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leaders were so disillusioned that such bishops as Cardinal Carlo Martini of Milan said that his church is “200 years out of date,” so focused on sex that its leaders may be considered a “caricature in the media.”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.

 

June 3, 2012

Women Need to Take Back Their Power

As I share this privileged moment with you, Your Holiness, I urge you to be mindful of the intense suffering and pain which is part of the life of many women in these United States. I call upon you to listen with compassion and to hear the call of women…As women, we have heard the powerful messages of our church addressing the dignity [of] and reverence for all persons. As women, we have pondered these words. Our contemplation leads us to state that the church, in its struggle to be true to its call to reverence and dignity for all persons, must respond by providing the possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries of the church.

These were the words of Sister Theresa Kane in 1979 when she was asked, as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), to give four minutes of welcoming remarks to the newly elected Pope John Paul II during his first papal visit to the United States.

In the audience was Joseph Ratzinger, the bishop from Bavaria, who is now Pope Benedict XVI. This pope is the Vatican leader who tried to quell the nuns in the United States because all they do is serve the poor. These nuns were reprimanded because they “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.”

Their punishment includes giving Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle the final say on every speaker at the group’s conference and every public utterance made in its name. Sartain will also revise LCWR’s governing statutes, and investigate links between LCWR and two liberal Catholic groups.

Sister Maureen Fiedler said yesterday, “If this were the corporate world, I think we’d call it a hostile takeover.” But the nuns are not peacefully accepting the Vatican’s actions. Yesterday, they issued a statement showing LCWR’s intent to contest the hostile takeover:

Board members concluded that the assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency. Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission. The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.

LCWR President Sister Pat Farrell and Executive Director Sister Janet Mock plan to go to Rome to take up these concerns with the prefect and Sartain before they consult with the organization’s general membership in August.  If necessary, LCWR can entirely disassociate with Rome and reconfigure itself as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. According to its website, LCWR “has approximately 1500 members who are elected leaders of their religious orders, representing approximately 80% of the 57,000 Catholic sisters in the United States.”  A reorganization would mean that the group would be only required to operate under U.S. law with the constitutional freedom of religion.

Some people view the Pope’s crusade against the nuns and the fury with which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops attacked the birth control mandate, as opposition to women. Adele Stan believes it goes farther, that  “the church hierarchy is a cult of power.” She cites the scandal regarding the Vatican bank and the battle waged by partisans and enemies of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone to keep him from presiding over the group electing the next pope as well as the pay-offs that Cardinal Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, while Archbishop of Milwaukee, to priests accused of abusing children.

Theologian Mary E. Hunt, co-director of the Catholic feminist resource center WATER, describes the Vatican’s attack on nuns as a method of maintaining the clerics’ power, thus keeping people in the church from claiming the power that reforms of the Second Vatican Council give them. Cardinal Ratzinger attacked the nuns before when 24 sisters were threatened with expulsion from their orders for having signed a statement that asserted “a diversity of views” on the subject of abortion existed within the church. This time the reason was the support that LCWR, joined by leaders of 55 religious orders and umbrella groups, gave to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, which represents some 600 Catholic hospitals and 1400 health-care facilities, also backed the bill in defiance of the Vatican. In addition, she  supported the compromise regarding the birth control mandate when the White House required health insurance companies to pay for contraception. Although the bishops gave a hue and cry against the compromise, the majority of Catholics in the country support the nuns’ position, not that of the bishops.

While the nuns pay for food for the poor, the bishops pay for lawsuits against the administration challenging the requirement that all health insurance companies contracted for employer-provided health plans offer contraceptive coverage to the insured, with no co-payment by the patient. According to a New York Times editorial, “The First Amendment is not a license for religious entities to impose their dogma on society through the law.” Even ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia disagrees with the Catholic Church’s position: in 1990, he said that making “the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land” would mean allowing “every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

The Catholic leadership’s supposed desire for “religious freedom” comes from the same people who want to make laws against all people in the United States regarding women’s reproductive rights, marriage equality, and other issues that result solely from religious interests. They threaten religious liberty by their efforts to impose their doctrine on everyone. The same desire for this freedom comes from Catholic Church leadership’s desire to protect all priests who sexually abuse children. One such bishop was William Levada, who served as archbishop of San Francisco and Portland (OR) and is now the Vatican prefect in charge of the nuns’ persecution.

According to Hunt, the Vatican’s power structure is very similar to that of a corporation, while the structure of the U.S. coalition of women’s religious orders functions more on the process-oriented and deliberative model of a local food co-op. About the Vatican, she said, “This is a business, where people do what people do in business.” The Catholic Church’s fiscal problems pattern those of big business.

Two U.S. archdioceses in the U.S. declared bankruptcy after making settlements to abuse victims: Milwaukee, less than two years after Cardinal Dolan became Archbishop of New York; and Portland (OR) under the leadership of Cardinal Levada. Levada punished a priest who reported a child-abusing fellow priest to the police, but the whistle-blower, Father Jon Conley, brought a defamation case against the archdiocese after paving the way for the family of an abused child to win a $750,000 settlement from the archdiocese.

The New York Times’ Laurie Goodstein reported about Catholics protesting in more than 50 cities against the Vatican removing nuns’ rights “for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping ‘silent’ on abortion and same-sex marriage.”

The Catholic Church is not the only religion suffering protests against their actions. The fundamentalist pastors who call for imprisonment and death of LGBTQ people are also experiencing backlashes from their communities. One Million Moms of the hate group American Family Association keeps failing in its boycotts with JC Penneys and Olay making more money after the group publicizes advertising by gays and lesbians.

In a Washington Post column, Lisa Miller wrote about women leaving the church:

There are churches in America in which women aren’t allowed to speak out loud unless they get permission from a man first.

There are churches (many of them) in which women aren’t permitted to preach from the pulpit.

There are churches in America where a 13-year-old boy has more authority than his mother.

Between 1991 and 2011, the number of adult women attending church weekly  declined 20 percent. The number of women going to Sunday school dropped by about a third, as did the number of women who volunteer at church.

It is not only Rush Limbaugh who demeans all women by calling one a “slut” and a “prostitute.” It’s Rick Santorum–that man of faith–who has stopped just short of calling working mothers selfish and who lumps all single moms together as his opposition, as he did in an interview with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council last year.

Unless the strident, authoritarian social conservatives loosen their stranglehold on American women, American women will abandon the Republican Party (as they’re quitting church) and look for their candidates elsewhere.

Conservatives won’t give up their power. Let’s hope that women just take it.

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