defunct – connived at the murder of dozens of priests and bishops, who were eliminated by paramilitary brigades after he fingered them for their progressive opinions.
Among all this villainy, Martel has a sneaky fondness for Pope Benedict XVI, who railed against homosexuals while flouncing about in natty ermine-lined bonnets and lipstick-red Prada slippers. In one decadent episode, Benedict moons over his hunky chamberlain Georg Gänswein during the younger man’s consecration as an archbishop, caressing his Clooneyesque salt-and-pepper curls for all of 19 enraptured seconds. Despite such florid displays of an apparently platonic affection, Martel sees Benedict as a victim of wishful self-neutering. As Nietzsche remarked, “The saint pleasing to God is the ideal castrato”.
It’s a pity that Martel’s book is so preposterously long and lazily repetitive; lacking an index, it will be useless as a reference work. I also worry a little about its methods. Some highly placed informants are given the benefit of anonymity, and others are lured into confiding or confessing by the flirty signals Martel transmits. “He employs guile with me,” he says during a teasing duel with Pope John Paul II’s former secretary, “and I play with him.” Stray comments reveal a double standard. Thus he denounces Catholic potentates for the luxury in which they live, yet grimaces like a snooty interior decorator when he visits one residence: “The furniture is horrible, as it often is in the Vatican,” he sniffs. The tone falters because Martel seems unsure whether to be horrified by the church’s corruption or to let out a gasp of high-camp amazement at its excesses. Given the evidence that he has uncovered, I’d say that outrage is the better option.
Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic cleric ever convicted of child sexual abuse, has been taken in custody following a sentencing hearing in which his lawyer described one of Pell’s offences as a “plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating”.
After the hearing, with Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter, having withdrawn his application for bail, the chief judge said: “Take him away, please.” Pell was taken to a maximum security facility where he will be kept in protective custody and remain alone for up to 23 hours a day.
The Vatican on Wednesday also said its doctrinal department will open its own investigation into Pell. “After the guilty verdict in the first instance concerning Cardinal Pell, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) will now handle the case following the procedure and within the time established by canonical norm,” Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti told reporters. A former US cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, was this month dismissed from the priesthood following a CDF investigation.
The former Australian prime minister John Howard was among those who provided character references for Pell as the cardinal’s legal team tried to argue for a lower-end sentence in Melbourne’s county court on Wednesday morning.
Richter tried to argue there were “no aggravating circumstances” to one of the offences. It was “no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating,” he told the court.
The chief judge, Peter Kidd, responded: “It must be clear to you by now I’m struggling with that submission. Looking at your points here – so what?”
He said he saw Pell’s behaviour as “callous, brazen offending” and “shocking conduct”.
“He did have in his mind some sense of impunity. How else did he think he would get away with this? There was an element of force here … this is not anywhere near the lower end of offending.”
Richter also tried to suggest that an incident in which Pell grabbed one of the boys by the genitals in an attack that lasted seconds was “fleeting” and not worthy of a jail sentence. Kidd disagreed.
“That wasn’t just a trifling sexual assault,” he said.
“Nothing is to be gained here by comparing different forms of sexual abuse of children. Of course I need to make a judgement of the overall gravity of this. But there is a limit to these kinds of comparisons.”
Abuse survivors and advocates present in the court gasped as Richter made his arguments for a lower-end sentence. He said at one point that if Pell’s victims were “truly distressed” after being abused, they would have returned to their homes exhibiting that distress.
Richter said he was in a difficult position because he could only propose a sentence based on the jury’s finding of guilt, not on the basis that Pell maintained his innocence. He said Pell did not have a pattern of offending and had not planned the attack, and so would have been “seized by some irresistible impulse”.
Kidd responded: “You put to the jury only a madman would commit these offences. The jury rejected that. There are no medical records suggesting he is mad. The only inference I can make is that he thought he could get away with it. People don’t go ahead and do what he did without thinking about it. People make choices.”
Prosecutors described Pell as having “a degree of callous indifference” as he “humiliated, degraded” and sexually abused the boys. This offending, prosecutors said, should attract a significant sentence.
Prosecutor Mark Gibson said the offending of Pell was serious, especially given his position of authority at the time.
“These acts … were in our submission humiliating and degrading towards each boy and gave rise to distress in each boy as referred to in the evidence [the complainant] gave. [The victim] recalled voicing objection.”
He said Pell’s offending implied “a degree of callous indifference in relation to those objections”.
“His state of mind suggests he had some degree of confidence as to the unlikelihood that these two boys would complain,” he said.
In response, Richter submitted a book of sentencing arguments to Kidd, which included medical records and character references from high-profile figures including Howard and the president of the Australian Catholic University, Greg Craven. Richter said he could have provided the court with “hundreds” of character references for Pell, but had narrowed the list down. All those who gave references knew of Pell’s conviction, he said.
The character references spoke of Pell’s kindness and generosity “above and beyond that of a priest”, of “a man who has a great sense of humour” who relates “to everyone “from prime ministers to street cleaners”, Richter said.
Pell was found guilty in December of one count of sexual penetration of a child under the age of 16 and four counts of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16.
Each conviction carries a maximum jail term of 10 years.
At the trial the complainant, now 35, said he and the other choirboy had separated from the choir procession as it exited the church building. He and the other boy sneaked back into the church corridors and entered the priest’s sacristy, a place they knew they should not be. There they found some sacramental wine and began to drink. The complainant alleged that Pell had walked in on them.
Pell then manoeuvred his robes to expose his penis. He stepped forward, grabbed the other boy by the back of his head, and forced the boy’s head on to his penis, the complainant told the court. Pell then did the same thing to the complainant, orally raping him. Once he had finished, he ordered the complainant to remove his pants, before fondling the complainant’s penis and masturbating himself.
A few weeks later Pell attacked the complainant again as he passed him in the church corridor, pushing him against the wall and squeezing his genitals hard through his choir robes, before walking off.
A victim impact statement from the complainant was submitted by prosecutors at the sentencing hearing. A second impact statement was submitted from the father of the second boy Pell abused. That victim died in 2014 of a drug overdose, when he was 30.
There was some argument from Richter as to whether the entirety of the father’s victim impact statement should be submitted, given his statement made in February was “so lacking in proximate impact” to the offending.
Kidd said he would not be swayed by the argument.
“I think a parent where a child is a victim of a crime … the impact of the fact of that crime and the distress that would cause to a parent is self-evident and almost inevitable,” Kidd said. “My view is the parent can stand in as victim in those circumstances.”
On Wednesday afternoon Pell’s solicitor Paul Galbally issued a statement saying the bail application had been withdrawn because Pell “believes it is appropriate for him to await sentencing”.
“An appeal has already been lodged to be pursued following sentencing,” the statement said. “Despite the unprecedented media coverage, Cardinal Pell has always and continues to maintain his innocence.”