ROME — An Italian priest and theologian said Sunday he is organizing an online beauty pageant for nuns to give them more visibility within the Catholic Church and to fight the stereotype that they are all old and dour.
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."
Rungi, a theologian and schoolteacher from the Naples area, said that visitors to his site will have a month to "vote for the nun they consider a model."
Nuns will fill out a profile including information about their life and vocation as well as a photograph. It will be up to them to choose whether to pose with the traditional veil or with their heads uncovered.
"We are not going to parade nuns in bathing suits," Rungi said by telephone from his town of Mondragone. "But being ugly is not a requirement for becoming a nun. External beauty is gift from God, and we mustn't hide it."
Rungi said the idea was first suggested to him by nuns with whom he regularly prays and works. He hopes there will be dozens of submissions once the Web site is started.
The contest drew criticism from the association of Catholic teachers.
"It's an initiative that belittles the role of nuns who have dedicated themselves to God," the group's president, Alberto Giannino, told Italy's ANSA news agency on Sunday.