The Rev. Antonio Rungi had thought of the beauty contest to give nuns more visibility within the Catholic Church and to fight the stereotype that they are all old and dour. The "Miss Sister 2008" contest was supposed to start in September on a blog run by the priest, who is a theologian and schoolteacher from the Naples area.
But he changed his mind after seeing reports that suggested nuns would be metaphorically put on a catwalk. He said what he had in mind was not just external beauty but what he called "overall beauty."
"I wanted to make a blog on vocations, one where everybody could bring their own experiences," Rungi said by telephone from his town of Mondragone, about 35 miles north of Naples. "I wanted to create a showcase for the pastoral experience of nuns."
"Instead, they made it look like it was a catwalk a la Miss Italy," he said. "I have been misunderstood."
The reverend said attacks against him, phone calls and e-mails prompted him to cancel the plan, as well as reported unease of his religious superiors over the idea.
Still, Rungi said he hopes the idea can be revived in the future, if he can bring on board local religious authorities.