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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Catholic Hierarchy Silences Women -- Again

By now you have probably heard that the Vatican last week issued a document chastising the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the largest group of Catholic nuns in the U.S.  Citing "serious doctrinal problems," church leaders felt that the nuns were not speaking out forcefully enough against contraception, abortion, gay rights and the ordination of women.  LCWR represents 80 percent of Catholic nuns and sisters, most of whom work on the front lines of social services in education and health care.  NETWORK, a Washington D.C. lobbying group that works closely with LCWR, was also criticized for its failure to promote church doctrine.  In accordance with its founding mission, NETWORK focuses on poverty, immigration and health care.

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.    

To read more about this issue, see:


  1. Thanks, Susan. I have many friends that are sisters and they are devistated. We need much reform in the Catholic Church and it needs to start at the Vatican.

  2. Thanks, Susan. I am a NJ Catholic and birthmother totally disgusted with the NJ Bishops and the Vatican. It seems to me that Jesus said a whole lot about helping the poor and social justice issues which the sisters are addressing. He did not promote secrets and lies like the Bishop's take on adoption law.
    He never said a word about abortion, contraception, or gay marriage, and as noted his women disciples were the first to say "He has risen". "What would Jesus do?" and what the Vatican and Bishops want their followers to do appear to be very different things indeed!

  3. If the NJ Catholic Conference of Bishops acknowledged that in its 32-year opposition to legislation to allow adoptees to obtain a copy of their actual birth certificates, it has never offered proof of its claim that birth parents were promised confidentiality from the children they bore and relinquished, it would hardly be groundbreaking.

    Catholic Church history includes some notable acknowledgements of -- and public apologies for -- past errors on the part of the church.

    For example:

    On November 1,1992, "Moving formally to rectify a wrong, Pope John Paul II acknowledged in a speech today that the Roman Catholic Church had erred in condemning Galileo 359 years ago for asserting that the Earth revolves around the Sun." (

    July 19, 2011: "The Catholic Church in Australia has issued a national apology over past adoption practices that have been described as a "national disgrace". (
    "The apology was prompted by an ABC investigation into claims of abuse and trauma in Newcastle.
    It is believed at least 150,000 Australian women had their babies taken against their will by some churches and adoption agencies between the 1950s and 1970s."

    Dec. 16, 2011: "Roman Catholic bishops in the Netherlands said Friday that they offered “sincere apologies” to victims of sexual mistreatment, hours after a report by an official commission said church officials had “failed to adequately deal with” abuse affecting as many as 20,000 Dutch children in Catholic institutions." (

    Perhaps after Dan Rather Reports' airing of "Adopted or Abducted" on HDNet on May 1, the church may be willing to consider the fragility of its internally-inconsistent claim belied by the fact that some Catholic maternity homes gave expectant mothers false names that went with them to the hospital and were put on the child's birth certificate. If "confidentiality" had been guaranteed, why would any woman assume a false name?

    The fact is that confidentiality could not be guaranteed. Adoptive parents who received copies of the court decree finalizing the adoption frequently found the child's name on the cover of the decree and the birth mother's name and marital status on the first page. Relinquishing parents gave up all parental rights and responsibilities for the term of the child's minority AND the right to be notified of what happened to their children. If an adoption was not legally formalized, the child's actual birth certificate would never have been sealed. If it wasn't sealed, and the birth mother hadn't a prayer of being notified, how could she have expected her child would never know who she was?

    Thousands of relinquishing parents and adoptees have died over the past 32 years while NJ lawmakers have tried to sort truth from fiction.

    For them, a formal apology by those institutions which prevented them from knowing each other will come too late. But many thousands more are alive and longing for the dismantling of secrecy in adoption which has caused untold pain for so many people and so many families formed by birth and adoption.

    Many NJ Catholic parishes run support groups for women who have had abortions and some dioceses offer services near Mother's Day for women who relinquished their children for adoption.

    In spite of this, there is not yet an ecclesiastical recognition that relinquishment itself, described by some researchers as "psychological abortion," causes many of the same symptoms as physical abortion. Perhaps if the NJ bishops sat down with some of the experienced adoption professionals who have worked at the diocesan Catholic Charities offices, their perspective might shift, and quickly.

  4. So many women are just talking with their feet as far as the church is concerned. How can they be part of an organization that sees them as second class citizens and turns a blind and paternalistic eye to issues that matter to them.

  5. It is for a lot of reasons like this I drifted away from the Church, and now find fewer reasons to ever defend it. The current pope is the problem, and if he goes, another like him will be elected, due to the College of Cardinals appointed by the last few popes. Conservatives, keep women down on the farm, etc.


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