Reminding LCWR that the bishops are the church's "authentic teachers of faith and morals," the Vatican has named Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain and two other bishops to oversee "reform." Sartain's job, apparently, will be to oversee the nuns' activities and ensure that the promotion of "radical feminist themes" is curtailed. Shocked by the Vatican's conclusion, the LCWR says it is preparing a response.
This whole scenario reminds me of the response of the Catholic bishops in N.J. when front line workers from Catholic Charities recommended that life-time secrecy in adoption should cease. Way back in 1992, the executive directors of Catholic Charities in all five dioceses of N.J. signed a letter urging the N.J. Catholic Conference of Bishops to allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates, with no conditions attached. The personnel from Catholic Charities worked every day with mothers considering adoption and were in the best position to evaluate the effect of more openness. But sadly, their recommendations were shelved, and the Bishops continue to oppose adoptee rights bills to this day, citing the "birthmother's right to privacy."
The Bishops in New Jersey did not listen to their front-line adoption workers, just as the Vatican is not listening today to the nuns who are out in the field ministering to those who are marginalized and suffering. As Executive Director of NETWORK Sister Simone Campbell said in an NPR interview, "When you don't work every day with people who live on the margins of our society, it's so much easier to make easy statements about who's right and who's wrong." Simone goes on to say, "What we do as women religious is, we minister to people everywhere who are suffering, who are being discriminated against ... ." It appears, she says, that the bishops have a different focus and mission.
Is it not more Christ-like to be inclusive, rather than exclusive? Is it not more Christ-like to focus on social justice, rather than orthodoxy that has changed in the past, and will surely change in the future, as our knowledge base grows? At one time, the Vatican proclaimed that there was no salvation outside of the Catholic Church. Today, this viewpoint is no longer accepted. Are the educated sisters so wrong in exploring thorny theological questions at their own meetings? Are they wrong in providing services to any one of our fellow human beings who is hurting?
Women on the front lines possess much wisdom. As Simone points out, "Women were the first ones at the tomb on Sunday morning. Women get it first and then try to explain it to the guys." Unfortunately, the Vatican sees pronouncements like that as "radical feminism." It's a pity that they are so blinded by their own orthodoxy that they cannot even see what it is they need to learn.
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