Catholic nuns deserve to be treated like celebrities. The nuns that I know are a bunch of bad ass women who make the world a better place on a daily basis. They are brave, accomplished and brilliant.
But, a new reality television show airing tonight on Lifetime that follows five young women as they allegedly discern to become sisters only serves to turn nuns into the Kardashians of the Catholic Church.
The Sisterhood is produced by Shannon Evangelista and Eric Evangelista, the folks responsible for giving us "Breaking Amish." It is very clear from the casting, five camera-friendly (read, pretty) young women, one who used to be a beauty queen and is currently an aspiring model and another who is an aspiring country singer (read, want to be famous), that the producers of this show chose characters rather than young women who are genuinely interested in the vocation process.
If there are two things I know well, they are nuns and reality television.
In addition to spending the past three years reporting and writing a book about Catholic nuns called "If Nuns Ruled the World," I have spent more than a decade as an entertainment editor, chronicling the reality television industry.
As I was going through the option process for my own book I ended up talking to a lot of producers about the possibility of creating a docu-series. Three separate teams told me, "you'll find me hot young nuns, right?"
The answer was no. I would find them amazing women. I wasn't going to seek out "hot young nuns."
One of the hallmarks of the nuns I have met is their humility. None of the women I profiled originally wanted to be the subject of a book, but each and every one of them deserved to have their stories told and years of careful reporting allowed us to move forward.
You probably haven't heard about Sister Joan Dawber, a Sister of Charity of Halifax who runs a safe house for former sex and labor slaves. You probably don't know about Sister Tesa Fitzgerald either. She works tirelessly to raise the children of mothers who are incarcerated. When these women get out of prison Sister Tesa helps them get clothes, jobs and an apartment. I love telling people the story about Sister Jeannine Gramick who has been tireless in her fight for gay rights through her organization New Ways, despite coming under intense scrutiny from the Vatican.
Sister Dianna Ortiz did make headlines in 1989 when she abducted, tortured and raped while working as a teacher in Guatemala. After living through that horror, instead of allowing herself to sink into a terrible depression she headed up an organization to help thousands of torture survivors around the globe find the will to keep living.
It's a problem that you haven't heard about these women. They deserve to be celebrated with their own television shows, but not the kind of reality fare that turns the spotlight away from the good works the sisters do and onto tears, drama and catfights. We have enough of that on TV already.
Discerning to be a sister is an incredibly personal and profound experience, not one that young women take lightly enough to be followed around with cameras throughout.
This show does nuns yet another disservice by perpetuating stereotypes of older Catholic nuns as knuckle-rapping kill-joys, something I have worked hard to dispel. The nuns that I know are some of the most gracious, loving and funny human beings I have ever met. "The Sisterhood" portrays them as angry tyrants as they take the young women's cell phones and yell at them for wanting to wear makeup.
The nuns I know use plenty of makeup, they own hairdryers and hair straighteners. They are modest, but they live in the modern world. Again, they aren't characters. They are real women.
No one comes out of reality television looking like a saint. By its very nature, reality television provokes and instigates. It creates drama where it doesn't exist. That this show is more reality television than true docu-series is clear from previews that consistently show the young women crying over and over again.
And what happens to these young women when the show is over? While we don't yet know if any of them become sisters, I can bet there will be at least one who ends up in the reality television hamster wheel of Real Housewives, Couples Therapy or an iteration of the Real World.
Nuns deserve recognition for the things they have accomplished. They are on the front-lines of social justice every single day. They are brilliant women with PhDs who have run colleges and hospitals. This show is only going to serve to drag their vocation through the mud.