Women at the Anti-Council

  Le donne all’Anticoncilio  DCM-002
05 February 2022

A book edited by the historian and theologian, Adriana Valerio

We can commence with a frankly minor event, then go on to talk about bigger issues instead. Moreover, we can allude to something that is important to us, while showing that we are talking about something else. To speak, for example, about the role of women in the Church, in the past, while looking at the present, and above all to the future. This is what historian and theologian Adriana Valerio and her colleagues Angela Russo, Nadia Verdile and Cristina Simonelli do in their book L'Anticoncilio del 1869. Women Against Vatican I [The Anti-council of 1869. Women Against Vatican I] published by Carocci. In the volume, they examine a small side event, but through which they talk about the Council.

What was the Anti-Council, held at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples on December 8, 1869, which coincided with the opening of the First Vatican Council? This was an initiative set up by Freemasons, freethinkers, various so-called priests, and was intended to oppose the main event.

The The Anti-council lasted just two days, when on December 10, during the second session, the Anti-Council was broken up by the police.

These events happened in the midst of the Risorgimento. Pius IX, the last pope-king, sovereign of the Papal States, called for the official council and which sent a signal to the whole world with the dogma of the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff in matters of faith and morals.

The enemies of the Church, who considered it the last obstacle to national unification, interpreted the Council in a “political” sense. Therefore, Garibaldi’s deputy Giuseppe Ricciardi called together all his contacts in Italy and the rest of Europe so that there would be a counterpoint. An Anti-council, in fact. In particular, he appealed to women, believing that they were natural allies in the fight against tyranny and for the triumph, as they said at the time, “of truth and reason”.

In fact, in the second half of the nineteenth century, the emancipationist movement of women had already begun. This was a movement that a few decades later would see the first successes of the suffragettes. However, for Ricciardi and the freethinkers, women had to free themselves first and foremost from the influence of the ecclesiastical hierarchies.

This is the starting point for a reconstruction by Adriana Valerio and the other historians and theologians.  From the movement of female opinion that followed Ricciardi’s appeal. hundreds of women came together “and demanded - she writes - among other things, work for everyone and compulsory education to combat ignorance, secularism as a guarantee of freedom of conscience, separation of Church and State, emancipation of women, to be granted the same rights as men”. Many of these women, then, were believers who asked the Church for equal dignity as they had been baptized like men. Instances and desires that “were not fulfilled”, Valerio comments.

Some of those who came abandoned their religious practice. Others adhered to various forms of ecclesial life. One was Cristina Trivulzio, a Milanese patriot and intellectual. Another was the Neapolitan noblewoman Enrichetta Caracciolo, a nun who had already left the monastery and returned to a secular life driven by Garibaldi’s impetus, and who joined the Methodist Christian Church. Yet another was Amalie von Lasaulx, Sister Augustine, an admirable nurse in the German-Danish and then German-Austrian wars, the director of a hospital in Bonn, and who was marginalized for having opposed the dogma of infallibility, and was expelled from the congregation for not having recanted.

The history of women in Christianity and in the Church and of female exegesis has been the subject of Adriana Valerio’s studies for decades. Always with an eye on the present. Even now that the synodal process is underway, which will lead to the celebration of the synod of bishops scheduled for 2023 with an extremely challenging theme such as For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission. Adriana Valerio says, “The synod is one of the great occasions to involve the entire ecclesial community. The question of women, to which the debate on ministries is connected, is one of the fundamental problems”.

by Francesco Grignetti
A Journalist with the Italian national newspaper, La Stampa