It seems as though it’s not just the GOP who is conducting a war against women. The Catholic Church has declared war on women religious.
There were two Santa Maria! stories out of the Vatican this week. ….. Then there was the even worse news, by my votive lights, that the Vatican is cracking down on American nuns – who as one of my fellow Catholics noted over a cup of unconsecrated wine last night, “Only do what Jesus told us to do,’’ in their hospitals, schools and orphanages, “so no wonder they’re in trouble.’’
After a lengthy investigation by the office formerly known as the Inquisition, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle has been signed up to oversee a forced reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of the 57,000 Catholic nuns in this country.
That’s because, according to the Vatican report released Wednesday, a number of the good sisters appear to investigators to have been influenced by “radical feminism,” and to have fallen out of step with church teaching on homosexuality and women’s ordination.
Now, being a nice Jewish boy, my interactions with nuns was limited to seeing them at St. Anthony’s Hospital which was across the street from our synagogue and on my occasional visit to St. Dominic’s Church. But I do remember watching The Singing Nun and Change of Habit when I was a kid and thought, wow, these are some neat women, giving of themselves to educate inner-city kids and heal the sick. But they also fought for social justice, as evidenced by Sister Helen Prejean and the three Maryknoll nuns murdered in El Salvador in 1980.
So here we have a group of women religious, who, as Melinda Henneberger points out, “the nuns are the only morally uncompromised leaders poor Holy Mother Church has left.”
Some things about the Vatican report do leave me torn: I can’t, for instance, decide if my favorite part is where they dare to indict the sisters for silence on abortion. (If memory serves, the Vatican itself has now and again been accused of keeping quiet when it shouldn’t have been.) Or maybe it’s the part where they describe one sister’s language about “moving beyond the Church’’ as “a cry for help.’’
“Such a rejection of faith,’’ the document warns, “is also a serious source of scandal and is incompatible with religious life.”
So what is really behind this re-education move? What does the Church fear?
NETWORK, a nun-founded Washington lobbying group that focuses on poverty, immigration and health-care issues, was singled out in the report as “silent on the right to life.”
“I think we scare them,” NETWORK’s executive director, Sister Simone Campbell, told my Post colleague Liz Tenety, referring to the male hierarchy.
American sisters do outnumber the priests, and it’s the women who have the troops, too – at schools and hospitals the bishops couldn’t close if they wanted to. The nuns no longer only empty the bed pans, you see, but now also own the institutions where they work. And you have to wonder whether that’s the real problem.
I hope the bishops and the Pope reconsider this attack. It makes them look, um, unholy.