CNN Compares Vatican City 'Men's Club' to Saudi Arabia

The way CNN sees the Vatican hierarchy, one would think it's a repressive male-dominated cabal that women are morally obligated to challenge. CNN's Ben Wedeman aired another broadside against the church from the streets of Rome on Tuesday.

Wedeman stretched one comparison between Vatican City and Saudi Arabia – neither allow women's suffrage: "Vatican City joined Saudi Arabia as one of the few states left on earth where women have no vote."

And he connected St. Catherine of Siena's condemnation of clerical corruption with today's Catholic women struggling for a greater role in the church:

"[C]hurch history is replete with women saints who struggled and died for the faith. Other women refused to stay silent when they saw evil in the church. In the 14th century, St. Catherine of Siena famously described the cardinals as devils in human form. And, today, strong-willed women are trying to break through the stained glass ceiling."

Wedeman's history lesson needs serious context. St. Catherine railed against the cardinals who threw the church into a decades-long schism by electing an anti-pope in place of the sitting Pope Urban VI. Such "evil" wasn't exactly on-par with the current role of women in the church.

"Women's voices may be louder than before, but, for now, the doors to this men's club remain firmly shut," Wedeman ended his reporting with a loaded flourish. A few weeks ago, he hyped the "Winds buffeting the church" and "the gap between the shepherd and his flock seems to be growing ever wider," while ignoring the strides Pope Benedict made during his papacy to reform the liturgy and crack down on clerical abuse.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on CNN Newsroom on March 5 at 12:43 p.m. EST, is as follows:

[12:43]

BRIANNA KEILAR: In Vatican City right now, almost all of the cardinals who will choose the next pope are there and they're talking. They met again today, but they still haven't announced a date for the conclave. That's when they'll pick Pope Benedict XVI's successor. While people around the world wait for that decision, our Ben Wedeman reports on what many people see as a "men's club" in the Catholic Church.

(Video Clip)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN senior international correspondent: The cardinals are gathering in Rome against a backdrop of two millennia of history. To outsiders, the upper echelons of the Vatican appear to be an exclusive men's club. Vatican City joined Saudi Arabia as one of the few states left on earth where women have no vote. Men may run the church, but they're outnumbered by women at mass in Rome's Church of Santa Lucia. The art on the walls highlights their centrality in the past, and women should be part of the future, says worshiper Alesandra Candrelli (ph).

ALESANDRA CANDRELLI (ph): Everyone would like to have more women everywhere because this is a fact that it's not possible to stop because nowadays women are very, very strong.

WEDEMAN: Catholics revere Maria, the mother of Jesus, and church history is replete with women saints who struggled and died for the faith. Other women refused to stay silent when they saw evil in the church. In the 14th century, St. Catharine of Siena famously described the cardinals as devils in human form. And, today, strong-willed women are trying to break through the stained glass ceiling.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops concedes the church hierarchy is male-dominated, but women do occupy important lay positions in Catholic social and relief organizations.

SISTER MARY ANN WALSH, U.S. Bishops' Conference spokeswoman: If you take the issue off the table, if you take ordination off the table, for example, in the U.S., our statistics are better than the Department of Labor when it comes to women in executive positions.

WEDEMAN: A bit of female advice would help the church steer its way through troubled waters, says Professor Donna Ursuto of the Gregorian College.

Professor DONNA URSUTO, Gregorian Pontifical University: And it certainly brings more balance when you have contact with women and when you listen to women, especially, and listen to their perspective. And I think, you know, a lot of the ways that this crisis was handled in the church, you know, to have had more women's input in dealing with it would have been a better thing.

WEDEMAN: But, for now, women have, at best, an indirect influence, as Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins of Portugal explains it.

CARDINAL JOSE SARAIVA MARTINS, Portugal: (through translator) (Unintelligible)

WEDEMAN: "Certainly the church is not a democratic society in the way civil society understands," he says. "It's a hierarchical church, therefore not everyone is equal."

Women's voices may be louder than before, but, for now, the doors to this men's club remain firmly shut. Ben Wedeman, CNN, Rome.

(End Video Clip)

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014