Set phasers on meh.
Were you surprised by the news that the Vatican planned to install a delegate with sweeping authority over more than 80 percent of American women religious? Non-nun, non-Catholic Get Religion blogger Mollie Ziegler certainly wasn’t. She saw this thing coming a mile away. What did surprise her, apparently, was the series of headlines explaining that nuns were “stunned” by the Vatican’s decision. She even collected a bunch of them to help you understand:
How about the Sydney Morning Herald: “Nuns left stunned by Vatican rebuke for ‘radical feminist’ tendencies” and Chicago Tribune/Reuters: “Catholic nuns group ‘stunned’ by Vatican slap” and Press Herald: “Nuns group ‘stunned’ by Vatican order for overhaul?” and MSNBC: “Catholic nuns group ‘stunned’ by Vatican scolding for ‘radical feminist’ ideas” and Bangor Daily News: “American nuns stunned by Vatican crackdown.” And that doesn’t count the stories that merely mentioned up high that the nuns were “stunned,” such as this one by the Los Angeles Times.
Sure, a Washington Post article has the president of the Sisters of Mercy saying that her nuns are “stunned.” But Ziegler dismisses it: “There is no doubt that this is the media response that some nuns in the LCWR are going with.” Media response. That sounds a lot like “talking point,” doesn’t it?
Given Ziegler’s familiarity with “the theological drift on display among some women religious,” those quotes won’t do. She needs more “specifics.” Maybe I can help.
Are they saying they didn’t know the Vatican was concerned?
No. They were made fully aware that Rome was conducting two investigations: one on their “quality of life” and another on matters related to doctrine.
That people had reported many concerns about the speakers at various conferences?
Well, now I need specifics. Which people? U.S. bishops? Curial officials? And what concerns?
Are they saying they didn’t realize they’d been silent about sanctity of life issues?
No. Mainly because they haven’t been.
Are they saying this is the first they heard about any theological disagreements between the “moving beyond the church, even beyond Jesus” folks and the Vatican folks?
This presumes that “moving beyond the church, even beyond Jesus” has been endorsed by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. As Mollie Wilson O’Reilly has shown, that’s hogwash.
Ziegler takes issue with that Post story for claiming that “the Vatican report didn’t focus on public positions” taken by members of LCWR. She quotes the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s report:
The documentation reveals that, while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States. Further, issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.
After which Ziegler writes:
If the group took a public position of silence on important church teachings regarding abortion and euthanasia and family life and human sexuality and so on, and if they were called out specifically for that public position of silence, wouldn’t you say that the Vatican report did focus on the public positions the women took rather than their private conversations and letters?
No, I wouldn’t. Because the “public positions” referred to in the document follows a “moreover.” Leaving aside the question of whether “a public position of silence” is a genuine concept, isn’t it clear that the “public positions” refers to the USCCB’s analysis of, say, the Affordable Care Act and the contraception mandate? Ziegler even mentioned that dispute in a previous post, so it’s odd that she doesn’t see the CDF’s meaning here.
But back to Ziegler’s question: Of course LCWR sisters know their relationship with the hierarchy hasn’t exactly been rainbows and butterflies. That’s why, as Mollie noted, Sr. Brink, in her much-maligned address to a 2007 LCWR conference, endorsed reconciliation as “my choice, because it is also my church.” You won’t find that in the CDF statement. Or this:
If there is to be a future for women religious that upholds our dignity as reflections of the divine equal to that of our brothers, respects our baptismal promises, and honors our commitment to the Mission of Jesus, we must first be reconciled with the institutional Church.
These words [of invitation to reconciliation] must first begin with the address, “My brother bishops…” Until we as congregations of women religious initiate a process of reconciliation with our ecclesiastical brothers, we cannot hope to have much of an impact elsewhere.
Brother bishops. Commitment to the mission of Jesus. Reconciliation with the institutional church. Radical feminists are terrifying, aren’t they?
Why should 90 percent of American women religious be stunned by the CDF’s statement? Maybe because something like this has never happened before. Maybe because installing a bishop with wide-ranging authority over LCWR sisters’ democratically elected leaders was not the only option available to the Vatican. Because it’s, you know, the Vatican. Instead, Rome put them into receivership. No one should be surprised by the sisters’ response. Least of all those who purport to get religion.