For the series of portraits dedicated to women who take their voice in the Church, Federica Tourn meets the theologian Simona Segoloni for Jesus magazine. Simona writes about gender, institutional violence, the women’s marginalization who cannot express themselves except “by men’s courtesy”.
The scenario is the Catholic Church and she is Simona Segoloni, 48, professor of Systematic Theology at the Theological Institute of Assisi. She writes and speaks with determination, without hiding a mixture of impatience and rebellion due to the evident disconnection between the reality of women’s passion and service in the Church and their frustration, once again, while recording the misrecognition of their feminine talents.
"It is as if we have many billions available to revive the country and we do not use them," explains Segoloni. “That of women is an obvious ecclesial belonging: the Church simply would not exist without them. And yet, despite this, every day women experience the difficulty of finding a space on par with men and the difficulty of having their specific gift recognized in evangelical witnessing”.
In a word, they experience exclusion: they are the lamp placed under a bushel, and they are still the "second sex", as Simone de Beauvoir wrote in 1949, stigmatizing women’s condition of inferiority both in history and in society.
Segoloni does not stop there, when in Sorelle tutti - a book written together with Elizabeth Green and Selene Zorzi – she speaks on inclusiveness from Pope Francis' encyclical Fratelli tutti point of view. She emphasizes, "there is an abstract description of the feminine conducted by subtraction: woman cannot be what is thought to be masculine (which is simply human, by the way) and therefore she must be what remains". This is what Fratelli Tutti also says at n°. 23. "The organization of societies worldwide is still far from reflecting clearly that women possess the same dignity and identical rights as men. We say one thing with words, but our decisions and reality tell another story.”
The obstacle race to equality is one step forward and two steps back, as women are well aware. "The disarming thing is that gender discrimination in the Church is justified by calling into question God’s will", explains Segoloni, "a terrible thing, because it leads women to think that it is God who wants them to be inferior". The rebellion, Gospel in hand, against this interpretation and the depressive vision that follows, however, means entering into a painful conflict with the Church. Yet feminist theology captures an "ancient and irrefutable truth", as Elizabeth Johnson points out in In Search of the Living God, when she states that women are "God's favorite beings": any violence done to women is, for this north-American nun - not by chance much loved by Simona Segoloni-, “an insult to divine glory”.
We are far from the "missing males", as Thomas Aquinas called them, or as destined to stay at home "like a nail driven into the wall", according to the colorful expression attributed to Luther.
If it is undoubtedly true that today there are women's associations and movements, even in the Catholic Church, that work to make women’s presence and visibility effective, according to the theologian, “obtuse resistances” to change persist in the ecclesiastical hierarchies.
It is the conservative illusion - as Segoloni defines it - of a Church searching its own identity in the one of the mid-twentieth century culture, nostalgic of a social system in which there are distinct areas and women are relegated to the private sector. The theologian is clear: "This narrative, which justifies a Gospels’ interpretation starting from a clerical reading, serves only to support an ecclesiastical structure in which it is not true that we are all brothers and sisters."
How to overcome this fracture? "With a conversion", Segoloni suggests, and by putting into action a full synodality, as the Pope asks. "We must give the Church another form, in which we decide together, even in the asymmetry of the charismas, asking for the privileges and the clerical system to end", explains the theologian, and adds: "To do so it takes courage, especially on the part of those who have to renounce to power".
First, however, we should listen to the cry of those who do not feel welcomed, whether they are women or LGBT people: "You can complain all the way you want, you just don't get taken seriously," says Segoloni. "It is as if they told you: the problem is yours, you do not fit anywhere".
Raised in a family "of traditional faith but not particularly committed", Simona Segoloni experiences the Gospel’s truth the in a parish in Perugia. “I loved reading and I was passionate about texts that I would now define regressive,” she recalls. “From the works of the Swiss theologian von Balthasar to The Lord by Romano Guardini, an attempt this one to reflect on the life of Christ that I have taken up in my book Jesus, a special masculine”. She enrolled in Law but soon left her law studies to devote herself full time to theology: she first attended the Theological Institute of Assisi and then continued her specialization in Florence. She got married and three sons and a daughter were born within a decade, while she continued her studies and in the meantime worked part-time at the Theological Institute of Assisi. Intense years were those! “I submitted my doctoral thesis when I was eight months pregnant with my last one,” she recalls.
If she could travel with a time machine, she has no doubts: she would go back to Palestine to see with her eyes the carpenter's son walking on the Sea of Galilee. Passionate about reading the narrative texts - among the authors she prefers is the Belgian André Wénin - she is intrigued by the feminine minor figures of the Bible, while she cannot stand David, "narcissistic and violent: to understand him you have to read The Secret Harmony of Geraldine Brooks".
Among her future dreams, there is a research in theology, because she thinks that the time has come to rewrite a good part of the doctrine: "We are burdened by words and structures that are inadequate to transmit the Gospel’s beauty", she says. "To succeed in this task, however, you need freedom and the possibility of maintaining yourself, two conditions that perhaps do not exist yet in Italy."