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Maureen Dowd: “Who thinks it’s cool to bully nuns?”

1 May 2012

Maureen Down posted a poisonous opinion piece in the New York Times on Saturday that was devoid of much in the way of thoughtful reflection, or even, at times, actual knowledge of the subject at hand. Here is a sample of her screed:

“Who thinks it’s cool to bully nuns? While continuing to heal and educate, the community of sisters is aging and dying out because few younger women are willing to make such sacrifices for a church determined to bring women to heel.

Yet the nuns must be yanked into line by the crepuscular, medieval men who run the Catholic Church.

“It’s not terribly unlike the days of yore when they singled out people in the rough days of the Inquisition,” said Kenneth Briggs, the author of “Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns.”

How can the church hierarchy be more offended by the nuns’ impassioned advocacy for the poor than by priests’ sordid pedophilia?”

I wouldn’t want to argue about the reality of some spectacular failures on the part of the the Roman Catholic hierarchy. We are all appalled by the way that so many of them have been responding, or failing to respond, to the pedophilia problem. They should be doing much more to apologize, to make what amends that can be made, and to ensure it doesn’t happen again. In addition to that, I have certainly known what it is like to have to find a way to get along with some very arrogant R.C. clergy. But I don’t think that it is wise to buy into the very simple narrative that the mainstream media offers us. That very simple narrative being, “R.C.’s are bad. We should ignore everything that have to say.”

In regards to the discipline of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, I think that the simple narrative being offered leads us to some wrong conclusions. It was only when I read the actual Vatican document that I realized how off base Maureen Dowd and most the mainstream media’s (in the US) take on this story is. You don’t have to agree with the Vatican necessarily, but you cannot be intellectually honest and maintain that they took this decision for reasons of sexism, or as a politically motivated “war on women.” There are some very serious issues of doctrine and conduct at issue here. The LCWR communities have rejected some basic Catholic teachings. It appears that they have felt free to contradict R.C. teaching on any point where it conflicts with their left wing cultural and political ideals.

The reasons listed in the Vatican Document as having been the cause for the investigation are

1. Addresses at the LCWR Assemblies. Addresses given during LCWR annual Assemblies manifest problematic statements and serious theological, even doctrinal errors. The Cardinal offered as an example specific passages of Sr. Laurie Brink’s address about some Religious “moving beyond the Church” or even beyond Jesus. This is a challenge not only to core Catholic beliefs; such a rejection of faith is also a serious source of scandal and is incompatible with religious life. Such unacceptable positions routinely go unchallenged by the LCWR, which should provide resources for member Congregations to foster an ecclesial vision of religious life, thus helping to correct an erroneous vision of the Catholic faith as an important exercise of charity. Some might see in Sr. Brink’s analysis a phenomenological snapshot of religious life today. But Pastors of the Church should also see in it a cry for help.

2. Policies of Corporate Dissent.The Cardinal spoke of this issue in reference to letters the CDF received from “Leadership Teams” of various Congregations, among them LCWR Officers, protesting the Holy See’s actions regarding the question of women’s ordination and of a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons, e.g. letters about New Ways Ministry’s conferences. The terms of the letters suggest that these sisters collectively take a position not in agreement with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. It is a serious matter when these Leadership Teams are not providing effective leadership and example to their communities, but place themselves outside the Church’s teaching.

3. Radical Feminism. The Cardinal noted a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR, including theological interpretations that risk distorting faith in Jesus and his loving Father who sent his Son for the salvation of the world. Moreover, some commentaries on “patriarchy” distort the way in which Jesus has structured sacramental life in the Church; others even undermine the revealed doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture.

To say that the Bishops haven’t the reason, the right, and indeed the responsibility to respond as they have is to be intellectually dishonest. The content of the Catholic faith is not just whatever anyone who wants to call themselves Catholic might decide they would like it to be.

The Vatican Document is here.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Carlton Kelley permalink
    1 May 2012 4:15 pm

    It is not true that what certain bishops or a pope believe constitutes the essence of (Roman) Catholic faith and doctrine. There is a long held belief that the “faithful” – the everyday person who holds the Christian faith – will ultimately determine what is good and what is not. This is certainly clearly illustrated in the contraception controversy. Millions of faithful RC couples and individual women use contraception yet some bishops, who have no real understanding of reproductive and sexual issues, are acting as though contraception qua contraception is at the very heart of RC morality.

    The nuns in question are being called to task because they are being used as a substitute for the attention that should properly be directed toward bishops and priests who have sexually abused those in their care. It is a clear example of a boys club taking care of its own. Free thought, however irresponsible – and some is very irresponsible – is frightening to those in charge because it challenges their control of the status quo.

    The nuns in their outspokenness are, hopefully, a harbinger of better things to come for Roman Catholics everywhere.

    Carlton Kelley

    • 1 May 2012 7:21 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. You are right in saying that it is not true that what certain bishops believe constitutes the essence of Catholic faith and doctrine. But neither can it be changed to what a few hundred or even several thousand nuns might want it to be. The content of the faith is determined by the Tradition that has been handed down for over 2000 years. It is what it is. Being a catholic Christian involves an embrace of that Tradition.

      In the words of Saint St. Vincent of Lerins, “The Church of Christ, zealous and cautious guardian of the dogmas deposited with it, never changes any phrase of them. It does not diminish them or add to them; it neither trims what seems necessary, nor grafts things superfluous; it neither gives up its own nor usurps what does not belong to it. But it devotes all its diligence to one aim: to treat tradition faithfully and wisely; to nurse and polish what from old times may have remained unshaped and unfinished; to consolidate and to strengthen what already was clear · and plain; and to guard what already was confirmed and defined. After all, what have the councils brought forth in their decrees but that what’ before was believed plainly and simply might from now on be believed more diligently; that what before was preached rather unconcernedly might be preached from now on more eagerly.” 

      Or in the words of Saint Paul in his letter to Timothy, O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust  (I Tim. 6:20)

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