Shall We Give Up on Rome?

June 18, 2012 at 11:32 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments
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Since I became a feminist in the early 1970s, non-Catholics have been asking me the same question: “If you want women ordained, why don’t you just become an Episcopalian?” Or “You know Rome is never going to change. Why not just quit?”

I’ll spare you my responses, which have to do with my six Famine Irish great-grandparents turning over in their graves, and the fact that when I fall down and skin my knee (or break both wrists!), I say “Jesus, Mary and Joseph.”

But now it’s practicing Catholics who are raising this question, and with increasing frequency. First there was a nationally recognized nun (not Sister Joan Chittister),  who didn’t say it’s time to leave, but that it may be time for US women’s religious congregations to give up their canonical status as the Los Angeles Immaculate Heart Community did after Cardinal McIntyre kicked the shit out of them in the late 1960s. Next a local Catholic sister in leadership in her congregation suggested it’s time to separate from Rome and form an American Catholic church. I wasn’t exactly shocked by what she said, but I certainly took notice; this woman is a classic, law-abiding nun, somebody who has spent her life working her butt off for her congregation and the church.

But now the cat is really out of the bag, in an article in today’s New York Times about “The Rottweiler’s Rottweiler,” Bill Donohue, the head of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. I seriously doubt that the author of the article (and former executive editor of the Times), Bill Keller, is a practicing Catholic, but he admits to a level of disagreement with Donohue that I and many of my Vatican II Catholic friends share. Keller is amazed, then, to find himself agreeing with Donohue when he says that the solution to the massive conflicts roiling the American church is for people like the nuns and me to accede to the wishes of the chief rottweiler, Pope Benedict XVI, and go away. Citing the positive example of Spiritus Christi “Catholic, not Roman Catholic” Church in Rochester, NY, Keller writes:

“Much as I wish I could encourage the discontented, the Catholics of open minds and open hearts, to stay put and fight the good fight, this is a lost cause. Donohue is right. Summon your fortitude, and just go. If you are not getting the spiritual sustenance you need, if you are uneasy being part of an institution out of step with your conscience — then go. The restive nuns who are planning a field trip to Rome for a bit of dialogue? Be assured, unless you plan to grovel, no one will be listening. Sisters, just go. Bill Donohue will hold the door for you.”

I can hardly fault Keller for raising the question that many other US Catholics have raised since the crack-down on Catholic Sisters began. Though as for his suggestion that perhaps Cardinal Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, will agree to pay off the departing sisters as he paid pedophile priests to disappear when he was the archbishop of Milwaukee, I have a different idea. Women’s religious congregations should get themselves lawyers with expertise is disaggregating their savings and property from the institutional church pronto. Some have already done so.

So what do you think? Is this the direction the huge number of American Catholics who support marriage equality, the right of all women to reproductive health care, and the election of political candidates who won’t eviscerate the social safety net, should follow–to give up on the Vatican and its episcopal enforcers? Would we be losing something here, or gaining a whole lot?

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