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

Vatican vs. women (in this case, women religious) April 27, 2012

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?


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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