Lucetta Scaraffia, founder and former director of the Vatican magazine Donne Chiesa Mondo (“Women Church World”), has said that the unpaid or underpaid work of women is the only thing keeping the Church alive.

Driving the news

Men, but especially women, are victims of a lawless Church labour system that takes advantage of the blurry line between “mission” for the love of working for the institution, and “profession”, work for pay, Scaraffia denounced in an essay in Lavoro Diritti Europa.

“In the Catholic world women work, and work a lot, probably more than men, and above all carry out the lowest jobs”, denounced Scaraffia, director of Donne Chiesa Mondo from 2012 until she was forced out in 2019.

Go deeper

Cleaners, flower ladies, catechists… not only do women do these jobs and others like them for free in the Church, but often they require a substantial outlay on their for the purchase of necessary materials, Scaraffia recalled.

That’s while male priests and prelates are always regarded as professionals, and paid “honorariums” for their services, whether sacramental, speaking, teaching or otherwise.

Another problem affects religious women especially, Scaraffia continued: that along with their pastoral tasks, nuns are very often expected to perform domestic duties as well, and that much, in many cases, for their clerical male superiors.

That servile humiliation, Scaraffia said, conflicts too with the academic and professional aspirations of the more than capable sisters, while the further studies of seminarians and priests are not only encouraged by bishops, but also funded with scholarships and bursaries.

“This situation does nothing but replicate and maintain the condition of subordination of women in the Church”, Scaraffia denounced.

Why it matters

Although the cause of women continues to advance in the Vatican – with women now making up some 20% of the total number of workers in the Holy See – “in the central organisms of the Church only a very small number of women currently occupy top positions”, Scaraffia continued.

But, moreover, “the glass ceiling in the Vatican is double”, the journalist explained: men not only outnumber women in top positions, but ecclesiastics also outnumber laymen and especially laywomen.

Laywomen in Vatican service can expect salaries of around 1,200 euros monthly, “while men, and much more often ecclesiastics, can easily get double”, Scaraffia decried.

What’s next

Despite the discrimination they suffer, women in the Vatican, and the Church more generally, are often reluctant to complain, forced as they are into compliance and afraid of repercussions if they speak out, Scaraffia lamented.

But instead of the intimidation, humiliation, veto on professional development and exploitation, the world’s 648,910 nuns – compared to the 413,582 priests around the globe – still have the opportunity to realise their potential in activities outside the influence of clerics, such as in traditionally religious-dominated areas such as hospitals and schools, the journalist said.

Still, “it would be appropriate for women, and especially women religious, to begin to demand recognition of the importance and decisive influence of their work input to the life of the Church”, Scaraffia suggested.

The recognition and appreciation of just how much women help the Church run would “a basis for a more comprehensive recognition of their role within the institution”, the Italian journalist claimed.

Next on Novena:

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

Francis: Giving women “functions to fulfill” only leads “halfway” to real feminism

French bishop admits “Jesus’ view of women was much more open than ours”

Women, lay ministers now majority in Belgian Church but still barred from power

Overworked and underpaid, French Catholic women experience flipside of Church ‘equality’

Spanish women quit Church en masse in protest over Catholic “sexism”


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.