In a recent example of “do what I say, not what I do,” the U.S. Catholic bishops announced their “great national campaign” for religious freedom in the United States while at the same time assisting in the Vatican takeover of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. LCWR represents more than 80 percent of U.S. women in religious life and is alleged to have,well, too much conscience, although that is not what the bishops call it.
Calling the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's current reform directive for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious a “fiasco” and accusing the CDF of “bully” tactics, an April 27 opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle charges that “church leaders refuse to dialogue” and that it “is becoming increasingly obvious to many Catholics that these 'men only' club members are not in control, are not relevant and have lost their moral authority.”
Tilted “U.S. nuns group deserves support,” the commentary is written by Brian Cahill, the retired executive director of San Francisco Catholic Charities who served in that post when now-Cardinal William Levada was archbishop there. Levada heads the CDF.
Problems with official church authority have plagued women religious for centuries. I offer here two vivid examples I wrote about in my book, Faithful Dissenters: Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church.
Mother Théodore Guérin and five other members of the Sisters of Providence sailed from France in the early 1840s and arrived in southwest Indiana to start a school for girls. The wilderness of the area was a challenge, as was learning a new language. But those were minor compared to the interference and antagonism they encountered in the person of the Vincennes bishop, Célestine de la Hailandière. Nevertheless, she and her community were able to open a boarding school near St. Mary-of-the-Woods. From the start, the bishop refused to approve the sisters religious rule and on one occasion called for the election of a new superior to replace Guérin, but the community re-elected her anyway.
Regular readers of my blog will know the very, very low regard in which I hold the opinions of George Weigel. He and his neo-con fellow RCs have tried to subvert Catholic social teaching for decades and still seem incapable of believing that the Master meant what he said about avarice and riches.
Now, he has set his sights on the Vatican's "assessment" of the LCWR in a post at the National Review. The article is filled with his usual absurd arguments - if only nuns wore habits, all would be well with the world - and his usualy penchant for nostalgia - invoking the memory of Ingrid Bergman in Bells of St. Mary's - but this paragraph of his was especially disturbing even by Weigel's standards:
I did not have the visceral reaction many of my colleagues had to the news of the “assessment” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. That was, until I read the document itself. But, before we get to the text, I have to ask myself: Why did I not instantly recognize the injustice many of my friends discerned?
In part, I have learned to resist overbroad interpretations of events that fit neatly with a previously determined meta-narrative, in this case the meta-narrative that sees the bad, old, meanies at the Vatican going after unsuspecting Catholics. I do not recall cries of “injustice” when the Vatican, in 2000, appointed an apostolic visitor to Mother Angelica’s abbey, although that too involved men assessing women, the far away Vatican bureaucrats ordering U.S.-based women religious to open themselves to investigation and, in the event, resulted in the removal of Mother Angelica from the leadership of her abbey.
I cannot recall anytime in recent history that the Catholic church was highlighted twice in columns in a single issue of The New York Times. But this is the case today and it the rare development is yet another indicator of the tremendous outpouring of support on behalf of U.S. women religious in general and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in particular as they come under attack from the Vatican for lapses in fidelity.
Nicholas Kristof and Maureen Dowd both write about the plight of our sisters.
Jamie Manson, National Catholic Reporter columnist who spoke Saturday in the University at Buffalo's Newman Center, reminding her audience that U.S. women religious "go to the broken places where very few us dare to go, and they see Jesus in those places."
She called upon Catholics to support the Catholic sisters.
Patricia McQuire, president of Trinity Washington University, writing for the Huffington Post, addresses the "true radicalism" of the U.S. sisters. They were the bricks and mortar of our Catholic school system and our Catholic hospital system. Now they are aging, numbers declining, with an the average age being 75 years. This is the time to be grateful to the sisters, she writes, adding,
Former executive director of San Francisco Catholic Charities adds his support for the U.S. Catholic sisters.
By far, the biggest Vatican story at the moment in the American media market is an announced overhaul of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the main umbrella group for superiors of the roughly 400 women's orders in the States. The move has been presented by the Vatican as a "reform" but styled as a "crackdown" in most press coverage.