drupal statistics module

Machines Like Us

In defense of Catholic nuns

Wednesday, 02 May 2012
by Mano Singham

I have been beating up on the Catholic Church recently and have no regrets about doing so because that institution richly deserves it. But I think I should be a little more discriminating and point out that the immense faults of the Catholic Church can be laid almost entirely at the feet of the men in the church, and not the nuns. Not ever having been a Catholic, I have not crossed paths with many nuns in a formal capacity and so do not have much first hand knowledge of them. The few nuns I have met have been extremely nice people but there is more to this defense than personal knowledge.

Last week I wrote about the pope slapping down nuns in the report that was released after a three year investigation by the Vatican of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents 95 percent of U.S. Catholic women’s congregations.

Over two years ago, a nun who was part of that group wrote about her unhappiness with the church opening the investigation. Revealingly, she felt that she had to use a pseudonym for fear of being singled out for punishment for expressing her deeply felt concerns about the direction her institution was going. It is telling that people belonging to a church have to practice the same kind of anonymity as whistleblowers in (say) the National Security Agency or some corporate conglomerate. In fact her whole essay reveals a church whose authoritarian practices makes it indistinguishable from some of the worst examples of businesses.

Sister X writes:

Evidently, the Vatican is concerned that the LCWR has not been forthcoming about the magisterium’s teachings regarding the ordination of women, the relation of the Catholic Church to non-Christian religions, and the “intrinsically disordered” nature of homosexual acts.

Rather, the visitation exclusively targets active women religious whose centers and houses of formation are in the United States—women educated here and trained for religious life here, women who work with major health-care and educational institutions in this country, and who collaborate with one another financially on ministerial projects such as peace and justice ministries.

She wonders why the nuns are being singled out for examination when there are so many worse issues confronting the church, and provides revealing details about the secretive way it operates.

Why isn’t the priest shortage the subject of a visitation? And during the same period U.S. bishops have presided over a sexual-abuse scandal that has cost the Catholic community more than $2 billion and the episcopacy much of its moral credibility. So why no visitation for the bishops?

To put it bluntly, I feel that American women religious are being bullied. The fact that the visitation is apparently being paid for by anonymous donors, and that the leaders of our communities will not be permitted to see the investigative reports that issue from it, does not engender trust. And indeed, the dynamics of the visitation and investigation so far have been experienced by women religious as secretive, unfriendly, and one-sided.