Women religious who cook and clean for cardinals and bishops are being exploited and underappreciated, a Vatican magazine has said.

“Sisters are seen as volunteers that one can have available as one wishes, which gives rise to genuine abuses of power,” said a nun identified only as Sister Cecile. Her testimony appeared in the monthly magazine Women Church World, published in conjunction with the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

Sister Cecile was one of three women religious interviewed pseudonymously for the article, entitled “The (almost) free work of nuns”, which described how religious women were often chosen to provide domestic services for cardinals, bishops and parishes but with little or no financial compensation to their religious orders, no contractual arrangements and no formal work schedule.

“The idea that religious women don’t work with a contract, that they are there for good, that conditions are not stipulated,” Sister Marie said, created situations marked by “ambiguity and often great injustice”.

The long history of religious congregations built on the spirit of freely serving and giving oneself for others has created for some people the belief that compensation has no place “in the natural order of things for whatever service we offer,” Sister Cecile said.

But without compensation, Sister Paule said, female religious communities would not have the resources needed to support their members. Even priests ask Sisters for a nominal donation for saying Mass, Sister Cecile said, noting she now requests compensation for speaking engagements.

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