· Vatican City ·


The ecclesial network supported by seven bishops to promote women in the Church

Sister dioceses: the great challenge

 Sorelle diocesi: la grande sfida  DCM-006
01 June 2024

It was a project that started gradually but grew and developed month after month. It has a nice title, called “Sister Dioceses”, ecclesial communities in network. For Italy, it is a kind of revolution: seven dioceses, and probably more to come, have established a sort of ecclesial sisterhood to share best practices throughout the territory, ideals, and perspectives on female presence, to promote the ministries and co-responsibilities of women in the life of the church and society.

The aim, as stated on the specially created website, is to:

• make known and share the heritage of religious, cultural, and social contributions of women within individual dioceses;

• promote the deepening of sacred texts from a perspective offered by women’s studies and feminist exegesis;

• promote research and study through appropriate training courses in women’s theology;

• strengthen ministries and pastoral services also officially entrusted to women throughout the territory;

• increase interreligious dialogue on a path that creates bridges to the other shores of the Mediterranean with women from other countries and cultures;

• activate practices and multiply educational pathways to combat the marginalization of women, their discrimination, the violence they suffer, and the lack of recognition of their rights;

• cultivate and verify at every level of training a serious approach by ordained ministers towards transparent, equal, and cooperative relationships with women in ecclesial and civil contexts.

This is a beautiful, ambitious, and courageous challenge. The idea originated in Naples, on the initiative of Archbishop Domenico Battaglia, and then the local Churches of Cassano allo Ionio (province of Cosenza), Catania, Mantua, Palermo, Reggio Calabria-Bova, and Verona joined in. They are led by bishops who recognize “the necessary and essential contribution of women who can renew the Church, in an open dialogue and discussion on areas of thought, methods, and new practices still to be explored and deepened”, as stated by Corrado Lorefice, Archbishop of Palermo.

All together - Battaglia for Naples, Francesco Savino for Cassano allo Ionio, Luigi Renna for Catania, Domenico Pompili for Verona, Corrado Lorefice for Palermo, Fortunato Morrone for Reggio Calabria-Bova, and Gianmarco Busca for Mantua - in a letter to the communities, they communicated “full support and appreciation for the network”, also promoted through the websites of the various dioceses.

For the Church of Naples, this initiative is part of a pastoral project aimed at recognizing the role of women and providing the tools for it to be exercised.

A decree issued by Archbishop Domenico Battaglia, which came into force on January 7, transposes a document of the diocesan synod. The decree states, “Women at the Service of the Gospel”, with the aim of “overcoming gender asymmetry” and “assuming the difference between women and men in equal personal dignity for a full implementation of the principles of equality and communion that have their origin in Baptism”. To be more specific, the decree established that “a woman (or a family) may administer parishes and rectories, be assigned to services of the Curia usually reserved for priests, and animate hospital chaplaincies. A woman may preside over the Lectio Divina, the Liturgy of the Hours, some parts of the Funeral Rite, and communal penitential liturgies”. The focus is on promoting “the instituted ministries of lectorate and acolytate”, “biblical cycles and thematic educational actions, attention to inclusive language, and co-responsible presence in diocesan participation bodies”. Theologians are requested to deepen “the theological dimension of the valorization of women through proposals for territorial awareness and spiritual formation in seminaries”.

As illustrated by the website “Women in Dialogue in the Church of Naples”, multiple initiatives are already underway. Through a series of inclusive, interreligious, and intercultural paths, they narrate synergies and alliances among a plurality of realities. Such as “Women and Religions in the Dialogue of Solidarity,” a permanent observatory for meetings of cultures, rights, and solidarity, with representatives from the Catholic, Orthodox, Waldensian-Methodist, Lutheran, Salvation Army, Jewish, and Muslim communities.

On the thread of rediscovering hidden memory, there are appointments about the Bible, interpreted by scholars of the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faiths. “The Word to Women: Inclusive Readings and Interpretations” is a series of 15 lessons that has “over a thousand online subscribers, also from abroad, and over a hundred in person, ranging from 20 to 80 years old. More than two thousand people and entire communities of religious sisters are connected”, says the historian and theologian Adriana Valerio, diocesan delegate for women in Naples. In addition, following this trend, the Institute of Religious Sciences in Naples has proposed to all institutes in the South to establish a course on Theology and Gender Culture.

The organization of the Diocesan Sisters is simple and functional.

“Each diocese has its delegate”, explains Arianna Rotondo, a professor of Christian history chosen for Catania. “And each diocese shares initiatives with the others, working from its own situation”, adds psychologist Carla Bonifati from Cassano allo Ionio. In Reggio Calabria-Bova, the contact person is Annarita Ferrato, who is a lawyer and has been admitted to the Court of Cassation and the Rotale, a professor of canon law, and director of the Institute of Religious Sciences. In Mantua, the contact person is Antonella Madella, who is part of the Order of Sisterhood, a private association of the faithful, the volunteer association in the Beghine Garden, and the diocesan pastoral council.

In Palermo, the idea was to “launch” on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, a dictionary written or rather, rewritten, by women themselves. “The basic premise”, says Anna Staropoli, a sociologist at the Pedro Arrupe Institute, lecturer at the Faculty of Theology of Sicily, and project coordinator in the diocese, “is that violence often coincides with a lack of words. The work we are carrying out consists of reinterpreting some words starting from women’s sensitivity. Words like soul, motherhood, beauty, breastfeeding, and heavier terms like hierarchy, power, money, suffering, and wound. There can be no true democracy without gender justice and social justice”.

The objective is to create a sort of traveling itinerary in the territory, “the revolution of goodness and peace of the invisible Rosalies of the Mediterranean: Saint Rosalia, the patron saint of Palermo, is a woman capable of uniting different peoples. She had to work to redeem herself from a predetermined destiny, she had to take her own autonomy and be responsible for her choices, even in suffering, fragility, and the solitude of her hermitage”. The traveling itinerary of the Women’s Vocabulary is articulated in some neighborhoods of Palermo, four stops are shared with Archbishop Corrado Lorefice and the Dean of the Faculty of Theology of Sicily, Father Vito Impellizzeri.

In Verona, where examples of both secular and ecclesiastical women’s practices have been active for years, feminist and cultural associations are joining forces by sharing initiatives. “To the activities already underway, a few but beautiful initiatives have been added: a reading with music by Lucciola, a magazine entirely handwritten, from 1906 to 1926, by girls who kept a sort of blog, and sent via the Royal Mail throughout Italy, from Caltanissetta to Aosta. The precious artifact is now housed at the Literary Society. “Meetings on Women and the Environment, Biblical Studies”, recounts theologian Cristina Simonelli.

Certainly, we are at the beginning. Just having a space on the Portal and a Bishop’s Letter is not enough to make this network a common and shared asset. “However”, says Simonelli, “beyond the initiatives, it seems important to me the network of trust that has been created. Then tenacity is part of the enterprise, of the challenge of a Church, as we said in our Synod many years ago, ‘disciple, synodal, traveling companion, and supportive’. I believe in that horizon, I know that we can continue to be companions on the same journey”.

Journalist for “Credere” and “Jesus” - Saint Paul Publications