Mollie Wilson O'Reilly
Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.
By this author
Since Barack Obama first ran for president, conservatives have often complained of feeling unable to criticize him without being accused of racism. Obviously not all criticism of Obama is racially motivated. But a lot of it has been, plainly and shamelessly so, and that fact is important to recall as we enter a new presidential campaign marked by overt appeals to racial suspicion and resentment.
I woke up this morning to the very welcome news that Pope Francis has revised the Holy Thursday rite to include women as well as men in the ritual of the washing of the feet. Or, as the Vatican Radio headline so wonderfully puts it: "Pope changes Holy Thursday decree to include all people of God."
Pope Francis kicked off the Jubilee Year of Mercy on December 8 with the opening of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s. I started my own observance a week later with the series finale of HBO’s brilliant black comedy Getting On.
A high-school student on his way home, trying to get through the wall of people on the sidewalk, stopped to ask: “What is this line for?” Around me, teens wearing “Diocese of Albany” name tags scoffed. “The pope, duh,” they said to each other. “Don’t people watch the news?”
It can be hard to get my almost-four-year-old son to answer a direct question—like “What happened at school today?” or “Why is your brother crying?” or “How did all this water end up on the floor?”—but when he is in the mood to share, he is full of information. His confident pronouncements are a window into his preschool mind, one I’m glad to have. They make me smile. But they can also make me sweat.
Now that hostilities have ceased between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, it is hard to resist the temptation to declare a winner. Certainly, the conclusion of the whole unfortunate episode, with this week’s release of a brief and anodyne “joint final report” and follow-up meeting between LCWR leadership and the pope, has been as positive an ending, from the sisters’ perspective, as anyone could have hoped for. Some credibility was salvaged for the CDF, as (and, I would argue, because) the sisters held their ground on their commitment to collaborative leadership and mutually respectful dialogue. But nobody really won—no one could have won a conflict that never should have happened this way to begin with, one that exposed real fault lines in the church relating to sex and power and the relationship between the two and ended without directly addressing, much less repairing them.
The first thing that strikes me about the “final report” released last week is that it is a “Joint Final Report.” The whole thing started with the CDF attempting to bring the allegedly out-of-line nuns to heel with an exercise of authority whose origins were muddled and unexplained. It was hard to imagine back when Cardinal Levada was charging the LCWR – a stand-in, it seemed, for various individuals and communities among its member organizations, who went mostly unnamed in the CDF’s complaints – with being soft on doctrine and derelict in supporting bishops’ initiatives and priorities that the whole episode would end with anything other than another authoritative “assessment” from the Vatican. One could only hope the CDF’s conclusion would be a little more informed about what the LCWR actually is and does and a little less hostile to the work sisters do and the faith that informs the choices they make. But enter Pope Francis – and Cardinal Gerhard Müller as the new head of the CDF, and Archbishop Peter Sartain to take charge of the CDF’s reform mandate – and, praise the Lord, we find ourselves ending with a collaborative statement signed by both bishops and nuns, as though they had been pleasantly investigating each other all along.
The statement, it seems clear to me, is designed to allow both sides to save face. It describes various measures being undertaken by the LCWR, but few radical changes – the revision of the LCWR’s statues was already underway before the investigation began, and the promises that speakers and publications will be responsibly vetted seem to address the CDF’s broad concerns while not necessarily requiring any departure from the LCWR’s current procedures. The most embarrassing parts of the CDF’s assessment, meanwhile, are ignored. There is no response to the expression of concern that “feminism” might be taking root among women religious. There is no reference to the accusation that the sisters have been “silent on the right to life” or have not spent enough time and effort on supporting their bishops’ priorities. And the whole thing concludes with a kind of mission statement that reads more like a commendation than an admission of fault or a concession of defeat:
Fiction fans, you may remember Liam Callanan's short story "Exhibit A," which we had the good fortune -- and good taste -- to publish in Commonweal last summer.
Happy news from my post at large, here in the wilds of Westchester: our third son, Eamon Joseph, was born just after midnight on March 10, weighing nine pounds, five ounces -- a new family record. His older brothers welcomed him home with enthusiasm and much noise. We are all healthy and happy and grateful for your prayers and well-wishes.
Yesterday, the latest issue of Commonweal arrived at my door, and it startled me to realize that I hadn’t seen the cover before that moment. I was getting my first look at it like any other subscriber would. It was a reminder that I am now, officially and wistfully, an editor “at large.”
I’ve been working part-time in the Commonweal offices since my first child was born in 2011, and thriving on the balance of work and family I’m lucky enough to have carved out for myself thanks to a flexible employer and an extremely supportive husband (not to mention invaluable help from my in-laws and some other dedicated babysitters and friends). But—Pope Francis’s remarks about Catholics’ obligations vis-à-vis rabbits having come too late to be any help to me—I am due in a few weeks to give birth to my third child, and with three kids under four I have to admit I’ve met my match, at least for the short term.
So, I am now officially an associate editor “at large,” maintaining a foothold at the magazine I love while focusing on the family that, for now, demands the greater part of my attention and energy (and that, yes, I also love). I like the “at large” title because it makes my status sound exotic and mysterious. It suggests that I am hard to track down, when in fact on any given day I am almost certainly at home—especially these snowy, icy, late-third-trimester days—and that I am pursuing any number of exciting projects, when in reality I am most likely doing laundry.
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