Thursday, July 2, 2009

Leave them nuns alone, Pope Nazipants!

From the New York Times:

The Vatican is quietly conducting two sweeping investigations of American nuns, a development that has startled and dismayed nuns who fear they are the targets of a doctrinal inquisition.

Nuns were the often-unsung workers who helped build the Roman Catholic Church in this country, planting schools and hospitals and keeping parishes humming. But for the last three decades, their numbers have been declining — to 60,000 today from 180,000 in 1965.

While some nuns say they are grateful that the Vatican is finally paying attention to their dwindling communities, many fear that the real motivation is to reel in American nuns who have reinterpreted their calling for the modern world.

In the last four decades since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, many American nuns stopped wearing religious habits, left convents to live independently and went into new lines of work: academia and other professions, social and political advocacy and grass-roots organizations that serve the poor or promote spirituality. A few nuns have also been active in organizations that advocate changes in the church like ordaining women and married men as priests.
If you'll allow me to speculate for a moment, I believe a major reason that the current Catholic hierarchy refuses to even discuss the possibility of female ordination is the rampant liberalism running through today's convents. The nuns of the 21st century are not your daddy's Catholic school nuns. The only thing they slap with rulers these days are the archaic laws of Catholicism. Now, I know I'm over-generalizing, but I've known a few nuns and a few members of the clergy in my day, and it's the nuns, not the clergy, who refuse to refer to Pope Nazipants as anything but "Ratzinger;" who, through years of work with impoverished families, have realized that abortion is sometimes a necessary evil; and who told me on several occasions during my high school career that they'd rather be in Vegas, and if they hadn't become nuns the day they graduated from high school they never would have done it. It was the nuns who told me that women were smarter. It is a nun who loves and accepts her gay cousin. It's the nuns, man. I can see why the Vatican is mad at them.

Now, I realize I'm over-generalizing. I'm sure there are plenty of conservative nuns who want nothing more than to lead lives of cloistered prayer and never piss off the Vatican. But those are not the nuns I know. The nuns I know are strong, smart, educated women whose faith in the Church means believing it can change. These are women of faith, of piety, and of chastity (I'd hazard a guess that there's a lot more chastity in the convents than in the priesthood). They're not attacking the Church. They are simply working to make it better with the little power they have. The Vatican cannot hope to effectively antagonize them (however passive-aggressively they try to do it) without losing them, which it cannot afford to do.

There is one important point that the Vatican is overlooking in their efforts to exert more control over American nuns: these women are, much more than the Vatican, living reflections of Christ's love.

Mark 10:17-21 says:
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"

"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."

Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
My mother went down to New Orleans after hurricane Katrina to work on the reconstruction. Among those she met down there were nuns from all over the world who were also working tirelessly - giving up their comfortable lives to give to the poor. To my knowledge, she met no priests. To my knowledge, the Vatican has not given up its vast wealth to make change in the world.

Matthew 3:29-39 says:
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
If history has taught us anything, it is that new religions start with the best of intentions and, over time, become hopelessly corrupt. In the end, the leaders of a particular religious movement come to represent exactly the kind of hypocrisy that the forefathers fought against. The Church is lucky to have these women in their ranks, yet they are trying to subvert them. These women, more than the Vatican, represent the Body of Christ. WTF would Jesus do? Ask the nuns.


Marjorie said...

This made me want to share a comic with you (and anyone else who reads this blog). Sister Claire ( is hilarious, I think you'd like it.

Self said...

This isn't surprising - the nuns are primarily the only "Holy Orders" who do the Church's practical work.

It's difficult to take moral theology seriously when you're dealing with practical issues every day - moral theology isn't practical.

If the Church has any sense, they'll leave the nuns to do their (very necessary) work, and they'll look into what they can do to stop the numbers from declining - losing these orders would be tantamount to disaster.

Jocelyn said...

Marjorie - thank God I only have two weeks at my job, because the plethora of websites to which I am addicted are seriously impacting my performance. Anyway, thanks for adding another one to the pile!

Self - according to my Grandma, who knows everything about Catholicism and is brilliant and amazing, the nuns have always been at odds with the Vatican. But they're also financially independent, which seriously limits what the Vatican can do about it.

I agree that it would be tantamount to disaster if they lost the nuns, but they won't. The beauty of having so many different kinds of nuns and priests within the Church is that they all feel like the Church is theirs, even if they don't agree with the Vatican. These women have more power now than they ever have before. They are, I believe, some of the many engines for change within the Church. But then, we'll see what happens.

Hannah said...

I read the same NYT article but my understanding is that this is sort of more like an audit than a witch hunt. According to the article, the Vatican is conducting the same type of visitation of several seminaries and male religious orders. And the Pope doesn't order them.

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