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Fr. Jim Martin, SJ, on the Situation of American Sisters

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Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.



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Sent to me by a regular contributor to these posting. He can claim credit if he wishes:

That is a wonderful little video. It would do no harm, I'd hope, to forward it on to the right folks at the Vatican (some of whom, as we've learned, are American prelates) as a little reminder of how much good the sisters have accomplished.FWIW - I was on retreat this past weekend. The leaders were two religious sisters. They were terrific, and the weekend was fruitful. The church is blessed to have religious women and men who devote themselves to the well-being of the church.'s quite possible that the picture that Fr. Martin paints of women religious is perfectly true - and the picture that the CDF's doctrinal assessment paints of the LCWR is also true.

I have not rad the CDF document entirely, so I don't know if Jim's post could be true. However, from what I have seen, I think much is in the minds of the observers and that it then becomes something else. And I think there are good grounds to suspect that "something else" from the CDF point of view that would be more disposed to criticism rather than collaboration. I wonder if the LCWR will ask for a real dialogue and detailed transcript of the the deliberations so that comments may be dealt with. Judging from the way that critism was made of "Quest for the Living God," I don't expect much of the hierarchy or Vatican in terms of real dialogue or debate.

It never occurred to me that anyone would see anything other than that "the doctrinal assessment" was a witch hunt on the part of the American heirarchy and the CDF designed to result in the degradation of some uppity women. Father Martin is pretty savvy so I guess his assessment on the need to remind American Catholics that they owe an enormus debt to these women religious is correct.I despair for the American church.

This is a wonderful post that reflects letters that were in our local papers also. Conservative or liberal or not caring, so many folks have spoken to me about "what they're doing to the nuns."One small correction -- Jean Donovan was Maryknoll traned lay worker with the Diocese of Cleveland Mission Team when was martyred with fellow team member, Sr, Dorothy Kazel.To see Jean's photo with her "class" at the first Maryknoll lay missioneer program is always striking -- and so different from other representations of her... I think it was so apprpriate to mention her in this context.

An excellent and very touching tribute. I so much appreciated the names and pictures of the women. Humanizing the sisters, making them out to be the real people they are rather than a faceless collective, is a move that is important and appropriate. I don't agree with Jim Pauwels that both this video and the doctrinal assessment can be true. One of them is a distortion that conceals the truth rather than reveals it. One quibble. I think Fr. Martin represented Evangelii Nuntiandi as a document directed to religious, and that is not correct. Religious were no doubt inspired by it, but it's not specifically written to them.

Hi, Rita, perhaps he meant Evangelica Testificatio - On the Renewal of Religious Life According to the Teaching of the Second Vatican Council.

How could anyone argue with James Martin's sentiments? I dare say that all of our lives have been touched in one way or another, and made better in the process, by the witness and service of these good women.However, I could detect some reservations in Martin's testimony. If I heard correctly, he expressed that the Vatican investigation questioning the "doctrinal" authenticity of American sisters had shaken American sisters who have long labored in the vineyard - But, he didn't tell us the effect on himself!Martin very carefully parsed his words not to tell us how he FELT about the Vatican's investigation. While I would conclude that Martin is sympathetic to American sisters, he stops short of going on record with his own personal opinion about the rightness or wrongness of the Vatican's investigation and allegations.Is Martin hedging his bets? Is Martin trying to align himself with the sisters but hoping to duck the consequences of bucking his ecclesial superiors? Is Martin overwhelmed and intimidated by the very political hegemony of the hierarchs over the church that has targeted American religious women?Face it, if the Vatican gets away with its attack on aging American religious women, all of our voices will be diminished.

Jim Jenkins: Face it, Pope Benedict and Cardinal Verada and the others in the CDF will get away with their attack, as you put it, on the umbrella group known as the LCWR, because the pope and the CDF hold all the power. In the end, they will prevail.However, I have to point out to you that the criticisms in the CDF critique of the LCWR are small potatoes.Now, the last time I said that, I then went on to make a characterization of the pope and the CDF. It was my most charitable characterization of those fellows.Nevertheless, Grant Gallicho, the super-sensitive censor of dotCommonweal, deleted my characterization, just as he deleted an earlier message in which I had candidly characterized the Catholic bishops.So I have figured out that I should not characterize those fellows in the Vatican for writing a critique in which their criticisms are small potatoes.But here is the question I'd like you to consider about fellows who write criticisms that are small potatoes: Would you use Aristotle's term "greatness of soul" to characterize fellows in the Vatican who write criticisms that are small potatoes?I wouldn't.

Now, now, Thomas Farrell. I'm sure that Mr. GG is uniquely suited, maybe even gifted, for the role he plays here at dotCommonweal.If you questions were for me, I'd be glad to answer them. But, I have to admit I don't really understand them. Aristotelian terminology is not my forte!Try again, and I'll give it my best shot.

Jim Jenkins: For the sake of discussion, let say that you agree with me that the CDF's criticisms are small potatoes.So here's my basic question: How would you characterize fellows in the Vatican who write criticisms that are small potatoes?I characterized them with a well-known two-word expression in English that happens to begin with the word "small" but Grant Gallicho deleted my expression.To put the CDF critique of the LCWR in a larger context, Joseph Ratzinger. before he became Pope Benedict XVI, was the head of the CDF. Under Ratzinger, the CDF, with the approval of Pope John-Paul II, issued a number of critiques and made a number of interventions. Some of the issues involved in those critiques and interventions did not strike me as being as small as the criticisms in the CDF critique of the LCWR.As is well known now, the Vatican's timing in releasing the CDF's critique of the LCWR was terrible, because the CDF critique followed a bunch of stuff in the news that had gotten labelled as the war of women. So the Vatican's timing of the release of the CDF's critique created a PR disaster for the Vatican.

Yes, a few corrections: Jean Donovan was a Maryknoll-trained missioner working with the Diocese of Cleveland. I referred to her as a Maryknoll lay worker as a shorthand way of expressing her ties with the MMs. And according to several sisters I spoke with before I recorded that video, besides "Perfectae Caritatis," there were several documents (and papal letters) that impelled them to "go out." One was "Evangelii Nuntiandi," in terms of its call to work with the poor. The other was "Evangelii Testificatio," which spoke more explicitly about reforming religious orders. I could have saved both but I figured that "Nuntiandi" was more well known. Also, I'm not "hedging" anything: the video was meant to be a word of support and gratitude to sisters who are feeling saddened. As I said on the video, no matter what you think of the CDF document, you cannot deny the fact that many sisters have been saddened and were, in the LCWR's words "stunned."

My take, for what it's worth:Pope Benedict XVI is smitten with the U.S. bishops (Look at appointments Levada and Burke). They have a mutual admiration society and have been for years. In the late 90's I heard a very right wing Catholic swear that Ratzinger would be the next pope. We all laughed at him. I think the pope listens to every word out of the USCCB's mouth.Mark my words. I will very humbly accept any criticism of my opinion.

Fr. Martin - thank you for putting in a good word for the sisters. Perhaps it will "go viral" and the retirement fund will benefit.

Thanks, Fr. Jim, for the clarification... and encouragement for us all to put our money where our appeciation is!

Must be International Women's Month at the Vatican or something. Apparently, the US Bishops are also going after the Girl Scouts.

1)A very nice video -Fr. Martin is an excellent voice of moderation and sense!2)I think many of us know many unnamed siters, not martyrs, who perservered or continue to in superb service and witnes, despite "doctrinal" investigation.3) There are many w post VII left the convent who also have carried on wonderful service in discerning their lives -that also was part of the VII message.4)We've already discussed the roots of the LWCR asessment in several american bishops, including the (continually infamous) bernard Law. and I think consensus is that Rome wishes to bring into doctrinal purity (no dissent from definitive and more -support for all episcopal initiatives, well or poorly conceived) all it exercises control pver.5) Looking at the issue through the frame of liberal/conservative approaches to doctrine will provide the usual responses.6)the real dynamic here is power to "bring into line" - a thematic operative on many other areas as in Ireland, sex abuse issues, etc.7) I tend to think tne USCCB and CDF views are so encapsulated that real dialogue will not be promoted.

@ Thomas Farrell:When contemplating, in a general sense, the Vatican hierarchs, there are many metaphors for "smallness" that come to mind.I am more familiar with the present head of the CDF [a.k.a., The Holy Office of the Inquisition], William Levada, having worked with him during his SF emanation. Levada was a protege of Ratzinger at the CDF before he was dispatched to the provinces to earn his pastoral "cred" in anticipation of his present high perch in the Vatican aviary.It would seem that Levada is only doing the same "superlative" job for B16 that Ratzinger did for JP2: doing his boss's biding swatting away at doctrinal mirages while assiduously protecting his boss's back.Given that the B16 is leading the church over the cliff, in free-fall, into the abyss, maybe Levada proves that size really does matter, even by the puny standards of the Vatican.

The attack on the Girl Scouts was inevitable. This year is their 100th anniversary. What better time for bishops to crack down on an organization that "builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place"?I was a member of the Girl Scout troop in our parish and received my Marian Award from Bishop Edwin V. O'Hara. Will the anti-girl bishops put an end to Marian Awards? It's a good time for Catholic women who were Girl Scouts to join the Girl Scouts Alumnae Association: (I posted a beautiful Girl Scout holy card from days of yore on my web site: )

As I said, James Martin expressed the feelings of most American Catholics regarding the Vatican's attack on religious women.As my sainted sixth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Adelaide, would often reminds us after our daily reading from the Lives of the Saints: "Christianity is not for sissies!"Perhaps, given the circumstances, our support for American religious women at this time needs to be more unambiguous, more full-throated, and frankly - if I can be so bold, more "Jesuit."Face it, if the Vatican gets away with this attack on aging American religious women, all of our voices will be diminished. It's long past time American Catholics stand our ground.Also, Im not hedging anything: the video was meant to be a word of support and gratitude to sisters who are feeling saddened. As I said on the video, no matter what you think of the CDF document, you cannot deny the fact that many sisters have been saddened and were, in the LCWRs words stunned.

Gerelyn- I'm a Brownie Leader. Our troop's service projects this past year included entertainment at a fundraiser for the parochial school most of the girls attend, as well as participation in an Archdiocesan-sponsored canned food drive for local soup kitchens and food pantries. The Brownies earned the "My Promise, My Faith" pin this year by inviting a woman who is the Director of Campus Ministries at a local Catholic college to come talk about how the Girl Scout Law shapes her daily life. She spoke about how a Girl Scout is "honest and fair" and discussed her work promoting the Fair Trade programs of Catholic Relief Services. And I liked the Holy Card. Is there some way I can reproduce it for my Brownie Troop?

GerelynYou have a cool web site. I like the lilies of the valley. They remind me of my First Communion. We boys all had to wear a boutonnire of them.

Irene, I sent it to you. Hope it comes out okay. (You can also right click on the page and copy it.)---Thanks, Alan. (Ever see another picture of a saint with a cigarette in his hand?) (I have to get out my First Communion picture and see if the boys wore boutonnires. I know the pages wore plumes in their satin berets. And we sang Veni Domine Jesu.) ---I wonder if this attack on the Girl Scouts will be the last straw for anyone.

Regarding the Girl Scouts and the Bishops: here is some additional info.The ruckus, such as it is, apparently was started by an organization called C-FAM (the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute). C-FAM's contention seems to be that the Girl Scouts and Planned Parenthood are in cahoots and have been for some time. For anyone interested, here is a C-FAM link with C-FAM's point of view: is also an allegation that an international federation of girls' groups called WAGGGS (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts), to which the Girl Scouts USA belong, has funded emergency contraception in the developing world.The modern world being what it is, apparently word started flying around in cyberspace about this alleged Planned Parenthood alliance and the WAGGGS issue, and eventually it reached the ears of the bishops. The USCCB asked the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM) to look into it; apparently the Girl Scouts are a member organization of this federation. NFCYM talked to the Girl Scouts. This document provides some background and the outcome of that conversation. also released an updated statement earlier this year. who are interested can judge for themselves whether words that have been used in comments such as "attack" "crack down" and "going after" accurately describe what is going on.

That was a wonderful and well deserved tribute to the religious of America and the world. Sad to say, Bob Nunz summed it up perfectly. "it's about the power to bring everyone in line." This is the modus operandi of the bishops in power. It's very sad.

WAGGS: Imho, the bishops' decision to join the other Republicans' assault on the Girl Scouts was inevitable. Bob Morris led the way, and the bishops joined the fray. Interesting how similar his language about Girl Scouts is to theirs about Women Religious.Michelle Obama is Honorary President of the Girl Scouts. (Reason enough?) (Will Republican First Ladies who served as Honorary Presidents of the GSUSA be denounced? Lou Hoover was the actual president of the organization.) 800,000 leads to information about why the extreme right is attacking the Girl Scouts. (Rachel Maddow's is interesting, imho, as are HuffPo's and Slate's.)

RE: Scouting. One of the things that fueled the Bishops' "concerns" about the Girl Scouts was a column by Bishop James Conley last Summer in the Denver Catholic Register urging parents to remain alert that scouting won't make their daughters more receptive to a pro-choice agenda. I believe he is the one that was first critical of WAGGGS, the International Scouting Organization and started the conspiracy theory that pro-choice organizations have forged linkages with the scouting movement. Here's the article:

If you Google "bishops attack girl scouts", nearly 14 million leads come up.But if you Google "bishops attack BOY scouts", not a single (relevant) one comes up.I wonder why.

I would guess that this is the WAGGGS web page that has made various folks' hair stand up on end. page provides a bit more context to that seemingly-incriminating page: a WAGGGS delegation attended the 54th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which is, according to its web site, "a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). " page linked directly above indicates that the theme of this 54th session was the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, which was controversial in some Catholic circles for its seeming endorsement of abortion and contraception. Presumably in response to criticism of WAGGGS' participation in this event, WAGGGS saw fit to issue this rather unclarifying statement, the intent of which may or may not be to state that WAGGGS is not all about the bad things of which it stands accused. - the first link that I've provided in this comment illustrates that there was some level of complicity on the part of WAGGGS, and their media release, whatever it purports to say, doesn't deny it.Whether that complicity is a major or minor thing, and whether it is a one-time occurrence or indicative of more systematic entanglement, I couldn't say. Based on what I've seen so far, I'd vote for "minor" and "one-time occurrence".

Irene - thanks for that link to the Bishop Conley article. I'm pretty skeptical of his trickle-down theory. This bit seems more correct: "Youth ministers are quick to note that Scoutings structure allows for a lot of autonomy. ... Each troop leader decides what members see. "My girls never advanced beyond Brownies in the troop at our local Catholic school. My wife was one of the den leaders for a time. I'm quite certain that contraception and such never trickled down to them. My recollection is that they engaged in such controversial activities as selling cookies, doing activities to help the school and parish, and running around and giggling and screaming a lot. One memorable outing involved a trip to a farm that included a pond stocked with fish. All of the girls wanted to fish but none wanted to bait their hooks, so the poor den moms had to put night crawlers on the hooks.

If you Google bishops attack girl scouts, nearly 14 million leads come up.But if you Google girl scouts attack bishops, only 14,000 leads come up.

Since I've always worked for non-profits, I've come across many, many religious sisters, all of whom were uniformly impressive and sometimes heroic.When I buzzed through the Peace Corps for 2 years in the 80s, I saw the incredible dedication of Sr. Claire, a Marist Missionary Sister, who was a health worker in Rosso, Mauritania for 15 years. She worked under incredibly difficult conditions working in health clinics with minimal supplies and going out to the villages to immunize and care for sick infants and children. It turns out that, at least as of last Summer, she is still working, though stateside. (Sr. Claire is at 17.05).And when I came home and started organizing in the Bronx, I met Sister Pat Dillon, rjm, who after doing community organizing for 25 years, decided she needed a challenge and went to work with the very poor in Haiti. She went there in the late 90s and is still there today. I probably owe special thanks to Sister Francesca Onley, CSFN, President of Holy Family University in Philly. We were not what you could call buddies, but when Sr Francesca was principal of Nazareth Academy and I was the most disappointing scholarship student to have ever passed through its doors, Sr. Francesca chose NOT to throw me out, for which I am grateful to this day.And my favorite sister of all time was Sister Mary Cephas, IHM, who died many years ago. Sister Cephas was my 5th Grade teacher at St Edmond School in S. Philly and she was the best teacher I ever had.

Irene, thanks for that comment. It's gotten me to reflect on the impact that certain sisters have had on my life, too.

Did the USCCB cover its sign in order to hide the location of the protest in favor of the Sisters?

It's been noted that it would be nice if male religious orders spoke out for the Sisters too,Of course, the voice of Fr. Martin is pretty powerful from the SJ community.

And on line this morning, an open letter to Cardinal Dolan (abd uSCCB by extension) from a numver of ex nuns much involved in good works with rea; quesdtions about the action.I still see not much hope, as all the recent posts here show the continuing divide in our Church growing despite calls for new evangelization (which is coupled with a clear voice that docrinal purity is what really counts.)I keep thinking the future Church's leaders will just be litlte Dolans, Burkes, gGeorge, Olmstead, Morlinos,Jenkys and religious and laity who don't fall in line be damned!Very sad is right!

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