Wednesday, January 6, 2010

National #Catholic Reporter's Series on Women Religious - Who Doesn't "Get It?"

I was unaware of this series until today. Sr. Sandra Schneiders from the Immaculate Heart of Mary, reflects on the meaning of religious life today. Schneiders, professor of New Testament Studies and Christian Spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, sets the context for “Religious Life as Prophetic Life Form.” The installments run from Jan. 4 through Jan. 8.

I read the first installment and was completely flummoxed. Just astonished. Below is an excerpt and my comments are in red, emphasis mine.

Little by little pressure from a variety of sources seems to have uncovered the answers to those two questions. The “charges” are that LCWR (Leadership Conference of Women Religious)-type Congregations (the vast majority of Religious in the country) have implemented in their lives and in their ministries changes called for by Vatican II to the detriment (manifested in the decline in numbers of vocations) of religious life itself. (First, I don't agree with the approach Sr. Schneiders is taking. To frame this investigation as "criminal" misses the point. The Vatican is concerned about declining numbers of women religious. They want to evaluate the situation. How anyone can deny the fact that these communities are not receiving new vocations as a valid concern, is beyond me. It seems as though some women religious are looking at the issue from only one perspective. Is it because the Vatican is backward or hasn't allowed women to be priests? But if that is the case, how is it that the more traditional communities are increasing?) Cardinal Rodé (the highest officer in Rome on religious life) believes, in his own words, that the council precipitated the first “world-wide crisis” in the history of the church and women religious, in his view, are primary promoters of that crisis in the United States.

The “accusers” are a small group of extremely conservative women religious who, in September 2008, held a conference at Stonehill College in Massachusetts on consecrated life as they understand it, to which they invited Cardinal Rodé. (From everything I've read, this does not seem to be true. There are many Catholics who have been concerned.) At this conference, which included no presentation of positions at variance with their own, they put contemporary ministerial religious Life on trial in absentia, found it seriously wanting, and raised the cry, “Investigate them!”

Cardinal Rodé, having heard what he apparently thought was a widely held consensus that U.S. women’s apostolic religious life was in serious decline concluded, (Again, numbers do not lie. Losing 49% of women religious within 30 years obviously is going to send up a red flag.) “We have no further need of witnesses.” (Does anyone read statistics?) Unfortunately, he failed to consult the many thousands of Catholic laity who have received from women religious their formation in the faith, ongoing spiritual support, pastoral care in times of need, and colleagueship in ministry and who are now expressing their solidarity with the sisters by petitions and personal letters of protest to the Cardinal, the Visitator, the Apostolic Delegate, and local ordinaries as well as by individual and collective testimonies to and about the sisters (see, e.g., U.S. Catholic, “Entered into Evidence [75:1, Jan. 2010]).

He failed to consult moderate bishops, like those in California, who have publicly testified that without women religious their dioceses would not have become what they are and would not be functioning as well as they are today. (I could be really snarky here, but I'll refrain. Proof is in the pudding.) He failed to consult significant groups of religious outside the United States, such as AMOR (conference of women Religious in Asia and Oceania) and UISG (International Union of Superiors General in Rome), which have expressed in public statements their appreciation of, support for, and solidarity with U.S. religious. (Wasn't this investigation about the communities within the U.S.? If so, how would it make any difference to consult with those overseas? Makes no sense unless she's angling for a defense team, which she is.) He failed to consult the sisters themselves who could have enlightened him on the size and ideological commitments of the one small group of religious he did consult and the few rightist bishops, in this country and in Rome, to whom he listened.

Many people, including many religious, think this investigation is an unprecedented assault on religious. ("Assault" - Here we go again with the criminal language. This is a sly tactic of the left. Frame an argument by using certain language and you can change someone's perspective in time. Her choice of comparative language only gets better, as you'll soon see.) Its scope may be unprecedented but its content certainly is not. Many, perhaps most, religious congregations in this country have in their archives documents and correspondence chronicling equally or even more serious confrontations between their order and the local ecclesiastical authorities. (Confrontation seems to be common with them. Is this the role of women religious?)

These records, going back decades or even centuries, tell of threats and intimidation to enforce conscience-violating policies or practices (such as racial discrimination) instigated by members of the hierarchy, drastic sanctions for non-subordination to clergy in matters over which the clerics had no jurisdiction, demotion and even permanent exile without due process of lawfully elected and even revered superiors (including founders), appointment without election of compliant puppet governments, interference in appointments of sisters, unilateral closing of institutions, forced acceptance of apostolates not appropriate to the congregation, and even outright theft of financial assets, to name only the most egregious examples. (I am not saying that the Catholic hierarchy has been 100% fair or perfect. I don't have all the facts. But Sr. Schneiders is trotting all this out as though not one circumstance of an investigation was warranted. So the hierarchy is painted as "The Big Bad Wolf" and the women religious were nothing more than Little Red Riding Hood on her way to her grandmother's house. Nice victimization zing. By the way, Sister - I don't know if you really want to go down the road of "outright theft of financial assets" when a small group of women religious effectively left the Catholic Church but managed to steal the property.)

Many sisters, until very recently, did not know this part of their congregational histories. These often protracted and traumatic struggles were dark pages that, like many abuse victims, (See how sly she was with this? Now the women religious are "abuse victims" because they were confronted. How is asking questions or calling someone into accountability, "abuse?" Note: feminists cannot have it both ways. If you want to say you're strong, fine. But you can't be "strong" and then claim that you're an "abuse victim.") the corporate victims (the congregations) tried to bury or forget. (Forget? Are you kidding me? Even as someone who has just returned to the Church has noticed a consistent call for justice regarding the sexual abuse cases. And I think that the National Catholic Reporter did its share of exposing this evil, which was right.) Even when the abused know rationally that they are not to blame for what happened to them there is often a sense of deep shame, of being somehow responsible for inciting the abuse, of being “damaged goods” because of what one has undergone (especially if there is wide disparity of power and/or status between abuser and abused), of just wanting it to go away in hopes it will never happen again. (Who is the abused? According to Sister, the women religious. How can there be a "sense of deep shame" when many of these women, according to Sister, were unaware of their past, full of what she claims were "traumatic struggles?")

Of course, it is still happening. The forced dispensation from vows of most of the members of the Los Angeles IHMs in the late 1960’s by a furious Cardinal James F. McIntyre, who could not force these women to submit to his will; (Big Bad Wolf, again. Although I am loathe to reference Wikipedia, in this case, it was the quickest sketch I could find of his Eminence. It was no surprise to find Cardinal McIntyre was a staunch conservative, a promoter of Pope Paul VI's re-emphasization of the Church's stance on contraception [Humanae Vitae], and warned about the ramifications of a liturgical free-for-all from Vatican II. I'm sure the liberal women religious couldn't stand this man.) the years of struggle by superiors who refused to violate the consciences of the twenty-four women Religious who, in 1984, signed a New York Times statement asking for honest discussion (not a change of doctrine or even practice) of the issue of abortion that was seriously dividing the country and the church; (Then why discuss it? The Catholic Church abhors abortion and rightly names it as evil. What's to discuss?) attempts, some successful and some not, to force the dismissal of Sisters legitimately appointed by their superiors to certain ministries, and so on, are within the memory of most religious alive today. In other words, there is nothing new (except perhaps the comprehensive scope of the present investigation) in the struggle between some elements of the hierarchy and women Religious. (Nothing new? So Rome shouldn't be concerned about a bunch of women religious who want "to discuss" abortion? Really?)

One of the most pernicious and characteristic aspects of these episodes is the pervasive appeal to a supposed obligation to “blind obedience to hierarchical authority” as the legitimation for clerical control, and even abuse, of women Religious. (Ah, geez. The "abuse" word, again. I'd also like to point out something. I have not capitalized "religious" as in "women religious" because I'm not sure this is proper. But I find it interesting that Sr. Schneiders capitalizes this word but yet cannot bring herself to capitalize the pronoun "he" for Jesus Christ.) This neuralgic (??) issue of the meaning of obedience is central to the current investigation and it is important to realize that it is not new, not precipitated by late 20th century developments in American society or the post-conciliar church, and not likely to be settled by heavy-handed exercises of coercive power. (The issue of obedience is now compared to Master/Slave. If I'm not mistaken, no women religious was kept in the dark about which Church had authority. It's not like someone put a blindfold on them and told them they were joining the Ladies Garden Club.) The issue goes back to the Gospel and the life of Jesus in his religious and social setting and it will only be clarified by faithful meditation on the Scriptures, prayer, and courageous action.

There is an instructive parallel between the questions religious are asking about the Vatican investigation (and which they have asked before, many times, in similar situations) and the questions scholars (and many ordinary believers) ask about the trial and execution of Jesus. There is a tendency to ask and to stop with, the questions “Who is responsible for the death of Jesus?” and “Why was Jesus executed?” (Like who is responsible for this investigation and what are the charges?)

(This next section is simply breathtaking.)

At one level the answers are fairly easily available to a careful study of the Gospel texts. Jesus was executed by the collusion of the political (Roman Empire) and religious (Jerusalem hierarchy) power elites in first century Palestine. He was executed because his ministry threatened to cause an uprising of the Palestinian peasantry. This would have been fatal to the career of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor whose job was to keep the Jewish province under control. It would have been even more disastrous for the Jewish leadership who retained what little authority they had over their own religious affairs and population only as long as the Jewish populace did not become problematic for the Empire.

But this basically political-religious motivation is only a first level answer to the questions of “who” and “why”. It does not get at what we really need to know about Jesus and his mission if we want to understand the human predicament from which he came to save us and the radicality of the solution to that predicament that God offered us in Jesus. Until we realize that it is really the human race, including me/us, rather than a few historical figures in first century Palestine, who crucified Jesus we do not yet “get it.” Until we realize that the reason for his execution is anthropological, theological, soteriological, rather than merely regionally political or religious, and that those factors permeate the experience of the whole human race, we have not begun to plumb the real meaning of the paschal mystery or our own implication in it.

Jesus’ prophetic ministry of word and work was not merely a threat to the particular domination systems of Rome and Jerusalem. It was a fundamental subversion of domination itself as the demonic structure operative in human history. (Wow. I am almost speechless. Where is sin mentioned here? If any "demonic structure" exists, it is the one that holds mankind in the bondage of sin. If there is any domination, it is the Original Sin born in the Garden of Eden when the devil convinced Eve that she didn't need God and could figure out life without Him. The domination of the flesh is the most cunning type of domination and the devil excels at encouraging it.) The incarnation was God’s revelation in Jesus that God is not a supreme power controlling humanity through fear of damnation or extinction, (Does not the justice of God have a place within our faith?) nor the legitimator of human domination systems, (What exactly is she talking about? What is a "human domination system?" Political ideology? Or the Catholic Church?) but One who has chosen loving solidarity unto death with us to free us from all fear and bring us into the “liberty of the children of God.”

In this new creation those who held power, Rome and Jerusalem, males and masters, strong and rich, were finished. (If that's not a clear indictment of the Vatican, I don't know what is.) This is why he had to be killed. The historical reasons were real. But they were the local, even surface, manifestation of the deeper reason which involved the re-orientation of the entirety of human history. (Hoo, boy. Nothing said here about the punitive demand of sin. Nothing said about man being unable to save himself and never being able to meet the requirements for absolution. Redemption through the sacrificial blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the sacrifice of our Blessed Mother, seem to have no place within this perspective.)

Analogously, it is not very complicated, or illuminating, to figure out that women’s religious Life is being used as a symbolic scapegoat in the power struggle in the contemporary church between the promoters of the renewal initiated by Vatican II and a program of tridentine restoration. (Guess she's referring to the Traditional Latin Mass. Oh, the humanity!) Nor is it difficult to identify who have vested interests in the outcome of that struggle. (This is not to suggest that the stakes in this struggle are not very high or that we should be naïve about the extent of damage that could result.) (Want to know who will benefit from the outcome? The future of our Bride, the Church of Jesus Christ. Our children will benefit when they are blessed to have women religious who love the Church, support the Magisterium, and yes, submit to the high calling of being Catholic. Praise God.)

As empire and temple were threatened by the growing sense of empowerment among the oppressed in Palestine, so the absolutist power structure of the institutional church is threatened by the growing consciousness of the People of God of their identity and mission as the Body of Christ. As Jesus was an agent of empowerment (I must have missed this title in the Bible. I keep thinking of Him as being my Lord and Messiah.) who had to be eliminated before he “stirred up the people” and brought down the wrath of the empire on the nation, so those in the church, lay leaders, pastors, bishops, or others -- but especially sisters -- who are fostering the conciliar renewal must be brought under control lest the “crisis” Cardinal Rodé has named explode and bring about a radical claiming of their identity as the People of God and their mission to and in solidarity with the world God so loved.

But why the sisters? We must not overlook the crushing of lay initiatives, the banning of progressive bishops from traditionalist bishops’ dioceses, the brandishing of excommunications, refusal of the sacraments or Christian burial, and public condemnations of Catholic politicians and theologians, etc. as we examine the investigation of Religious. (This really goes beyond the pale. Who is she kidding? I think it's the other way around. There has been a systematic purging from seminaries, dioceses, and Catholic institutions of traditional Catholics and it's been going on for decades. I have heard of Catholic instructors being fired from their positions at a Catholic school for being pro-life or attending the Traditional Latin Mass.) This is not a historically unique occurrence and Religious women are not alone as its objects.

But sisters are a particularly important target for several reasons. First, their sheer numbers and influence. (which Deo Gratias, are waning...) Women religious are not only people who are voluntarily engaged in the life they lead because they are passionately committed to its spiritual and ministerial goals and to Jesus Christ who called them to this life. They are also the largest, best organized, most geographically ubiquitous, most ministerially diversified, and therefore probably most effective promoters of the vision of Vatican II. In some eyes, of course, this means that, as so many lay Catholics have testified, religious are the greatest source of hope for the contemporary church. In other eyes, this means that they are the most serious danger to the “real (that is, pre-conciliar) Church” which these people are trying to restore.

The rest of the article expresses the same whine: Vatican II meant we can do what we want. Big, Bad Rome won't let us become priests. Yada, yada, yada.

The bottom line is that liberalism's lie has been exposed. The interpretation of Vatican II by these "dissenters" has done more harm than good. Their communities are dying out and at least one generation left the Catholic Church over their divisive bickering and weak spiritual formation. But things are changing. How ironic that those who heralded the changes of Vatican II with a sharp "get over it" to the faithful who questioned it, are now resisting change because it wears a biretta.

I know, Sister. Change is hard.


Adrienne said...

Well, ok then! You need to tell us what you really think. Don't be shy. Just speak up!!

Good comments you made!

Mary Rose said...

LOL, Adrienne, I feel you and I are cut from the same cloth!

Every time I read something from a "woman religious" who is bashing the Vatican for doing the investigation, I am compelled to respond. I feel a mixture of anger and sadness. Anger that the enemy of our souls has so successfully duped so many women and sad that they can't love and trust the Magisterium. The consequences have affected many, many people.

Janny said...

I cannot imagine how in the world this woman was allowed to put so many unsubstantiated lies and misrepresentations of plain doctrine (not to mention Scripture) in print. National Catholic Reporter isn't Catholic in any meaningful sense of the word, and they above all people know it; but the "reporter" part of their masthead should have demanded that at the very least this woman have some documentation, some direct Scripture scholarship, and some chapter-and-verse citations to back up her off-the-wall Marxist nonsense. Jesus was killed because he was a power threat to Rome? Since WHEN? Does her Bible not have the lines in from Pilate, refusing to execute the man under Roman law because "he has done nothing wrong"? If Jesus were truly being put to death because he represented a power struggle that the peasants were going to mount against Rome, wouldn't Pilate have been the FIRST to jump all over that opportunity?

Or doesn't her Bible have anything in it about "My kingdom is not of this world," either?

Just when I think pure empty-headed CINO idiocy can go no further, National Catholic Reporter proves me wrong. Unfortunately.

God help us all. And especially, God help the poor souls reading this tripe and thinking it represents clarity of either Catholic faith, religious thought, or the sincere obedience to which these sisters supposedly pledged themselves when they took their vows....

The only hope we have for people like this is prayer for them. Jesus was familiar with people like this when he walked the earth; if they think an mere Vatican inquiry is abuse, they've clearly forgotten the passage about millstones and the bottom of the sea.


P.S. Don't get too out of joint over someone failing to capitalize the divine pronouns. The Vatican itself doesn't even do THAT.

Al said...

Reading what she wrote has left my head spinning. Sadly, she really believes what she wrote, off base as it is. She is so out there that, IMHO, she should be locked up in a padded cell. Not surprized that it came from the Non-Catholic Reporter.

She is a part of the modern equivalent of Arianism. & just like the Arians, she is going to end up on the losing side.

Shirley said...

Defrock 'em! (Can women be defrocked? Well, de-habit them -oh, wait, they already did that themselves!) I have long said that liberal women are the reason we have so much crap going on in the NO parishes, -those artsy slogan banners on the lectern make me shudder- and this proves it. Give Pope Benedict a bigger scalpel, please.

Paul Nichols said...

Hi Mary,

I posted a cartoon on my cartoon blog to go along with highlighting your post here.

Excellent commentary. They're just so offended by it all! Poor things!

Mary Rose said...

Paul, thank you! Your cartoon is a hoot! For those unfamiliar with Paul's blog, Catholic Cartoon Blog, here's the link:

Me thiinks they doth protest too much

Can't help but chuckle at the image of the woman, who looks a mannish. ;-)

Anthony said...

Thank God our oldest is taught by Filippini Nuns. (Our 2 year old will be as well.)As a child I was surrounded by nuns who were SSND and Mercy Sisters two orders which definitely veered left. Funny thing, not one of those nuns remains in their respective orders now.

Blah, blah, blah, oppressive male patriarchy, blah blah blah, enneagram, blah blah blah, spirit of vatican II, blah blah blah,womyn's ordination, blah blah blah, female godhead, blah blah their lack of fruit shall you know them and there are some pretty barren trees among the LCWR