Vatican Corner 04-29-18


Although it is common knowledge that nuns are treated like indentured servants by cardinals and bishops for whom they cook and clean for little or no pay, the March 2018 edition of the Vatican magazine: “Women Church World” had the courage to denounce in print the exploitation of its own Catholic nuns. The 6 year old magazine began as a monthly insert to the Vatican’s daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. Now it is a stand-alone magazine distributed for free online and along-side the newspaper. The Vatican magazine is written by women journalists and academics and appears in Italian, Spanish, French and English. Pope Francis is said to be a reader. The March edition was an exposé with articles based on the stories of anonymous nuns who described working for the men of the church. The nuns tell of working long hours to cook, clean and do laundry for cardinals and bishops while rarely being asked to eat at the same table. They describe being treated like lowly servants with random pay that is often poor. The nun’s stories tell of many who do not have registered contracts with the bishops, schools, parishes or congregations they work for, “so they are paid little or not at all.” One sister said that “nuns are seen as volunteers to have available at one’s calling, which gives rise to abuse of power.” The stories tell of the unfair economic and social conditions many nuns face, as well as the psychological and spiritual challenges they experience. In many cases, the nuns receive no pay because they are members of female religious orders and are sent to the residences of male Church officials as part of their assignments. Most nuns working as domestic help in male-run residences or institutions like seminaries no longer come from the local area. Instead they come from Africa, Asia and other parts of the developing world. One nun complained of great confusion and discomfort in trying to make sense of her situation with respect to the quote: “In the eyes of Jesus we are all children of God.” Catholic nuns often take vows of poverty but one article points out that it is not just a question of money; the bigger problem is that male vocations are valued, and the work of women is not. One nun said that “behind all this is still the unfortunate idea that women are worth less than men, and above all that the priest is everything while sisters are nothing in the church.” Pope Francis has raised the matter of women’s roles in the Church, but his concerns have yet to be translated into concrete changes. He has said that sisters should be in the streets, in schools and with the sick and poor rather than carrying out errands for a parish priest. “When a consecrated woman is asked to perform a work of servitude, the life and dignity of that woman are demeaned. Her vocation is service to the church. But not servitude!” He urged the sisters to “have the courage to say no” when their superiors “asked for something that is more servitude than service.”