Today we begin a three part series on the diversity of beliefs within the Catholic Church and the disconnect that exists between the laity and the clergy. The Catholic church isn’t exactly known for internal dialogue and grassroots efforts to challenge church leadership. The Vatican is seen as being monolithic, authoritative and slow-to-adapt. Recent events show that not only is there dialogue within the church, but also actions bordering on dissent. This week, we’ll take a look at 3 instances of discord within the church that, at least among progressives, offers hope. Today is nun day.
Like most children, I was scared of nuns. They were the authority. As an adult, I view them with more sympathy – more the victims of authority than anything else. What with all the vows of poverty and working directly with the poor while the bishops and cardinals live in sweet pads and have their secret meetings. It turns out nuns are a bit more free thinking than I had assumed.
Last month, the Vatican issued a report expressing serious concerns over the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) – an organization representing more than 80% of the 57,000 Catholic nuns in the US. They were accused of “moving beyond the Church” (encouraging a nonreligious/secular agenda), “policies of corporate dissent” (protesting the Vatican’s view on homosexuality and the ordination of women clergy) and “radical feminism” (no freakin’ clue).
The Vatican feels that American nuns are too liberal – they don’t do enough to condemn abortion and homosexuality. Their support of Obama’s universal healthcare plan is equated with advocating state-funded abortions. Too many nuns are challenging bishops. Too many nuns are ignoring sexual orientation. Too many nuns are prioritizing the health of the mother over the acquiescence to dogma.
This is all eerily similar to the excommunication of Sister Margaret McBride, a nurse and hospital administrator, after she approved an abortion for a 27 year-old patient who was experiencing pulmonary hypertension that the doctors felt would likely kill her without an abortion. Then, as now, the Vatican threw a tantrum and lost face with a lot of American Catholics. Since the Papal condemnation, the LCRW has received an outpouring of support and they are not going quietly.
The nuns issued a response earlier this week calling the Vatican’s pronouncements “unsubstantiated” and “polarizing”. The nuns have openly challenged the Vatican’s assessment of them (not doctrine it’s important to note) and have indicated that they will continue to serve the community as they have. Catholic organizations around the country are offering their support and expressing their frustration with the Vatican. The nuns themselves are restrained in their language – they are smart enough to know that as long as the hierarchy exists, they must play by the rules, unless they too wish to be excommunicated. But they certainly have their fingers on the pulse of the laity.
I’m not saying that we will see female priests or acceptance of homosexuality any time soon, but reforms within the Catholic Church, though infrequent, are earth shattering when they do occur. The Second Vatican Council revolutionized the church. I hope the Pope continues to send polarizing letters to the American nuns, because it’s only a matter of time before the Vatican realizes it’s time for a Third Council.
Afterthought: While doing research for this post, I found so many interesting tidbits, some of which I’ll share later this week. Here’s a couple for now.
The report mentioned above was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the official body that oversees church doctrine. It used to go by the name “Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition”. Nice name change if I may say so.
Also, I really liked Nick Kistrof’s description of nuns last week:
They were the first feminists, earning Ph.D.’s or working as surgeons long before it was fashionable for women to hold jobs. As managers of hospitals, schools and complex bureaucracies, they were the first female C.E.O.’s…Even as bishops have disgraced the church by covering up the rape of children, nuns have redeemed it with their humble work on behalf of the neediest.