Vatican vs. women (in this case, women religious)

The Vatican’s crackdown on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (i.e., on American nuns) is proving to be a public relations disaster and a morale-killer within the Catholic Church because it gives the appearance of a bunch of power-mad misogynists trying to distract from their own horrific scandals by exerting arbitrary manly authority over women who spend most of their time helping people.

It gives that appearance because, actually, the Vatican’s crackdown on the LCWR is a bunch of power-mad misogynists trying to distract from their own horrific scandals by exerting arbitrary manly authority over women who spend most of their time helping people.

If you’re following this story, the National Catholic Reporter’s new “Sisters Under Scrutiny” blog is a useful resource for updates. Here is a roundup of some recent reactions and commentary.

Mary E. Hunt: “We Are All Nuns

If you can spell Catholic, you are probably asking: how dare they go after 57,000 dedicated women whose median age is well over 70 and who work tirelessly for a more just world? How dare the very men who preside over a Church in utter disgrace due to sexual misconduct and cover-ups by bishops try to distract from their own problems by creating new ones for women religious?

While this story is focused on nuns, it doesn’t stop there. Flowery medieval rhetoric by the Vatican about the nuns’ “special place in the Church,” and the fiction that religious women have “full participation in all aspects of the Church’s life” (while ordination is still for men only — come on!) make the dictum especially pernicious.

But it’s really about all of the laity, especially women, who see the world in terms of needs we can fulfill, not power we can hold; of radical equality, not hierarchy; of the many, not the few.

Mark Silk: “Why Go After the Nuns?

For a decade now, the rolling sexual abuse scandal has brought the church hierarchy increasingly under the criticism and legal scrutiny of secular authorities around the world. In “faithful Ireland,” the Vatican itself has been denounced by the pious Catholic prime minister. In America, hierarchs are for the first time being charged with crimes for covering up sexual abuse by priests. Why not compensate by bringing the hammer down on the women religious–that part of the church which retains the greatest moral standing with the laity?

Steve Lopez: “Sisters of mercy, devotion — and dismay

Last year church officials paid $144 million to settle abuse allegations and cover legal bills, and although many of the cases went back decades, church auditors have warned of “growing complacency” about protecting children today.

So who’s in trouble with the Vatican?

Nuns.

You know, the thousands of women who took vows of poverty to work with the poor, the sick and disabled.

(More links after the jump.)

Athenae: “Nuns vs. Bishops

Catholic nuns have been doing the actual work of keeping the church alive while the bishops sat on their asses and complained. They staffed the schools and ran the hospitals, teaching the faith and caring for the sick, day in and day out, when nobody was watching. The bishops get all the pomp and all the press, but you know who wins things like this? You know who wins these fights?

The people who have the patience to outlast the latest loudmouth Your Grace blathering on about obedience and one’s proper place. The people who’ve been there before him and will likely be there after. The people who show up to work and keep showing up long after the fanfare’s over.

Rebel Girl recommends an online petition to Archbishop Sartrain, the man appointed to rule over the women (via Bilgrimage):

“We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). We are shocked by the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s recent crackdown on nuns in the United States. The mandate forced upon LCWR, which threatens their works of justice, is a prime example of how the hierarchy in the Roman Catholic Church misuses its power to diminish the voice of women. We value the prophetic witness of women religious and appreciate their commitment to social justice.”

Todd Flowerday: “LCWR Crackdown, Hierarchy Cracks” (via Bilgrimage)

I predict some backlash from a wide swath of laity on this. A bishop is going to trial in the Fall, and people will deduce that if a yoga teacher is enough to get you a Vatican investigation, then shielding child abusers from the law should merit at least prison orange and a work detail on the interstate roadside. I realize the CDF is rightly concerned about theology. But most Catholics who care aren’t concerned about the yap about a post-Christian option. We do want to ensure the protection of the innocent. This is where Cardinal Levada and his posse are way, way off the moral track on this. That’s how the laity see it. And given the long list of bishops who have become mired in scandal since the Charter: George, Walsh, Rigali, Finn, Mahony, Lennon, McCormack, Egan, Grahmann, O’Brien, among others. The Catholic hierarchy is on probation where many lay people are concerned. They are the wrong, wrong, wrong people to be tackling the women religious. Even if the cause were just. And especially if the cause were just.

… I think this is going to be formative more than it will be punitive for women religious. I think that the hierarchy are about twenty feet from the brink of the falls, and that this is going to get very grisly and ugly for them.

Vatican Insider: “American nuns contest Vatican’s accusations

“I’ve no idea what they’re talking about,” Sister Campbell told the BBC. Her response was focused on the fact that nuns simply act as witnesses to the Gospel and nothing more: “Our role is to live the gospel with those who live on the margins of society. That’s all we do.”

Joe Ferullo: “When did nuns become the bad guys?

Here’s some comfort I can offer American nuns: It’s not just you. If there is any theme that has formed around the statements and behavior of the Vatican and bishops in recent years, it’s this: Doctrinal purity is valued above all else. It doesn’t matter if lives are at stake or if doctrine flies in the face of tragic realities. It doesn’t matter if dark measures must be taken to sweep disquieting contradictions under the rug, tucked away in places that only courtrooms and lawyers can pull out into the light. Purity — or the appearance of it — is prime.

Christian Piatt: “What to Do About ‘Radical Feminist Nuns’

It won’t likely happen with loud, media-grabbing protests or dramatic splits. Rather, the traffic out the back door will continue to increase while fewer still venture through the front entrance.

Holding fast to ideology more passionately than people is a lonely endeavor. The Catholic Church seems intent to find out just how lonely it can be.

One more link: This isn’t specifically related to the Vatican crackdown on the nuns, but Rachel Held Evans’ “Ask a …” series just included “Ask a nun … (Response).” Sr. Helena Burns offers candid responses and testimony, and a helpful introduction to the work and world of Catholic nuns.

See also:

 

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  • Tonio

    I would like to think that this would be the final motivation, not for American Catholics to leave the Church, but for them to break away from the Vatican and start their own denomination.

  • Sagrav

    I wish them luck if they choose that path.  However, I feel anger that it has to be the nuns who would end up having to leave.  

    The Vatican leadership smashed their church’s reputation into the ground.  They hid and made excuses for abusive priests.  They decided to forgo the reforms of Vatican II to adopt some stupid, draconian version of theology from the middle ages.  They should be the ones forced to leave the church, not the nuns who actually do some good in this world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

     I was under the impression that the Vatican generally holds the leash on things like their church deeds and other structural resources, such that breaking away from the Vatican would require a great amount of financial resources.

  • http://snarkthebold.blogspot.com/ Edo

    Incredibly unlikely, as hapax said. The laity can (and do) leave quite freely, but if the hierarchy doesn’t defect in a way that can bring their congregations with them, don’t bother holding your breath, for a very simple reason: resources.

    Just because a congregation breaks away from the Vatican doesn’t mean the real estate or clerical salaries go with them, and Rome DOES have lawyers to ensure that. Breaking away means no parochial school, no church of your own, and priestly bivocation. (That last isn’t talked about much, but it’s a sword of Damocles; the lower echelons have meager savings and tear-inducing résumés. They have a very good idea how much worse their lives could be.)That may work for Old Catholics, but a hand-to-mouth existence tends to stay that way over time, because they simply don’t have the assets to invest in escaping it. That’s partly why the Old Catholics are marginal in America.

  • Tonio

     I had never heard of Old Catholics. I guess I had a wild thought about the nuns and the laity rising up and tossing out the bishops and seizing the Church’s assets in the US.

  • Lori

    The Vatican will makes sure that there is no seizing of assets and the law backs that up. One of the downsides of a hierarchical organization is that the little people don’t have a lot of rights.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Edo-Owaki/1268185670 Edo Owaki

    The Old Catholics are damn cool; a passing acquaintance has some ties to one of them. Getting onto the national radar would be a really good investment for Utrecht. (I say “Utrecht” because the first English Old Catholic consecrated way too freely; Anglophone Old Catholicism’s been as schismatic, dramatic and irrelevant as Trotskyism ever since. The NAOCC site kinda reflects that.)

    I wouldn’t wait for that seizure, but I wouldn’t rule it out in this generation. The more disproportionately the RCC becomes a Third World church, the more diverse the American hierarchy’s going to get; ethnocultural issues have caused crises in American Catholicism before (losing a lot of Ruthenians and creating the PNCC, for instance); I expect they’ll cause crises again. (Especially, alas, if the hierarch in question is a black African.)

    You’re imagining #occupycatholicism. Not saying it’s bad, or impossible. Just observing.

  • The Lodger

    NAOCC?

    Sounds like the Church of the Holy Anglo-Orthodox Schimatics to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Edo-Owaki/1268185670 Edo Owaki

    Hey, I did say they were dramatic and marginal. (And seriously, within the parameters of left-leaning episcopal polity and apostolic succession, were you expecting it to look different?)

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    Not so much the American church, but ‘social gospel’ types across the world. I’ve never had much use for Catholicism, but ‘liberation theology’ always sounded kind of awesome. 

  • Kubricks_Rube

    I hope Todd Flowerday is right in predicting “some backlash from a wide swath of laity on this,” but at the same time I think the Vatican’s crackdown is in part a backlash by the Church against the American laity.

    For example, here’s Catholic priest Fr. Dwight Longenecker in his current Patheos column explaining how Catholics have been lead astray:

    “Believing you can be good without going to Mass isn’t Catholic. That’s what atheists think. Of course the “good Catholic” kids don’t think of themselves as atheists. They think they’re okay and still self-identify as Catholics.”

    So where did they get the idea that they could be good without going to church? They got it from church. […] They were not taught it explicitly. Instead, there was a shift in the Catholic Church. The faithful were taught that Catholicism was all about doing good.[…]

    So the Catholics have drifted away to their volunteer hours at the soup kitchen, their involvement in their tax-exempt charities, their happy good works and sincere political activism—never having really understood what the Catholic faith was about in the first place. They think of themselves as Catholics and rarely even trouble themselves to call themselves “lapsed Catholics.”

    http://www.patheos.com//Catholic/Good-Without-God-Dwight-Longenecker-04-25-2012.html

    This column is mostly about Church attendence, but this attitude supports the idea in the Mary E Hunt link that this attack on the nuns extends to the laity.

  • AnonymousSam

    Believing you can be good without going to Mass isn’t Catholic. That’s what atheists think.

    So… all those Protestants, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Muslims… those are all atheists? Or near enough as to be the same thing?

    That article is wrong on so many levels. The comments are even worse. I feel dirtier for having read that page, thank you very much. ;_;

  • Tonio

    The quote by Longenecker almost reads like it’s from The Onion. If an organized religion isn’t about making a difference in the world, that would seem to dramatically shorten the list of what it is about.

  • AnonymousSam

    The comments are even worse. I took one look at “if God doesn’t define goodness, then what’s the difference between killing people and feeding the hungry?” and it literally ruined the rest of my day (not because the idea is so ridiculous, but that someone–a lot of someones–genuinely believe it).

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I took one look at “if God doesn’t define goodness, then what’s the difference between killing people and feeding the hungry?” and it literally ruined the rest of my day

    Hand them a book on the study of ethics.  That ought to clear up their confusion. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/chrisalgoo Chris Algoo

     So the Catholics have drifted away to their volunteer hours at the soup kitchen, their involvement in their tax-exempt charities, their happy good works and sincere political activism—never having really understood what the Catholic faith was about in the first place. 

    Good works? Volunteerism? You’re doing it wrong.

  • Lori

     

    I think the Vatican’s crackdown is in part a backlash by the Church against the American laity. 

    I agree. Looking at it from the outside it seems to me that the Vatican has been at war with American Catholics for quite a while now. I’m not sure how the Vatican thinks it’s going to force the Americans to start toeing the line they’ve been off for decades while keeping the all-important American money flowing at the same time they continue the child rape cover-up. Either they’re playing some sort of 11 dimensional chess that’s just too tricksy for me to grasp, or they’re really pushing their luck.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    I read the Longenecker article, and then the comments. What a sad, myopic perspective it displays: “To be Catholic is to go to Mass every week!” The sacrements of baptism, of confession, the catchism, really prayer of any kind, and reading of the Bible are at best necessary-but-not-sufficent to being Catholic.

    The evidence the author marshalls in support of his claims include a Polish priest who “was physically radiant with light” during his time in the Auchwitz concentration camp. Odd; I didn’t think the prisoners in a concentration camp would have access to Mass every week. That was what the author thought was utterly crucial to being Catholic, right?  Not just doing good works, which is what the aforementioned priest’s story was full of, but regularly recieving Communion as a transformative act essential to the Catholic identity. But reading the article and comments, I suspect such an observation would not be well recieved, and likely papered over with rationalizations.

  • Amaryllis

    I didn’t think the prisoners in a concentration camp would have access to Mass every week.

    There were over three thousand clergy members in Dachau, the majority of them Polish priests, but some of other nationalities and denominations as well. They celebrated Mass regularly, sometimes with the permission of the authorities, and sometimes in secret without it.

    Not just doing good works, which is what the aforementioned priest’s
    story was full of, but regularly recieving Communion as a transformative
    act essential to the Catholic identity.

    Again, yes, it is. Not to the Christian identity, or the decent-person identity. To the Catholic identity.

    Which is not to say that someone who goes to Mass every Sunday and spends the next six days grinding the faces of the poor or whatever, is being a good Catholic. or a good person. But he’s being a Catholic.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

     Which is not to say that someone who goes to Mass every Sunday and
    spends the next six days grinding the faces of the poor …is
    being …a good person. But he’s being a Catholic.

    That might be the most depressing thing I’ve read today.

    The only more sobering thought is that if you argued that to the article’s author, he might say that the person who goes to Mass every Sunday is being a good Catholic, even as he grinds the faces of poor into the dirt. (as long as he opens his meetings with prayer)

  • hapax

    I would like to think that this would be the final motivation, not for American Catholics to leave the Church, but for them to break away from the Vatican and start their own denomination.

    Incredibly unlikely.  Anyone who is inspired to do that is far more likely to join an already existing liturgical denomination like the Lutherans, Episcopalians, or the American Anglicans or perhaps even the Methodists.Even if you personally think it is silly, you cannot discount the deep, deep resonance the unbroken apostolic succession and tradition that Roman Catholicism claims, and those other denominations (to varying degrees) offer. “Newness” is a very unappealing quality to many Christians.

  • Tonio

     I would never deem it silly. I just have a strong skepticism for tradition and hierarchy for their own sake. Or to be more specific, valuing these above things like interpersonal morality, and that upside-down concept of values describes the Catholic bishops. They’re the wrong people to be talking about the importance of either tradition of apostolic succession, because their actions suggest they’re really only interested in preserving their own power.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chrisalgoo Chris Algoo

    It would have been cool though :( We could have hymns about freedom!

  • Ian needs a nickname

    I’d prefer to see Catholics remain Catholics and excommunicate their hierarchy.  There’s precedent for knocking out hierarchs from below.  Historically, Cardinals have sometimes antipoped Popes.  There’s no mechanism for the laity to start denouncing hierarchs as Antibishops, but it’s high time to come up with one.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    That would be awesome! Is there already a city in the U.S. named New Avignon? 

  • Tonio

    The first time I read about antipopes, I didn’t grasp at first that the Vatican regarded them as pretenders – I thought they were more like the Sith versus the Jedi. I caught references to them in a book called the “Bible Handbook” (don’t remember the author), and its accounts of the Middle Ages were filled with anti-Catholic invective. In its list of popes, John XXIII’s listing was included with a snide comment about an antipope with that title: “We wonder.”

  • MJ

    I continue to be boggled by the fact that this crackdown came about in part because of the Vatican’s concern about the lack of vocations in the US. How do they think that young women, or really any women, will be encouraged to devote their lives to an institution that is now curtailing whatever autonomy women religious have? I recognize that there are a lot of conservative women out there who feel strongly that contraception is a sin and gays marriage a threat to social order, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are also willing to take a back seat and have their options limited like this.

    And to do it in such a condescending way — “Yeah, you work with the poor and disenfranchised, that’s all well and good, but you’re not showing enough deference to and loudly supporting the bishops enough, so we’re going to bring in a bishop to set you straight little girls” — I have a terribly hard time believing that this will have any sort of beneficial effect on American Catholicism as a whole, much less encourage women to return to religious orders.

  • histrogeek

    I think Nuns vs. Bishops was going to be the summer comic event for DC, but then Marvel released Avengers vs X-Men, so they dropped it. That would have been awkward. 

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    Bishop is a Marvel character anyway. Having him fight off a bunch of anti-mutant nuns (with blasters) sounds kind of like an average adventure of his. 

  • Mary Kaye

    It was a Catholic nun (of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary) who introduced me to formal concepts of moral reasoning when I was an atheist tenth grader–tools I still use as a Pagan adult, decades later.  The idea that her Church might try to silence her makes my blood boil.

    What would women like her do if her order left the Church?  They do not own the school at which they teach.  Due to vows of poverty I suspect they own very little.  (There’s a reason the Beguines didn’t renounce personal property.  Doing so can focus you on your faith but it can also make you a virtual slave of the ones providing for you.)

    They taught me ethics and math and biology (including evolution) for the year I was there, and were compassionate if disapproving about my atheism.  These are good works and they would be lost if the school were shut down or reassigned to someone else.  But at the same time, they might lose the ability to actually do those good works in a severe crackdown.  I don’t know what I’d advise them to do.  It’s a horrible situation.

    I left the Church many years ago, but there’s still a cultural connection.  There are things in American Catholic culture (in some places) that I really like, but those are the things that specifically put it at odds with Rome.  I can find no love in my heart for the Vatican leadership at all.

  • dr ngo

    Early in the 20th century a substantial number (perhaps 20%) of Philippine Catholic priests and parishes attempted to break from Rome and form their own church, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church, AKA Aglipayans) with their own supreme bishop.  In some cases 100% of a given congregation/parish followed their priests into this.  But – as noted above – Rome retained the property, the physical premises and other resources, even if the priest and every single member had defected, a decision reached in a celebrated court case.  The IFI did (and does) persist, and remains a minority faith in the Philippines today, but its explosive – at the time – growth was curtailed, and the Roman church kept its sway over the majority of Filipinos.  It might have done so anyway, but the control of property was certainly an important element in the struggle.

  • Ian needs a nickname

    Just because a congregation breaks away from the Vatican doesn’t mean the real estate or clerical salaries go with them, and Rome DOES have lawyers to ensure that.
    Correct.  We’ve seen that happen in the Anglican Church in Canada.  Out here in Vancouver a large congregation (formerly St. John’s Shaughnessy) was kicked out of it’s building when they tried to break away from the diocese.  Shameful that ownership had to be decided by a court of law, but there it is.
    Lawyers would not help if a hundred thousand enraged Italian Catholics staged a bloodless coup d’etat in Vatican City.  That might bring the question of who owns Catholic property in the USA down to the question of which Pope was granted diplomatic recognition.  Permit me to dream.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    What I still find confusing about this is how the hierarchy could think that this will turn out at all in their favor.  I mean, even if they genuinely believed that American nuns had become “radical feminists”, I would have thought that, given the circumstances, they would have recognized a move like this as being a PR disaster. 

    I thought they were at least a little more pragmatic than this. 

  • Amaryllis

     I can’t help but notice that the media is spending a lot of ink on this, deservedly. So, maybe it’s a diversionary tactic, or a least a very convenient timing.

    That is, I’m quite sure the bishops mean what they say. But also, maybe the bishops would rather be reviled as oppressors of women, where they can tell themselves, “But we’re right! We’re being persecuted for our faith! We’re countercultural!” Instead of being reviled for being complicit in the abuse of children, for which, I can’t imagine what they say to themselves.

  • Tricksterson

    Right or wrong, and believe me I think it’s wrong, don’t bet againt the Church hierarchy.  They’ve been playing this game a very long time.

  • Dragoness Eclectic

     They didn’t do so well at the game when either Martin Luther or Giuseppe Garibaldi came along.  One cost them the faith of half of Europe and the New World, the other cost them their heartlands.

  • http://www.facebook.com/adamrpack Adam Pack

    I’m not in any way a Catholic, or even a Christian, but as I understand it obedience to the Church is sort of part of being a nun. The American nuns may be right, but if they object to the discipline of the Vatican can’t they go and be Protestants? I apologise if this is an incredibly stupid thing to say.

  • LL

    Well, the Catholic hierarchy was clearly afraid that everybody would forget what colossal assholes they could be. The Southern Baptists have been carrying that standard in the U.S. for so long, the Catholic Powers That Be were feeling left out. Besides, Mel Gibson can’t do it all by himself. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/adamrpack Adam Pack

    While I’m aware I’m digging myself into a big theology pit here, I thought Mr Gibson wasn’t a proper Catholic?

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

     Actually, Gibson is a proper Catholic again – Benedict just re-integrated the splinter sect that Mel is part of, Holocaust denial and all.

  • Lori

    Benedict just re-integrated the splinter sect that Mel is part of, Holocaust denial and all. 

    When I first heard about that I found myself wondering if Pope Palpatine actually lies awake nights thinking of new ways to be a total asshole/make the Church look evil. Then I realized that he doesn’t have to make that much effort since it seems to come naturally to him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    My ability to boggle at the Vatican’s hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and stupidity  pretty much ran out when the sisters were accused of “focusing too much on poverty and social injustice” instead of opposing abortion and gay marriage. And that doing so was not in line with the bishops, who are “the authentic teachers of faith and morals.”

    So the men who have been spending decades covering up and enabling the systemic rape of children are “the authentic teachers of faith and morals” and those silly women religious have been focusing too much on helping people instead of on restricting the rights of other people like they should be.

    I believe Paul had a word for these guys, based on their works: anti-Christs.

  • Mary Kaye

    Adam Pack writes: 

    I’m not in any way a Catholic, or even a Christian, but as I understand
    it obedience to the Church is sort of part of being a nun. The American
    nuns may be right, but if they object to the discipline of the Vatican
    can’t they go and be Protestants?

    In many orders nuns take vows of poverty which result in their having no savings and no access to Social Security.  They would therefore be dirt-poor homeless people if they followed this recipe.  They would also be abandoning the schools, hospitals, hospices, and aid organizations which they have built with the sweat of their own labor, as the Church owns those.

    “Just leave” may make sense for a religious belief, but it doesn’t make the same kind of sense when you would be leaving the things you spent your life working to build, and impoverishing yourself in the process.

    Being a nun is a livelihood, not just an affiliation.  If some unholy alliance of US universities suddenly decided I couldn’t teach evolutionary biology any more, I would not just say “Oh well, I guess I’ll find another career.”  My life’s work would be in shambles, and damned right I would protest.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Could the nuns enact some kind of class action lawsuit (hopefully with a suitably pro-bono legal team) against the Vatican to challenge its claim to the property that they have been building and maintaining for decades? 

    I do not know if they will win, but I think it is a fight worth having.  If nothing else, a visable and direct challenge to papal authority would be symbolically valuable in itself. 

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    It may not make sense for a religious belief either in all cases. Over the past few weeks, I’ve repeatedly seen people here express the suggestion or, in some cases, their hope that catholics will “defect” to other religions or start their own.

    I think this indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of Catholicism  that I can’t really frame as words.  I’m currently struggling my way toward apostasy, despite never having been un-lapsed as a Catholic, so I am probably not the best person to explain this, but, and I think this is probably a difference between catholicism and some of protestant christianity, it doesn’t really work for a lot of Catholics, on a spiritual level, to approach conversion as a matter of “I believe X, my church disagrees, so I will go shopping around for a different church which agrees with me.”  To me, it makes exactly as much sense to say “The Pope has ruled against womens’ rights, so I’m going to convert and become (say) an anglican” as it would to say “The governor has banned marriage equality, so I ‘m going to move to the next state over,” or “The president just signed a universal abortion ban; Canada, here I come.”

    I don’t know, maybe most people think that practical considerations like the portability of a job and the ability to get and dispose of real property  _are_ the only reasons someone wouldn’t move out of a country when it passed laws they didn’t like and I’m just weird. But when I hear people suggesting that American Catholics should defect — or worse, when I hear people suggest “If you stay a Catholic, that means you approve of this,” it seems the same in an important way to me as saying, eg, “If you’re a US citizen and you didn’t renounce your citizenship when Bush was reelected, you approve of the patriot act, the iraq war, the afghan war and the Bush Doctrine,” or, say, “If you still live in Israel, you approve of the treatment of the Palestinians.” 

    The idea that faiths, at least christian faiths, are basically interchangable, is, for a lot of catholics, not Catholic. The idea of switching from being a Catholic to being a protestant is closer, for some catholics, to converting to or from Islam, or Judaism. 

  • Ouri Maler

     The idea that faiths, at least christian faiths, are basically interchangable, is, for a lot of catholics, not Catholic. The idea of switching from being a Catholic to being a protestant is closer, for some catholics, to converting to or from Islam, or Judaism. 

    I’ll admit, this is something I struggle to understand. From what I’m hearing (in several places), it sounds like to a lot of Catholics, being “Catholic” is a completely vital part of their cultural self-identity, beyond even religion. And, well…I don’t get it. I really, really don’t.

  • Amaryllis

    And as for the Longenecker quote…well.

    Yeah, it’s pretty silly (although he has a point about some contemporary liturgies). He’s wrong, and patronizing,  about the uselessness of good works with or without God.

    But…in one way, he’s kinda right. You can be good without God. You can be good without being Christian.You can be Christian without being Catholic. But, there’s no point in being Catholic without the Mass and the sacraments.

  • Amaryllis

    And while I’m here– I did some clicking around through those links, and I came across a concept which I’d never heard of before.

    You see, no matter how bad things got with the current hierarchy, at least I could tell myself that Catholics aren’t like those poor fundamentalists, required to come up with our own versions of science. That ever since that unfortunate business with Galileo, and even before it most of the time, the church has no problem with secular scientific inquiry, that it doesn’t demand that the scientist begin with faith-based presuppositions.

    Then, today, I heard about “Catholic anthropology.” Sigh.

    Now, you might say that anthropology and the other “social sciences” aren’t true science, that they study things that are very hard to measure empirically, that they’ve always been influenced by the researcher’s biases and fundamental assumptions. Still, at least they valued the attempt at objectivity, at research before conclusions.

    It really bothers me to hear about a secular academic field being expected to begin where it means to end up.

    Although maybe I shouldn’t be so shocked, given the way the Church seems to be struggling to hold on to a “Catholic” (quotes, their usage, not mine) understanding of human biology and psychology. But it did shock me, to hear a religious qualifier– my (more or less)  religious qualifier– applied to a secular field.

    It’s all depressing.

  • Richard Hershberger

    Church governance is a topic which deserves more attention from the people in the pews than it often gets.  At its most fundamental level, I am talking about who controls the money.  The Roman Catholic church is the most authoritarian of any major American church, though the modern megachurch gives it a run for its money.

    In the Roman Catholic church, essentially everything is owned by the diocese, which in turn is run as a personal fiefdom of the bishop.  This includes everything from title to the real property to money collected from the plate.  The clergy and lay staff are on the diocese’s payroll.  There might be local funds controlled by the laity for special projects such as building construction, but once those buildings are constructed they belong to the diocese.  Hence the difficulties other commenters have raised for leaving en masse (as it were).  It would be interesting if a bishop revolted, as this would potentially come down to the church asking the civil courts to uphold canon law.  But such a scenario is highly unlikely.

    The Episcopalians on paper have a virtually identical structure.  This is not really true in practice.  During the colonial era the Church of England largely ignored the American colonies, so the individual parishes had to operate on their own.  The usual pattern is that the diocese holds title to the real property, but the local parish controls its own funds through an elected board (called the vestry), who also pays the priest.  Because of this any financially viable parish can do pretty much whatever it wants, within very broad limits.  The one thing it can’t do is leave the Episcopal church, what with that title to the property. 

    This issue works both ways.  We have been talking about liberal Catholics leaving the church.  The issue in recent years with the Episcopalians is conservatives leaving over tolerance of gays.  (Also women priests, though in some circles it is considered impolite to mention this.)  Note that no one is suggesting that a conservative parish need hire an openly gay or openly female priest, but many find it unbearable to have a sign out front overly similar to one with a gay or female (or both) priest.  But since the parish controls its non-real property, it is entirely possible for the members, led by their priest, to leave en masse and rent a hall while they raise money for the building fund.

    Most Protestant churches are more or less organized from the bottom up, with the individual congregation holding title to the property and controlling its bank account.  The new exception is the megachurch with satellite campuses.   These invariably control the assets centrally, and with an iron fist.  If we regard them as de facto denominations, then they are as authoritarian as the Romans.

    The next issue is how the money is controlled within the congregation, from who counts the plate to who makes the budget.  Good practice is for more than one person to count the plate, and for it not to be the same two people every week.  On the budgetary level, this can run from the congregation as a whole holding an annual vote on the budget through the charismatic senior pastor having sole control of everything.

    For myself, I cannot imagine giving more than nominal amounts to any church with poor church governance and fiscal controls.  In my church the individual members constitute the corporate entity and vote on the budget and other major financial decisions.  We even have outside audits from time to time. 

  • Tapetum

     That’s a nice succinct way of putting the differences in Roman Catholic and Episcopal church structures. I will also note that much higher numbers of Episcopal churches actually do hold the deed to their own property – it’s not the usual thing, but neither is it completely unheard of – my current church does, having raised their own funds, bought their own property and built their own buildings from day 1 (we were the founding church in the state, so the diocese really didn’t exist yet). Leaving the Episcopal church would for us be legally, as easy as changing the sign out front – much more complicated in other ways of course, but still. Fortunately for both us and the church, we’re not likely to do so, seeing as we just called a new minister – who is gay with a long-term partner.

    If the Episcopal church the next town over decides to call it quits over our overt liberalness, they’ll have a harder time, since they do not own their own building and property, but they could still do it much more easily than the Catholics.

  • Tricksterson

    Do not get me wrong, this is an intellingent and well written post and I found it quite informative.”
    That being said there were a couple of lines that demanded to be snarked, albeit affectionately so.  I hope you can forgive me.
    To wit:

    “The issue in recent years with the Episcopalians is conservatives leaving over tolerance of gays.  (Also women priests, though in some circles it is considered impolite to mention this.)”
    Is there any sect more polite than Episcopalians?  You are the Canadians of Christianity.  Ity boggles me mind to think of what Canadan Episcopalians are like.

    “Note that noone is suggesting that a conservative parish need hire and openly gay or openly female priest”

    Openly female?  Does that mean a drag king would be okay?

  • Mary Kaye

    –Though they have had some very big losses.  The Reformation must’ve stung bigtime.  And the Popes are definitely no longer Princes of the Church with the political sway (and wealth and luxury) of a secular ruler *plus* the religious tie-ins, as they were in the period Tuchman writes about in _The March of Folly_.

    This situation fits Tuchman’s definition of folly–deliberately pursuing policies contrary to your own self-interest–pretty well.  As several people have pointed out, women religious run a great many religious institutions in the US, and their numbers are steadily dropping.  I don’t think even the church officials think that what they are doing now is going to improve recruitment.  They’re just caught up in the power and authority of it all, and acting like fools.

  • P J Evans

    The guys at the Vatican have had problems with democracy since at least the mid-19th century. (They seem to think they can force everyone else back into that medieval box that they seem to believe they live in.)

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Lawyers would not help if a hundred thousand enraged Italian Catholics staged a bloodless coup d’etat in Vatican City.  That might bring the question of who owns Catholic property in the USA down to the question of which Pope was granted diplomatic recognition.  Permit me to dream.

    A bloodless coup against a fortress held by heavily armed and highly trained fanatics?  How?  Even if you somehow win (quickly enough that it happens before the italian army shows), it’ll be a massacre.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Actually, the “heavily armed and highly trained fanatics” part is unnecessary. An enraged mob of a hundred thousand will draw blood.

  • Tricksterson

    Never going to happen.  the only thing Italians would storm the Vatican for wuld be to install an Italian Pope.  Which IIRc is how the Great Schism started.

  • Freak

    Weren’t nuns also the ones running the Magdalene laundries?

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Actually, the “heavily armed and highly trained fanatics” part is unnecessary. An enraged mob of a hundred thousand will draw blood. 

    By accident, if nothing else…

    Never going to happen.  the only thing Italians would storm the Vatican for wuld be to install an Italian Pope.  Which IIRc is how the Great Schism started.

    Well, they could always install an Italian pope while they’re at it…

  • Dragoness Eclectic

    Wow, watching the RCC shoot itself in the foot for the next 2-3 generations is just… stunning.  This kind of crap has happened before in the church (like every few centuries)–getting a doctrine-happy pope who feels the need to shut down those uppity women and lay peons–and it drives people away from the Church until someone in Rome wakes up to that fact and starts emphasizing the teachings of Jesus and Paul rather than the edicts of Pope Whomever.

    It’s just a bit sad after all the steps forward taken by the last 3 popes. Figures it’s an Inquisitor pope that takes the Church off the rails again.  There being no coercion of religion in the USA, at least, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of American Catholics either switch to the Episcopal churches, or just continue ignoring the Vatican as they have for years. Or stop attending and contributing to any church at all–the RCC’s teachings that they are the Only True Church encourages people who find the RCC incompatible with the teachings of Jesus or their own morality to leave Christianity altogether, instead of testing other denominations to see if they are better.

    Intransigence on issues of temporal power vs basic Christian morality has severely cost the RCC in the past: cf “The Reformation” and “The Unification of Italy”.