A Vatican magazine has denounced how nuns are often treated like indentured servants by cardinals and bishops, for whom they cook and clean for next to no pay. The March edition of “Women Church World,” the monthly women’s magazine of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, hit newsstands Thursday. Its expose on the underpaid labor and unappreciated intellect of religious sisters confirmed that the magazine is increasingly becoming the imprint of the Catholic Church’s #MeToo movement.
“Some of them serve in the homes of bishops or cardinals, others work in the kitchens of church institutions or teach. Some of them, serving the men of the church, get up in the morning to make breakfast, and go to sleep after dinner is served, the house cleaned and the laundry washed and ironed,” reads one of the lead articles.
A nun identified only as Sister Marie describes how sisters serve clergy but “are rarely invited to sit at the tables they serve.”
While such servitude is common knowledge, it is remarkable that an official Vatican publication would dare put such words to paper and publicly denounce how the church systematically exploits its own nuns.
But that pluck has begun to define “Women Church World,” which launched six years ago as a monthly insert in L’Osservatore Romano and is now a stand-alone magazine distributed for free online and alongside the printed newspaper in Italian, Spanish, French and English.
“Until now, no one has had the courage to denounce these things,” the magazine’s editor, Lucetta Scaraffia, said. “We try to give a voice to those who don’t have the courage to say these words” publicly. “Inside the church, women are exploited,” she said in a recent interview.
While Pope Francis has told Scaraffia he appreciates and reads the magazine, it is by no means beloved within the deeply patriarchal Vatican system. Recent issues have raised eyebrows, including the March 2016 edition on “Women who preach,” which appeared to advocate allowing lay women to deliver homilies at Mass.
One of the authors had to publish a subsequent clarification saying he didn’t mean to suggest a change to existing doctrine or practice. Other recent issues have explored the symbolic power of women’s bodies and “rape as torture.”
Scaraffia, a Catholic feminist and professor of history at Rome’s La Sapienza university, sees the magazine as a necessary tool to push the envelope on issues that matter to half the members of the Catholic Church. The fact that a women’s supplement to L’Osservatore Romano is even necessary is indicative of what she’s up against. L’Osservatore is the official newspaper of the Vatican, publishing official papal decrees and speeches and maintaining an editorial line that reflects the priorities of the Holy See.