via Kate Clinton
Speaking of the Habit of Freedom…
“We Are All Nuns”
By Mary E. Hunt
When it comes to the Vatican’s crackdown on women religious, I believe it’s time to declare that for the purpose of this struggle: we are all nuns.
The mandate by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to reform the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) via the appointment of an Archbishop Delegate to bring the nuns back in line—below and behind the bishops—has outraged those who respect its rich legacy.
If you can spell Catholic, you are probably asking: how dare they go after 57,000 dedicated women whose median age is well over 70 and who work tirelessly for a more just world? How dare the very men who preside over a Church in utter disgrace due to sexual misconduct and cover-ups by bishops try to distract from their own problems by creating new ones for women religious?
While this story is focused on nuns, it doesn’t stop there. Flowery medieval rhetoric by the Vatican about the nuns’ “special place in the Church,” and the ﬁction that religious women have “full participation in all aspects of the Church’s life” (while ordination is still for men only—come on!) make the dictum especially pernicious.
But it’s really about all of the laity, especially women, who see the world in terms of needs we can fulﬁll, not power we can hold; of radical equality, not hierarchy; of the many, not the few.
So, what happened?
Apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back was the collaboration of the Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK, founded forty years ago by 47 nuns from two dozen communities, and the Catholic Hospital Association in supporting the Obamacare.
More progressive feminist Catholics, myself included, rued the fact that the plan did not cover the full spectrum of reproductive health care—including abortion. Nevertheless, the pragmatic nuns offered bona ﬁde Catholic support for the proposal as written, over and against the US bishops who, to this writing, continue to oppose the legislation because it includes coverage for contraception without enough exemptions to satisfy them.
The fact that members of Congress took the nuns to be normatively Catholic, or at least as Catholic as the bishops, was just more than the delicate souls in Rome could stand.
This latest mandate to reform the LCWR—indeed to put it out of business—has been in the works for years. In a process that began in 2008, the “doctrinal assessment,” as it is known, was aimed at investigating the “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in Consecrated Life.” In the face of wars in several parts of the world, ecological crises throughout the planet, and severe economic injustice, it is morally embarrassing that the Vatican chooses to spend its time on such trivia. But given that the result is aimed at some of the very people whose lives are dedicated to peacemaking, Earth enhancement, and economic sharing, it is worth clarifying what is at stake.
The crux of the matter, as it were, is that most of the nuns, like many Catholics, have matured beyond the Vatican’s imaginings. The notion that postmodern Catholics assent to “the doctrine of the faith that has been revealed by God in Jesus Christ, presented in written form in the divinely inspired Scriptures, and handed on in the Apostolic Tradition under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium,” (or, simply, the fathers know best) is simply ludicrous. As one observer asked me, “What Bible do they read?”
The truth is, most Catholics no longer look to Rome for guidance on our personal lives, or anyone else’s. Nor do we live within the narrow conﬁnes of a cultic Christianity, or, as women, accept male leadership and priestly ministry as if theirs were God-given and ours were not.
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