VATICAN CITY -- The founder and all-female editorial board of the Vatican's women's magazine have quit after what they say was a Vatican campaign to discredit them and put them "under the direct control of men," that only increased after they denounced the sexual abuse of nuns by clergy.

The editorial committee of "Women Church World," a monthly glossy published alongside the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, made the announcement in the planned April 1 editorial and in an open letter to Pope Francis that was provided Tuesday to The Associated Press.

"We are throwing in the towel because we feel surrounded by a climate of distrust and progressive de-legitimization," founder Lucetta Scaraffia wrote in the open letter.

In the editorial, she wrote: "We believe there are no longer the conditions to continue our collaboration with L'Osservatore Romano."

The decision is a blow to Francis' efforts to give greater decision-making roles to women at the Vatican, a pledge that has in some ways fallen flat despite increased pressures in the #MeToo era. Scaraffia had become perhaps the most prominent woman at the Holy See, even though she never drew a salary for her 7-year leadership of the magazine she founded, "Women Church World."

Scaraffia told the AP that the decision to leave was taken after L'Osservatore's new editor, Andrea Monda, earlier this year planned to take over as the magazine's editor. She said he backed off after the editorial board threatened to resign and the Catholic weeklies that distribute translations of "Women Church World" in France, Spain and Latin America, told her they would stop distributing if she weren't in charge.

"After the attempts to put us under control, came the indirect attempts to delegitimize us," she told AP in a statement, citing other women brought in to write for L'Osservatore "with an editorial line opposed to ours."

The effect, she said, was to "obscure our words, delegitimizing us as a part of the Holy See's communications."

In a statement, Monda denied having tried to weaken "Women Church World" and said that he merely tried to bolster other female voices and viewpoints on the pages of L'Osservatore. He said he always guaranteed the magazine's autonomy, and limited himself to suggesting ideas or possible contributors.

Scaraffia launched the monthly insert in 2012 and oversaw its growth into a stand-alone Vatican magazine as a voice for women, by women and about issues of interest to the entire Catholic Church. "Women Church World" had enjoyed editorial independence from L'Osservatore, even while being published under its auspices.

In the final editorial, which was sent to the printers last week, the editorial board cited L'Osservatore's initiatives with other women contributors that they said constituted competing points of view "with the effect of pitting women against one another," with the magazine's editorial staff considered no longer trustworthy.

"Now it seems that a vital initiative has been reduced to silence and that there's a return to the antiquated and arid custom of choosing women considered trustworthy from on-high, under the direct control of men," read the open letter, signed by Scaraffia.

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