Nel's New Day

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.

© blogfactory

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