Sunday, July 11, 2010

American Nuns Under "Friendly Fire"

The Attacks on U.S. Catholic Sisters

American’s Catholic religious sisters are facing eventual near-extinction as well as attacks from the Vatican and some American bishops.

Why the Decline in Vocations?

For many decades, the sisters have made great contributions to the U.S. church and
Society. Enormously energized by Vatican II, they greatly expanded their missions to go far beyond teaching and nursing, and in the process they flowered as never before. It is a tragic irony that just as they succeeded more and more in following their founders chrisms and grew in following Christ, they their way of life no longer seemed attractive to very many young women.

A social scientist would argue that the great decline in vocations was due to the secularization of the West, which was accompanied by intense emphasis on individualism
and greatly increased materialism. There has been a massive cultural shift. This same cultural shift explains why, in the US, religions that preach the gospel of prosperity and shoring up the status quo, grow, while those with varying traditions of social justice concerns seem to shrink.

The Vatican’s Concerns
Others, take a very different view. It is argued that the sisters got in trouble when they started wearing civilian garb and living under rules that were less oppressive and restrictive. These people see Vatican II as a mistake and think all will be well when the world of Pius XII is restored.

Cardinal Franc Rode, a Slovakian who heads the congregation that supervises religious orders and congregations clearly takes this view. In 2008 he announced an investigation, termed “apostolic visitation” of the American female religious orders and congregations. It is claimed the investigation is about the “quality of life” in the American congregations. It will result in a secret 2011 report that the nuns will not be permitted to see. Nor have they been told what the charges are against them or why it was necessary to have a “visitation.”

A year later, in 2009, The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Joseph Leveda, an American, announced a doctrinal investigation of the Leadership Conference of Catholic Women, which covers 95% of American sisters, some 68,000 women. Leveda is looking into three subjects: ordination of women, homosexuality, and the primacy of the Catholic faith.” It would be almost impossible to find any sister on record denying that the Catholic Church embodies the fullest expression of Christian faith.

No sister is on record saying that sex between homosexuals is not sinful. More than a few think calling homosexuality a disorder is uncharitable. Probably most nuns privately belief that God does not create junk and that homosexuality in genetic, a few worked years with homosexuals. Some of them have been punished when it looked like they were too close to Catholic homosexual advocacy groups or because they criticized legislation and practices that deprived homosexuals of rights other people have. The problem here is that the investigators have a problem separating doctrine from ordinary opinion or politics.

Only a few sisters would openly question the teaching that women cannot be ordained priests because they do not have the physical equipment of men. They might point to solid historical research that women functioned as priests and deacons in the early centuries of Christianity or say that an honest discussion of women priests could be productive. Where does doctrine end and opinion begin?

Many sisters see ordination as too closely tied to clericalism, one of the church’s main problems. A few feel called to priesthood and got involved in the Womanpriest movement. They have been punished by their congregations.

For centuries, sisters were the slaves of the Church. They were exploited in many ways, and more than a few bishops tried to strip them of their wealth and property. It is true that today’s nuns believe God did not create them to serve priests. They also believe that women are second class citizens in the church. This belief has nothing to do with theology and should not a matter for an inquisition.

HealthCare Politics
The sisters’ problems came to a head when they refused to join the bishops in working against health care reform. The Leadership Conference of Catholic Women and the Catholic Health Association said the bill did not open the door for taxpayer funded abortions.

With no evidence to support them, the bishops insisted that money the act gives to community health centers (CHCs) could be used for abortions. Abortions are not now performed in them, and CHCs come under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) whose regulations forbid CHCs to carry out abortions except in the case of incest of saving the health of the mother.

They also feared that a court might claim that abortions can be provided by these agencies because (PPACA) money did not come to them directly through an HHS appropriation act.

A handful of courageous pro-life Democrats, like Bart Stupak and Kathy Dahlkemper, addressed this concern by prevailing upon President Barack Obama to write an executive order prohibiting the use of funds under this law from being used for abortions in CHCs and elsewhere. Critics quickly responded that executive orders have no legal force, which is simply wrong. Others said, Obama could later change his mind. He could, but he would be making a terrible political mistake.

The bishops provided little support for their arguments; yet they expected the flock to simply accept their political judgment.

Recent Developments

Some bishops have moved to punish the sisters and the Catholic Health Association. Their view comes down to this: when the bishops interpret legislation, other Catholics must follow or at least keep quiet---even if the bishops’ interpretation is wrong.

In Rome, there have been meetings between Vatican officials and the leaders of the American sisters. Time and again, the same question was raised, “Why did the . sisters oppose the bishops on the health care bill?” The sisters responded that they did not set out to oppose the bishops. They exercised their right as citizens to interpret the legislation. Cardinal Leveda’s circle maintains that they gave the impression of disunity and undermined the teaching that the Catholic Church is “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic.” In his view, there was simply no distinction between theology and politics. When Leveda was in the United States, he made statements that often sounded more like those of a political cultural warrior than those of a churchman. Since being in Rome, his pronouncements, like those of Archbishop Leo Burke of the Rota, could not be distinguished from those of the Republican hard right. The utterances of Cardinal Francis George, though cloaked in more ecclesiastical language, also set one to wondering about his political biases.

The beleaguered nuns are now battling for the right of all American Catholics to form their own political opinions. South African Bishop Kevin Dowling has spoken out about the culture of fear and conformity within the church and how unhealthy it is. The sisters are not giving ground and will probably pay a heavy price for it.

No comments: