Q & A with Jo Piazza

Jo Piazza is the managing editor for Yahoo Travel.

Even before its Sept. 2 release, Jo Piazza’s book, If Nuns Ruled the World: Ten Sisters on a Mission was on everyone’s lips – thanks, in part, to a glowing review from the New York Time’s Nick Kristof. The book, which started as a spinoff of Piazza’s master’s thesis on the ways women religious use social media, is the fruit of three years of reporting during which Piazza visited Catholic sisters

Global Sisters Report got in touch with Piazza to discuss her book, her spiritual life and her belief that women religious are the perfect role models for young girls.

Whom did you write If Nuns Ruled the World for?

Everyone. I mean that. These women are inspiring no matter what gender or faith you are. They do incredible things, and the lessons we can all learn from them are invaluable. I particularly want young Catholic women to read the book, though. I think all of these women are incredible role models for young girls.

In what way?

The nuns that I met while working on this book genuinely believe in lifting up other women. They’re true feminists. I don’t mean that in the way that a lot of critics of nuns use that word. They are feminists because they love other women and they believe in helping other women. It was Nick Kristof’s book Half the Sky that inspired me to push hard to have this book published. Nuns are out there in the streets every day, getting their hands dirty to help the people who live on the margins of society.

But sisters in the U.S. have gotten some criticism for exactly that. What are your thoughts on the Vatican’s pushback against the LCWR?

That was one of the reasons I set out to write the book in the first place. When you hear that the Vatican is investigating nuns you expect to find a real story, a real scandal. All I found was service, and I found way better stories than I ever expected.

I don’t think we will see a resolution to this fight in the next year, maybe not in the next five years. I’m not even sure if the Vatican knows what they want to accomplish with it at this point. I think the LCWR is doing the right thing by standing their ground and standing up for what they believe is right. They have shown that they will not allow themselves to be bullied. I believe that conveys an important message to young Catholic women to stand up for what they believe in and to be brave.

Frankly, and this is just my personal opinion – although I have heard it from many nuns I have spoken with as well – I think the Vatican has a lot bigger fish to fry than progressive sisters. These women are out there living the Gospel every day. We know the Vatican isn’t going to excommunicate all of the progressive nuns. I think Pope Francis himself, not an emissary, needs to spend time with these strong and brave women to come to a solution that celebrates women in the church so that future generations of women can feel proud of their faith.

Portion of cover of "If Nuns Ruled the World."

Has there been pushback against you and your book?

Absolutely. The day that the book came out I was attacked on Twitter by conservative Catholics over and over again. I welcome the criticism and I am always happy to have a discussion. What I found fascinating was that when I invited them to have a discussion with me over email or join me in my Reddit AMA, I didn’t hear a peep out of them.

You wrote a book about nuns, but you are agnostic. Did meeting Catholic sisters challenge your agnosticism at all?

I talk about this in the book a lot. The few people who have attacked me have also confused the term agnostic with atheist. I don’t necessarily believe or not believe in a god. I consider myself a very spiritual person, and I genuinely enjoy spending time with people who practice various religions and experiencing their traditions. Reporting this book didn’t change that. That said, witnessing the strength of the nuns’ faith and seeing how content that faith has made them, how genuinely happy and fulfilled it has make me wish that I had the capacity for that level of devotion and faith.

[Dawn Cherie Araujo is staff reporter for Global Sisters Report.]