If everyone could just calm down for a moment regarding the Vatican and nuns, perhaps we could all consider some facts.
First, the notion that the Vatican is only investigating the women within its ranks is incorrect. In fact, nuns are rather late in a string of investigations and internal changes the Vatican has been making in America over the past few years. In 2005 and 2006, the Vatican completed an apostolic visitation, or an investigation and evaluation, of American seminaries.
With both the priests and sisters, church officials were looking into some core questions:
Seminaries and mother houses are far from the only places where some church members have strayed so far from church teaching and tradition as to distort the faith.
Last year, the Vatican established a commission to ensure that church architecture and liturgy are in line with church doctrine. Anyone who has tried to find a tabernacle, or follow the liturgy of the Mass for that matter, in a post-1960s, suburban parish knows why.
Also last year (after nearly 20 years of review), the Vatican required that all American parishes begin adhering to a more correct interpretation of the Latin translation of the liturgy of the Mass. In most other parts of the world, for example, they have been saying “And with your spirit,” instead of “And also with you,” since Vatican II. We Americans citizens may get to keep Fahrenheit, feet, and pounds. But American Catholics are not special in the eyes of the church. So they made sure we say the words of the Mass the same way they do in an African village.
Yes, over the past few years, the Vatican has investigated and cracked down on priests and seminaries, architects, missals and choir directors, to name a few. Now they are checking into the nuns. Big whoop.
The Roman Catholic Church is just doing some spring-cleaning, something she is fully entitled to do. And something she has been doing every now and then for, oh, just a couple thousand years. Think of it like an audit. Any company that doesn’t do an audit is bound to fail. Any religious institution that doesn’t check the dusty corners from time to time is bound to start unraveling. For those who loathe the Catholic Church and her teachings, this is, no doubt, something they wouldn’t mind seeing happen.
To be sure, there are some nuns who work to directly undermine church teaching. The LCWR report was full of specific examples of ways that some nuns have “moved beyond” Jesus. I encountered one just the other day at a political lunch. Though I never would have known she was a nun because, whereas everyone else showed up in suits, she showed up in a velour tracksuit and spoke at length about how the Catholic Church must ordain women and endorse artificial contraception. So yes, the Roman Catholic Church is entirely within her rights to check in on the activities of men and women who have made solemn vows to uphold and propagate church teaching.
Which raises the third point: The Roman Catholic Church is not a democracy. It’s not a dictatorship either. No one is forcing nuns to live lives of obedience, chastity, and poverty. If they change their minds about the life they’ve signed up for, they can take off their habits and walk out the door. But the church is quite upfront about the fact that doctrine and Scripture are not up for personal interpretation. When people speak of nun oppression, it only bespeaks ignorance of just how the Catholic Church operates.
And if people want to draw Mary into the fold, they are best off recalling that Mary is most famous for her first and last lines in the Bible: “Let it be done to me according to thy word,” and “do whatever He tells you.”
Mary is the embodiment of obedience. A Catholic life is one that follows that model. Clergy and nuns are a special example of that model within the church. The point is this: A Catholic life is an obedient life. But it’s an obedience by choice. That’s what makes it a Christian life. Our obedience is modeled after the ultimate obedient choice, Christ’s death on the cross.
But here we are. The Catholic Church is going about her business -- and now all of a sudden when it affects nuns -- everyone cares. From a Catholic point of view, it’s hard to wonder if the media and society picks their Catholic victims based on political expediency. Sure, it was sloppy timing for the Vatican to make a move on the nuns amidst the fabricated ‘war on women.’ But now The New York Times editorial board enters the realm of theology, writing that the Vatican “misreads the very fine work” of Catholic women religious. After they’ve hung the nuns and their fine and very jeopardized work out to dry throughout the HHS mandate debate? What about those nuns whose work would be shut down because they cannot in good conscience include the Nuva Ring in their health care plans? What of them? And for those who think this is retribution for Sister Keehan bucking the bishops on health care, kindly do us all a favor and do a date check. The apostolic visitation on women religious began in 2009.
As a Catholic woman, allow me to make a simple plea: Please stop victimizing Catholic women when it suits your social or political agenda. It’s really unbecoming for us both.