Monday, April 30, 2012



This story broke a couple of weeks ago and will hardy surprise anyone who knows the Catholic Church's attitude toward women and GLBT people. I'll be the first to admit that after suffering under semi-iterate nuns in grammar school who enforced party line and physically abused children, I was astounded to find a nun in my class at a Jewish-affiliated graduate school, Brandeis University. Her entire convent had voted to go out into the world, each woman studying a different subject and then, two years and a Masters Degree later, regroup and decide what major social issue (there were many in the late 1960s) in which they would work to affect change. I quickly understood that at a time of huge transformation in American culture, these women were going to be the adults in the room -- compared to the all-male Catholic hierarchy -- by doing serious, much-needed work. The following article (from Towleroad) makes it obvious that they've remained steadfast and are still working toward their various and admirable goals.

Vatican Cracks Down on American Nuns for Not Being Anti-Gay Enough

The Vatican has launched a crackdown on the umbrella group that represents most of America's 55,000 nuns, saying that the group was not speaking out strongly enough against gay marriage, abortion and women's ordination. America's Catholic nuns are getting too out-of-control for Rome, the Washington Post reports:

The Vatican called "inadequate" an explanation from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) that it did "not knowingly invite speakers who take a stand against a teaching of the church when it has been declared as authoritative teaching, and suggested that the nuns are not loud enough on abortion, homosexuality and gay marriage. The Vatican announcement said 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."

It added that "crucial" issues like "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 bishops, who are the Church's authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not comparable with its purpose."

The New York Times adds:
Word of the Vatican's action took the group completely by surprise, Sister Sanders said. She said that the group's leaders were in Rome on Wednesday for what they thought was a routine annual visit to the Vatican when they were informed of the investigation, which began in 2008.

"I'm stunned," said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Cathoic social justice lobby founded by sisters.   Her group was also cited in the Vatican document, along with the Leadership Conference, for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping "silent" on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Melinda Henneberger wrote a follow-up article in the Washington Post:
The response from the general public was enormous and overwhelmingly sympathetic to the sisters. The forced reform immediately sparked online petitions, tributes and T-shirts that say, "I'm with her."

And the response did not neatly break down along partisan lines. "I always see the priests at the country club," a conservative Catholic friend wrote me in response to my earlier column on the slap from Rome, "while the nuns work their heads off and eat at home."

A commenter on the Washington Post site put it this way: "The American Bishops should be washing the feet of these nuns and sisters!" And after the Jesuit writer the Rev. James Martin asked Catholics to express their support by tweeting #WhatSistersMeanToMe, his Twitter campaign went viral.   "Several of my sister friends told me how saddened they were by the new document on the LCWR," Martin told me.  "So I thought it would be a good time to express gratitude for the unbelievably inspiring work that Catholic sisters do and have done: For God, for the Church and for the poor . . . I couldn't imagine my life or the Church without these women."

"Thanks to the Poor Clares for praying for me when I had cancer," one man wrote. "I don't believe any bishops did that."

UPDATE: this op-ed piece by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times appeared on line today (Tuesday).  Major excerpts :

"Even as Republicans try to wrestle women into chastity belts, the Vatican is trying to muzzle American nuns. Who thinks it’s cool to bully nuns? While continuing to heal and educate, the community of sisters is aging and dying out because few younger women are willing to make such sacrifices for a church determined to bring women to heel. Yet the nuns must be yanked into line by the crepuscular, medieval men who run the Catholic Church. How can the church hierarchy be more offended by the nuns’ impassioned advocacy for the poor than by priests’ sordid pedophilia? How do you take spiritual direction from a church that seems to be losing its soul?

It has become a habit for the church to go after women. A Worcester, Mass., bishop successfully fought to get a commencement speech invitation taken away from Vicki Kennedy, widow of Teddy Kennedy, because of her positions on some social issues. And an Indiana woman named Emily Herx has filed a lawsuit saying she was fired from her job teaching in a Catholic school and denounced as a “grave, immoral sinner” by the parish pastor after she used fertility treatments to try to get pregnant with her husband.

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic lobbying group slapped in the Vatican report, said it scares the church hierarchy to have “educated women form thoughtful opinions and engage in dialogue.”  Given the damage done by the pedophilia scandals, she said, “the church’s obsession, at times, with the sexual relationships is a serious problem.”
Instead of looking deep into its own heart and soul, the church is going after the women who are the heart and soul of parishes, schools and hospitals.


Fred taught in a Catholic School here for 6 years. Upon suspecting that he might be gay, they didn't sponsor him for his green-card. And you know the rest of the story...
Still, Fred remains friends with many of the nuns from that school. They're a hoot after a drink or two!
"Thanks to the Poor Clares for praying for me when I had cancer," one man wrote. "I don't believe any bishops did that."

That sums it up nicely. Nuns are hard workers, and I bless the strong ones who have helped me in my life.
Not once did they condemn or judge; they helped.
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