The Vatican and the Nuns

April 17, 2015 at 3:34 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments
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Well, the word is out. The Vatican has ended mandatory supervision of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the umbrella group representing eighty percent of the 59,000 Catholic sisters in the U.S. Such supervision by three U.S.bishops resulted from a long “doctrinal assessment” of the group, begun in 2009, and a hostile report, or mandate, at the end of that investigation in 2012. The report accused the LCWR of entertaining “radical feminist themes” and mandated episcopal supervision of the group until 2017.

Commentators are ecstatic. Jason Berry, the journalist who previously beat the bishops black and blue over clergy sex abuse, declares on the Global Post, “The Nuns Won!” Laurie Goodstein in the New York Times links the end of the doctrinal process to Pope Francis’s call for “broader opportunities” for women in the church; she also quotes a Vatican expert to the effect that the pope’s meeting with four LCWR leaders on April 17 was “about as close to an apology…as the Catholic Church is officially going to render.” And The Boston Globe’s John Allen, a centristwelcomes the development but claims that it was in the cards almost from the outset.

Some of the activist groups supporting the LCWR are a bit more balanced in their responses. The Nun Justice Project, a coalition of progressive groups that organized to stand up for the nuns after the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published its hostile mandate in 2012, issued a statement in response to yesterday’s  joint communication from the LCWR and the Vatican. Like many others, Nun Justice welcomes the resolution but attributes much of it to “the dogged determination of LCWR sister-leaders to persevere in dialogue with those who unjustly maligned them.” They also restate their conviction that the Vatican owes the sisters an apology.

A number of commentators consider this unexpectedly benign conclusion to the lengthy investigation, hostile report, and mandatory supervision to be a function of “the Francis effect.” Yet it’s worth noticing that Francis by no means stopped Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the prefect of the Vatican office that inaugurated the crack-down, from chastising the LCWR a year ago for giving a leadership  award to Sister Elizabeth Johnson. Johnson is the feminist theologian whose book Quest for the Living God had been previously denounced by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Cynic that I am, I suspect this conclusion to the LCWR investigation, described by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston as a public relations”disaster,”  is as much an attempt to cut off at the pass crowds of demonstrators carrying  “Support Our Sisters” signs during Papa Francesco’s upcoming visit as it is an act of mercy.

I admit, it’s hard not to welcome this end to hostilities, no matter what underpins it. But I would urge those celebrating in the streets to bear something in mind. As Benedictine monk Anthony Ruff said with some astonishment after the Vatican trashed his years of work on musical settings when it rejected the International Commission on English in the Liturgy’s translation of the Roman Missal in 2008, “The Catholic Church is an absolute monarchy.” Nobody at any level is accountable to anyone below him (and I use the male pronoun intentionally).

So if the early suspension of the offensive mandatory supervision of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is a result of Francis’s focus on mercy, or because he was once the superior of a province of a religious congregation and thus understands what a tough job leadership is, or if he’s listening to the bishops who support the sisters as his predecessors didn’t–whatever the reason–he’s still seventy-eight years old.  The vast majority of Catholics have absolutely nothing to say about who will succeed him, or what the attitude of said successor toward nuns (or women, or LGBT people, or mercy) will be. All we can do is pray that Papa Francesco lives a long time and appoints a whole lot of merciful bishops and cardinals while he’s still with us.

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Vatican Report on U.S. Sisters

December 16, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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For days now, friends and colleagues have been awaiting with excitement the report on U.S. Catholic sisters that the Vatican Congregation of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) issued this morning. Based on an Apostolic Visitation of active (non-cloistered) congregations of sisters that began in 2008, this report has been anticipated since at least 2012. Hopes were high that it would be positive and appreciative (unlike the separate doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious of 2012) because it was issued under the current pope, not Benedict XVI, who authorized the Visitation.

Most would agree that the outcome is much better than was initially feared. A headline in Crux, in the Boston Globe, reads “Vatican probe ends with an olive branch for American nuns.” The National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report acknowledges the report’s “roundly positive, even laudatory, tone towards (the sisters’) life and work,” while also mentioning several “couched but barbed criticisms” of them. (But the British Guardian calls the report a “mild rebuke.”) A sister of Notre Dame de Namur whom I admire enormously for her decades of relentless social justice advocacy said she would be grateful for a positive report so that sisters could stop worrying and get back to the work they were called to do.

I, too, am grateful that the report is as positive as it is. I am especially moved by the section on finances,  reminding readers of the difficult financial situation of many women’s congregations and that many sisters worked for nothing. God willing, at the end of the report, readers will express their gratitude by getting out their checkbooks. I also appreciate the report’s acknowledgment that the decline in the number of Catholic sisters in recent years was not the result of their secular life-styles, but in part at least, because the huge increase in the number of sisters in the middle of the twentieth century was an historical anomaly.

Nonetheless, I feel the need to make a few points.

First of all, the report describes the visitations as “sister to sister” undertakings. And it is true that a nun, Mother Mary Clare Millea, supervised the entire (massive) effort, and a “core team” of other sisters did the actual work of visiting and interviewing other sisters in their four hundred-some groups across the U.S. It is worth remembering, however, that Mother Mary Clare  reported to the entirely male CICLSAL leadership, and that she herself was part of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), the more conservative organization of U.S. sisters that  split off from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR)in 1992. It would be interesting to know the percentage of “core team” sister/interviewers who also came from congregations in the CMSWR.

I also have real problems with the final  paragraphs of the report, beginning with the  expression of hope that the “feminine genius” of more women, including competent women religious, will be “actively involved in ecclesial dialogue regarding the ‘possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life.'” I will spare you my thoughts about the “feminine genius” and note only that the phrase “actively involved in…dialogue…about the possible role…” is  scandalously indirect and ambivalent. Possible roles?

This paragraph is followed by the statement that the Apostolic Visitation modeled its approach on the Gospel encounter between Mary and Elizabeth, “one a virgin and the other married but barren,” who overcame fear and uncertainty to embrace their roles in God’s plan. Myself, I would have preferred a description of these extremely significant women in light of something besides, or at least along with, their reproductive status. I would have also been grateful if the final paragraph described women, especially women religious, as actually doing something, instead of (or along with) the church celebrating “the great things that God does for them” and Mary herself “constantly contemplating the work of God.”

Some U.S. sisters may object to my focusing on these details; the book about the process, Power of Sisterhoodand the report itself stress the unity that resulted from the Apostolic Visitation; some sisters also express hope for better relations between the LCWR and the CMSWR.

But it’s crucial to recognize that the report actually does nothing to change the governance structure of the Roman Catholic Church. The church is an absolute monarchy, and unlike other monarchies, only men get crowned. If a pope dies, there’s no telling what his successor will do, as some of us learned to our dismay after the deaths of Pope John XXII, and, to some extent, Pope Paul VI. (This is particularly amusing in a religious organization given to saying “As the church has always taught.”) Pope Francis is a big improvement over his two predecessors, particularly because of  his stress on the poor, though the possibility that the church’s teaching on women might actually contribute to their poverty seems to elude him.

All this notwithstanding, Pope Francis is an old man. And if he dies, God knows what position his successor will hold, on women and a lot of other things. The current heads of the  Congregation of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life are much more appreciative of  U.S. Catholic sisters than Cardinal Franc Rodé was. Will their successors be? Until the Catholic church ordains women priests and bishops, appoints them cardinals, and elects them pope, its treatment of Catholic women, including and especially nuns, is at the least unpredictable. As things are, the only role allotted to women by the institutional church is to pray that the pope lives a long time and that the bishops and cardinals he names will be more enlightened on questions of gender and sexuality than he is.

 

The Vatican and the Nuns: Episode 973

May 7, 2014 at 2:04 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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A few weeks back, in my article on Pope Francis and women’s ordination, I told a story about meeting Sister Helen Prejean at an event celebrating the publication of the twentieth anniversary edition of Dead Man Walking. I gave Sister Helen a copy of my book, Sister Trouble: The Vatican, the Bishops, and the NunsShe replied that with the new pope, all of the trouble between the Vatican and American sisters was going to go away.

I had my doubts. As I explain in the central article in Sister Trouble, popes, bishops, and theologians have been attempting to get celibate Christian women under control since just after the Roman persecutions. The history of sisters (women religious) is studded with stories of famous mother foundresses running from one diocese to another to escape the local bishop’s crack-down on their congregations. Some of these women were subsequently excommunicated. Some of them were then, ever more subsequently, canonized.

So when the address by the head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, accusing the U.S. Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) of disobedience, was posted on the Vatican website on Monday, I was sorry, but I was not surprised. Good Pope Francis never retracted the hostile doctrinal assessment against the LCWR issued by Müller’s predecessor, Cardinal William Levada, in 2012. And Pope Benedict XVI had appointed Levada and Müller both. After which Pope Francis made Müller a cardinal.

The two emphases in Müller’s address are that the LCWR had decided to give an award to the nun-theologian Elizabeth Johnson CSJ, whose book, Quest for the Living God was condemned by the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2011, and that they have persisted in publishing material about “Conscious Evolution,” the discourse spearheaded by Barbara Marx Hubbard. In his address, Müller compares Conscious Evolution to Gnosticism.

I plan to write at further length regarding this latest episode of the Vatican and the bishops trying to bring the nuns to heel. At the moment, however, I will put aside the sheer idiocy of Müller resurrecting the pitiful business of the USCCB condemning a book by as orthodox and middle-of-the-road a theologian as Elizabeth Johnson (though it is worth noting that the head of the Committee on Doctrine at the time of the condemnation of Johnson’s book, Rev. Thomas Weinandy, has a reputation for being one nasty, hostile human being). And as for U.S. Catholic sisters integrating “Conscious Evolution” into their ministry and spirituality, has anybody read Teilhard de Chardin or Thomas Berry lately? Teilhard’s works were, in fact, censored by the Vatican, but in 2009 a Vatican statement made all of that seem ridiculous (sort of like canonizing previously excommunicated Mother Foundresses).  As for Berry, by applying his “New Story of Creation” to the Christian faith, he took far greater risks, it seems to me, than Hubbard’s freestanding discourse does.

The real issue between the nuns and the Vatican is gender, plain and simple. However benign Pope Francis may be, he shares, as I have argued, the embarrassingly medieval theology of gender that his predecessors promoted. Indeed, the institutional church has been using control of women and sexuality as a weapon against the modern world since at least the liberal revolutions of 1848. Women–and sexuality–are the only things the popes were able at least to try to keep under control as the separation of church and state, the loss of the Vatican territories, etc., took away their ancient “secular” powers.  Hence the Vatican condemnation of contraception after Vatican II, when the bishops had finally accepted “the modern world.”

Today, in 2014, the Vatican and the bishops can’t even keep the vast majority of Catholic women under control. During the (unfortunately ongoing) uproar over religious freedom and the ACA contraceptives mandate, 97 percent of U.S. Catholic women surveyed reported having used contraceptives at some point. And it’s not just in the U.S.: several years ago, in an on-line chat, an African (Kenyan) Catholic (lay) woman studying for an MA in international relations in Nairobi said to me,”Who are these Catholic bishops, that they think they can tell us women what to do with our sexuality?”

This leaves nobody but the nuns for the bishops and the Vatican to control. According to Pope Francis’s theology of gender, women–but today, really, only nuns–are supposed to exhibit the “feminine genius”—to be warm, sensitive, intuitive, and complementary. Kneel down and kiss the bishops’ feet, that is. But as I argue in a variety of ways in Sister Trouble, the boys made a big mistake. After World War II, they used the sisters’ commitment to obedience to force them to get educated; they did this to avoid making the church look bad if secular counterparts were better qualified than than the sisters were. And the sisters obeyed.

What the men in authority got for their trouble was women like Sister Elizabeth Johnson. But they never give up. Johnson’s book, in my opinion, was condemned, impart at least, because Johnson dared to publish it without an imprimatur, an official statement of permission. And now the idiots in Rome are resurrecting the whole episode, and criticizing some of the smartest women in the history of the church, the LCWR, for not asking permission before publishing material regarding a line of thought that seems fruitful to them.  And they wonder why American Catholic women aren’t rushing into religious life?

Book Tour–Ya’ll Come!

March 20, 2014 at 11:56 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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As you perhaps remember, last October I published Sister Trouble, a collection of my articles about the crackdown on U.S. Catholic sisters by the Vatican and the U.S. Catholic bishops that began in 2009 and culminated in a harsh “doctrinal assessment” of the largest group of Catholic sisters in the country, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, in 2012. The volume also includes several pieces on why Catholic sisters are so important, and a longer essay on the history of male efforts to control celibate women throughout the history of the church. The link to Sister Trouble on Amazon.com is to the right of this post.

Thing is, nothing stays the same for very long. About the time I was completing the Sister Trouble manuscript, Pope Francis got elected. When I gave a copy of Sister Trouble to Sister Helen Prejean at a celebration of the 20th anniversary edition of Dead Man Walking last November, she said “Oh, with the new pope, all that stuff with the Vatican is just going to go away.”

Part of making a publication successful is promoting it, so I am going around giving book talks here in the Northeast this spring. The talks are listed below. But what with the arrival of Pope Francis and the changes he is making in the Catholic church, I’ve expanded the subject of my talk from the recent experiences of U.S. Catholic sisters per se to the larger question of gender and sexuality in Catholicism under Pope Francis. I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and am having great fun putting my thoughts together. And I’m sure the discussion afterward will be lively!! If you’re near Philadelphia, New York City, or North Jersey, I’d love to see you. And if you come, you can get a copy of Sister Trouble without having to pay postage and handling.  ( :

Gender Trouble: Catholic Sisters, Women Priests and LGBTI Catholics in Pope Francis’s “New” Church

Drawing on her new book, Sister Trouble: the Vatican, the Bishops, and the Nuns (Amazon 2103), Marian Ronan, American Catholic studies scholar, writer, and former president of the Women’s Ordination Conference, will discuss the ways in which Catholic teaching on sexuality and gender will, and won’t, change under good Pope Francis. Copies of her book will be available for sale.

Sunday, March 30.  4 -6 PM, St Luke and the Epiphany
 Church, 330 S 13th Street, Philadelphia, PA 

Sunday, April 6. 3-5 PM, 20 Washington Square North, Manhattan, New York City (The sponsors of this event, however, have given it a less incendiary title: “Gender Issues Facing Pope Francis: Catholic Sisters, Women Priests, and LGBT Catholics.”)

Sunday, May 4, 2- 4 PM, St. Mark Lutheran Church, 100 Harter Rd., Morristown, NJ.

My New Book Is Out!

September 30, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments
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Well, my new book, Sister Trouble: The Vatican, the Bishops, and the Nuns, came out on Saturday. It’s available for sale on Amazon.com;  an eBook version will also be available there in a week or so.

And just to whet your appetite, here’s the description. Y’all come!

In April of 2012 the Vatican issued a harsh “doctrinal assessment” of the largest organization of Catholic sisters in the U.S., the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The “assessment” was the culmination of a three-year investigation. Simultaneously, the Vatican had been conducting a visitation of 340 active (non-cloistered) congregations of U.S sisters. What do these developments mean?

This is the question Catholic scholar and activist Marian Ronan sets out to answer in Sister Trouble: The Vatican, the Bishops, and the Nuns, her galvanizing collection of articles about the investigations, the doctrinal assessment, and the issues that connect them.

In the first section of Sister Trouble, Ronan chronicles the conflict from the 2009 launch of the investigations to the 2012 actions of bishops appointed to oversee the Leadership Conference. She also examines the condemnation of Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s book, the link between the sisters’ support for the Affordable Care Act and the Vatican crackdown, and the dispute over the ultimate meaning of the Second Vatican Council that underlies the conflict. The articles sizzle with Ronan’s distinctive and sometimes acerbic humor.

Readers curious about the Vatican crackdown will learn a good deal from this first section of Sister Trouble. But the talk that comprises the second section provides much-needed context for understanding the conflict. Here the author examines in particular the treatment of dedicated celibate women throughout church history and the threat they have always posed to the supposedly absolute gender boundaries with which male leaders justify their domination of the church.

Finally, in the concluding section, Ronan makes clear her reasons for undertaking Sister Trouble—because she cares so deeply about Catholic sisters. In the first article, she uses a statue of Joan of Arc to trace a genealogy from one U.S. Catholic sister to another and finally to herself. Then she draws on Irish writer Nuala O’Faolain to explore how the sisters shaped the lives and characters of generations of Catholic women. And in the final essay, Ronan steps beyond the current conflict to bid farewell to three recently deceased sisters whose lives of commitment profoundly influenced her own.

As theologian Tania Oldenhage has written, Sister Trouble is an “urgent, clear-sighted and deeply moving account” of the conflict between the Vatican and the nuns. It’s also a testimony to the legacy of Catholic sisters throughout the ages.

Pope Francis and Those Disloyal U.S. Nuns

August 14, 2013 at 10:42 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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Earlier this month the environmental columnist Sharon Abercrombie posted an article on the National Catholic Reporter‘s Eco Catholic blog page, “Francis’ Call for Amazon Protection Echoes Work of Sr. Dorothy Stang.”  I find it provocative for several reasons.

Sister “Dot” Stang  was an American sister who spent forty years in Brazil, working with indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon Basin, as Abercrombie reminds us, comprises forty percent of Latin America and produces twenty percent of the world’s oxygen, a non-optional substance. Sister Dorothy worked to help the indigenous people of the rainforest in Brazil to learn sustainable farming practices. She also got them into contact with lawyers to defend them against loggers and ranchers intent on driving them off their land in order to clearcut the rainforest and raise huge herds of livestock there. In February of 2005 Sister Dorothy was shot dead by killers hired by just such loggers and ranchers. They were angered by her efforts to protect the people and the rainforest. In the years since her death, the situation in the Amazon has grown even worse due to government-sanctioned agribusiness and the construction of hydroelectric dams and mining infrastructure.

Abercrombie’s article suggests that during his recent visit to Brazil, Pope Francis emphasized the same values that Sister Dorothy lived and died for, telling the Brazilian bishops that the defense of the Amazon is relevant not only for the future of the church but of the whole society. He met with and encouraged some of the same indigenous peoples that Sister Dorothy served.

I am glad that the pope highlighted protection of the Amazon during his visit to Brazil. The church, in my opinion, spends far too little time stressing the environment as a “right to life” issue. Yet as the U.S. Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR)  begins its annual meeting this week, I can’t help reflecting somewhat sardonically on the connections between the Pope’s words about the Amazon, Sister Dorothy’s work, and the current situation of the LCWR.

First of all, let’s recall that although she held dual US-Brazilian citizenship, Sister Dorothy was a member of a U.S. province of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, a group that belongs to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  Now, in point of fact, as Abercrombie mentions, Sister Dorothy did spend some of her time in Brazil “organizing religious services and spiritual formation classes for children and adults alike.” But a major emphasis, and the cause of her martyrdom, was her political-environmental work against ranchers and loggers doing enormous harm to the Brazilian rainforest, actions Sister Dorothy understood to contradict Catholic social teaching.  She seems to have spent little (or no) time denouncing homosexuality and abortion.

In other words, Sister Dorothy was exactly the kind of U.S. Catholic sister whom the Vatican condemned in the “doctrinal assessment” it issued in April of 2012–a document which the current pope declined to rescind or even modify. The archbishop whom Pope Benedict sicced on U.S. sisters is still overseeing their meeting this week in Orlando, Florida.

Yet the values that this emblematic U.S. Catholic sister died for are precisely the values expressed by the new pope during his recent visit to Sister Dorothy’s adopted country. And commentators have remarked that this pope has said very little about the pelvic issues that have obsessed the Vatican and the hierarchy since Vatican II– something the sisters were also criticized for in the doctrinal assessment. Pope Francis had better be careful, or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may be issuing a negative assessment of him before long.

Terry Gross Interviews Bishop Blair

August 2, 2012 at 11:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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On July 17, Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh Air, interviewed Sister Pat Farrell, the (soon-to-be-former) president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). Then, on July 28, she interviewed Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, one of the US Catholic bishops appointed by the Vatican to shape up the LCWR over the next five years.

Responses to the two interviews mirrored the polarization in US Catholicism. Conservatives said Gross was much too easy on Sister Farrell, much too hard on Bishop Blair. Liberals found the bishop harsh and authoritarian.

This may come as a surprise, but I found the bishop benign compared to what I had anticipated. He issued no anathemas, nor was he rude to Terry Gross. He was kind of like your uncle who has worked  in middle-management at an insurance company for forty-five years and reads the New York Post. Not one original thought issued from his mouth during the entire interview. His performance illustrates one of the reasons college-educated US Catholics are leaving the church in droves–sheer boredom.

Lest my “radical feminist” friends think I am being too kind here, let me also say that I thought Terry Gross was entirely too easy on the bishop. One instance in particular comes to mind. Here’s that part of the interview:

GROSS: On a related note – and I’m not attributing this to the LCWR – but I think the issue of contraception is an issue that has driven many women away from the Catholic church. And many women within the Catholic church don’t follow the ban on birth control. And I think it’s fair to say, many women are confounded by the idea that they have to follow the rules set by celibate men who have no idea what it means to be pregnant, who have no idea what it means to have a sex – to know that every sexual encounter with your husband might result in a pregnancy; and that it’s very – it’s very challenging for many women to live in that kind – to live with that kind of rule, that every sexual encounter with your husband might result in a pregnancy.

BLAIR: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: That would affect every aspect of your life, of your family’s life; of your health, of the finances of your family, of your ability to work, just of your ability of other children to maybe go to college because there wouldn’t be enough money if there were nine children, as opposed to two children. So on like, every level, every sexual encounter has the potential of affecting your future.

Now – and just on a practical level, this is why I think many women either leave the church, or stay and just don’t follow the church on that teaching. So I’m wondering if you think about that; and what you think about, when you do think about that.

BLAIR: Well, let’s begin with a little history. Until 1930, every Christian denomination was unanimous in condemning contraception. And I remember once seeing that in 1930, when the Anglicans did abandon the teaching – they were the first, I think, to do so – it was the Washington Post that editorialized that this would be the death knell of marriage as a holy institution and would lead to indiscriminate immorality; and legalized contraceptives would create all kinds of problems. Now, 40 years later, in 1968, when Pope Paul VI reaffirmed this received Christian teaching about contraception, he pointed to some of the consequences of separating intercourse and the procreation of children. He said there’d be a gradual weakening of moral discipline, a trivialization of human sexuality, the demeaning of women, marital infidelity often leading to broken families, and state-sponsored programs of population control based on imposed contraception and sterilization. That was in 1968.

Now – I think – 40 years later, it’s pretty clear that all of those things are happening. You know, we live in a world of divorce and broken families, cohabitation, recreational sex, fornication, promiscuity, pornography. And so you have to ask yourself, what are the consequences of this contraceptive morality, or contraceptive practice? But let’s be clear – the church recognizes that couples can have valid reasons not to have children at certain times in their married life. But what is the method, if you have valid reasons not to have children at certain times? People often scoff that the church condemns so-called artificial means but accepts natural family planning. You know, after all, the desired effect is the same, no baby. But…

GROSS: What is natural family planning?…

I, personally, was shocked that Gross allowed Blair to ignore her question as she did. The bishop basically said that contraception in and of itself has caused the decline of marriage. Gross completely failed to bring him back to the actual situation of women who cannot support six, eight, ten children. And both of them seemed unaware of research done right there in Philadelphia (where Fresh Air is produced)  that  William Julius Wilson discusses in the current issue of The Nation. It seems that increasing income inequality, at least for many low-income women who simply cannot find “marriageable” men because of the severely reduced employment opportunities for low-income males, has a stunning impact on the rate of marriage. This, of course, is the sort of thing that US Catholic Sisters spend entirely too much time on.

As the interview ended, I had a vision of the hierarchically-led US Catholic church of the future: a few million frozen-eyed zombies marching forward chanting: “Marriage exists only between one man and one woman. Contraception is abortion. Only people with male genitalia can be ordained. Marriage exists only between one man and one woman. Contraception is abortion. Only people with male genitalia can be ordained. Marriage exists only between one man and one woman. Contraception is abortion. Only people with male genitalia can be ordained…”

Then I fell asleep.

Everything that Descends Must Converge: Archbishop Sartain in the News

July 24, 2012 at 8:33 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Those following the Vatican effort to muzzle the Leadership Conference of Women Religious will recognize the name of Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle as the bishop appointed to ride herd on the organization for the next five years. Today, on the New Ways Ministry blog, Francis DeBernardo quotes extensively from a recent article in America magazine about certain bishops overstepping “the boundaries of their tax exempt status” and entering “the world of politics in their zeal for opposing the Health and Human Services mandate on contraception and a marriage equality initiative.” And who is one of two bishops highlighted in the article?

Archbishop Sartain, who “launched a signature drive in every parish of his archdiocese to put Referendum 74 on the statewide ballot. The referendum would repeal Washington’s new same-sex marriage law.” This, as the author, Nicholas Cafardi points out, is called “lobbying.” He used his episcopal office in an attempt to pass legislation.

Cafardi and DeBernardo reflect helpfully on the various implications of Archbishop Sartain’s reckless action, but I would like to add another. Now we know that the person chosen to take control of the leading organization of Catholic Sisters in the United States is intemperate and headlong, willing to risk the non-profit status of a church to which thousands of the poor and sick look for support in their suffering, out of his passion for forcing institutional Catholic sex obsessions on the state of Washington.

Good luck, Sisters.

Irish American Sisters in the Struggle with the Vatican

June 29, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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As you have perhaps noticed (!!) I’ve been writing a good deal about the recent Vatican attack on US Catholic Sisters.

In this post, which appears in the June issue of the Philadelphia Irish newspaper, The Irish Edition, I discuss the roles played by Irish and Irish American Sisters in present and past struggles with the male leadership of the Catholic Church.

Catholic Church is Lucky it’s Just Same-Sex Marriage

June 12, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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This week the representatives of the US Catholic Sisters’ organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, are in Rome defending themselves against accusations of “radical feminism.” But what the Vatican means by “radical feminism” is hardly anything at all when you compare it to the increasing complexity of sexuality and gender in our time.

You can find my reflections about all this here on Religion Dispatches.

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