Influential New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd slams the Catholic bishops in America today for going after nuns who speak out on social issues while continuing to play down the pedophile scandals.

She also criticizes them for banning Senator Edward Kennedy’s wife Vicki from giving a commencement speech at a Catholic college.

Dowd writes that “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.

She quotes author Kenneth Briggs. “It’s not terribly unlike the days of yore when they singled out people in the rough days of the Inquisition,” said Briggs, the author of “Double Crossed."

Dowd particularly highlights the numerous ongoing pedophile investigations, which she says the church elders continue to try to downplay. She accuses the church of being obsessed with sex and ignoring the wider context of what is happening in the church.

“Church leaders behave like adolescent boys, blinded by sex. That’s the problem with inquisitors and censors: They become fascinated by what they deplore," she writes.

Case in point, she says is the banning of Vicki Kennedy wife of the late Senator Edward Kennedy from a commencement speech at a small Catholic college in Massachusetts.

In that case Worcester Bishop Robert McManus demanded the school rescind the invite to Kennedy. His spokesman defended the move.

“Bishop McManus is acting, he feels, consistently with what all of the U.S. bishops asked colleges or higher institutions to do going back to 2004, that they not honor ... Catholics who take a public stance or position on issues contrary to things that the Church is trying to teach,” said Raymond Delisle, a spokesman for the diocese.

Kennedy for her part stated that she was said she was “disheartened” by the statement.

“I am a lifelong Catholic and my faith is very important to me,” she said in a statement. “I have not met Bishop McManus nor has he been willing to meet with me to discuss his objections.”

She accused the bishop saying he “has made a judgment about my worthiness as a Catholic.”

The school, Anna Maria College of Paxton, Massachusetts, later apologized to Kennedy.

“As a small, Catholic college that relies heavily on the good will of its relationship with the Bishop and the larger Catholic community, its options are limited,” it said in a statement.

Dowd concludes her column by stating “The pope needs what the rest of us got from nuns: a good rap across the knuckles.”