111. Is the female religious cheap labour?
111. Is the female religious cheap labour?

111. Is the female religious cheap labour?

Last week’s post examined if seminarians were cheap labour. Today’s post considers the female religious (nun) who offer services in the Church. Who is a religious? The Code of Canon Law of Eastern Churches (CCEO) presents a synthetic description of the religious life.

It states:

“The religious state is a stable mode of common life in an institute approved by the Church, in which the Christian faithful, by closer following Christ, the teacher and exemplar of holiness, under the action of the Holy Spirit, totally dedicate themselves by a new and special title through public vows of obedience, chastity and poverty, observed according to the norms of the statutes under a lawful superior, they renounce the world and totally dedicate themselves to the acquisition of perfect charity in service to the Kingdom of God for the building up of the Church and the salvation of the world as a sign of the foretelling of heavenly glory” (Can. 410 CCEO; cf. Can. 573 CIC).

Today’s post on cheap labour focuses on the vows of poverty and, to some extent, of obedience. One may cite the vow of poverty as why nuns should serve in the Church without adequate compensation. One may reference the vow of obedience as why nuns must obey their superiors and work without proper compensation and care.

Regarding the religious, the Vatican II Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life, Perfectae Caritatis, states: “Since the Church has accepted their surrender of self they should realise they are also dedicated to its service. This service of God ought to inspire and foster in them the exercise of the virtues, especially humility, obedience, fortitude and chastity. In such a way they share in Christ’s emptying of Himself (cf. Phil. 2:7) and His life in the spirit (cf. Rom. 8:1-13)” (Perfectae Caritatis, 5).

It also states: “Religious should diligently practice and if need be express also in new forms that voluntary poverty which is recognised and highly esteemed especially today as an expression of the following of Christ. By it they share in the poverty of Christ who for our sakes became poor, even though He was rich, so that by His poverty we might become rich (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9; Matt. 8:20)” (Perfectae Caritatis, 13).

Do the above teachings mean that nuns should be used as cheap labour? Are nuns even actually used as cheap labour? The responses may vary based on ideological orientation and context.

While one may argue that the phenomenon is not true or that it is an open secret, the March 2018 edition of ‘Women Church World’, a monthly women’s magazine of the L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper, decried how the clergy treat nuns as indentured servants by choosing them to provide domestic services for clergy, parishes and other church facilities with little or no financial compensation, no contractual agreements and formal work schedule given to lay people.

Several nuns were interviewed for the exposé: “The (almost) free work of nuns.” Their responses include: “Sisters are seen as volunteers that one can have available as one wishes, which gives rise to genuine abuses of power.” “The idea that religious women don’t work with a contract, that they are there for good, that conditions are not stipulated,” leads to situations of “ambiguity and often great injustice.” “Behind all of this, unfortunately, there is still the idea that women are worth less than men and, especially, that a priest is everything while a sister is nothing in the Church. Clericalism kills the Church.”

Within the context of cheap labour and the overall sustenance and welfare of nuns, can one categorise nuns as vulnerable adults that the clergy sexually abuse? Vos Estis Lux Mundi, the apostolic letter that regulates reporting of sexual abuse, defines a vulnerable adult as “any person in a state of infirmity, physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of personal liberty which, in fact, even occasionally, limits their ability to understand or to want or otherwise resist the offence” (VELM, art. 1 §2).

Nuns may fall into that category of victims of sexual abuse that I call ‘vulnerable ecclesiastics’, that is,  “clerics who desire certain ecclesiastical offices, wealthier parishes, or aspire to be bishops; clerics who are afraid of displeasing a higher authority or being deprived of certain benefits; seminarians and male members of institutes of religious life and societies of apostolic life who are afraid of losing their vocation to the priesthood or displeasing a higher authority, female members of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life who need economic or moral support, and lay persons who wish to occupy or desire to remain in an ecclesiastical office.” (Chidiebere Obiodu, The Church in Nigeria at the service of victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by Church personnel in the light of canonical norms) – to be released soon.  

The exercise of authority in the Church is always a vocation to service and not for exploitation.

In all circumstances, how one exercises authority largely influences the extent to which the person promotes the salvation of souls. Commenting on the exposé cited above, an author concludes, “some religious women think their vows of poverty and obedience could become a richness for the church only if ‘the male hierarchy would see this as an occasion for a true reflection about power.’”

As we relate with nuns or engage them in our services, remember that they are not cheap labour or people to be exploited. They enjoy the same human dignity as us and are entitled to adequate compensation for their services.

May God continue to help us🙏🏾


All quotations about the exposé are found in this article :

[1] https://catholicherald.co.uk/nuns-treated-like-servants-by-bishops-and-cardinals-vatican-magazine-says/

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