Vatican happening with a difference as nightclub ‘combo’ plays in corner

Pontifical Council for Culture kicked off its four-day plenary session on the theme ‘Women’s Culture: Equality and Difference’

Pope Francis smiles as he arrives to lead the general audience in Paul VI’s hall at the Vatican yesterday. Photograph:  Reuters/Osservatore Romano

Pope Francis smiles as he arrives to lead the general audience in Paul VI’s hall at the Vatican yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Osservatore Romano


It is not often that a Vatican Pontifical Council opts to kick off its annual plenary session in a downtown Rome theatre with a nice little nightclub “combo” purring away corner-stage. Yet that was happened yesterday afternoon at the Teatro Argentina in Rome when the Pontifical Council for Culture kicked off its much-discussed four-day plenary session on the theme, Women’s Culture: Equality and Difference.

This is a Vatican “happening” intended to focus on topics such as gender identity, inequality, female poverty and violence against women. However, its working document has already caused a major stir by suggesting that abuse of non-medico therapeutic plastic surgery is, essentially, “a burqa made of flesh”.

That statement hardly seemed consistent with the fact that the Italian actor used to promote the event, Nancy Brilli, is a glamorous lady who not only lives with a plastic surgeon but who has also had non-medical plastic surgery. In the end, the promotional film made with Brilli was removed from the Vatican website, following complaints predominantly from the “anglophonic” world and in particular the US.

Before its 31 members and 35 consultants sit down to serious work in the Holy See this morning, the Culture Council opted to hold a “public moment” in Rome. This featured a series of contributions from women speakers, either live or on film, counterpointed by a jazzy little combo featuring guitar, double bass and clarinet.

Our MC for the afternoon, inevitably, was the affable Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the culture council. He acknowledged there had been controversy over the plastic surgery business but, by way of elegant apology, opted to quote Joseph Conrad:

“Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men.”

After that we were treated to the observations of a series of remarkable women, ranging from economists to an orchestral conductor to a heavy metal worker to a Kurdish woman fighting alongside men in the Syrian border town of Kobani. We heard from a nun who tries to get African prostitutes off the streets of Turin in Italy as well as from a plastic surgeon who specialises in post-operative breast reconstruction for cancer victims.

All of this came on an important Vatican day when, for the first time, the Holy See admitted that the forthcoming beatification of Salvadorean archbishop Oscar Romero, gunned down by the El Salvador military as he said Mass in March 1980, had been wrongly blocked by internal Vatican opposition.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator of Archbishop Romero’s cause, said yesterday that the church had had to wait for the election of a Latin American pope to see this beatification take place.