There was a story on tonight’s 60 Minutes that I previously knew little about. It’s not that I was unaware of what I thought was a minor revolt by a group of nuns in the United States, but I was completely unaware of the extent of their complaints and the strength of their support. It’s a story that may make the new Pope struggle to reform the Catholic Church in America.
In April, American nuns were condemned by the Vatican for failing to uphold Church doctrine. They finally responded on Friday in their own strong terms, saying the Vatican’s assessment was based on “unsubstantiated accusations” and a “flawed process,” and has caused scandal, pain and polarization in the Roman Catholic Church.
While Catholics across the nation rallied in support of the nuns, the Vatican dispatched three American bishops to lead a complete makeover of the sisters’ principal organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of the nation’s 57,000 nuns.
After three days of discussion and prayer in Washington this week, the 21 national board members of the group decided they could not accept the Vatican’s verdict, and would send their president and executive director to Rome on June 12 to open a dialogue with Vatican officials.
Sister Pat Farrell, president of the leadership conference, said she and her group were stunned by the severity of the Vatican’s pronouncement which accused them of “radical feminism” and contradicting their bishops. She said all they wanted to do was “speak the truth as we understand it about our lives.”
Among the accusations the nuns considered “unsubstantiated” was the Vatican’s charge of promoting “radical feminist themes,” Sister Farrell said.
“Even large sectors of the church itself have legitimate concern and want to continue to talk about the place of women in the church, and rightful equality between men and women,” said Sister Farrell, who is a member of the leadership team of the Sisters of St. Francis, of Dubuque, Iowa. “So if that is called radical feminism, then a lot of men and women in the church, far beyond us, are guilty of that.”
The Church was critical of nuns who challenged statements and positions by bishops who opposed President Obama’s position on health care. Many of these nuns worked in hospitals as nurses and nurse’s aids. The position of the bishops was solely defined by the Church’s position on abortion.
The sisters’ statement said that the Vatican’s actions “were disproportionate to the concerns raised” and “could compromise” the ability of women religious “to fulfill their mission.”
The nuns state that they make decisions slowly after much deliberation. They will make no more decisions until their delegates return from Rome.
The nuns are thankful and recognize the support of 50 cities that held vigils and more than 52,000 have signed a petition in support of the sisters, organized by the Nun Justice Project, a coalition of liberal Catholic groups. The project is telling Catholics to withhold their donations to Peter’s Pence, a special collection sent to the Vatican, and give the money instead to local nuns’ groups.
Sister Christine Schenk, executive director of FutureChurch, a liberal church reform group that helped to organize support for the sisters in Cleveland, said the laypeople she knew were outraged that the Vatican had barely consulted with the sisters before issuing its assessment.
“Here you see women, very competent, highly educated, doctorates in theology, masters in ministry, C.E.O.’s of hospitals, heads of school systems, being treated as if they were children,” she said. “That in itself goes to the issue of where are the women in the decision-making structures in Rome.”
Whether it be politics or religion, women are a growing force in our world. Maybe it’s time to admit that men have destroyed much of civilization and the world’s stability with acts of aggression and arrogance. And maybe it’s time for women to control our world using reason instead of testosterone.
Columnist-The Guardian Express