Pope Benedict should not throw nuns under the bus


According to the Vatican’s eight-page “Doctrinal Assessment,” the investigation was triggered by problematic addresses given at annual assemblies  which advocated “policies of corporate dissent.” For example, the Holy See said it received letters from nuns asking that women’s ordination be discussed, and that the Church be more open to ministering to gay Catholics. And “radical feminism” had been evidenced by commentaries on the patriarchy of the Church.

The document also complains that while the Conference did a great deal of work “promoting issues of social justice” the nuns had not spoken out enough on right-to-life issues. The Vatican concluded the nuns were guilty of serious doctrinal error.

Bryan Cones, editor of US Catholic, challenges that claim and in fact finds the whole Vatican document “a tissue of misinformation, misrepresentation and innuendo that does a profound disservice to these religious women.” His persuasive analysis makes the actions of the Vatican even more puzzling.

We Catholics (and I’ve been a daily Communicant since my own First Communion) have endured decades of horrific revelations about priests who raped our children while Church authorities covered up their actions and thus condemned more innocents to such torture. As the Cloyne Report on sexual abuse released in Ireland last summer showed, the Vatican frustrated the investigations that did take place “as little as three years ago [if] not three decades ago,” said Ireland’s prime minister, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in a no-holds-barred speech. “The report,” Kenny said, “excavates the disconnection, the dysfunction, elitism, the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.” He spoke of the clericalism that “rendered some of Ireland’s most privileged and powerful men either unwilling or unable to address the abuse set out in the Ryan and Murphy reports.

This Roman clericalism must be devastating for good priests, some of them old, others struggling to keep their humanity and even their sanity as they work hard to be keepers of the Church’s life, light and goodness…But thankfully for them and for us this is not Rome. Nor is it industrial school or Magdalene Ireland where the swish of a soutane smothered conscience and humanity and the swing of a thurible ruled the Irish Catholic world. This is the Republic of Ireland…As a practicing Catholic, I don’t say any of this easily. Growing up many of us here learned to be part of the pilgrim church. Today that Church needs to be a penitent Church.”

The Irish people have taken this brave speech, which should be read in its entirety, to heart and even now are protesting the Vatican’s silencing of five of their most popular priests.
It’s hard not to see that same clericalism, the culture of elitism and dysfunction, at work in this latest crackdown on the nuns.

Still the swish of a soutane can be scary and I was afraid for these Sisters. The Vatican will soon release a report on the Apostolic Visitation that involved more than a hundred congregations of women. Will it have the same harsh tone?

I didn’t want to put any of the Sisters I was with on May 6 on the spot, since they didn’t want to comment until after the Board of the Leadership Conference met during Pentecost week, May 27- June 2. But I saw no panic among the nuns.

They are women of faith who really do believe the Spirit blows where it will. Many spoke of turning to prayer and meditation in the coming days.

We members of the laity are the ones who must speak up and stand up for the nuns.

NunJustice.tumblr.com is one website with suggestions. And then there’s always money. A staff member at the Leadership Conference told me that they are getting a lot of donations, which they appreciate, and asked for prayers. We can also give to the orders that taught us and express our support.

When I called one of my friends in the Sisters of Providence she reminded me that Mother Theodore Guerin, foundress of the order, once had her own problem with a bishop. He excommunicated her for not handing over the deed to the Sisters’ land. The bishop was replaced, his edict overturned.

“When one has nothing more to lose, the heart is inaccessible to fear,” Mother Guerin said.
She was canonized in 2006.

I told my friend the story of St. Brigid (b.453), who is one of Ireland’s patron saints, and what happened when Bishop Mel (later St. Mel) came to consecrate her as Abbess of Kildare. He enjoyed so much of the nuns’ famous beer that he turned the wrong page in the missal and made Bridget a bishop.

“God’s will,” Mel said, and ever after the Abbess of Kildare held the rank of bishop.

So it’s a long road that has no turning. These are the wise women of our tribe. Let’s not let the Vatican throw them under the bus!