msnbc.com news services
updated 8/26/2008 11:14:33 AM ET 2008-08-26T15:14:33

An Italian priest, who had planned an online "pageant" for nuns, has suspended the project, saying he was misinterpreted and had no intention of putting sisters on a beauty catwalk.

"My superiors were not happy. The local bishop was not happy, but they did not understand me either," Father Antonio Rungi told Reuters by telephone from his convent in southern Italy on Tuesday.

"It was not at all my intention to put nuns on the catwalk," said Rungi, a priest of the Passionists religious order, speaking from his convent in the town of Mondragone.

Miss Sister 2008
Rungi's idea appeared in newspapers around the world after he wrote of a contest for nuns on his blog, called by some "Sister Italy 2008." The contest would have started in September.

"It was interpreted as more of a physical thing. Now, no-one is saying that nuns can't be beautiful, but I was thinking about something more complete," he said.

Rungi said the idea was first suggested to him by nuns with whom he regularly prays and works. He hoped there would be dozens of submissions once the Web site started.

His concept for the contest, in which nuns would have a month to vote for themselves on his blog, would include attributes such as their spirituality, social awareness, charity and other qualities, Rungi said. Nuns would fill out a profile including information about their life and vocation as well as a photograph. It would 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. "But being ugly is not a requirement for becoming a nun. External beauty is gift from God, and we mustn't hide it."

A nun's "interior beauty"
Rungi, a theologian and schoolteacher from the Naples area, wrote in his blog that his intention was to show "the interior beauty" of a nun and the work she does for the Church and for society, mostly in education and health care.

"We have to draw more attention to the world of nuns, who are often not sufficiently appreciated by society," he wrote, adding that he had hoped his initiative would help boost sagging vocations to religious lie.

"Many monasteries in Italy are dying because of a lack of religious vocations," he wrote.

Rungi said he received a lot of calls of support but also many sharp emails by people who attacked him for wanting to create a Miss Italy-style event.

"Some of them were really nasty," he said.

The contest also 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.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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