An Italian priest is organizing an online beauty pageant for Catholic nuns “to give them more visibility within the Catholic Church and to fight the stereotype that they are all old and dour.”

Are you kidding me? A reader of my blog sent me a link about this story. At first I thought the beauty content was a joke, but when I started reading the article and then another person sent me the same story from MSNBC (so it must be true ), I was astounded.

Here’s a snippet about the “Miss Sister 2008″ contest:

The “Miss Sister 2008″ contest will start in September on a blog run by the Rev. Antonio Rungi and will give nuns from around the world a chance to showcase their work and their image.

“Nuns are a bit excluded, they are a bit marginalized in ecclesiastical life,” Rungi told The Associated Press after Italian media carried reports of the idea. “This will be an occasion to make their contribution more visible.” (Source: Associated Press via Fox news, August 25, 2008)

According to the article, people who visit Rungi’s blog can “vote for the nun they consider a model.” The rest of the brief article includes additional information such as Rungi’s assessment that “being ugly is not a requirement for becoming a nun” and that the beauty contest will not have nuns parading around in bathing suits. Great.

While I applaud Rungi’s desire to promote the good work that Catholic nuns are doing, I am appalled by the technique with which he is doing it. Granted, maybe something got lost in translation, but the whole idea is offensive to me as a Catholic nun. Here are some thoughts of the top of my head:

  1. All Catholic nuns are not old and dour. I for one am neither of those, and frankly, if I were, so what? God calls whomever God desires — the young, the old, the sweet, the quiet, the energetic, the thoughtful. Religious life is so diverse and can encompass all sorts of personalities, passions, and callings.
  2. Pitting nuns against one another in a contest is just plain wrong. If we’re talking a game of 3-on-3 basketball, that’s a different story. Why not create a blog that profiles different sisters and celebrates each of them instead of making it into a contest which is just plain weird?
  3. Honestly, is a beauty contest the best way to address the “marginality of nuns in ecclesiastical life”? By having a beauty contest, Rungi is reinforcing the far deeper stereotype that a woman’s worth resides in how she looks and that she is only really capable of measuring up against other women.
  4. Catholic nuns and sisters are doing extraordinary things for God, the Church, and the world. We do not need to showcase ourselves: we live our charism day in and day out. Even the so-called dour nuns do this! It’s that commitment to living religious life fully that is what is attractive to other people.

I know you have thoughts running through your head so please join the conversation with me and other readers and offer your thoughts.