Last week, trailing a group of men walking through a prison, Sister Helen Prejean overheard bits of what they were discussing. 'I heard one saying, "He is so honest," but I didn’t catch who they were talking about at first,' said Sister Prejean, a member of the Congregation of St Joseph, an order of Roman Catholic sisters. Then she figureed it out from the fragments of conversation. The subject was Pope Francis, reports The New York Times.
The people talking about him were 12 bishops who were visiting California’s death row in San Quentin prison, the home to more than 700 condemned men. 'Francis’ whole style is so honest and forthright,' Sister Prejean said. 'He just really says what he thinks. That’s what the bishops were commenting on. They’re not used to it.'
Who could be used to unvarnished comments like those published last week in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica? 'The leprosy of the papacy,' Francis said, was the culture of the Vatican court that was devoted to cosseting popes in flattery.
For many American Catholics, especially for the women in religious orders, the new Pope has been a jolting, rejuvenating presence. Just 18 months ago, a Vatican report on the largest organization of women’s religious orders in the United States declared that there were 'serious doctrinal problems which affect many in Consecrated Life.' Among their faults, the report found, was that they had been insufficiently energetic in promoting Catholic teaching on abortion, sexuality and family life. The organization was put under the supervision of an archbishop selected by Rome.
Now there is a pope who has said that when it comes to abortion and same-sex marriage, 'it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.' The church’s highest calling is to be with the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized in society, he said.
Which has been ground zero for the work of American Catholic religious women in the United States for decades. Catholic sisters in New York are getting older, but their works meet enduring needs. They run homes for women just released from prison, feed drug addicts and prostitutes who gather under the Major Deegan Expressway, build homes for women who are victims of human trafficking.