I pray for them daily - for their ministry with me and the ministry they continue to do in the Name of Jesus. Often, at great cost to themselves.
For those of us who grew up Roman Catholic, it was the nuns - not the priests - who taught us and our children in schools. They’ve run hospitals. They minister parishes where there is a shortage of clergy, keeping the faith and tending deeply inflicted wounds caused by the scandal of child abuse by Roman Catholic clergy. They’ve encouraged those committed to their care in good times and bad. Perhaps more than any other group within the church, they’ve shaped the faith of families and congregations.
The Vatican last week ordered an umbrella organization representing 80 percent of the sisters of America, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, to reform its programs to conform more closely to the official teachings of the church or face further disciplinary actions.
It should be noted that the LCWR represents some 57,000 Catholic nuns, whose median age is 70.
To oversee the reform process, the Vatican has appointed Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain and given him wide-ranging power to oversee and direct LCWR as he reviews and revises the organization's policies.
No one should be surprised. This "process" actually began in 2008 when the “doctrinal assessment,” as it is known, was aimed at investigating the “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in Consecrated Life.”
Mary Hunt, a feminist Roman Catholic theologian and one of my real heroes in the church, has written that:
[The Vatican] is trying to put LCWR in the untenable position of having its every conference, publication, and public utterance subject to episcopal veto.
The real aim, in my reading of the situation, is to replace LCWR with the Council of Major Superiors of Women (CMSW), a group of conservative, habit-wearing, bishop-obeying nuns that Rome has been cultivating all along. That group’s blueprint for religious life is expressed in The Foundations of Religious Life: Revisiting the Vision, a volume that reads like Vatican ofﬁcials wrote it. Perhaps they did.
Although what is more disturbing is that the Vatican has set women up against one another. Conservative women religious collaborated on the Apostolic Visitation and will be appointed to the Archbishop Delegate’s Advisory Team.
The effort to rein in LCWR is meant as much to scare the rest of us into line as to corral the nuns. I can say with conﬁdence that it won’t work.
Have you noticed? When people - especially men - with institutional power feel their power base being threatened - especially by women - they circle the wagons.
Oh, and if the women don't 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)? Well, the Vatican will simply close them down.
And, here's the thing: Take their property, sell it off, and pay off all the legal expenses incurred by the scandal of child abuse and pedophilia of their priests and the cover up of the church's hierarchy.
I don't know what makes me angrier - the fact that these men in black (or, red or purple, depending on their own sense of self importance) are doing this to these faithful religious women or that they think the rest of us can't see what's really going on here.
They really think the rest of us are stupid. And, they actually think they can get away with it.
Is there any arrogance quite so....arrogant....as the arrogance of the institutional church?
Nuns relinquish the opportunity to be wives and mothers and take vows of poverty in order to serve Christ without the pomp, perks and payoffs of priesthood. Many nuns are quite poor, have little vacation or recreation time. Most work very hard for low pay. Many nuns are quite well-educated, but unlike priests, who have always been exhorted to study, nuns have had to fight for education. In the context of medical issues and education of children, it is Roman Catholic nuns, not priests, who work in hospitals as health care professionals and and teach in schools. For very good reasons, the expertise of its women religious scares the Vatican.
Nuns are best and brightest of Roman Catholic religious.
So, why should an Episcopal priest - albeit one who was formerly Roman Catholic - care? Why should anyone - lay or ordained - of any denomination be concerned?
Well, can you say, "baptism"? Like it or not, admit it or not, they are our sisters.
Okay, can you say "sexism"? Or, "misogyny"?
How about these words: "War on Women"? It's not just for Republicans, you know. Indeed, they are emboldened by Evangelicals and ....wait for it....The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who have been the four-star generals of local skirmishes as well as on the national battle lines.
What can we do? Well, I intend to continue to pray for them daily, and will do so more fervently. I invite you to join me. All you have to do is simply shoot them a few "arrow prayers" a few times a day. I do that and read the Magnificat every morning, dedicating it to them.
Go over to FaceBook and "like" the group "Support Our Catholic Sisters". Leave a supportive message every once in a while, just so they know they've got wide ecumenical and interfaith friends.
I'm going to write to my Episcopal bishops and ask them to work this issue into their conversations with their Roman Catholic brothers. Again, not that I think that, alone, will make a difference, but because, cumulatively, I believe it may have a 'softening' effect on the way the process is implemented.
If you know of anything else we can do, please post it here and I'll support it.
I am the priest I am today because of these religious women. I am deeply grateful for their lives, their witness and their ministry.
If your life or the life of someone you know has been touched by a Roman Catholic nun, please show your gratitude. Please pray for them daily. Pray for God's justice to be done.
As the nuns of my youth taught me, "God hears the prayers of the righteous".