From the Desk of Fr. Doug
What the Nuns’ Story is Really About
I had no intention of writing a Part Two to last week’s article but two things happened that inspired me to do so.
The first was the overwhelming response to that article. Apparently it went viral. Before Tuesday was over I had heard from over 100 people from 20 states,
Victoria, Australia and Liverpool, England. The article touched a nerve, especially among women religious. Their emails and phone calls were most moving. Some
were on the verge of tears, because “the church” (translated, that means a male church authority figure) finally understood and was willing to put it in writing.
It turns out that the nuns want to be appreciated and valued, just like the rest of us. But that is not why they do what they do and have done for so long.
What was most evident was that they frequently described their treatment from clergy in language that reflects abuse. Yes, they feel support and appreciation from lay people. That message was strong. It was the local pastor, the bishop or the Vatican that was portrayed as an abusive spouse. The investigation, the refusal to dialogue, the confidential reports unable to be seen or challenged, the surprise announcement, these are just a couple of things that scream dysfunction and abuse. It is a miracle so many have stayed. It reminded me of a woman who stays in a bad, abusive marriage for the sake of the children. The nuns have stayed for us. They have stayed for the illegal immigrant, the orphan, the prisoner, the young boy abused by the priest, the third grader that forgot her lunch bag, the adult that could not read, the lad that scraped his knee, the refugee that needed help with documents, the young woman who needed a midwife, the littlest among us and the rich and powerful.
Many lay people shared stories with me of their struggle to remain Catholic. “Our church’s priorities are in the wrong place”. “Stop with the attack on the nuns and stop with the narrow-minded focus on orthodoxy.” “Jesus did not give his followers a litmus test and neither should the Vatican.” More than one layperson said that the largest religious denomination in the United States after Catholicism is ex-Catholics. When will the Vatican address the why of that? Does the Vatican really think people have left because our church is not orthodox enough?
Catholics have left the faith in droves for a variety of reasons. In Europe only 3% go to Sunday Mass. When will the Vatican get serious about this?
A small number of priests also contacted me. Most said I was courageous (I am not) and if I needed help, three canon lawyers volunteered their services. I told them that would not be necessary. But what a sad commentary that is on the state of the episcopacy in the U.S. Priests live in fear of reprisals simply for naming the obvious.
Better check those readings from Pentecost Sunday again. Twice the disciples are gathered in fear and twice the Spirit comes upon them to help them get over it.
Actually, someone from the diocese did call to set up a date to meet with me about beginning the Rooted in Faith capital campaign. Although we are losing part of our parish and have no accurate data base, we meet next week.
For many the real issue is: The ‘church as institution’ is itself the problem. This oppressive structure must go. A new one must take its place. The lust for power and control hinders the Gospel. Simply put, a church continues the work of Jesus. Nuns do that.
The Vatican sorely lacks. Our beliefs and the institution are not the same thing.
Here’s a point that both lay and religious made. Our clergy must speak out. We need their voices, the only ones some people have. Some saw the coincidence of my article and Pentecost Sunday and prayed that the many tongues of pastors and vicars would not remain silent. That would be awesome!
A second point I wanted to share was the Plain Dealer article that quoted me. It was slightly out of context. As I recall, the reporter asked me if I thought this attack on the nuns would cause people to leave the church. I replied, “People have already left the church”. In the article it sounded like people left because of the nuns, when in reality, Catholics have left long before there was a nungate. (See above)
There were a couple of funny conversations I had with some nuns from California. One said, “this may be the issue that breaks open the old boys network…imagine: “75 year old nuns divorce 88 year old Cardinals.” What headlines!”
My favorite was the comment by a priest from Yale. He said that if I got sacked here, there was an opening at the Vatican for a butler and I would be the perfect choice.
(S-R archives photo)