BlogWatcher - New York Times columnists stand up for 'stunned' nuns



National Catholic Reporter publisher Thomas C. Fox says he cannot recall any time in recent history that the Catholic church was highlighted twice in columns in a single issue of the New York Times

The rare development is yet another indicator of the tremendous outpouring of support on behalf of U.S. women religious in general and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in particular as they come under attack from the Vatican for lapses in fidelity.

Fox was referring to yesterday’s opinion articles by two of the paper’s leading lights: Maureen Dowd ("Bishops Play Church Queens as Pawns") ...

Who thinks it’s cool to bully nuns? ... Yet the nuns must be yanked into line by the crepuscular, medieval men who run the Catholic Church ... It has become a habit for the church to go after women ... The church leadership never recoiled in horror from pedophilia, yet it recoils in horror from outspoken nuns.

And Nicholas D. Kristof ("We Are All Nuns").

Catholic nuns are not the prissy traditionalists of caricature. No, nuns rock! ... They are also among the bravest, toughest and most admirable people in the world. ... 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... So, Pope Benedict, all I can say is: You are crazy to mess with nuns.

The National Catholic Reporter’s John L. Allen writes that whatever else comes from the tumult, “it's already prompted one minor miracle that most Catholic observers probably thought they'd never live to see: Sr Joan Chittister and George Weigel actually agreeing on something”. 

Chittister, of course, is a Benedictine and probably America's most prominent feminist sister. Weigel, a biographer of John Paul II, is a champion of orthodoxy... Chittister said [religious sisters’ peak body] LCWR ought to disband canonically and then regroup outside the official structures of the church. Doing so, she said, might be the only way to avoid "giving your charism away" and "demeaning the ability of women to make distinctions."

In an April 23 essay for National Review, Weigel wrote that Chittister's suggestion "had the virtue of honesty" and "drew the curtain on a long-running charade" -- by which he meant that in his opinion, LCWR is outside "the boundaries of Catholic orthodoxy and orthopraxis," so dissolving its official status would be recognising reality.

Weigel goes into some detail in his consideration of the implications of the sisters moving beyond ecclesiastical boundaries.

It might well provoke payback in the form of congregations of women religious taking their health-care systems even farther out of the orbit of Catholic life and practice. That, in turn, might lead to all sorts of legal unpleasantness.

But he argues that the desired cleansing might be “the beginning of authentic reform among the once-great orders of women religious in the United States”.

These congregations control billions of dollars of assets, given to them back in the day when the sisters who ran Bing Crosby’s parish school in The Bells of St. Mary’s were the Hollywood idealisation of an actual reality. No more. Sister Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman) and the other sisters at the fictional St. Mary’s wore religious habits, lived in a convent, led a rigorous prayer life, taught the catechism without question, eschewed the public eye — and while they may have jousted with male ecclesiastical authorities like Bing Crosby’s Father Chuck O’Malley, it was O’Malley who made the final decisions for the parish and the school, and Bergman and the sisters who obeyed, even if they didn’t like it.

James Martin SJ titles his blog ‘What sisters mean to me’.

I can barely begin to describe the admiration I have for these women ... So I tweeted “Catholic sisters teach me what it means to persevere without the benefit of institutional power.” And I added [the Twitter hashtag] #WhatSistersMeantoMe. Framing things in that way, I thought, meant that people could show their gratitude for sisters, and read other messages of support, without being in any way negative ... The hashtag went viral...  Hooray for social media, I thought... [However] the hashtag meant for personal expressions of gratitude to individual sisters was flooded with snotty comments about who were faithful sisters were and who were not. (Apparently the commenters were able to see within the souls of the unfaithful ones.)

GetReligion, the blog that focuses of the coverage of religion in the secular media, refers to the ubiquitous “stunned” nuns headline, with the blogger Mollie declaring that she was more stunned that the nuns were stunned.

Considering that the national media has for years been covering widespread concern with the theological drift on display among some women religious, I need more specifics about why this group was stunned.

She would be referring in part to a keynote address delivered by Laurie Brink, OP, at the 2007 LCWR assembly, which is the subject of a blog at dotCommonweal which argues was distorted by Cardinal Levada when he used it to make his case against the nuns. Levada accused Sister Brink of rejecting core Catholic beliefs because she canvassed options such as “sojourning”, in which a congregation moves away from the centre and beyond ecclesiastical boundaries.

But Sr Brink endorses the last of the options she outlines in her speech.

“Reconciliation is not the only choice,” she says, “but it is my choice, because it is also my church.” 

Francis X. Clooney SJ also blogs on the Brink speech, at America’s In All Things.

Surely she would not insist that the CDF back away from a critical reading of her lecture. But precisely at this point, her thoughtful and honest presentation is a perfect place to begin a dialogue, not to intimate that it is too late for dialogue.

Finally Australian blogger, CathBlog regular David Timbs suggests at v2catholic that the US bishops have learned nothing from Pope Leo XIII’s 1895 crackdown on their own predecessors. 

Alarmed at the possibility that Catholicism in the United States of America could drift into  unorthodox patterns of thinking and governance, Pope Leo XIII issued an 1895 Encyclical Letter, Longinqua Oceani (Wide expanse of the Ocean) to condemn the heresy of Americanism. Leo expressly warned the bishops against promoting or encouraging the doctrine of the separation of Church and State... Rome was worried that American Catholics were thinking and doing their faith too much like liberal democrats... Catholicism in the United States regressed into a state of blind and supine obedience to the Papacy and Roman Curia and it has never completely recovered... The US Bishops ... have become obedient franchises of theVatican in dealing with anyone demonstrating tendencies or activities which might resemble deviance from orthodoxy or orthopraxis.


Michael MullinsMichael Mullins, founding editor of CathNews, compiles this 'Blog Watcher' column every Monday.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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