Guest Post by Catia C. Confortini
On 25 May 2013, the remains of 15 year-old Italian girl were found just outside Corigliano Calabro, a small town in the southern Italian region of Calabria. Investigators later found out that Fabiana Luzzi had been murdered by her 17 year-old boyfriend. According to the confession he would later make, they had been fighting over her decision to leave him. He said that he stabbed her (over 20 times) in self-defense, after she had attacked him. He then went to retrieve a canister of gas to burn her body. When he got there, she was still alive and got up to try to prevent him from dousing her with gasoline. Being too weak to stand up, she fell and never got up again. He went ahead and burned her alive.
There could be much to say about this ‘incident’ and indeed much has been said in Italy, on newspapers, blogs, TV, radio and on the street. People have commented on the customs and culture of the little town in the South of Italy where this femicide took place. In a divided Italy, where racist parties in the North would use any and all excuses to further a separatist, ultra-nationalist agenda, it was easy to depict this incident as something that happens “down there”. And, of course many of these reactions shared a common voyeuristic flare, with “experts”, psychologists, and various pundits all wanting to say their own.
As I learned the news and read the Italian papers from the other side of the Atlantic, I first observed, partly cynically, partly desperately, that this didn’t seem like anything new. When I was growing up, my parents owned a grocery store in a small suburban town in the North and, like in any old tight-knit community, the store was one of the centers of community interactions. My parents knew what was going on all around my town: so and so beats his wife when he gets home drunk; so and so had a black eye yesterday, she said she fell but everybody knows he beats her; we heard her scream the other day… Where I grew up girls were pretty or nothing. If girls spoke their minds they were labeled as argumentative and difficult. They would never find a husband, and without a husband, they were nothing, people said. All the girls I knew had been sexually harassed or molested at some point in their lives. File that under #everydaysexism, the small acts of violence that represent a culture where all kinds of violence against women are imaginable. Fabiana’s murder and people’s reactions to it were nothing new to me. But as I processed this latest episode of an all too common story, I was struck by something else.
According to newspapers’ accounts of the murder and its aftermath, the local Roman Catholic bishop went to visit Fabiana Luzzi’s parents, ostensibly to offer them spiritual solace and guidance. Nice gesture, I guess, given that the family are Jehovah’s Witnesses (yes, that’s sarcasm you read here). The bishop and Fabiana’s mother apparently talked about justice and rehabilitation. The mother was quoted saying that Fabiana’s murderer was also a victim. These are noble sentiments, and they stand in sharp contrast to the thirst for blood that I often hear in cases of murderous violence in the United States. I admired this mother’s courage, simplicity and human compassion. But while reading this I couldn’t help feeling a sense of rage surging in me. There is plenty to be angry about here, but I found myself particularly enraged at the bishop.
I found scandalous that a representative of an institution, which I consider complicit in promoting the culture of sexism (hatred of the feminine) and machism (exaltation of the masculine) that is so rampant in Italy would go to the Luzzi family and ask them to consider the murderer’s rehabilitation. I thought it was arrogant and ignorant to move the discussion quickly from consolation of grieving parents to individual forgiveness as if this murder had been an isolated incident, rather than a pattern and a systemic problem. I was, hell I am, outraged that the bishop never considered asking for forgiveness for himself and the institution he represents, that he never admitted that indeed they need forgiving. I consider the attitudes and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in Italy to be among the actual mandanti (the Italian word used to describe those who commission a mafia killing but never get their hands dirty with the actual killing) of the epidemic of violence against women (click here for English). As it turned out, the bishop even falsely attributed to Fabiana’s mother the statement that her daughter’s killer was also a victim to be pitied. So this cleric went to the mother of a girl who was killed by her boyfriend to talk about forgiveness, and he also publicly attributed to her sentiments that she didn’t share.
I was furious at that display of rather superficial Catholic piety, at the usurpation of a mother’s voice, and at the usual media portrayal of the Church as this sacred, saintly institution, when in fact they bear some of the responsibility for what women’s antiviolence groups have called a “culture of subalternity”. The Catholic Church and its prelates are the ones that continue to promote a culture that denies the full humanity of women by protecting a family that is often the primary site of violence; by refusing to grant the possibility of divorce, even in domestic violence situations; by denying women the full sovereignty over their bodies by banning not only abortion but also contraception (not to mention the denial of full equality within the church itself). Last year the “ultra-Catholic” website Pontifex published an editorial entitled “Donne e il femminicidio, facciano sana autocritica. Quante volte provocano?” (“Women need to practice some self-criticism about femicide. How many times do they stir it up?”). The manifesto claimed that violence against women happens because women do not behave properly, they no longer have a hot home-made dinner on the table when their husbands come home from work, they disregard their god-mandated duties, they wear provocative attire, etc… (we all know the drill). The site was also known for its virulent anti-gay rhetoric and its invectives against “satanic feminists”. Pontifex was arguably an outlier in the spectrum of Catholic opinions on women in society. Nevertheless, there is a widespread tolerance and silence toward this misogyny that reflects quiet acquiescence. The site was apparently closed down in January 2013, not long after a priest in a Northern town posted the editorial on his church doors. The public act made waves: people complained, debates ensued, the priest was asked to take the notice down. But there were also comments approving of his message. He was slightly reprimanded, he mildly apologized, and that was it. Never did the church ponder how perhaps it needs to do something truly radical and rethink its role in the propagation of this “culture of subalternity”. In the case of the conversation between the bishop and Fabiana’s parents, it would have been nice if he had spoken about gender inequality, manifested in cultural and material structures, as among the roots of violence against women. But he didn’t.
Following the discovery of Fabiana’s body, schools in Corigliano Calabro closed and students marched in a procession of mourning and in solidarity to Fabiana. While the banners that they carried were perhaps adolescent expressions of grief, I fear that until the grip of the Catholic Church is not lifted from Italian culture and institutions those teenagers are no safer, no more protected than Fabiana was.
Bishop Santo Marcianó