Catholic nuns more assertive than ever


Southern Europe


A nun stands behind a barricade fence as faithful gather outside the square while Pope Francis gives his blessing from the window of his study in St. Peter's Square. Photo EPA, Angelo Carconi

Roman Catholic nuns are no longer the meek and quiet people who blindly obey the Church in everything. In Italy, several sisters suddenly refuse to follow orders.

Nuns who refuse to leave their monastery when ordered to do so, sisters who do not accept the closure of their convent and nuns who rejct the punitive transfer of their abbess; those are three examples NZZ sums up. Coincidence or a new trend, the newspaper questions.

The traditional image of a meek nun is not always accurate anymore, NZZ notices. Instead, the sisters are more and more discontent with the patriarchal order of the Roman Catholic Church. Nun Anna Seguí Martí recently published an open letter in a Spanish newspaper condemning the unjust treatment many nuns experience. “We nuns are not asked; we are ordered”, Martí complains. She rejects the principle of “obedience to men as if they were Jesus Christ personally.” According to Martí, nuns “must have the courage to rebel against the unjust church system as long as there is no equality.” In addition, sister Martí wrote a letter to the Pope, but he has not responded until now.


According to Clelia Degli Eposti and Stefania Manganelli, founders of an interreligious network that addresses discrimination, abuse and injustice against women in church environments, the Roman Catholic male leadership uses the lockedness of convents to keep women under control. Each convent, for example, falls under the responsibility of a male assistant, who oversees activities and intervenes in the case of discrepancies, NZZ reports.

In addition, nuns must abide by the so-called “Cor Orans”, which regulates everyday life for nuns in 289 articles. Such a document does not exist for monks. The rules, for example, stipulate that sisters may only communicate with people outside the convent with restraint. The same applies to social networks.

Daily life

That passage became a problem for the nuns of Pienza, where Benedictine sisters, in an attempt to keep their convent alive, used social media to advertise their homemade jam and promote convent life among younger women. As the average age of the nuns kept increasing, the sisters wanted to find new ways to attract younger women. They invited women between 18 and 38 to come to the convent and experience daily life there.

The church leaders found this a violation of the canon law and monastic orders. They attempted to remove the abbess from office. However, the sisters resisted this order from above.

“The rebellious nuns may not be well received by church leaders for the time being”, Clelia Degli Eposti says. However, she thinks striving for equality between men and women is unstoppable. “Not even in the last great bastions of male power.”



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