By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
Well, Sally Field must be aghast. How could even her bird’s-eye view have predicted the over the top report from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? Once the province of current Pope Benedict, the watchdog of orthodoxy that took such a hands-off approach to the child sexual molestation within the priesthood, has issued a stinging reprimand to all American nuns for “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”
Headed by American Cardinal William Levada, the crowd that gave us the Inquisition and who tried Galileo, has ordered a crackdown on all U.S. nuns. Overseen by three
middle-aged white men American bishops, the Vatican wants the good sisters to toe the Vatican’s increasingly fundamentalist line. And what was the doctrinal crime that got the nuns in trouble? Why, their apparent heretical support for such outlandish positions as supporting universal health care under Obama’s plan, sensitivity to marriage rights for gays, and –God forbid it — advocating females for admission to the priesthood. They are even under scrutiny for praying for Girl Scouts.
As with other tone-deaf proclamations by the RCC, this one has produced an outpouring of support for a group of dedicated women whose average age is 69. There are about 75,000 nuns in the US — down from their heyday in 1965 when the ranks numbered about 180,000. Still this feisty few aren’t taking the recrimination sitting down.
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which serves as the umbrella group for most orders of nuns, has responded with a duly obsequious statement but armed with enough teeth in it to get attention from the beanie wearing gang in Rome. ”Board members concluded that the assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency,” the group said after a three-day meeting. “Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission.”
The nuns, themselves, armed with considerable support from the laity have taken to the streets. Nationwide vigils and rallies have occurred. Protestors showed up at the Vatican’s embassy in Washington D.C. (Query: Why does the Vatican need an embassy?) to register their dismay at the slightly misogynistic message implicit in the church’s smack-down. More than 50,000 people have signed an online petition asking the Vatican to withdraw its order.
Besides that external support, many nuns are furious at their depiction as a group of radicals. ”Our sisters have fed the hungry, healed the sick and stood with the marginalized, so they’re wondering, how can these men in the Vatican criticize us?” said Donna Quinn, a nun from Chicago who helps run the liberal National Coalition of American Nuns. Submitting to the Vatican’s demands would be akin to “allowing an oppressive regime to come in with a hostile takeover,” Quinn said.
Let me state my disclaimer that I am an unabashed supporter of these fine, dedicated women. Growing up in the 60s, these dedicated women (yep, I meant it twice) were my school teachers and nurses. More than once I saw them marginalized and dismissed by parish priests who occupied an almost God-like stature in those institutions. They accepted their fate with humility and grace earning my respect. I find this church-borne slur against their character unacceptable and fraught with ingratitude. Imagine dedicating your life to improving the lives of others only to be reprimanded by your superiors for advocating a place at the all-male table?
The Vatican has been officially hush-hush in response to the burgeoning crisis in the States. Through their presumed intermediaries they are getting their licks in however. Older Americans, especially, may think of nuns as pious schoolteachers, but “times have changed and so have the sisters,” intoned Russell Shaw, a former spokesman for the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops who supports the Vatican’s move. Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, who was appointed by the Vatican to supervise reform of the nuns’ group took pains to praise American nuns as a “great gift.” He added that he hoped to work with them “in a way that shows our continued love and support for their extraordinary contribution.”
Sounds like the wolf praising the chickens before entering the hen-house to me.
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger