L’Osservatore Romano decries ‘exploitation’ of nuns as housekeepers for prelates

Catholic World News – 3/1/18
The official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano has published an article denouncing the employment of women religious to cook and clean for bishops, saying that this practice is an unjust exploitation. The article appears in a special monthly section of L’Osservatore aimed at women. “Until now, no one had the courage to denounce these things,” editor Lucretta Scaraffa said to the Associated Press.
[Some religious orders of sisters have as their charism cooking and cleaning for bishops (or “active” priestly religious orders – such as of teachers – which have no religious brothers and cannot depend on volunteers – or cannot afford to hire individuals or cooking/cleaning services – to do such work).  If women religious should not to do such work, then who should?  In the case of bishops: Priests or seminarians?  In the case of such priestly religious orders: The priests themselves, thus taking away from their time for Mass, prayer and other religious work as well as from their work of teaching and related duties (class preparation, correcting and grading, meeting with students concerning such)?- AQ moderator Tom]
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6 comments on “L’Osservatore Romano decries ‘exploitation’ of nuns as housekeepers for prelates

  1. Is it wrong for women religious to serve priests and bishops?
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    By Dr. Jeff Mirus | Mar 01, 2018
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    I don’t know about you, but I’m both bemused and confused by the denunciation of women religious serving bishops in a recent edition of L’Osservatore Romano’s insert devoted to women. The magazine insert is a rather predictable creation of the current pontificate, edited by a feminist professor at Rome’s La Sapienza University. So now we have this fresh outcry against sisters serving as cleaners, cooks and housekeepers for those in Holy Orders.
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    Given our carefully-honed modern Western sensibilities, I understand the instinctive outrage. In the article in question, it almost seems that this is a new form of human trafficking.
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    But really?
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    Is there something evil about communities of women religious devoted to performing menial service for those who have good reason to need such service? Is there some reason that such communities would not want to provide this service to the households of priests, bishops, cardinals and even the Pope, when doing so would reduce costs to the relevant Catholic community and make the essentials of priestly ministry easier to perform? Would there be anything wrong in having new recruits, no matter what their order’s charism, perform such services during their novitiates? Might there be some advantage in learning humility?
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    More broadly, is there any good reason to presume that all those called to religious life are intellectually gifted or are called to highly-skilled professions such as medicine and education and (to mention what is surely the noblest of all charisms) seeking government grants? Or again, is there something undignified about serving as a housekeeper or a cook? Since these are fairly light-duty physical occupations, would we expect that they will be undertaken most commonly by men?
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    I might also mention that women typically have stronger nurturing instincts than men and that, despite wide variations, women are typically more interested in cooking than men, and even that—as I am sure we can all agree—women are typically far, far more interested in cleanliness and household order than men!
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    Is it not just barely possible that some women called to religious life would be attracted to an order which devotes itself to providing direct support to the households of the clergy?
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    Is there a problem here?
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    I don’t know the detailed research (if any) on which this story is based. Perhaps doctors and nurses and teachers in religious life really are being redirected routinely to lick the episcopal boots. But I doubt it. I also don’t know whether many talented women are joining religious communities devoted to this kind of service against their will, or are being prevented from progressing to other roles for which they are highly qualified. But I doubt it.
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    Before the Second Vatican Council, religious orders often reflected the older conventions of Europe in that they tended to have multiple class levels. This is understandable, for the internal structure arose from the stratification of the culture out of which these orders grew. One of the reforms in Vatican II’s Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life (Perfectae Caritatis) was to eliminate such gradations as much as possible, especially among women religious, where there is no normal ecclesiastical distinction similar to that in male orders between priest and brother.
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    It goes without saying that there could be abuses. There may well be high-ranking clergy who regard women as their natural servants and claim the right to direct any random religious community to send whomever they need whenever they need her—or, far more likely, lesser degrees of a similar attitude. But I suspect what is lost in this charming exposé is the common sense, humility and Christian perspective to recognize that menial service is not intrinsically demeaning to anyone, and that women should be allowed to be devoted to the work of the Church in such ways without being pressured by feminist editors to feel “abused”.
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    Perhaps it is relevant here that I have recently been reading a biography of St. Faustina Kowalska, the twentieth-century mystic to whom God revealed our devotion to the Divine Mercy. How often was she sent to serve as a housekeeper or to work in a kitchen or a garden! But the mere thought of Sister Faustina and Divine mercy, which implies lowliness, is enough to chill a feminist’s heart.
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    Of course feminists denigrate mothers, too, since so much of their work involves nurturing children and serving husbands (mutually, I hope) while, among other things, cleaning, cooking and ordering the household. Nonetheless, it remains a fundamental truth of human existence that not all forms of service involve rigorous intellectual training and advanced degrees, neither for women nor for men. In fact, most of them do not.
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    No kind of service is supposed to increase our status in this world. Every kind of service is supposed to unite us to Christ. Get over it.

  2. Mirabile dictu! Mirus actually got one right! ( Except for the DM bit. Two popes and Cd. Ottaviani condemned it. )
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    Years ago, my wife and I were served an enormous, exquisite breakfast by nuns who cooked for a bishop friend of ours, after we were at his conventual Mass. One of the Polish nuns whacked me (gently, of course) on my shoulder and complained I wasn’t eating enough of the kielbasa! Yeah, they looked sooooo exploited, poor things! These two very delightful religious RULED in the bishop’s dining room.

  3. My Wedding Breakfast, unsolicited, was given by the nuns in the adjacent convent.

  4. Did not Our Lord speak about such things, to wit: [38] Now it came to pass as they went, that he entered into a certain town: and a certain woman named Martha, received him into her house. [39] And she had a sister called Mary, who sitting also at the Lord’s feet, heard his word. [40] But Martha was busy about much serving. Who stood and said: Lord, hast thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? speak to her therefore, that she help me. [41] And the Lord answering, said to her: Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things: [42] But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her. (Luke 10: 38-41)
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    It seems to me that each person has a calling or vocation and that applies to women religious as well. The above passage says as much, But, in addition, I remember well and pay tribute to the nuns that were in the 50s part of the order known as the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur which today is not the same as it was then. I also remember well the nuns that were of the Order of the Sisters of St. Joseph who taught us in high school and were found in many of the schools in the Archdiocese of Boston before the scandals hit that part of the Church structure.
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    It would be easy to relegate to these devoted women some other role in the Church but I will not. As Jesus said in paraphrasing the above quoted passage from St.Luke’s Gospel: They …”have chosen the best part which will not be taken away from them.” It would be easy to exercise testosterone to the point of denigrating the roles of women in either the Church or the Home but that would not be the role of a follower of Jesus Christ – IMO of course. God bless all women who have taken upon themselves roles that men would sometimes disdain.

  5. [Catholic News Agency decries Osservatore Romano decrying “‘exploitation’ of nuns as housekeepers for prelates” 
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    Are religious sisters exploited by the Church? Three sisters respond
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    by Mary Rezac
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    Denver, Colo., Mar 7, 2018 / (CNA).- Last week, the women’s edition of a magazine distributed in the Vatican published an article claiming that religious sisters in the Church are poorly treated and economically exploited.
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    The article appeared in Women Church World, a monthly women’s magazine published by L’Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of Vatican City. The Associated Press called the story an “exposé on the underpaid labor and unappreciated intellect of religious sisters.”
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    In the article, three religious sisters, whose names have been changed, expressed that the work of women religious is undervalued, that sisters are treated poorly by the priests and bishops they serve, and that they are not recognized or paid fairly for their work.
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    One nun, identified only as Sr. Marie, said that nuns often work long hours in domestic roles for little pay. She also lamented that some sisters are not invited to eat at the same table with the clergy that they serve, causing frustration and resentment.
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    Another sister in the article lamented that sisters with advanced degrees are sometimes tasked with menial jobs.
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    “I met some nuns in possession of a doctorate in theology who have been sent to cook or wash the dishes the following day, a mission free from any connection with their intellectual formation and without a real explanation,” said a religious sister identified in the article as Sr. Paule.
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    But several religious sisters have told CNA that the article does not reflect their experiences in religious life.
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    Mother M. Maximilia Um, who is the Provincial Superior of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George in Alton, Illinois, said that the article might indicate specific problems in particular sisters’ situations, rather than systemic institutional problems.
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    “None of the concerns or problems pointed out in this article can really be completely dismissed, but…I don’t think that they can be confined to relationships between men and women, and those who are ordained and those who are not,” she said. “I suppose in the end it’s a problem as old as sin.”
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    While Mother Maximilia’s order of sisters mostly serve in health care and education positions, they have “quite a history” of serving in the households of priests or bishops, like the sisters in the article.
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    However, the views of the sisters in the article do not reflect “the very real experience our sisters have had in these apostolates, where there is real care and concern shown for the sisters and for their service,” she said.
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    Mother Marie Julie is the Superior General of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady, Mother of the Church, headquartered in Connecticut, whose apostolates are primarily in health care and education. Their charism is “to serve the people of God in a spirit of heartfelt simplicity.”
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    “So by our charism, we’re not looking to get our name in lights, we’re not looking for adulation or praise or notice even, we just want to be in the heart of the Church, and I think that’s pretty much the feeling of most religious congregations and their members,” Mother Marie told CNA.
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    She added that she was “saddened” by the L’Osservatore Romano article, because, she said, it paints a “misleading and bleak picture” of religious life, and does not emphasize the gift of the vocation, both to the consecrated individual and to the Church at large.
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    “There are disgruntled people everywhere, and also I have to admit there is probably some truth to what was written in that article, I can’t say that those people have never had any of those experiences,” she said. “But that has not been my experience or the experience of those sisters that I know.”
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    Rather than a feeling of servitude, religious sisters typically feel that they are daughters of the Church, and are loved and respected as such, said Mother Judith Zuniga, O.C.D., Superior General of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, California.
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    “I feel and know myself to be a daughter of the Church, which in essence means that the Church is my Mother and I sincerely love her,” Mother Judith told CNA by email.
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    “If there is sexism and discrimination, my sisters and I have not experienced it. There seems to be more a feeling of respect, affection, and gratitude for the services we render, for who we are. This would be the more standard response we’ve received from people within and outside the Church,” she said.
    When it comes to monetary compensation, Mother Maximilia noted that while the salaries or stipends of a sister doing domestic work might be less than what she might make in other apostolates, “that was never an issue for us because first of all we see this as a real service to the church,” she said. Furthermore, the households in which sisters served often provided other compensation, such as meals or lodging.
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    “I feel like we were always adequately compensated for service,” she said.
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    Mother Marie told CNA that sometimes, if a particular parish is struggling, the sisters serving there might be paid less, or paid later as the funds come in, but “those are the parishes that are struggling, that is not the norm by any stretch of the imagination,” she noted.
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    “We don’t expect that we would live simply on the love of God, we have to have insurance and we have responsibilities and overhead,” Mother Marie said. “But when that happens – when we’re in a ministry and we’re not paid adequately as the world would see it – that’s not servitude, that’s Gospel, and that’s a privilege,” she said.
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    Religious sisters in the Church typically make three vows – those of poverty, chastity and obedience. During the celebration of the final profession of those vows, a sister often lies prostrate, face down, before the altar and the cross, in a symbolic gesture that she is giving up her old life and rising with Christ as someone who totally belongs to him, Mother Marie said.
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    That moment is “one of the holiest moments of our lives as sisters,” Mother Marie said.
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    “When we laid our lives at the service of the Gospel, we also laid at the foot of the altar our expectations for what we would gain in life,” in terms of worldly success or recognition, she said. Instead, “our hope is that we would gain souls, and I know that that might sound sort of Pollyannish, but that’s what gets us up in the morning,” she added.
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    Regarding the complaint that sisters with advanced degrees might be working in positions of service that are considered less intellectually stimulating, Mother Maximilia said that kind of thinking reveals a bias about what makes work valuable.
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    “The thought that [intellectual work] is objectively more valuable is already a biased opinion,” Mother Maximilia said.
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    “The point of any work is to serve and love God and neighbor, and I think actually that shows itself in a very particular way in direct service to a person’s needs,” she said.
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    “I would argue that it often is very intellectual work to balance and manage a household, so I think first of all we have a skewered notion of what valuable work is, and I would accentuate that what makes work valuable in the end is love, and we’ve always understood that service to the clergy is primarily that,” Mother Maximilia said.
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    It is natural, Mother Marie noted, that a religious sister with an advanced degree would want to work in her field of expertise at least for a time, and that is often the plan for those sisters. However, sometimes extenuating circumstances necessitate that sisters serve in other apostolates.
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    “If God calls us to do something else either through our superiors or the signs of the times or just through events, then we respond to that…we see that as the will of God,” she said.
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    When a sister is serving in a position that may not have been her first choice, it is not unlike the sacrifices that mothers and fathers make for their families, she added, such as staying up all night with a sick child, or taking a lower paying position in order to have more time for their family.
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    “That’s done for love, and it’s love that drives what we do, and a recognition of this great gift that we have,” as consecrated people, she said.
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    Mother Judith added that while education is a good and necessary thing, it is not ultimately the measure by which souls will be judged at the end of their lives.
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    “In the final analysis, when we come to the end of our life and we come before the Lord, I think it’s safe to say that He’s not going to ask us how many degrees we had or how we used our education,” she said. “He’s going to ask us how we loved.”
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    Mother Judith noted that the article misses, as contemporary culture often misses, the gifts that women in their femininity bring to the world, regardless of what specific tasks they are performing.
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    “We live in a culture that doesn’t seem to value the true gifts that women bring to our culture – motherhood, gentleness, patience, intuition, sensitivity, attention, warmth and the list goes on. These qualities are now seen in a negative light, seen as weaknesses, when in fact, it’s our strength,” she said.
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    “For consecrated religious, these elements of true femininity should be even more deeply rooted in us simply because of who we are. People see us and right away they associate us with God, the Church and rightly so. What a blessing and privilege it is to be a daughter of the Church.”

  6. L’OR tanked long ago. It’s barely an improvement over People magazine.

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