Throughout the centuries, and even in today’s world, Catholic nuns — those dedicated religious women who have devoted their entire lives to helping others while expecting very little in return — have always been (and still are) treated by many leaders of their church as second-class citizens.
Traditionally, they rank well behind the priests, monks, brothers and other male members of a paternalistic hierarchy.
Throughout most of church history and well into the past century, nuns (because they were women) could not even step onto the altar during Mass or other religious services.
This gender bias was not only found in religious matters, but in the basic differences in the day-to-day lives of both nuns and priests.
A typical example was a convent I clearly remember from my youth. It was a converted run-down building on the edge of the Kensington section of Philadelphia that had previously been a street-corner saloon.
In that dilapidated facility, a dozen sisters (our elementary school teachers) had to sleep on torn mattresses stuffed with old newspapers because they couldn’t afford to buy decent bedding. Much of their furniture was secondhand and donated by parishioners.
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