The Vatican vs. uppity nuns battle is shaping up to be misogyny vs. nunsense, or perhaps Vatican vs. Vatican II.
As I said here a few weeks ago, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine on the Faith (CDF–the nice people who brought us the Inquisition) has announced a five-year reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the umbrella organisation that represents about 80% of the 57,000 nuns in this country. This effort will be lead by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain (who just happens to be Archbishop of Seattle).
At the time I wrote, the nuns were trying to figure out what to say: whether to knuckle under or dig in. Last Friday they finally decided. Here’s the press release:
[Washington, DC] The national board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) held a special meeting in Washington, DC from May 29-31 to review, and plan a response to, the report issued to LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The board members raised concerns about both the content of the doctrinal assessment and the process by which it was prepared. Board members concluded that the assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency. Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission. The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.
The board determined that the conference will take the following steps:
On June 12 the LCWR president and executive director will return to Rome to meet with CDF prefect Cardinal William Levada and the apostolic delegate Archbishop Peter Sartain to raise and discuss the board’s concerns.
Following the discussions in Rome, the conference will gather its members both in regional meetings and in its August assembly to determine its response to the CDF report
The board recognizes this matter has deeply touched Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the world as evidenced by the thousands of messages of support as well as the dozens of prayer vigils held in numerous parts of the country. It believes that the matters of faith and justice that capture the hearts of Catholic sisters are clearly shared by many people around the world. As the church and society face tumultuous times, the board believes it is imperative that these matters be addressed by the entire church community in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, and integrity.
This might not sound like much but in political terms it’s a cracker. Levelling terms such as ‘unsubstantiated accusations,’ ‘flawed process that lacked transparency,’ and causing ‘scandal and pain throughout the church’ is a naked throwdown.
But it’s nothing compared to the interview LCWR president Sr. Pat Farrell gave to the National Catholic Reporter, which ends:
The document [from CDF] actually calls for a renewal of LCWR, but our hope is that out of this and out of broad dialog with bishops and laity there could come some renewal for the church in the United States. And that would be something we would all have to help create together.
What she’s saying is: you think we need to change?? We think you need to change, and we’ve got the laity on our side…
My guess? American schism is closer than ever.
Then on Monday, I read in the Guardian that Sister Margaret Farley, a professor emeritus of Christian ethics at Yale University, has drawn the Vatican’s ire for her book, Just Love, a Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics:
In a statement approved by pope Benedict and issued on Monday, the Vatican’s doctrinal office claims Farley’s book, Just Love, a Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, “ignores the constant teaching of the Magisterium or, where it is occasionally mentioned, treats it as one opinion among others”.
The statement singles out Farley’s claim that many women “have found great good in self-pleasuring – perhaps especially in the discovery of their own possibilities for pleasure – something many had not experienced or even known about in their ordinary sexual relations with husbands or lovers.”
Masturbation, she concludes, “actually serves relationships rather than hindering them”. That view, the Vatican stated, contradicted the Catholic belief that masturbation is a “gravely disordered action”.
Farley’s approval of gay sex ignored “Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity”, while her backing for gay unions was tantamount to “approval of deviant behaviour,” the Vatican said. Her openness to divorce and remarriage was deemed as “contravening God’s law”.