Polish nuns in Krakow mark the feast of Corpus Christi earlier this year.
A group of Catholic nuns has accused Poland’s mass-circulation Gazeta Wyborcza daily of discrimination and appealed for human rights arbitration, after it alleged that the country's religious sisters were mainly relegated to “cooking, cleaning and collecting post” for priests.
“We treat these words as discrimination against women and an insult to nuns, who live according to the charisma of their order in line with their convictions”, said the nuns from the St Elizabeth order, which runs schools, orphanages and special needs facilities in Poland, with branches in Africa, Latin America, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
“You write disrespectfully, ridiculing us and our lifestyle, which consists of prayer, sacrifice and devotion to God. Many sisters from our own order fulfil this vocation, while giving daily help to the poor and suffering.”
The nuns, all aged over 60, were reacting to the Gazeta Wyborcza article, which said Poland's Catholic bishops lived “in palaces where nuns work as servants, with food under the nose, laundry done and bills paid”.
They said Poland's parliament-appointed civil rights spokesman had cautioned against gender discrimination, while the criminal code also sanctions slander and attempts to undermine trust.
“With this open letter, we turn to public opinion”, the nuns said. “Let us do everything to ensure cases of discrimination against women, including nuns, are condemned, and their propagators brought to change their discriminatory attitude.”
Poland is home to over 17,000 nuns and novices from 106 orders and congregations, running hundreds of schools, orphanages and care homes, as well as working in parish and diocesan offices, seminaries, healthcare facilities, charities and colleges.
Around half the country's 2,113 female religious houses, many of which ran field hospitals and sheltered fugitive Jews during the Holocaust, have their own websites and Facebook pages, as well as Twitter and YouTube accounts, while most nuns have university degrees and college diplomas, with 571 currently working in higher education, more than 4,000 as teachers and catechists, 1,522 as directors, chancellors and treasurers, 1,272 as doctors, nurses and healthcare workers and at least a hundred as full-time spokesmen and media representatives, according to the Warsaw-based Conference of Higher Female Order Superiors.
A Polish member of the Claretian Missionary Sisters, Jolanta Kafka, is currently president of the Rome-based International Union of Superiors General (UISG), representing 450,000 nuns from more than 100 countries.