“Leaders representing most American nuns pushed back on Friday against a stinging Vatican report that was issued in April and called for their “reform,’” Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein reported Friday.
After a special meeting this week in Washington, the 21-member board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious issued a statement calling the Vatican report “unsubstantiated “ and saying it has “caused scandal and pain” and exacerbated polarization throughout the Catholic church community.
The board of the conference, whose members represent the vast majority of the 57,000 nuns in the United States, met for three days to consider how to respond to the Vatican report accusing the group of “radical feminism” and of publicly undermining the leadership of the bishops.
On Faith asked several Catholic Church experts and activists about the gender dynamics at work in the ongoing rift between the nuns and the Vatican. Do you agree with their assessments? Share your view in the comments below.
Do you believe gender plays a role in the clash between the Vatican and the nuns?
Michael Sean Winters, writer for National Catholic Reporter, is author of “ Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats: ”
No. The Vatican has not been shy about dispensing more severe penalties than this to Hans Kung, Charles Curran, Jon Sobrino, to name just a few of the men whose writings have been found wanting by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Of course, in this instance, the Vatican, largely staffed and exclusively governed by men, is taking on a group of women, and one of the charges is that the LCWR has adopted some gender-based ideas that are not consonant with Catholic theology. But the issue is not one of provenance. The issue is what is true. An idea can be mine and still be wrong just as a work of art can be mine and still be ugly. The Vatican is not objecting to certain ideas because they came from women. They are objecting because they think the ideas are wrong.
Colleen Carroll Campbell is an ex-presidential speechwriter, op-ed columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and host of “Faith & Culture,” a TV and radio show on EWTN. Her new book, “My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir,” will be published by the Image imprint of Random House this fall. Campbell writes:
The LCWR and its surrogates have shrewdly portrayed this reform as a “war on nuns,” but this clash is more about conflicting views of the Catholic Church and its teachings than any trumped up war between the sexes. Contrary to the insinuations of the LCWR, many Catholic women – and no small number of Catholic nuns, especially those on the youngest and oldest ends of the age spectrum – consider this reform long overdue. These women have lamented for years that an organization formed at the Vatican’s request and that officially answers to the Vatican shows such ambivalence to and disregard for Catholic teaching on everything from the role of Jesus in salvation history to the sanctity of human life. And they consider it only reasonable that the Vatican would try to rein in a group that enjoys all the perks of calling itself Catholic while refusing to publicly defend Catholic teachings when they clash with the cultural zeitgeist.
As for the charge that the Catholic teachings in question are too antiquated and irrelevant to merit defense from today’s nuns, try telling that to the swelling ranks of young sisters whose orders belong to the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious. The CMSWR is another, smaller umbrella organization founded in 1992 by religious sisters voicing the same concerns about the LCWR that the Vatican did in April. The CMSWR orders emphasize everything the LCWR does not: traditional Catholic prayer disciplines, communal living and fidelity to Catholic teaching. As a result, they are bursting with the sort of young, educated, passionate new recruits so scarce in LCWR orders. These young sisters recognize a truth that LCWR’s aging and defiant leaders have failed to grasp: The future of religious life belongs to Christians radical enough to stand with the church on the fundamental moral and theological issues of the day, even when doing so means standing against the cultural tide.
Fr. Frank Pavone is national director of Priests for Life:
First of all, there is no question that a process like this is going to cause tensions and emotions. Reform is not easy, and human nature rebels against it. Moreover, neither those in the leadership of the LCWR nor those in clerical leadership are without flaw. In particular, the call for transparency is important. While there is a legitimate and necessary place for confidentiality, the default position in communication between church authority and those they are called to serve should be transparency and openness. The reasons why steps are taken, and the process by which decisions are reached, should be made known in the absence of very compelling reasons to the contrary. On this point, I recommend Russell Shaw’s excellent book, “Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication and Communion in the Catholic Church.”
In the absent of transparent communication that honors both parties, the gap will be filled by all kinds of accusations and assumptions of motives. And that only makes things worse.
We should not start with the conclusion that this is about gender, any more than we should conclude that the church’s position that she is unable to ordain women flows from a disdain for women. Rather, it is precisely the confusion about gender in our society that leads to positions contrary to Catholic teaching – positions which the Vatican may be concerned are not being adequately embraced by the LCWR.
Two other important initial perspectives: The LCWR is at the service of women who have already made a public, formal, permanent commitment to the Catholic Church. The Vatican is simply calling them to be who they say they already are.
Moreover, an intervention like this by the Vatican is not meant to be a “standoff” or “clash,” but an effort to build up the unity of the church in a positive spirit.
Do you agree with Winters, Campbell or Pavone? Is there a fundamental gender clash at work, is this a purely theological dispute, or is it both?