“Women can’t be bishops, so there’s a very strange question of whether we can ever voice a response that challenges” the Vatican, said Jeannine Fletcher, a theologian who focuses on gender at Fordham University, a Jesuit school. “If women religious can’t, no women can.”
Sister Julie Vieira, a member of the Michigan-based Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, said the fact that the directive came without warning was jarring.
“Whatever we engage with in ministry . . . we check in with others about it, and together as a sisterhood we make decisions,” she said. “To encounter this kind of action that did not come with that contemplative discernment that I, as a woman religious, am used to engaging with in all of my life was deeply disturbing to me.”
However, she said, “our vow of obedience applies to God . . . it doesn’t reside in a bishop, a body of bishops or even the pope. For us, that sense of obedience has to do with listening deeply to the call of the spirit.”
McDermott said the connection between priests and nuns has been weakening. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, she said, “the mutuality and respect was extraordinary, feeling we were all in this together.”
Today, she said, different approaches to a changing society and the role of the church means “that sense of hospitality, many of us would say, is growing dimmer.”
Sister Annemarie Sanders, spokeswoman for the Leadership Conference, said the nuns have already faced the challenge of a shrinking population in recent decades.
“We know it’s becoming a smaller entity of women and probably is not going to be called to serve the world in the same ways that we were in the past,” she said.