Dowd: Which are miserable nuns? – UPDATED

Dominican Nuns having fun

So many people have written so well about Maureen Dowd’s recent display of sublime ignorance on the subject of nuns and the oppressive, patriarchal church that has oppressed them and kept them down encouraged them to do and be and lead, teach, advise and build for lo these 2000 years that I really did not feel a need to comment.

After all, Archbishop Timothy Dolan said it so well, in a letter to the NY Times, which they naturally declined to print, as he called Dowd “intemperate” and “scurrilous”.

And as I wrote here, long ago:

… the Catholic church, more than any other institutional body in history, has uplifted women and encouraged them to live to their highest potentials.

The fact is, for all of the talk about how oppressive the church has been for women, there has been no other institution in history which has given women such free reign to create, explore, discover, serve, manage, build, expand, usually with very little help from the coffers of the diocese in which they worked, and often with little to no intrusion on the part of the male hierarchy.

And these have not been mealy mouthed “sheeplike” women, but educated, accomplished women who have chosen their lives because they could do nothing greater with their gifts.

But that doesn’t fit the template and the narrative, does it? The established narrative has been shouted over decades, and in the noise, we’re not supposed to be able to think for ourselves and realize that throughout history, while schools, governments and societies were excluding women, the Catholic church was honoring the women who challenged the popes to be manly men!

Dowd was picking all sorts of nits in her column, but her yelping focus was on the Apostolic Visitation of active female religious orders in the United States, which she -and some amusingly paranoid “progressive” sisters are viewing as a witch hunt. As one such sister wrote:

We cannot, of course, keep them from investigating. But we can receive them, politely and kindly, for what they are, uninvited guests who should be received in the parlor, not given the run of the house. When people ask questions they shouldn’t ask, the questions should be answered accordingly.

The same sister also referred to the visitation (by this mild, and by all accounts, fair-minded sister) as “an act of violence,” so you have a sense of the warped perspective to which Dowd is aligning herself.

Over at America Magazine, Michael Sean Winters remarked of Dowd’s tired, victim-feminist sniping:

Take this sentence: “The Vatican is now conducting two inquisitions into the ‘quality of life’ of American nuns, a dwindling group with an average age of about 70, hoping to herd them back into their old-fashioned habits and convents and curb any speck of modernity or independence.” Oh, of course, misogyny must be the reason for these investigations, not the aforementioned “dwindling” numbers. Nor does she note that there have been apostolic visitations of conservative women’s religious orders as well, most famously, the 2000 visitation of Mother Angelica’s order. Nor does she note that there was a similar visitation of seminaries just a couple of years ago. But, why seek the complicated truth when misogyny is so close at hand and it explains so much.

Actually, there is no indication at all that the Vatican wants to “herd” (Dowd’s word) these women back into convents and habits, like corralled cows (Dowd’s allusion). I think the Vatican would be happy if these sisters would simply stop working at abortion clinics, like rebellious adolescents going out of their way to made daddy mad.

But I must make mention of Kathryn Jean Lopez’s great piece on Sr. Maureen of the Perpetual Glare, and recommend it to you, because she has some terrific links included with her excellent thoughts, and you’ll want to follow them, to get a sense of old and new, happy and bitter. As Lopez says, Dowd does not seem to know the same sisters Lopez knows, hasn’t bookmarked their blogs!

The fact is, Maureen Dowd, and the “progressive” sisters who are stuck in the 1970′s but believe they are still cutting edge, do not realize that time has marched on, that the experience of the church they may have had in the 1950′s and ’60′s does not translate to these young women, who carry none of that feminist angst that will forever sear the bosoms of those who burned their bras but never expected to sag.

Sisters with drums, having fun

Modern young women, whether in the habit or out of it, are not the ones noisily banging on drums and still trying to take down “the man,” because in their experience of the world, and the church, “the man,” is a construct that has ceased to be relevant. You would think the proponents of Gaudium et spes would be happy about this: it demonstrates that the foundational basis for the Second Vatican Council (beyond all of the noisy, cosmetic “Spirit of Vatican II” nonsense) -that the faithful develop deeper, more personal and fulfilling relationships with Christ- has borne excellent, passionate, energetic and joyful fruit.

But for some, there is no sweetness, therein, only the bitter:

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter – bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”
– Stephen Crane

The Abortion-Escort sister is being censured by her community, in rather vague terms. Not sure what it means, but at least it is a response.

Related: A Sister of the Blessed Sacrament has been found murdered in New Mexico; her car is missing. The FBI is investigating, as the murder took place on a Navajo reservation.

Nuns and sisters face real hardships and offer real sacrifice with their lives. All the more reason why their stories should not be made trivial through political grandstanding and the licking of old, personal, and festering wounds.

UPDATE II: Probably unwise to give Dowd so much attention, but the Vatican has responded to the attention being paid this apostolic visit, with vigor.

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  • RandyB

    The irony is that the “miserable” nuns are the “progressive” nuns. And so we find that “miserable” and “progressive” are synonymous yet again.

  • NanB

    “Sisters with drums, having fun” photo makes me cringe. Having grown up in the Vatican II era has not done me or my generation any favors. Dowd and these progressive nuns don’t understand what
    obedience entails nor what Catholicism is about.

  • March Hare

    “…who carry none of that feminist angst that will forever sear the bosoms of those who burned their bras but never expected to sag.”

    I LOVE that line! :)

  • Gina

    Maureen Dowd is so irrelevant that such rebuttals dignify her more than she deserves.

    It’s tragi-comical that over on the one hand you find so-called progressive women “discovering” saints like Junia and “re-thinking” Mary, when it is the big, bad patriarchal churches who never forgot them in the first place.

  • Joseph

    Thirty years from now the truly radical nuns will be ash in the wind. The only sad thing today is that many faithful are still deceived into giving some of these people financial support because for PR they still claim they are Catholic.

    I am becoming more and more one of those curmudgeons that wishes we had bishops with enough courage to publicly discipline these nuns and all the other liberals out there who are causing such harm.

  • Frances

    Eww! Blech. That is the nastiest photo. I’m so glad, God forgive me, that these so called sisters are getting old and we’ll be rid of them in a generation. What a trashy substitute for a true life of the great virtures. They look crass. They act crass at times. They even look butch. Egad. Give it up already. I had to grow up with gals like that and I’m sick to death of them!!! What harm they inflicted on us! Most of my peers do not even know the faith but know plenty about all the Eastern religions thanks to “nuns”. If its festering, I hope the Vatican visit will lance it and soon. Time to clean house. Kick ‘em to the curb. They’ve done enough damage.

    Fed up.


    Google a map of Africa and find the point where the borders of Kenya, Uganda and Sudan meet in the caldera of an extinct volcano. At the base of the volcano is the Turkana village of Lokichoggio, in northern Kenya. Some years ago I was working out of Loki, flying famine relief missions into Southern Sudan, when the Archbishop summoned all of the missionary nuns working in Sudan to a conference at the cathedral in Kenya’s capitol city, Nairobi.

    Dozens of nuns emerged from the bush and converged on the UN Base Camp in answer to the Bishop’s call. These women were as desiccated, lean, and stringy as a strip of springbok biltong. You could tell by looking at them that they lived a hard life. You could see they were no strangers to malaria and worse. But why would they choose a life like this? I was there because I was paid for a skill. What brought them to Sudan? Love. The kind of love that surpasses all understanding.

    As a child I was educated by the, inaptly-named, Sisters of Mercy, and I still harbor a grudge. But I skipped dinner that night to bustle around the mess-hall fetching plates of food and buying soft-drinks at the camp bar for these remarkable, courageous, selfless women. The world will be a poorer place if they ever pass from the scene.

    [That is a wonderful story. Thank you for posting it -admin]

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  • SallyJune

    Happily, younger Catholics (like my daughter of 11) simply ignore the flapping gums of old, tired hippies and get on with the business of life. It cheers me to see that the generation which has browbeat and harassed me my whole life is simply seen as irrelevant by them. When they think “elders,” they see JP2 and B16.


  • Robohobo

    My Mom’s childhood friend was a great influence. Eileen DuBor , Sr. Ike, spent her life at Loretto in Santa Fe. She let me know the story of that famed staircase and the wonder of it. She did tell it truly, with the doubts that come with the story. She spent her life cloistered and teaching at the Academy for Girls. One of her great joys was getting a simple lotion as a gift from us when we could afford to help. Her twin, Evelyn, married Kurt Z., had a son Karl and spent her time in Taos. The life of the cloister is not an easy one but it is a rewarding one.

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  • Jim Miller

    Whenever I hear someone described as “progressive”, I recall a question I heard on Relevant Radio (I believe it was by Fr. John Corapi): “yes, but what are they progressing toward?”

    Simply being progressive does mean that the direction of travel is positive, as we so often see.

  • Mary B.

    That truly is an icky photo! I was taught by nuns and lay alike. It’s not always easy, but I choose to remember the nuns I admired. As an adult, one of the greatest experiences I’ve had was about 15 yrs ago when a friend took me to deliver meals to the poor w/ the Sisters of Charity (Blessed Mother Theresa’s order) in St. Louis. Seeing how hard those nuns worked and how very appreciative the homebound sick/elderly were to receive baskets of food was a great lesson…

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