What are they thinking at the Vatican?

by Phyllis Zagano

View Author Profile

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts to Letters to the Editor. Learn more

You can’t make this up. The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture has posted a two-minute video of a sexy blond woman inviting other women to crowd-source another video for its February 2015 meeting.

Speaking to the individual woman viewer, the nameless blond shakes her curls and asks: “Where are we as women today?” She says each must ask herself who she is, what she does, what she thinks about her strengths and difficulties, about her body and her spiritual life. Then she invites the viewer to share her thoughts in a one-minute video or a photo online at #LifeofWomen or email lifeofwomen2015@gmail.com before Jan. 4.

OK, let’s regroup here. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the 72-year-old head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, has presented a video whose star’s bouncy breathlessness most Latin American and Southern European women would find average. He is asking for submissions for the opening video of his Council’s Feb. 4-7, 2015, Plenary Assembly on “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference.” The public opening event is at Rome’s Teatro Argentina.

Um, cardinal, the church is more than Italy and Argentina.

Aside from the obvious — sexy sell has long gone by the boards in developed nations and is totally unacceptable in predominantly Muslim countries — the fact of the matter is that highlighting a stereotypical spokeswoman is not the way to ask for women’s input. Or is the Vatican convinced women’s intellectual abilities rise only to the level of televised soap operas and cosmetics commercials?

Let me suggest a few items from the past year’s news — all reported in The New York Times — for the cardinal’s opening video:

1) Indonesian women joining the National Police must pass a “virginity test,” with a doctor inserting two fingers to determine whether a woman’s hymen is intact. That’s to test their “morality.” Let’s get a video explaining that.

2) Japan’s conservative newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, apologized for using the term “sex slaves” to describe women forced into Japanese military brothels during World War II. It will use “comfort girls” instead. Need a screen shot of the story.

3) Pakistani courts levied death sentences for the father, brother, and two cousins of pregnant Farzana Parveen, bludgeoned to death in broad daylight for choosing her own husband. Maybe a photo of Malala Yousafzai getting the Nobel Prize? (Or, should we save that for the Nigerian Boko Haram girl-kidnapping story? Malala argues for girls’ education.)

4) India’s Central Bureau of Investigation found that two hanged teen-aged girls in Uttar Pradesh were not gang raped and murdered while relieving themselves in a field before bedtime. Rather, they committed suicide. Video of their mother talking about that? Maybe with folks from Indian women’s rights organizations?

5) Iran granted bail to Ghoncheh Ghavami, the British-Iranian law graduate arrested and held in solitary confinement for 100 days after trying to enter the all-male Iran-Italy Volleyball World League match. She was charged with “propaganda against the regime.” Photo? Video? Bail hearings are such fun events.

6) In the U.S., two teenaged boys tried to rob a young mother. One shot her 13-month old baby in the face when she said she had no money. The shooter’s mother helped him get rid of the gun. They all went to jail. Side-by-side photos of the two mothers?

7) In Iraq, ISIL thugs kidnapped, tortured, and publicly executed human rights attorney Sameera Salih Ali al-Nuaimy for criticizing the so-called Islamic State on Facebook. Sadly, there are no photos of her funeral. They wouldn’t let her family hold one.

These are the stories of women around the world. They are put down and held down by the same logic that says women cannot image Christ. The Vatican, as others have noted, simply does not get it.

We cannot know what Ravasi’s high-production call for women’s photos and videos will bring. He’s already pulled the English-language version of the video, but maybe a few American and other English-speaking woman have ideas that do not depend on heavy makeup and low necklines. Think so? Pass it along.

[Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University and winner of the 2014 Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice. She will speak March 11 at University of Illinois, Chicago, and April 16 at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, Ireland. Her newest books are Mysticism and the Spiritual Quest: A Crosscultural Anthology and Sacred Silence: Daily Meditations for Lent.]

Editor's note: We can send you an email alert every time Phyllis Zagano's column, Just Catholic, is posted. Go to this page and follow directions: Email alert sign-up.

Latest News


1x per dayDaily Newsletters
1x per weekWeekly Newsletters
2x WeeklyBiweekly Newsletters