A group of nuns

“Total exploitation”: Former Vatican journalist hits out at priests’ treatment of nuns

A former Vatican journalist has hit out at priests’ treatment of nuns, saying that in many cases women religious are in situations of “total exploitation” at the hands of ordained men.

– “Nuns work all hours without getting a holiday or getting paid”

Lucetta Scaraffia, a historian by profession, made the comments in a program on France24, on “Faith and feminism”.

Scaraffia was the director of Donne Chiesa Mondo (“Women Church World”) – the ‘women’s supplement’ of official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano – until she quit last year in protest at male attempts to control the publication’s editorial line.

In many cases, even in the Vatican, “priests are served by nuns. They’re servants. Treated like servants. Nuns work all hours without getting a holiday or getting paid”, Scaraffia denounced to the French TV program.

The Italian academic said that the mistreatment of women religious can even go as far as sexual assault.

“In various different Church ministries, there are mountains of complaints filed for sexual abuse committed by priests or monks towards women, but they’re never taken seriously”, she lamented, explaining that in Vatican offices that deal with abuse allegations those files “are labelled as romantic relations, but they’re something else”.

“It’s violence against women, committed by men in a position of power who force them to consent to sexual relations”, Scaraffia deplored.

– Vaticanist: Pope “wants to start a process”, but “there are cardinals, bishops… who obstruct”

France24 devoted its program to looking at women’s rights in different Christian denominations.

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Female advancement is a cause that’s received a boost under Pope Francis, with women staffers now accounting for 22% of the Vatican’s workforce, for example. Although that’s an increase on the previous pontificate, many Catholics are pleading for more progress.

Francesca Di Giovanni – who made history in January when she became the highest-ever ranked female in the Roman Curia, as an undersecretary in the Vatican Secretariat of State – told France24 that she believes her appointment “shows above all Pope Francis’ wish to open up positions of power to women”.

Vaticanist and author Nina Fabrizio agreed with Di Giovanni’s reading of the Pope’s desires, and said Francis “wants to start a process” on how to better honour Catholic women’s leadership potential.

But, on the women’s rights issue, “there are cardinals, bishops – all men who are ecclesiastical officials – who obstruct, and so the Pope has to start on the reforms and reconcile these different viewpoints within the Church”, Fabrizio explained.

– Female Episcopalian priest: “Feminism in the Church is about going back to what Jesus said”

Exactly what that “reform” of women’s involvement in the Catholic Church might look like was reflected in France24‘s conversation with Lucinda Laird, the dean of the Episcopalian American Cathedral of Paris.

Asked how it is that many Protestant denominations are so far ahead of the Catholic Church in terms of women’s rights, Laird explained that “there’s been a feminist movement which has helped, but I want to be clear… Feminism in the Church is not modern feminism: it’s going back to what Jesus said”.

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“So as we all – as we have to do every few hundred years – go back to that, to the radical equality that we saw in Jesus’ life and ministry – it is much easier to say: ‘Well of course: men and women, old and young, black and white… are all made in the image of God'”, the Episcopalian priest said.

“If a feminist simply means somebody who thinks that men and women should be treated equally, respected equally and have equal opportunities, how could you be against it?”, Laird asked.

Explaining that although there are elements of both the Old and New Testaments “that you can use” to oppress women, people of colour, gay and lesbian people and members of other minorities, Laird insisted that “the arc of Scripture” and the essence of Jesus’ life and ministry “is about radical equality”.

“The Church is always used in any given age to support the status quo, the powers that be… It’s always used; it’s a human institution. But as we go back again and again to the source… we find a radical equality, a radical inclusion. That’s very Christian. It is not Christian to say that some people are less than others”, the Dean of the American Cathedral in Paris said.

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“Women in the Church can make people uncomfortable, because we’re talking about expanding so many ‘known’ – we think we know them – categories. And yet that’s what the faith is supposed to be about: open your mind, open your heart and your soul.

“People don’t want the Church to change, and I get that – because everything else in the world changes, and you want a safe place – but the Church is where the wind of the Spirit blows through and turns things upside down”, Laird stressed.

More stories on Novena on claims of abuse of women religious:

Experts warn stress, abuse, “unattainable ideal” of spirituality causing drop in number of nuns, decline in new vocations

Burnout, stress, exploitation, prostitution… Vatican magazine lifts lid on abuse of nuns

Former Vatican journalist Lucetta Scaraffia says unpaid women’s work keeping Church alive

Former Vatican journalist Lucetta Scaraffia doubles down on claims nuns enslaved, abused by priests “all over the world”

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Mada Jurado

Reporter and community manager at Novena
Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.