“No one hates men! But…damn these men!” – UPDATED

On Facebook, Diane of Te-Deum blog embedded this interview between Christiane Amanpour and Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, whom Amanpour calls “a practicing nun.”

Because she’s a class-A journalist, is the haughty Christiane. She’s like the Anna Wintour of elite broadcasters, but even less interesting.

Full disclosure: as a Benedictine Oblate, I’ve read and gleaned much wisdom from Sister Joan’s books on Monasticism; she has a lot of good and instructive things to say about the psalms and the Holy Rule. She lost me a couple of years ago, though, when I read one of her rewrites on the Creed which, in fairness, was probably just a creative exercise, or a way of breaking through something in prayer, but which nevertheless left me cold.

I was going to fisk the interview but time really won’t permit, so I’ll share a couple of thoughts and you can judge for yourself.

First off — this whole brouhaha re the LCWR leadership is based on an 8 page document, quickly read, and more than a quarter of it is spent quite rightly praising the work religious sisters have done. When Sister Joan gets passionate about the ministry the sisters have embraced, she is right to be passionate, but since neither she nor Amanpour mention it, it seems only fair to acknowledge that the document recognizes all of that.

The assessment worries about a “radical feminist” turn taken by the leadership of the LCWR. Amanpour asks what that could mean. Sister Joan answers by defining radical feminism, rather narrowly, I think, as a mindset of extreme separatism; an idea that menfolk were irrelevant to women in the world.

Many might argue that extreme feminism is an outlook that is suspicious of men and their motives, oriented and agendized toward promoting superior feminine sensibilities throughout the culture, among both women and men. I was amused, though, I have to admit, when right after saying that no nun, no sister would ever speak badly of men as a whole, she immediately cites the real problem as being one of radical patriarchy.

Yes, yes, I know what she “meant.” But it came off as an ironic self-contradiction.

Amanpour then characterizes Benedict’s tenure — quite unfairly, or perhaps simply in ignorance, as “no more Vatican II”.

Oh, puleeze! If only the council recommendations had been implemented as written, rather than filtered through an amorphous “Spirit of Vatican II” that brooked no opposition and sometimes sowed a great deal of confusion, perhaps as a church we would all be in better shape, now. It disappoints me that Chittister allows Amanpour to get away with it, but I suspect it’s because she does believe it to be true.

Still, I found it amusing that Chittister describes the tension within the church as being between a “medieval” absolutism — that there is only one right or wrong answer to anything (“and [the damn patriarchy will] tell you what it is”) and then makes a big song and dance about the wisdom of modern relativism. And she’s absolute about it: “The modern mind, born in the scientific age, says there are many answers to many things.”

Until, of course, we’re told “the science is settled.” Then we’re not supposed to question it. It’s just a different sort of patriarchy, I guess.

I’m sorry, but I find so much of this to be prideful boomer conceit; everything that came before us is wrong, unenlightened and stupid. As Vizzini would say, Aquinas? Augustine? Ambrose? Morons!

Chittister also allows Amanpour to get away with the easiest and laziest
of arguments: these men didn’t handle the sex abuse scandals well, so they have no credibility, anyway; “it hasn’t been nuns that have been responsible,” Amanpour blubbers. It’s a subject completely irrelevant to this issue, but since Chittister allowed it — and nods in agreement — I have to call her on it; she knows perfectly well that religious orders of sisters have made huge payouts after accusations of abuse and have not always been quick to co-operate with investigations, which is a story the American press hasn’t liked to cover. The subject didn’t even belong in the interview, but once it’s broached, it’s a pretty bad moment, all around, for Amanpour who took the cheap route, for Sister Joan, who let her, and of course, the church, who may do penance for it all throughout all our lifetimes.

Amanpour then gets into the “life issues” and Sister Joan, bristles with offense and says she wants to laugh in irony, or something. She starts off fairly well, but I think she’s a bit disingenuous to say that the reason abortion is not specifically addressed by so many of the LCWR leadership is because they want to treat “everything” as a life issue, and that she doesn’t want to call social justice “social justice” because everything is a life issue.

Okay. Fair enough. But neither woman addresses what has upset Rome, which are instances — admittedly not widespread — where sisters have acted as escorts to abortion centers or suggested that abortion cannot be defined as really evil, because you know…everything is relative; marriage cannot be defined as being solely between a man and a woman because, you know…everything is relative.

Understand, the LCWR is a canonical organization, formed at the behest of the Vatican and answerable to it. The Vatican expects its canonical groups to, you know…reflect the teachings of the church, for whom everything is not, cannot be, relative.

Chittister loses it, though, when she goes off on a tangent declaring that thanks to science, no one can say with certainty what life is, anymore.

A bit much, sister. Essentially she is saying that “we know so much more now, than we ever did before, that in truth we know nothing.” And that sounds like a humble and true sentiment and on some level it is humble and true. But we do know some things, and one of the things we know is that God loves us into being and that our lives are sacred enough for God to Incarnate in order to teach us exactly that.

It goes on and on. Ultimately, Amanpour and Chittister agree that the church just doesn’t like women and ignores them, regardless of what history might actually say on the subject. Neither of them seems the tiniest bit inclined to consider that “the patriarchy” were — for centuries and centuries — the only bunch of guys willing to tell women to run with their heads, in autonomy; who said “go ahead and build the schools, hospitals and monasteries and do what you feel called to” while society in general was telling women to sew, learn French and simper.

Hey, I’m just trying to be fair.

One bone I absolutely must pick: Amanpour makes a point of displaying the number of sisters in America in 1965 and then today, and it is meant to be an indictment of the church and its meanness to women. Chittister, to her credit, recognizes that a combination of increased opportunity for women and the distractions of “Nintendo” and the modern age have a lot to do with the difference in numbers, but it always bothers me when the press uses those mid-20th century numbers as though they were definitive of religious life. Better to compare the number of religious today to the number 100 years ago; the post-WWII increase, for both priests and religious, were huge and hugely out of proportion — an aberration that perhaps owed as much to the effect of a fairly sympathetic and increasingly available press (and the heroic portrayals of priests and religious in books and movies) as anything else. Media hold wide sway over the culture and can genuinely promote or denigrate a life-choice to powerful effect. Certainly the same media that once made the consecrated life look heroic and worthwhile have spent the last few decades making vows and celibacy out to be something unsavory and often downright nuts.

Religious life was always the rarer choice, but it is currently on the increase, both in America and around the world.

Enough. Watch it for yourself. Perhaps you will disagree with me.

In a related story, Sister Simone Campbell, another prominent American religious was recently quoted as saying:

“I have allowed a very narrow perspective on what is life, because I actually feel like I’m going to develop a rash or something if I use ‘life’ in that broader sense,” she said.

She has avoided framing social justice concerns as “pro-life” issues, she said, “because I don’t want to be thought of as in (the pro-life) camp. Because of my pride, as opposed to my faith.”

I saw a few people criticize her for that on Facebook, but I actually think that’s a very compelling admission for Sister Simone to make; it’s very introspective, perhaps more honest than Chittister’s bit, and yes, humble. It’s not easy to admit that you’ve been prideful, and as the story relays, there is an element of snobbism attached to the “life” vs “social justice” issue:

Sister Campbell questioned many Catholics’ focus on that one issue [abortion], criticizing the pro-life movement as not considering the entire spectrum of Catholic social teaching, but then she acknowledged that “progressive” Catholics like herself have contributed to the discord between pro-life and pro-social justice Catholics.

Some — particularly if they see themselves as sophisticated and educated — simply do not want to be thought of as “pro-life obsessives”, for whom there is no other issue. And if that is true, then it probably behooves the pro-life movement to ask themselves how they can help change that in a positive way. As sister says:

We need “to reclaim the fullness of our faith,” she said. We need to go beyond left vs. right, socialist vs. capitalist, she said: We are Catholic.

I like that. A lot. “Getting beyond left/right, socialist/capitalist” sounds so much better than going “beyond the church, even beyond Jesus.”

UPDATE: After spending a few decades at CBS news,
Deacon Greg watches the Amanpour trainwreck and is offended as a journalist

Joanne McPortland brings her giant brain
to bear on both this interview and the cultural embrace of 50 Shades of Grey, with a great title that gives way to a terrifically thoughtful and ultimately tragic post:

We crave bondage and discipline with the divine. If we go against that inbuilt impulse—if we let our stubborn need to be “right” and “free” force us to sever ties with with one another, as the LCWR and the CDF threaten to do, or to sever ties with God as so many Anastasias and Christians do in the real world—we will find ourselves cut loose, adrift, alone, easily exploited. Damned.

Max Lindenman: “I wish I could quit you!”

Mark Shea: No, the church does not hate “nuns who help the poor”. Sigh.


The Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan release a statement.

Colleen Carroll Campbell argues that the church is doing its duty.

The schism is coming and Benedict is being blamed, on whatever pretext can be found. If he’d just give in, after all — stop being an absolutist, stop being a sign of contradiction and teach the times to the church, instead of trying to teach the stodgy old church to the times! If he would only make it like unto the Church of England! Then he’d be an absolute hero.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Victor

    “She lost me a couple of years ago, though, when I read one of her rewrites on the Creed which, in fairness, was probably just a creative exercise, or a way of breaking through something in prayer, but which nevertheless left me cold.”

    Forgive me Anchoress if “I’M” wrong but “IT” sounds like this sister is still leaving you kind of cold in some ways so I hope you have plenty of “Jesus Blankets” to keep you warm and by the way Anchoress, “Whatever you’re taking please don’t let sinner vic get a hold of “IT” cause he might just give some of “IT” to your friend Wesley who on this very night wrote…. http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/secondhandsmoke/2012/06/14/human-exceptionalism-and-equality-must-be-defended-on-all-fronts/

    and “I” can’t wait to read how many comments his writing cells generate out of “IT”?

    I hear ya! “IT” is my blog Victor and “I” can write what I like here whether my readers agree with me or not! :)


  • Bender

    Many might argue that extreme feminism is an outlook that is suspicious of men and their motives, oriented and agendized toward promoting superior feminine sensibilities throughout the culture, among both women and men.

    Actually, it is the contrary. Radical extreme feminism, which is to say, counterfeit feminism, is suspicious of women, etc. It is anti-woman — it is antagonistic to all that is authentically female, especially those things that are exclusive to woman, most especially the ability to conceive and bear a child. Far from being anti-man, inasmuch as it abhors the truly feminine, in advocating for “equality,” it essentially says that the only real woman is one who is effectively a man.

  • http://breadhere.wordpress.com Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

    To the surprise of many who know me, I am not a particularly huge fan of Joan Chittister’s. I must smile when I look back at a 10-year-ago Fran, who was sitting with a very wise Catholic friend, having coffee. At that time, I was in my own place of great anger, so I really loved reading Joan. My friend smiled kindly and said, “Oh, but she is so angry!” I was taken aback. I wish that I were still in touch with that friend. I get it now, I did not get it then.

    I appreciate that you have wisely separated out the wheat from the chaff, if you will, especially in regard to her work on Benedictine spirituality. You also note that Christine Amanpour jumped to some poor conclusions about numbers of vocations and how Chittister then gave it context.

    While you and I are in different places about this situation at large, I do think that you bring a lot of perspective to the conversation. Many people on both sides of the table fail to do the same. It is not a simplistic issue, that is for certain, it is not one-dimensional. The whole Good Vatican-Bad Sister or Bad Vatican-Good Sister trope is useless and demeaning.

    So just how do we find the wisdom here? In the end, I always believe that in the manner of Jesus, it is those who hold the most power, also hold the keys to the solutions. That is not happening here, in my opinion.

  • http://practicallycatholic.com Practically Catholic

    Amanpour is overpaid for her willingness to take the easy road in her activist ‘journalism’ and pick low hanging fruit such as this ‘one little nun takes on the big bad Church’ story. I’d like to see her, or others, tackle – or even ACKNOWLEDGE the 43 religious organizations who have taken on the US government in a bid for religious freedom. Amanpour is misguided and ignorant at best, intentionally destructive at worst. If journalists actually tackled the *real* issues this country is facing, they might see their credibility improve. Instead, however, they encourage the great majority to close their eyes to the substantial issues we face and focus on things that have little to no impact on the destructive cultural decline in which we find ourselves.

  • Baltimore Catechesis

    I wonder if Sr. Joan has pondered thei section from the Rule.

    The third kind of monks, a detestable kind, are the Sarabaites.
    These, not having been tested,
    as gold in the furnace (Wis. 3:6),
    by any rule or by the lessons of experience,
    are as soft as lead.
    In their works they still keep faith with the world,
    so that their tonsure marks them as liars before God.
    They live in twos or threes, or even singly,
    without a shepherd,
    in their own sheepfolds and not in the Lord’s.
    Their law is the desire for self-gratification:
    whatever enters their mind or appeals to them,
    that they call holy;
    what they dislike, they regard as unlawful.

  • http://www.opey124.wordpress.com Mrs. O

    These titles, Pro-Life etc, have meaning, though, we you are speaking as a Catholic and have a much fuller understanding, or should, than the Pro-Life groups. For us, Catholics, it not only means we are against one thing – abortion – but our starting point on all issues will be that we value life and that it is sacred. I realize when you join groups, that may not be their understanding, but that doesn’t mean we do not bring that with us, etc. I don’t think most understand that nor agree with it which is where the problem lies. I think they FEEL the only way to make friends with pro-choice people is to strip away all titles – much like what some want to be done with the hierarchy. Our Pro-Life stance encompasses a huge area from conception to natural death. I am not afraid of titles nor will I throw off my commitment to life because someone is bothered by it. I would be blind to not see that some of these sisters think it is an OK option to abort some children (AZ) as opposed to treating the mother with the chance the child will not survive. There is a difference between a child dying as a result of medicine needed for the mothers and dismembering/crushing the child which some are not able to distinguish between.

  • doc

    Amanpour is not a journalist. She is an agenda pusher and is only interested in interviewing people who have a chance of improving the odds of Obama and other Democrats getting reelected. Since the Catholic Church has sued the Obama Administration, they are an enemy. Therefore a useful idiot is found to attack from within.

    As a “pro-life obsessive”, permit me to correct Sr. Campbell. It’s not that there are no other issues, but rather that there is no greater issue, and since Democrats own abortion, to speak on this issue is to oppose Democrats, which is done by electing Republicans, which makes some folks very uncomfortable. The problem with those who like “getting beyond left/right, socialist/capitalist” is that this desire is almost always articulated by leftists (D) who are losing ground and therefore want the conservatives to shut up. Does anyone else notice that the desire to meet in the middle always takes the form of demanding that conservatives give up their gains?

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  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    I don’t think I can stomach watching it. Modern feminism is so repulsive. None of that surprises me. And as to the interviewer, journalists give the impression they are among the brightest in society. On the contrary I have found most journalists to be among the least brightest, most bigoted people on the planet. Amanpour is the queen of such journalists. She didn’t even make an effort to try to understand the traditional Catholic view. I hope the traditional “patriarchy” throws the LCWR into the ash heap of history.

  • http://chrysologus.blogspot.com Chrysologus

    I agree with Sr. Simone’s sentiment about not identifying with the pro-life movement even though she (it seems) agrees with the Church’s teaching on abortion. I used to consider myself a part of the pro-life movement, but no longer do, even though I agree with the Church’s position. My experience (at the March for Life, for instance) has led me to become disenchanted with the movement. I think that it’s politically inept, prone to extremism and hot-headedness, and hugely (and scandalously) co-opted by Republicans who mostly just use it to get votes rather than create a pro-life culture (which they have never done, and it was a Republican-appointed Supreme Court that re-affirmed Roe v Wade in the 90s). Is there some pride in there, on my part? Sure (mea culpa), but that doesn’t change the fact of my observations nor the validity of my criticisms.

  • Peggy R

    Bl. Teresa of Calcutta and her order have found plenty of time for daily mass, adoration, confession, religious instruction from priests, etc. AND speak out on behalf of the unborn, while daily helping the poorest of the poor and the forgotten and outcast in society. Has Sr. Joan Chittister gone to those places Bl. Teresa has been to? How about Sr. Margaret Farley? Sr. Simone Campbell? Bl. Teresa had no secular training in medicine, the law, or theology. She wasn’t politicized in any way. She loved Jesus. She did it all for Jesus. That was her mantra. “We do it for Jesus.”

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  • Lawrence S. Cunningham

    The Anchoress says that Siser Joan’s book on the creed “left her cold.” She is too generous in her estimation. It is an appallingly bad book only published because she has a name that sells books to a certain niche market. She writes too much, thinks too little, and trades on publicity. There are great books on the creed (like Joseph Ratzinger’s INTRODUCTION TO CHRISTIANITY) but her name shold not appear on any bibliography of serious books on the creed.

  • Dana Laviano

    Mrs. Scalia,
    I really appreciate your reasoned approach to this interview AND the fact the you sat through and I did not. You take one for the team every time you do that and although it is wearing (and wearying as you said on First Things) it is an important and valued role you are fulfilling. Just want you to know, your thoughtfulness is teaching me to look more carefully and fairly at the things I have to sit through.

  • Roz Smith

    As schism or the pruning of dead wood to help promote future growth? Vocations of many orders in the LCWR are close to nonexistent. Within a very short time they are likely to wither and die. Prideful boomer conceit wedded to the Church produced a sort of spiritual hybrid -it looked very flourishing in its prime but ultimately it is sterile.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Bender, I think you’re on to something.

    Most modern feminists do seem to look down on actual women.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    I fear that schism is coming, and that Catholics need to be prepared for this.

    (I also hope I’m wrong about schism’s inevitability.)

    Oddly, it seems to be coming right at the time when the Catholic Church is becoming closer to the Orthodox Church—trying to heal the original schism!

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  • Gloria Enoch, ofs

    I am still trying to find out what the definition of RADICAL FEMINIST is. How is the teaching authority of the church defining the expression? I willl need that definition to make a decision about the matter. I think a decision is necessary because this is an issue that concerns all of us. Threr are so many matters concerning women, children, families and how to care for people in our political system. Jesus said: Feed the hungry, cloth the naked, etc. so what is the problem? i need much more on this but in the interum i am familiar with both sisters work in b ooks so I will support them until I hear more specifics from the Teaching Authority. The Jesuits have a policy of debate: “Terms Clarification” lets all ask for that folks. Then decide.

  • Annie

    What disturbs me most about this situation is the way in which the LCWR have allowed themselves to be USED by outside groups to advance their own agendas, with tactics that are misleading and dishonest.

    The goal of the Kristofs, Dowds and Amanpours of the world is to divide and conquer. They see the Church as 2 separate entities: the “good nuns, and their supporters” and the “bad hierarchy and their supporters”. Little do they know that we are a single entity that would never have survived without the contribution of both groups.

    Benedict XVI’s vision is to bring us ALL together (LCWR, Anglicans, SSPX, Orthodox, etc) so that we can be a credible witness of the the Body of Christ, to a bruised world that is in desperate need of Him.

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