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Posts tagged: nuns

Another voice…part 2

From the Desk of Fr. Doug

What the Nuns’ Story is Really About

Part Two

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)

Another Voice

A friend sent me the following words from a Catholic Church bulletin. The commentary was written by one of the parish priests. The second column he wrote will be posted tomorrow.

From the Desk of Fr. Doug

What the Nuns’ Story is Really About

 Many of you have asked me to comment on the recent investigation into the US nuns. Here goes.

In short, the Vatican has asked for an investigation into the life of religious women in the United States. There is a concern about orthodoxy, feminism and pastoral practice. The problem with the Vatican approach is that it places the nuns squarely on the side of Jesus and the Vatican on the side of tired old men, making a last gasp to save a crumbling kingdom lost long ago for a variety of reasons. One might say that this investigation is the direct result of the John Paul II papacy. He was suspicious of the power given to the laity after the Second Vatican Council. He disliked the American Catholic Church. Throughout his papacy he strove to wrest collegial power from episcopal conferences and return it to Rome. One of the results of the council was that the nuns became more educated, more integrated in the life of the people and more justice-oriented than the bishops and pope. They are doctors, lawyers, university professors, lobbyists, social workers, authors, theologians, etc. Their appeal was that they always went back to what Jesus said and did. Their value lay in the fact that their theology and their practice were integrated into the real world.  

The Vatican sounded like the Pharisees of the New Testament;— legalistic, paternalistic and orthodox— while “the good sisters” were the ones who were feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, educating the immigrant, and so on. Nuns also learned that Catholics are intuitively smart about their faith. They prefer dialogue over diatribe, freedom of thought over mind control, biblical study over fundamentalism, development of doctrine over isolated mandates.

Far from being radical feminists or supporters of far-out ideas, religious women realized that the philosophical underpinnings of Catholic teaching are no longer valid. Women are not subservient to men, the natural law is much broader than once thought, the OT is not as important as the NT, love is more powerful than fear. They realized that you can have a conversation with someone on your campus who thinks differently than the church without compromising what the church teaches. (For example, I could invite Newt Gingrich here to speak. You’d all still know what the church teaches about divorce in spite of him) Women religious have learned to live without fear (Srs. Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clark, Ita Ford) and with love (Mother Teresa). And the number of popes and bishops and cardinals following in their footsteps, Jesus’ footsteps, is_____?

 This is what annoys American Catholics. The Vatican is hypocritical and duplicitous. Their belief is always that someone else needs to clean up their act; the divorced, the gays, the media, the US nuns, the Americans who were using the wrong words to pray, the seminaries, etc. It never occurs to the powers that be that the source of the problem is the structure itself. We can say that now with certainty as regards the sex abuse crisis. It was largely the structure of the church itself, the way men were trained and isolated, made loyal to the system at all costs and not to the person, that gave us the scandalous cover-up.

US nuns work side by side with the person on the street. They are involved in their everyday lives. Most cardinals spent less than five years in a parish, were never pastors, are frequently career diplomats.

Religious women in the US refuse to be controlled by abusive authority that seeks to control out of fear. They realize that Jesus taught no doctrines, but that the church, over time, developed what Jesus taught in a systematic way. Nuns have always tried to work within the system. This time their prophetic voices may take them out of the system. They may take a lot of Catholics and a lot of their hospitals, schools, colleges, orphanages, prison ministries, convents, women’s shelters, food pantries and, of course, the good will they have earned over the centuries with them.

This investigation is not about wayward US nuns. It is the last gasp for control by a dying breed, wrapped in its own self-importance. It is a struggle for the very nature of the church; who we are, how we pray, where we live, who belongs, why we believe. The early church endured a similar struggle. The old order died.

The Holy Spirit won…

(S-R archives photo)






What a week to live in Washington state!

The Seattle archbishop is trying to upend the same-sex marriage law signed by our (Catholic) governor in Washington state and now Rome has set forth an investigation into the work of thousands of American Roman Catholic sisters – an inquiry lead by? the Seattle archbishop.  

Why investigate the sisters? Because you know, they may not be Catholic enough in their (endless) works of compassion, healing, teaching, housing, ministering to those who present themselves in the moment as being poor, marginalized, disenfranchised from the society in which we live. What do these guys think Catholicism is??

 Me thinks thou doest protest too much, Holy See. Better look in the mirror, or in the rectory, but not the convent. Read what journalists Steve and Cokie Roberts have to say.  

People ask why I stay in a Roman Catholic Church that so fiercely opposes some of my basic beliefs. I stay because I belong to a parish where the priests are informed, compassionate and do not promote nonsense; a parish where we care for the poor in tangible, welcoming ways, a parish where all are welcome and treated equally – no matter their gender or who they love. I stay Catholic because I will not forfeit my faith community to distant others. I stay Catholic because I believe that the Catholic Church is the People of God, people who gather every Sunday, 10:30, to worship our God: a God who delights in the good works that we do, a God who welcomes everybody.

(S-R archives photo)

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Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

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