I’m giving a shout out to Susan Toepfer over at Truth/Slant for her post Nuns on the Run: Why Is the Pope Targeting Women? Even though Toepfer’s not Catholic herself, like many Americans she’s benefited from the amazing gift and wisdom of American Catholic sisters.
I’m doing my best to track good posts and stories on the current Vatican investigation into Catholic sisters. If you see any, send them my way.
Here’s a snippet from Toepfer’s piece:
It is a story worthy of a Dan Brown thriller, replete with secret ceremonies, powerful adversaries and hidden motives. Yet this high-level plot is playing out in real time, right under our noses, and it all begins with a modern-day inquisition into the lives of nuns.
Nuns, as even non-Catholics know (and I am not Catholic, though my husband and children are), haven’t been quite the same since the ’60s, when they started shedding their habits for street clothes and venturing out more self-assuredly into the world. Nuns, as you might also have noticed, have severely decreased in number since then. The dwindling religious who remain have not only often fled traditional communities but have expanded their interests to such contemporary concerns as saving the environment and rescuing sex slaves.
That, apparently, is enough to make this current, most conservative of Popes, send in his troops.
Read more of what I’ve written on the Vatican investigation into American Catholic nuns here.
New Orleans native and NPR’s senior news analyst Cokie Roberts gave the keynote address at the recent gathering of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in New Orleans. LCWR represents 95% of U.S. Catholic religious women and is under investigation by the Vatican. (See my earlier posts LCWR Calls For Transparency and Vatican Investigation.)
Roberts gives an excellent overview of the historical role of Catholic women in America – especially in New Orleans. When she veers toward the current Vatican investigation, she frames it in a way that brings out some of the essential tensions: The true nature of the American experiment is still not understood by Rome. Here’s an excerpt:
This country remains a puzzlement to our ancestors in Europe and their modern day descendants. After all we are very young—it’s not even 300 years since the Ursulines arrived here and that was almost 50 years before independence. I understand why the Europeans continue to see this as some sort of upstart nation. They often see only the chaos without witnessing the creation. And they don’t appreciate the fact that we have traditions that are different from those of the old world, traditions that have to do with service both inside and outside of religious life. So–at the same time that the Ursulines were here creating schools and hospitals and orphanages, and Elizabeth Seton was doing that on the East Coast–women of every religion and color were creating similar institutions–whether it was Isabella Graham the Scotswoman who worked with Elizabeth Seton to create the Widows Society and many other social service agencies, or Rebecca Gratz–a Jewish woman in Philadelphia who worked with other women in the community to create orphanages and other societies for the poor and then established a parallel set up for Jewish children who were being taught Christian doctrine in those other institutions. Or Catherine Ferguson, a former slave, who started the Sunday School movement in America. Or first lady Dolley Madison who worked with the local women of Washington to set up an orphanage after the British invasion of 1814. These women of course couldn’t vote and married women could not own property. They were the property of their husbands. But with great difficulty and determination they lobbied the legislatures, solicited funds from the public, petitioned the Congress, organized rallies, performed highly political acts in order to create the safety net for the poor in a time of exciting unbridled capitalism. And that tradition of service continues.
An association of U.S. Roman Catholic sisters raised questions Monday about why they are the target of, and who is paying for, a Vatican investigation that is shaping up to be a tough review of whether sisters have strayed from church teaching.
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, representing about 800 heads of religious orders, said there was a “lack of full disclosure about the motivation and funding sources” for the inquiry. The group also said it objects to the Vatican plan to keep private the reports that will be submitted to the Holy See.
“There’s no transparency there,” said Sister Annmarie Sanders, a conference spokeswoman.
The investigation, announced earlier this year, will examine the practices of the roughly 59,000 Catholic sisters working in the United States. Some sisters have privately expressed anger over the assessment, which they say unfairly questions their commitment to church teaching. However, in public they have remained largely circumspect in their comments.
The assembly body also discussed the Vatican study, as well as a separate inquiry being conducted by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the position of LCWR in matters pertaining to Catholic Church doctrine. Following analysis of the experience of these studies thus far, the leaders noted that while their orders have always been fully accountable to the church and plan to collaborate with the Vatican in these studies, they request that those conducting the inquiries alter some of the methods being employed. Among the expressed concerns are a lack of full disclosure about the motivation and funding sources for the studies. The leaders also object to the fact that their orders will not be permitted to see the investigative reports about them that are being submitted directly to the Vatican.
Throughout the assembly, the leaders emphasized that their orders have remained faithful to the reform and renewal of their communities called for by the Second Vatican Council that urged women and men religious to adapt their lives, prayer and work so they may most effectively fulfill their mission. They reclaimed their commitment to what they believe is the unique and needed role of religious life which includes serving at and speaking from the margins of the Catholic Church.
LCWR represents roughly 95% of U.S. Catholic sisters. I’m intrigued that NPR’s Cokie Roberts gave the key note at the LCWR assemly. I’ll try to get hold of her talk.
Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, a Sister of Mercy, is the director of Media Relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She posted a commentary yesterday, A Nun Could Get Whiplash These Days, responding to the Vatican investigation of American nuns.
Her commentary isn’t all that exceptional, but I find it rather amazing that even this Catholic hierarchy “company woman,” with a very strategic position within the U.S. bishops’ Conference felt the need to push back on Vatican investigation. See an excerpt below:
This morning I read about a new documentary that tells the heroic tale of nuns in Eastern Europe sent to Siberia, prison camps, and into exile in the Stalinist days post World War II. I’m proud of them – and deeply moved by their lives. I hope everyone gets to see this program on ABC TV. It was produced by Sisters of St. Joseph and funded by the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Communication Campaign. ABC will get it September 13 and if affiliates choose to air it, it will make gripping television.
Then I read a Catholic News Service story about the Apostolic Visitation of U.S. nuns that reported that I could confidentially contact the visitator with concerns I might have about my order. It made me wonder how we nuns are perceived. Is my happiness as a sister suspect? My lifestyle? Can’t I just e-mail my own head nun when I have concerns? I wonder what my family will think? Will the young adults who asked me to read at their weddings start to wonder about the aunt they think is special?