Skeptical about ‘stunned’ sisters

Yesterday, as we were discussing a particularly helpful, if brief, discussion about the Vatican document regarding the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, reader Martha wrote that she agreed that the PBS discussion I highlighted was good:

But how many news reports are going to take this approach to consideration of both sides? What newspaper has asked, for example, Sr. Simone Campbell, why exactly she was “stunned” by the CDF document, given that this whole process formally began back in 2008? So far, if your impression of the affair was garnered from the papers, you would imagine that some secret Vatican task force snooped around and suddenly sprang this smack-down on American nuns who had been innocently going about their business with no idea they were about to be censured – all tied in with the American bishops’ politicking in this election year, no doubt.

It reminded me that I, too, found this particular framing to be surprising. I mean, I’m not a sister and I’m not Catholic, but precisely nothing about this document stunned or surprised me. I’d like a little bit more explanation of why people in the biz claim surprise.

What are Martha and I talking about? How about the Sydney Morning Herald: Nuns left stunned by Vatican rebuke for ‘radical feminist’ tendencies and Chicago Tribune/Reuters: Catholic nuns group “stunned” by Vatican slap and Press Herald: Nuns group ‘stunned‘ by Vatican order for overhaul? and MSNBC: Catholic nuns group ‘stunned‘ by Vatican scolding for ‘radical feminist’ ideas and Bangor Daily News: American nuns stunned by Vatican crackdown. And that doesn’t count the stories that merely mentioned up high that the nuns were “stunned,” such as this one by the Los Angeles Times.

In fact, so many stories took this angle that many of the pieces all kind of blurred together. I remember thinking one was particularly bad but I can’t even find it in the hundreds of stories that pop up when you do a Google search for “stunned” sisters and the Vatican.

The Washington Post had a piece headlined “American nuns stunned by Vatican accusation of ‘radical feminism,’ crackdown.” And the article is actually great as a whole. But I want to focus mostly on how it handled this stunned business. The top of the story goes:

American nuns struggled to respond Friday to a Vatican crackdown on what it calls “radical feminism” among the women and their purported failure to sufficiently condemn such issues as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Some nuns in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious characterized the disciplinary action announced Wednesday as an “ambush,” but others — including the leadership — said they couldn’t publicly comment on a system that mandates their obedience. The 1,500-member conference represents the vast majority of the country’s 57,000 nuns.

“People are stunned,” said Sister Pat McDermott, president of the 3,500-member Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, based in Silver Spring. “They’re outraged, angry, frustrated, they don’t know where this came from and how to hold it.”

OK, there is no doubt that this is the media response that some nuns in the LCWR are going with. And it’s important that their side of the story be told, which is particularly difficult considering that many are not exactly speaking on the record about the specifics of what they oppose in the Vatican document.

But considering that the national media has for years been covering widespread concern with the theological drift on display among some women religious, I need more specifics about why this group was stunned. Are they saying they didn’t know the Vatican was concerned? That people had reported many concerns about the speakers at various conferences? Are they saying they didn’t realize they’d been silent about sanctity of life issues? Are they saying this is the first they heard about any theological disagreements between the “moving beyond the church, even beyond Jesus” folks and the Vatican folks?

We get a couple of answers to this question. Here’s the first:

Tensions have publicly flared recently between the bishops and the leadership conference — along with a few other large prominent nun-led groups — over public-policy issues. Some bishops were angry when the leadership conference supported the White House’s health-care reform, which the bishops’ conference had vigorously opposed. The bishops also have focused on opposing a White House mandate that employers, including religious ones, offer birth control, while the nuns accepted a compromise from President Obama.

The Vatican report didn’t focus on public positions the women took but rather on the private conversations they had at their own meetings and comments they made in private letters to Vatican officials about such issues as how to minister to gays and lesbians.

That seems to suggest we could use some follow-up questions to the sisters. If tensions have been flaring publicly, why is it a surprise that the Vatican cracked down? I’m sure they have a reason for surprise but I haven’t seen it discussed, I don’t think.

Also, is it true that the Vatican report didn’t focus on public positions the women took but, rather, on their private conversations and letters? First off, I’m not entirely sure that conference meetings should be treated as private, although I am willing to be persuaded on that point. But the Vatican document said:

The documentation reveals that, while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States. Further, issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faithmorals, are not compatible with its purpose.

If the group took a public position of silence on important church teachings regarding abortion and euthanasia and family life and human sexuality and so on, and if they were called out specifically for that public position of silence, wouldn’t you say that the Vatican report did focus on the public positions the women took rather than their private conversations and letters?

OK. The second thing that speaks to the “stunned” reaction of the sisters is here:

Sister Julie Vieira, a member of the Michigan-based Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, said the fact that the directive came without warning was jarring.

“Whatever we engage with in ministry … we check in with others about it, and together as a sisterhood we make decisions,” she said. “To encounter this kind of action that did not come with that contemplative discernment that I, as a woman religious, am used to engaging with in all of my life was deeply disturbing to me.”

However, she said, “our vow of obedience applies to God … it doesn’t reside in a bishop, a body of bishops or even the pope. For us, that sense of obedience has to do with listening deeply to the call of the spirit.”

First off, there are just some great quotes in this piece and kudos to the reporters for getting them. In some ways, that last paragraph explains more about the divide between the Vatican and some of the women in the LCWR than a thousand additional words could.

Anyway, I realize that the sisters are claiming to be stunned, and that is an extremely important thing to mention in reaction stories. I want to be clear about that. But for people like me — who are more likely to be stunned by these sisters being stunned than by the Vatican document itself — we need more of an explanation that makes sense, don’t we? Otherwise, it’s just kind of unfair to the sisters as well as to the Vatican, no? I’m curious what other readers think. Do you agree with Martha that reporters should have drilled down more on the “stunned” language? I should note that this article does a much better job on contextualizing those claims than other articles I read.

The WashPost story also has a bunch of interesting stuff about the weakening relationship between priests and nuns. There’s a mention of the Twitter drive that used the hashtag #whatsistersmeantome as well as helpful context about how not all sisters took the Vatican document negatively. The shrinking and aging population of the LCWR is mentioned — and not just that — but that traditional, habit-wearing nun groups are growing.

Which brings us to another issue. I feel kind of badly about it because while I’m pointing fingers out there at others, some fingers are pointing right back at me.

Here’s how one reader put it:

I know that some of your commenters have already noted this, but it really says a lot about shoddy editorial standards that so many press sites are using erroneous and misleading pictures to illustrate their stories about the Vatican action on the LCWR.

This one, for example. I know it’s an opinion piece, so the problem isn’t with the content. But the picture shows the Sisters of Life, who are not even members of the LCWR, and who are just about as far as you can get from being typical of LCWR members. They could have found that out with one phone call (either to LCWR or the Sisters of Life).

Seriously, in a sports story about the Yankees, would they show a picture of a Red Sox player?

There’s no hard and fast rule here, but in general the women who are on the receiving end of the crackdown from the Vatican are not habited. They’re wearing the clothes you would likely find on most women of their age group. The habited nuns tend to be younger and much more traditional.

We all know that it’s much more fun and infinitely easier to illustrate a post with a habited sister than one wearing a cardigan and slacks, but it paints an inaccurate picture and it needs to stop.

To end on a high note,  I did find one awesome exception to the framing of stunned sisters. It came from Reuters — with a byline of one Stephanie Simon(!) — and the headline tells you much of what makes the story a cut above the rest “Vatican crackdown on U.S. nuns a long time brewing.” Oh yeah. And we get some nice 40-year perspective on the whole battle with actual theological differences and anecdotes about sisters escorting women to their abortions and opposing the all-male priesthood. With proper names attached and everything. It’s packed with context for the casual reader and is just a great and balanced piece that explains where this document came from.

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  • http://cleansingfiredor.com/ Thinkling

    I heard an interview with Ann Carey, the author of Sisters in Crisis, the book shown in the photograph. She had done a lot of research into US women religious for the book, which came out in the mid 1990s.

    Her reason the sisters were shocked was not in the content of the CDF’s report. It was that the CDF had the backbone to actually stand up and deliver this kind of report at all. She explained how for years the LCWR had been promoting dialoging with the CDF and other Vatican dicasteries[sp?] so to give the appearance of dealing with concerns, but without having to commit to actually doing anything about them (she claims this was actually written into one of their operational manuals or something). Carey gave various reasons why the CDF et al may have wished to continue down this road for so long.

    Carey’s position, whether one agrees with it or not, does dovetail with the Reuters headline. They point out that huge ghost, which could have been exorcised with the simple question, “Why are you stunned, when you know there has been doctrinal concerns for years, and this is merely the write up of these concerns?”.

    There are particular corners of the blogosphere, mainly the less savory portion of those that fully sympathize with the CDF, who also claim to be shocked or stunned. But they too claim it is because the CDF actually acted with a backbone. “Finally” or “for once” as they might say.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Thinkling,

    I wonder if you haven’t nailed it — on both ends of the spectrum. People are shocked not by the contents of the Vatican document but that it exists at all. And then I wonder if I wasn’t just missing that in all the coverage of the “stunned” sisters. Was that subtext there all along?

  • Martha

    “Some nuns in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious characterized the disciplinary action announced Wednesday as an “ambush,””

    One dictionary definition of “ambush”:

    1. The act of lying in wait to attack by surprise.
    2. A sudden attack made from a concealed position.
    3.
    a. Those hiding in order to attack by surprise.
    b. The hiding place used for this.
    4. A hidden peril or trap.

    So – the CDF report was something sudden, unexpected, surprising and sprung on them from a secret place of vantage hidden and concealed, yes? Well, maybe not so much … according to this article, the LCWR got their first warning back in 2001 and it wasn’t until a full eight years later, in 2009, that the doctrinal assessment by the CDF was run in parallel with the Apostolic Visitation of female religious orders in the U.S.A.

    Having eight years’ advance notice of a process that took three years to complete does not strike me as a particularly good example of something sudden, surprising, and concealed. Perhaps they meant to say “back-stabbed” instead?

  • Martha

    Another report from 2009 setting out what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may have found problematic, so that the LCWR really cannot say it had no idea why “the Vatican” was having a problem with them:

    “Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), announced the doctrinal review in a letter, the National Catholic Reporter says.

    He noted that officials from the LCWR had met with the CDF in 2001. The officials were invited to report on LCWR members’ reception of Church teaching on the sacramental priesthood, the CDF document Dominus Iesus and “the problem of homosexuality.”

    Dominus Iesus, published by the CDF in 2000 under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, emphasized the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and established the differences between the Catholic Church and other religions. The document stated that only the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of the Christian faith.

    “Given both the tenor and the doctrinal content of various addresses given at the annual assemblies of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the intervening years, this Dicastery can only conclude that the problems which had motivated its request in 2001 continue to be present,” Cardinal Levada said in his letter.

    The Catholic Key reported that the keynote address at the LCWR 2007 annual assembly has aroused “particular concern and discussion.””

    I would have liked to read the whole speech rather than just the snippet excerpted which is causing all the kerfuffle (the phrase about “moving beyond Jesus”), but mysteriously the LCWR website seems to be down, or hacked, or something; when you try the URL there is instead some placeholder page that comes up – very odd indeed!

  • http://cleansingfiredor.com/ Thinkling

    I think Carey’s theory is very credible and in fact very likely. Whether one’s response is “Finally after all these years” or “oh no the arrangement has worked for so long”, this does seem to be the most likely candidate for genuine surprise.

    It would not be surprising to see some of the LCWR squeaky wheels content to milking the ambiguity to advance their oppression narrative. I have not yet read many of the links provided in the piece which use “stunned”, but based on your reply I would guess they did not bring this aspect up. I find that surprising, and reiterate it would take one question to clear up the fog.

  • Martha

    Mollie, I’m stunned that the Reuters report quoted some obscure Jesuit academic I’ve never seen interviewed in a newspaper – I think his name is Fr. Thomas Reese?

    Can you tell me, as a religion reporter, if you’ve ever heard of him?
    ;-)

  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.com/ Randy

    The trouble with the idea that they were surprised that the CDF had the backbone to do this is that they have characterized the CDF and Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict as being authoritarian for a long time. So is this pope acting this way in character or out of character? If it is in character then why is anyone surprised? If it is out of character then we need to ask why he felt this extraordinary step was needed. For the answer to that you need to go to Dominus Iesus and but maybe more importantly Caritas In Veritate

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate_en.html

  • carl

    The ‘stunned’ narrative is essential to the ‘we were never intentionally disobedient’ narrative. If you know you are intentionally subverting authority, then you can’t be stunned when authority slaps you down. This is nothing but spin intended to win public sympathy. And it is being consciously aided and abetted by a sympathetic media. They knew what they were doing. They knew what could happen. Now, they deploy the ‘stunned’ talking points to get the media to put pressure on the Vatican to let them keep doing what they are doing. Simple as that.

    carl

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Carl,

    This isn’t the place to discuss our personal thoughts about the narrative but, rather, how the media should handle it.

    Obviously the sisters chose that narrative, yes. You can see it throughout tons of media reports.

    But if you’re a reporter and a sister tells you that everyone is stunned, how do you handle that? What do you do next?

  • Jeff

    To paraphrase Claude Rains in “Casablanca:” The LCWR and their supporters in the MSM are stunned … stunned! … to find Catholicism going on in The Catholic Church.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtjYrwnRWwM&feature=fvst

  • Martha

    Ask ‘em why they’re stunned? Ask them what they expected the outcome to be? Dig up all the quotes floating around from the time of the announcement of the Apostolic Visitation in conjunction with the CDF investigation, and quote them back to the sisters to see why they assumed from the get-go this was a hostile action but are now saying they’re stunned, stunned, Bob?

    I know, I know: the sisters are stunned, the women priests are Roman Catholic priests, and if a guy tells you he is the Emperor of the North Pacific and Hereditary Grand Marshall of the Chivalric Order of the Water Beavers, you refer to him in print as “His Imperial Highness, Bucky Jones of Cowwallow, East Virginia”.

  • http://authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    Could the sisters be “stunned” while yet seeing it coming from this “authoritarian” Vatican under B-XVI ?

    Yes, if “stunned/ambushed/etc” as well as “authoritarian” are just being used to control the conversation and do not necessarily reflect anything real. Of course the sisters are stunned. How on earth else should they characterize their reactions to a crackdown for a sympathetic press, even if they saw it coming? I am sure the gay marriage folks were shocked at Gov. Christie’s veto in NJ even though they saw that coming, too.

    If one’s adversary does something shocking, then the adversary is a bad guy. It’s not a matter of predictability or expectedness of the action, but of its nature, its content. They are stunned that anyone could do this to them. And whether or not they really are stunned is anyone’s guess.

    I really do not expect the press to do a good job at actually investigating the true mind-set of the LCWR, even if they do a bang-up job at relating the hyperbole the LCWR wants the public to hear.

    And the funny thing is, the Vatican doesn’t care about the press coverage. Things are what they are.

  • Bill

    I wonder if this is part of a larger trend within the RC Church. The press seemed stunned that the bishops took such a firm stand against the HHS mandate, too.

    Coverage of the Church often includes references to the sex scandals. Might this be a wider reform effort to correct the laxity and lack of discipline among some religious. The renewed vigor of the stricter orders might indicate this. Sts. Benedict and Bernard must be smiling.

    There’s a big story here, methinks. And it will play out over a long time.

  • Julia

    Bill – that has occurred to me, too. Taking off the gloves?

  • carl

    Mollie

    There are winks and nudges and nods all over this story. Does any journalist with a functioning brain actually believe these nuns were ‘stunned’ as in “We were just sitting here peacefully minding our own business and doing the Lord’s work when this INQUISITOR came around and slapped us for NO REASON! We were STUNNED!” This story isn’t even properly called journalism. It more accurately described as a Kabuki Dance. You have nuns pretending to be ‘stunned’ and journalists pretending to believe the nun when they say they are ‘stunned.’ They engage in this stylized fiction because they both have an interest in telling the same story: “Evil reactionary inquisitors from Vatican oppress heroic progressive moderizing Catholic Nuns.” The story writes itself. All the villains are properly aligned. All the heros are properly aligned. Modernity vs reaction. It’s a perfect symbiosis between journalist and source.

    Would references to vows of obedience help that story? No, they wouldn’t. It’s hard to assert oppression by authority when you have voluntarily placed yourself under that authority. Hence the ‘stunned’ talking point, and the easy adoption of that talking point by the media. What the media should do is entirely beside the point. What it will do is plain for all to see.

    carl

  • Mollie

    For what it’s worth, Commonweal published a piece taking this post to task. Or, as I put it on Twitter, they were surprised that I was surprised that the sisters were surprised. You can read it here.

  • John Doe

    Grant Gallicho at Commonweal is miffed about your blog post here for some reason. He’s bringing forth his only intellectual talent: snark. (Even there, he’s not nearly as good as many other writers, such as Hitchens or even Fr. Neuhaus).

  • Mollie

    John Doe,

    Yes, I just linked to it in the comment previously. I did not think his comments were unduly snarky and I actually enjoyed reading what he wrote. But I think he didn’t understand exactly what we do here at GetReligion. I just wanted the reporters to ask the sisters who claimed they were stunned why they were stunned (or otherwise explain that to those of us who didn’t get it).

    I thought the very first comment in this thread did a better job explaining that surprise than he did, but I’m all for multiple explanations. It’s just that reporters shouldn’t assume that readers “get” why the sisters were stunned. Particularly for those of us who aren’t Catholic and aren’t sisters or otherwise involved in this particular debate.

  • Kristen

    Having hung around a lot of churchy types in the Roman Catholic ghetto for a long time, it *is* sort of stunning when anyone wearing a cassock actually, publicly criticizes another leadership body in the church.

    But – how should journalists react to this? Unfortunately, I think a solid case can be made that most people actually prefer to think about their religion unctuously – the stunned nuns being easier to fathom than the wide array of conversations and passive aggressive behaviors that characterize the supposedly “just” administration of oversight by the Vatican. Look, I am no apologist of heretic nuns teetering on the edge of heresy, but I honestly have encountered very few average readers of newspapers who have ANY interest in a nuanced portrayal of anything religious, much less something confined to a niche population of aged women in comfortable shoes, bad haircuts and thrift shop suits. Newspaper readers, for better or for worse, tend not to be your weekly Mass-goers. Whether that is the fault of that liberal bias existing for so very long or not, newspapers live and die today on their subscribers. And the readers who are tone-deaf on religion still seem to be subscribing. So – the writers write to their audience.

  • Sharon Homer-Drummond

    I keep wondering about this line (from the article quoted and in others): ‘The 1,500-member conference represents the vast majority of the country’s 57,000 nuns.’ How can a 1,500 member conference represent the majority of the country’s nuns, particularly one made of a shrinking and aging population? Do they mean that this is the largest conference of nuns? How is the representation apportioned? Are these representatives of different orders (if that’s the correct term) of nuns, and therefore a kind of congress of orders? Not being RC, I find the language confusing.

  • Julia

    Sharon:

    Yes, each order or congregation sends representatives.
    Not sure if they get one or several representatives each.

    BUT large orders like the Benedictines, for example, won’t just have one. I think they will have one (or two) for each region or something like that.

  • http://newyorkcon.blogspot.com Christian Browne

    Some thoughts on this matter I published yesterday.

    http://newyorkcon.blogspot.com/2012/04/sisters-last-piece-of-new.html

  • Kevin

    I agree that the only thing here “stunning” is that the Vatican didn’t come out with this report earlier – and maybe harsher. To give an example of one of the differences we’ve seen from one of the religious orders mentioned in this story … they recently passed on the opportunity to host a new conservative Catholic college in one of their beautiful buildings — which hasn’t been used in decades — because they had concerns what might be taught there. Hello? Maybe Catholic teaching?

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Mollie, I did not enjoy Grant Gallicho’s critique because he doesn’t get Get Religion. He apparently only read this post and did not read all the prior posts. Nor does he seem to understand that Get Religion is a critique of MSM coverage of religion. IMNTBHO (in my never-to-be humble opinion), he was snarky for the sake of being snarky.

  • Lee

    The press –leftwing Catholic press like the NCR and USCatholic– do not get this issue because it is fundamentally doctrinal. As the Roman document says, “On the doctrinal level, this crisis is characterized by a diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration…”

    If you were a space alien and wanted to know about this big 1 billion member 2000 year old religion and decided to check out the websites of the orders of Catholic sisters which belong to LCWR, and LCWR itself, to find out, you’d get a seriously deranged picture. It’s not only what they emphasize, but what they are resoundly silent about: the Christ of 2000 years of Catholic dogma and tradition.

    References to “the mission of Jesus” and “the Gospel” are nodding preludes to material about feminist and social justice causes, but the doctrinal content of these women’s “Christian” religion, when it comes to the image and content of the Son of God, is astoundingly Christless.

  • Clement_W

    We need to understand where these Sisters who were ‘Stunned’ come from. I would bet that the average age of these women religious is between 50 to 65. When we look back at the revolutions that took place between the end of World War II and the election of 1980, these ladies would have been in high school and college during the era of the Beatles, wide-spread sexual emancipation with Birth Control, Feminism, Vatican II and Roe v. Wade. Yes, I do know, because I am in the same age group and observed a lot of the changes which led me into the ‘Liberal’ fold enthusiastically.

    The point I am making is that, it is not the fault of these women for doing what everyone and everything they came into contact with was filled with a the exuberation of ‘Freedom’ with no restraints. It is not just the sisters who are stunned but also a large number of priests and bishops too!

  • Bern

    Of the four headlines cited at the beginning of this post, three include scare quotes around the word “stunned” (and one around “radical feminism”). Speaks for itself, I think.

    The word stunned is used by the LCWR communications director https://lcwr.org. According to the site, the Board had been told that the Doctrinal Assessment had been completed but not what it contained. To be told that, in secular terms, you’ve failed, you’re fired–well, that’s pretty stunning in any context. It is a public, unsubtle, humiliation. How Christian this particular disciplinary methodology is–and whether it is justified by the CDS statement itself–I leave to the theologians in the room.

    Anyway, fair enough to ask but what did you think it might contain? Why did you think that? But as mollie points out, the LCWR folk are not talking–yet.

  • Bill Kurtz

    Martha, Fr. Thomas Reese is hardly obscure. I have seen him quoted many times over the years.

  • Don Schenk

    What shocks me is that these liberal sisters complain when the Vatican points out that their agenda (to “change the Church”) means that they’re not really Catholic.

  • http://www.themediareport.com DPierre

    I don’t know what to say except I’m stunned.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Bill Kurtz, FYI, Martha’s comment about Father Thomas Reese was made with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek. She knows who he is and has made numerous comments before on these pages about how the media seem to think he’s the only Catholic priest available to make comments. That explains why she ended her post with the winking smiley face.

  • http://cleansingfiredor.com/ Thinkling

    [Sharon #20] How can a 1,500 member conference represent the majority of the country’s nuns, particularly one made of a shrinking and aging population? Do they mean that this is the largest conference of nuns? How is the representation apportioned? Are these representatives of different orders (if that’s the correct term) of nuns, and therefore a kind of congress of orders?

    [Julia #21] Yes, each order or congregation sends representatives.
    Not sure if they get one or several representatives each.

    BUT large orders like the Benedictines, for example, won’t just have one. I think they will have one (or two) for each region or something like that.

    Actually, in Ann Carey’s interview, she pointed out that early on, for the most part each order sent just their superior to the LCWR (it wasn’t called this way back, BTW). But then some of the orders changed their bylaws to have multiple superiors, who then all were in LCWR.

    She doesn’t come out and say it explicitly, but from the context of the interview one could reasonably conclude she meant that some of the orders tried to game their bylaws to dominate the LCWR.

  • Phil Steinacker

    Thinkling (#1) and Randy (#7) offer two compelling explanations, and I agree with both. However, there’s more – much more to why these sisters are genuinely stunned.

    Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Vatican office overseeing religious orders, initiated the apostolic visitation of women’s religious orders in the United States which resulted in the report on the LCWR (the full report on the orders themselves is yet to be released). He is reputed to be very traditional and was seen as an interloper by the leadership of most women’s religious orders in the U.S. They greatly feared his interference in their affairs, obedience to the Church notwithstanding.

    Those of us who followed this story – press and non-press – will recall the leadership of most of these orders are members of the LCWR, and their activities, statements, and attitudes reflect a progressive and liberation theology bent, along with typically pro-abortion, pro-contraception, and pro-homosexual views – overtly expressed or not. On a side note, most of these sisters – unlike goneby days – no longer work primarily with the sick and the poor. Of course, some do, but their ranks have become decimated by attrition (and they must find income somehow) that rather than staff clinics and hospitals, or even teach, they take on paid positions in parish work or organizations which do political organization/lobbying or social work of various kinds. Many of these positions are administrative, and where they are “hands on” it is often in ministry other than working with the sick and the poor. That last description is just self-serving rhetoric which should easily have been refuted by minimal research by any true journalist.

    As to the “stunned” reaction, I believe it is quite genuine in the sense that the sisters had been recently led to believe all would be right with the world in terms of the final investigation report. After Cardinal Rodé stepped down, he was replaced a few months ago by an archbishop or cardinal (you’ll have to dig up his name – I don’t recall) who signaled to the sisters he would be so much easier to deal with that many of us were alarmed that the results of the investigation would be watered down (the ecclesial spinelessness of years past referenced by another commenter, perhaps?). By accounts in National Catholic Reporter it seems the sisters thought they had escaped a scourging, and expressed great relief at this development a bit prematurely.

    Apparantly some of us are better acquainted with the back story than most journalists assigned to the beat, given Mollie’s description of many of the accounts she found. For shame.

    This info is out there; journalists have to care about it sufficiently to learn the beat well enough to know where to look for it. If the initial research on this story is also the first time exploring the broader issue and its history, then a lot will be missed – like a better explanation of why the sisters are appropriately stunned throughout the various press accounts.

    This is not to criticize your blog; you weren’t covering it; you are asking good follow-up questions.

  • http://cleansingfiredor.com/ Thinkling

    After Cardinal Rodé stepped down, he was replaced a few months ago by an archbishop or cardinal (you’ll have to dig up his name – I don’t recall)

    Pretty sure it’s Bishop Tobin of Providence.

    Whoever it was, I too got the sense that the new appointment was seen by LCWR as more sympathetic.

  • bob

    Martha, with respect to this being an “ambush” simply remember NO ONE EXPECTS…..

  • Julia

    For anybody wanting to follow this closely, the National Catholic Reporter has started a blog that is solely focused on the LCWR issue – called “Sisters Under Scrutiny”. No word yet from John Allen that I’ve seen.

    http://ncronline.org/SistersUnderScrutiny

  • Julia

    anybody still reading?

    check out the wonderfully balanced and intelligent half hour piece on NPR with John Allen, a representative from LCWR supporters and a representative who is more traditional.
    All spoke intelligently and without rancor. Bravo.

    http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=151222359&m=151222352


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