Nel's New Day

April 21, 2013

New Pope Also Censures Nuns for Work with Poor

Over 50 years ago, Pope John XXIII called a council of Catholic bishops from around the world to deliberate on the Church’s direction. The progressive Vatican II met for three years and made tremendous strides ahead in the Catholic guidelines. Mass could be celebrated in a language that people could understand instead of Latin, and the ecumenical bridges were built between Christians and other religions including Jews. Nuns came out of the convents to “live the Gospel” through service with the poor and in prisons and hospitals.

The progressive pope, however, was replaced with Paul VI who declared birth control to be an “intrinsic evil” even for married people, despite the majority report of his own theological commission. The dark curtain of Catholic control was further lowered when Paul II opposed “liberation theology” movements in Latin America where priests and nuns stood with the poor against oppressive right-wing movements. The defense of the all-male priesthood and Church’s official concealment of their sexual abuses continued.

Pope Benedict XVI carried the suppression of the nuns farther when he tried to stop the actions of 80 percent of the 57,000 U.S. nuns who belong to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) because they concentrated on their care of the poor. The Vatican’s explosive report accused the nuns of “promoting radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” because they didn’t march around opposing abortion and marriage equality.

LCWR, according to Benedict, was to be controlled by Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain. He and two other bishops were assigned to oversee a rewriting of LCWR’s statutes, review its plans and programs, approve speakers, and guarantee that the group properly follows Catholic prayer and ritual.

Last year Catholic leaders were so disillusioned that such bishops as Cardinal Carlo Martini of Milan said that his church is “200 years out of date,” so focused on sex that its leaders may be considered a “caricature in the media.” U.S. bishops made positive statements about the value of unions, immigration reform, and safety nets for poor people. They described Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget plan as failing “a basic moral test.”

The new pope, Francis, offered a bit of hope for a  more progressive Catholic Church perception. Initially he showed the desire for a simpler and less formal life which included giving aid to the poor. This new attitude indicated the possibility that the nuns in the United States could move on with their vocation of helping the poor instead of fighting pressure from the Vatican. This is not to be.

Like his predecessor, Francis has now expressed concern that these nuns have “serious doctrinal problems.”  Nuns meeting last week with Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, the new head of the Vatican’s doctrinal department, and Sartain were told that Pope Francis has already endorsed Pope Benedict’s criticisms. Muller told the sisters their job is to promote “cooperation” with local bishops and bishops’ conferences, according to Religion News Service.

Kenneth Briggs, the author of a book about the Vatican’s clash with U.S. nuns, said Francis’ backing of the Holy See’s unyielding line was “a major blow” to prospects for more dialogue. “It seems like the Vatican has put a more appealing salesman in charge of the same old product,” Briggs said.

Sister Simone Campbell of Network, a Catholic social justice lobbying group, said that she would wait to see if these orders change in the future. She added:

“The censure [of the LCWR] has always been about politics. And politics are shifting in the church right now. We know when politics shift, there are opportunities and there are risks. But we are concerned that Catholic sisters below the decision-making level are caught in the bigger picture of Vatican politics. We’re sort of the soccer ball here. My most optimistic self had hoped that CDF report would never be mentioned again, but in light of the broader politics, I think it was overly optimistic of me.”

John Allen, a Vatican specialist for The National Catholic Reporter and CNN, has described the tension between the sisters and the bishops as one that is really about “what it means to be Catholic in the 21st century.” Other people are guessing that a major problem in changing the orders for the U.S. nuns comes from the immediate past pope still being alive, that he is casting a shadow over any changes that Francis might want to make.

The Vatican approved of the LCWR for decades until Cardinal Bernard Law started an investigation into its activities. Law resigned as Boston archbishop in 2002 because of his role in the clergy abuse scandal and moved to Rome in 2004 to become pastor of a basilica. He served on several influential Vatican boards until his recent retirement at age 80.

Research on goals and processes of ethical beliefs of men and women indicate a distinct difference between the two genders with the female caring component missing from male ethical conceptions. James Fieser suggests that the male “emphasizes rules: moral laws, abstract notions of justice, lists of dos and don’ts, ideal standards of right and wrong.”  According to Fieser, men have a “preoccupation with rules in general, and the need to postulate scientific laws, legal statutes, and social policies.”  In contrast, “women see morality as the need to care for people who are in situations of vulnerability and dependency.”

These opposing attitudes are reflected in Christian religion across the United States that is dominated by men. In all the conservative groups, women are subservient to the domination of men.

The emphasis on “rules” is reflected in these two news stories:

According to a woman’s lawsuit in Philadelphia, a priest sexually assaulted her after he asked to see her for “counseling” and then “smeared her menstrual blood on her face.” When detectives asked the priest for an interview, he said that he could not talk with the police because the events were under the seal of confession. The case was not pursued until the woman filed her suit, and the priest has been sent to Poland.

For almost a decade, openly gay parishioner at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church (Oceanside, NY) was an active member of his church. Nicholas Coppola visited the home-bound, taught fifth-graders in preparation for confirmation, and served as a member of the Consolation Ministry and St. Vincent de Paul.

Three months after he married David in a ceremony attended by some St. Anthony members, the pastor removed him from all parish activities. A letter complaining about Coppola’s sexual orientation had been sent to the diocese bishop. Two months later, U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that the Church must welcome the LGBT community and not be “anti-anybody.”

The ultimate of “rules” in the U.S. may be the law. Seven states bar atheists from holding public office: Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. The statutes are unconstitutional, based on a Supreme Court ruling in 1961, but they can always overturn that ruling.

Meanwhile, I hope that the nuns get back on the bus for another tour and continue to help people who have fallen through the safety net.

 

3 Comments »

  1. I am so disappointed to read this. It seems as if the catholic nuns are again being forced to argue their point interpreting the gospel message, which it seems to me, to be all about caring for the poor and disenfranchised. I am confident that the American Women Religious will stand fast to their commitment to the gospel message and not fall victim to the hierarchy of the Male dominated Catholic Church.

    Like

    Comment by chris — April 22, 2013 @ 3:19 PM | Reply

    • I feel so sorry for people who believe in the Catholic Church. You are the people who will make a change in it. Sister Campbell is one of the important people who can help the world.

      Like

      Comment by trp2011 — April 22, 2013 @ 5:56 PM | Reply

  2. Don’t you just love religion?!?

    Like

    Comment by Central Oregon Coast NOW — April 21, 2013 @ 7:58 PM | Reply


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