A Vatican magazine denounced widespread exploitation of nuns for cheap or free labour in the Roman Catholic Church on Thursday, saying the male hierarchy should stop treating them like lowly servants.
The article in the monthly “Women, Church, World”, remarkable for an official Vatican publication, described the drudgery of nuns who do work such as cooking, cleaning and waiting on tables for cardinals, bishops and priests.
The article, based on the comments of several unnamed nuns, described how some work in the residences of “men of the Church, waking at dawn to prepare breakfast and going to sleep once dinner is served, the house is in order and the laundry cleaned and ironed”.
It said their remuneration was “random and often modest”.
In many cases, the nuns, who take vows of poverty, 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.
In the past, most of the nuns working as domestic help in male-run residences or institutions such as seminaries were local nationals. But in recent years, many have come from Africa, Asia and other parts of the developing world.
The author of the article wrote that what most saddened one of the nuns she talked to was that “they are rarely invited to sit at the table they serve” and made to eat in the kitchen by themselves.
One nun said she knew of fellow sisters who had PhDs in subjects such as theology and had been, with no explanation, ordered to do domestic work or other chores that had “no relationship to their intellectual formation”.
The experiences of such nuns, the article said, could be transformed “into a richness for the whole Church, if the male hierarchy sees it as an occasion for a true reflection on power (in the Church)”.
The magazine, a monthly supplement to the Vatican daily newspaper Osservatore Romano, is written by women journalists and academics.
Only a handful of women hold senior positions in the Vatican hierarchy, including Barbara Jatta, who last year became the first woman to head the Vatican Museums.