Francis and the Nuns: An Interview with Mary Gordon

marygordon

Novelist, essayist and biographer Mary Gordon takes on Pope Francis’ treatment of American nuns, and by extension his and the Catholic Church’s attitudes toward women as a whole, in an essay in the August issue of Harper’s Magazine.

Gordon notes that Francis’ much-quoted assertion that the church has focused too much on “issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods” has “suggested the possibility of a new era for the Church, on in which economic justice would take precedence over divisive social issues.” As American nuns “have been the de facto leaders of the country’s liberal Catholics,” Gordon says that Francis’ treatment of the nuns can be seen as a marker of how serious he is about “shifting the Church’s attention.”

But, she concludes, “a year and a half into his papacy, Pope Francis is looking an awful lot like his predecessors,” most notably by allow the investigation into the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and their ongoing censure and the larger “apostolic visitation” of all American nuns to continue at the behest of Vatican conservatives.

RD’s Patricia Miller talked to Gordon about Francis’ treatment of the nuns and the history of hostility between women religious and the all-male hierarchy, which she says “has been consistent throughout Catholic history.”

Your essay points up the disconnect between what Francis says, especially in his famous interview where he said the church has talked to much about abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and how he acts toward women, especially American nuns. Why do you think he has been able to maintain so much goodwill in the face of this contradiction?

I have three explanations. First of all, compared to Pope Benedict, he looks great, just because next to Benedict, Godzilla would look great. Second, Nelson Mandela died and the world is looking for a spiritual leader to fill the gap. And finally, something that you see often with religious progressives, is that they don’t get whole women’s piece. For them it just isn’t a deal breaker.

What Francis is good about isn’t new in terms of substance—Pope John Paul II said some very strong things about capitalism. What is new is his tone. He is very good about tone—about washing women’s feet and welcoming nursing mothers. He seems like a softer, gentler version of a pope. And the bottom line is that Catholics are just so tired of fighting.

You point to a crisis of masculinity among the hierarchy as a result of the sex abuse scandal and the fear of powerful women (who are playing a surprisingly effective role in the political arena, as Network and the LCWR did during the debate over ObamaCare). Does this come down to a question of authority in the church and who wields it?

Yes, it does. With all people in authority, when they feel embattled they get more aggressive. The bishops aren’t any different. They really perceive that their authority is being challenged by the nuns. It is a kind of default setting to look at women when that happens and to try and dominate them to reestablish authority.

You note how badly the attacks on the LCWR and the American nuns in general have gone over with the general public. It really has been a PR disaster for the Vatican. Why don’t you think they have recalibrated, if for no other reason than they seem to be generating more and more sympathy for the nuns?

Because I think they perceive, correctly, that their growth area is with the right wing. That’s their base and that’s where the money comes from. In America, the people who like the nuns are the liberals and they aren’t in the pews every Sunday.

It all comes down to the money. They don’t want to alienate Dominos Pizza [Dominos Pizza founder Thomas Monaghan is a major donor to conservative Catholic causes] and the other big money donors. No one on the left gives them the kind of money that they get from the right. You see this all the time with Catholic colleges like Boston College. Wealthy alumna will make a fuss about something they don’t like and they will pull back.

As you note, there are limits on what Francis can do, and animosity between nuns and the hierarchy over questions of authority has a long history in the church. What is the one thing you think Francis could do to show that he is serious about reform and a new attitude where women are concerned?

What would have been really easy for him to do is to pull the censure of the LCWR. He could have done that in a minute.

I am also tired of the way that women are always referred to as the kinder, gentler, more nurturing sex. It’s a way of denying us power. On my more charitable days, I think, okay, Francis is 76 and he is Latin American. Maybe he doesn’t have a lot of experience with strong women.

But because a lot of what he has accomplished is tonal and symbolic, then I think, let him invoke Catherine of Siena or Teresa of Ávila. Let him acknowledge strong women, women theologians and women intellectuals. He could do that with no cost to himself and it would go a long way.

 

 

Patricia Miller is the author of Good Catholics: The Battle over Abortion in the Catholic Church. Her work on the intersection of sex, religion, and politics has appeared in The Nation, Ms., and Huffington Post. She was the editor of Conscience magazine and the editor-in-chief of the National Journal’s health care briefings.

  • A Young Catholic

    “The people who like the nuns are the liberals and they aren’t in the pews every Sunday.” – So these people enjoy open dissent towards the Church and don’t attend Mass on a Sunday, which is their obligation as Catholics to do so. In what sense are they then Catholic? Since when has Catholicism been a continuum of belief? Why would they assume any future Pope would be sympathetic towards their selfish and prideful desires? Young Catholics, thank God, have had enough of this failed attempt to ‘highjack’ the Catholic Church and strongly desire a return to Catholic orthodoxy. And thankfully they are the future of the Church, not ageing liberal nuns (in business suits).

  • cranefly

    She didn’t say anything about “open dissent.” You added that yourself.

    “Since when has Catholicism been a continuum of belief?”

    Since always. Seriously, always. A better question would be “Since when has Catholicism been only one thing, that thing being 21st century American social conservative politics?” Since never. Not today, not ever.

    “nuns (in business suits)”

    You have quite the imagination. It’s not very becoming for a young Catholic to judge people according to their clothing, and it’s very unbecoming to disdain professional women in particular for wearing professional clothing. Yet all I can see is a green scarf, and a google image search of Mary Gordon, and another one of LCWR, does not yield pictures of anyone in business suits. Catholicism used to have a reputation for being a church of sound reasoning. Are you hoping to destroy that reputation?

  • Jim Reed

    Human society is advancing. We are in many ways ahead of where humans were thousands of years ago, and also hundreds. The church above others should know that. The church needs to change because the ways of the past are no longer good enough. There will be some resistance, but things will change. It has usually been when young people grow up and replace their elders, and see more clearly what needs to be done.

  • PetrusRomanus1

    As the old sayong has it: Talk is cheap, until you hire a lawyer. Francis knows that talk is cheap, and he also knows that Grace is NOT cheap. He’s already made lots of enemies, just as pope. And what his enemies all seem to lack is Francis’ perception of the Gospel as a way of life — simple, poor, and inclusive. You might say that Francis is teaching his church how to love, because that is what he’s doing.

  • A Young Catholic

    Clearly you don’t know much about the LCWR. They were reprimanded by the Vatican for their open dissent recently and yet continue. I was basing my opinion on more than this article. The church’s doctrine, which is what dissent flies in the face of, has never been changed. It cannot. Ecclesiastical laws and customs can change, but these nuns want a lot more than that, more than has ever been done and more than is possible. And the business suit thing has nothing to do with my imagination. They refuse to wear the traditional ecclesiastical garb believing themselves to be above it – this is a well known fact. Why would you assume I was referring to the picture above? And I’m not American or particularly political.

  • cranefly

    The LCWR was reprimanded for giving a book award to an author that a particular cardinal didn’t like. The only major scandal there is that the Church is still in the business of punishing writers. Most nuns (unlike parish priests and bishops) are not supported financially by their diocese. They actually work for a living, in schools, hospitals, universities, and charities. Medieval garb is not practical for working people, nor is it doctrinally required, nor does it reveal any disobedience whatsoever. The most conservative nuns I know wear pants and cardigans. Ecclesiastical laws and customs can change, after all.

    The church’s doctrine has been evolving since Day 1, and the line between doctrine, custom, tradition, and philosophical wanderings has also long been indistinct. A cursory study of church history shows two things very clearly: A strong tradition of theological development, internal disagreement, and change; and the danger of persecuting people for writing books.

  • A Young Catholic

    An Apostolic Visitation of the LCWR was conducted for a variety of reasons, all of them doctrinal. And let’s be honest, the results were pretty bad, weren’t they? They were then reprimanded again this year by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for failing to act upon the findings of the Visitation. And indeed that included, but was not limited to, awarding several authors and speakers that are well out of line on Church teaching. A particular cardinal – no, this wasn’t personal. Any Catholic can see plainly that inviting dissenters of the Church to a Church leadership conference is absurd and damaging.

    ‘Medieval garb’ or properly put, ecclesiastical habits are being used again by many communities all over the world and are once again gaining in popularity. It’s not a question of obedience, but rather of outward signs of the Faith and a rejection of worldliness, which are important, if nothing else than for our Catholic identity, (which has taken a real bruising over the past 40 years).

    The whole ‘doctrinal evolution’ question is a regular liberal trick that is a little tired. Yes, doctrine can evolve, in a sense, when something has previously not been fully understood (e.g. the Immaculate Conception wasn’t dogmatically defined until 1854, though it was widely believe in before that) but that does not mean doctrine can be simply swept away or U-turned because it suits you. If the Church says that white is white, it can’t simply say tomorrow that, actually white is black because enough liberals want it to be.

  • cranefly

    There are many “tricks” that conservatives play as well, such as denying that doctrines that have changed were ever doctrine to begin with. That kind of divisive rhetoric will get you nowhere. It was once doctrine that the sun goes behind a mountain every night, that women were ontologically inferior to men, and that nothing beyond the moon could change or be imperfect. Or at least, these things were taught by priests and believed by Catholics as part of their religion. “Doctrine” is not as clear as you think it is, and you would probably not recognize yourself in the Church of only a few hundred years ago.

    For one thing, a few hundred years ago it was Church policy to extort confessions via torture. Now, torture is defined as “intrinsically evil,” meaning there is no excuse for it, ever. If the Church yesterday could do great evil, what stops it from making bad choices today? What might the Church be doing today that it will regret later?

    Investigating independent women religious for thought-crime, perhaps, or scrutinizing them for not parading their holiness through clothing. I think there’s a better way to claim Catholic identity, and doubling down on tribal exclusivity and authoritarian control would not be my way.

  • joeyj1220

    you are asking this young, brainless Catholic to read a book and think for him/herself. Good luck with that.

  • NanaLynne

    God created…and he pronounced it ALL good, yes, all of the earth…stop thinking in duality…it’s a Greek philosophy…it’s not Jesus’ way of life.

  • Lydia Lombardo

    Young Catholic, you certainly don’t represent the other “young Catholics” I know, particularly my grandchildren who rightfully find the church they grew up in hopelessly behind the times and certainly not providing the moral support they need for their lives. They are not alone; their parents, my children, an I feel that way too. As Cardinal Martina who recently died said, “the church is 200 years behind the times. And the nuns you say blatantly malign are the smartest women in America and the most dedicated to doing Jesus’ work. They were told as part of Vatican 2 to leave their convents and go out among the poor and marginalized and help them lead better lives and at the same time they visibly showed, by example, what it means to love one another as Jesus asked us all to do. And as far as their “modern garb,” Pius XXII asked the nuns to modify their clothing because their traditional habits were causing health problems for the nuns. And yes, much later, they started wearing more modern clothes to fit in with the general public who they have served faithfully and generously. They are the true leaders of the church in America, and they have been mistreated by men who live high and mighty lives and place themselves above the people when they are supposed to be the servants of the faithful. It has been mostly the nuns who have indeed been servants to the multitudes. Your words actually make me shudder…..so cold and so non-compassionate.

  • Lydia Lombardo

    Yes, the Pope has a wonderful way of making the world generally love him. But he, and many other Catholic clerics, has no idea what women, particularly American women, are like. And for him to continue the censure against the nuns is disgraceful. They represent many of us…they are strong, very smart, leaders, and compassionate. Most Americans, women and men, feel that they have been the real backbone of the church. They are the “doers,” and they live simply and serve the poor. What else could you possibly ask of them? And what doctrines are they not following? The fact that they actually see where “doctrine” is not applicable in certain situations is pretty Christ-like in my opinion. The priests educated before the last two popes before Francis un-officially understood this and most compassionately and generously helped people in ways that could have been questioned by a non-bending strictly by the book priest. Too bad they are mostly retired or have died.

  • Jim

    Cummon, it’s about the money, not theology. Nuns have been quietly investing since mother church left them on their own to do whatever. Fewer sisters means more for the rest. I’m sure the pope wants a better accounting of his untapped source of money. Leadership? The nuns function exactly like the priests, which we already know is a global scam. There is nothing in either group, clerical men or women, which constitutes leadership, unless you are looking at secrecy or obfuscation as a consummation devoutly to be wished.

  • TheRealReginaPhalange

    ‘these people enjoy open dissent towards the Church and don’t attend Mass on a Sunday, which is their obligation as Catholics to do so.’

    What an interesting way to use emotional blackmail. I thought that according to believers, ‘God is everywhere’ so why do people have to attend mass? Is it so the Church can boast about ‘growing numbers’?

    I think you need to read Matthew 6:5:

    ‘And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.’

  • Paul Frantizek

    How has the dispute with the LCWR been a ‘public relations disaster’ for the Vatican? Ordinary people don’t have a clue who they are while most of the people I know who actually go to church support the Vatican’s defense of traditional teaching.

    The only people upset by this are the pro-abortion, pro-gay so-called ‘Catholic Left’ elements who have always opposed the Church’s traditional teaching on life and the family.

  • Jennifer Prestash

    Pope Francis has never indicated that there would be a change in Catholic Teaching. He only indicated that when you speak you must not just focus on what is sinful and evil, but also focus (and primarily focus) on what is right and good and true. I’d not only censure the LCWR, I’d disband it.

    But Pope Francis might be taking the easier course. The membership of the nuns belong to the LCWR is rapidly aging (nearing 70). There are almost no vocations to the groups under the LCWR. They will die off with a generation. But the faithful woman’s religious groups are teaming with vocations, and growing wonderfully. Faithfulness to Christ wins every time. So the Church can patiently wait, while the Lord slowly replaces faithless and misguided nuns with faithful and loyal ones.

  • mnemos

    Yes, many wonderful women, dedicated and Christ-like. And yet their leadership doesn’t have a problem declaring them “post-Christian”. Ask yourself what the church should say when the LCWR decided they should discuss declaring themselves post-Christian. It really is that simple. There are many good non-Christians out there – that is not the issue. If they declare themselves to be non-Christian they will no longer be in communion with the Church, they can still be good people. This is the reason why some parts of LCWR were bringing the issue up for discussion. The censure and oversight are reactions of lay people and the hierarchy to that discussion within LCWR. They are open about those discussion on the LCWR website – so it’s really not worth discussing “if the issue is real”. Read some of the presentations on the website if you have an issue with the statement that “post-Christian organization is under discussion”. The question is whether it appropriate to address this via an open discussion (the current LCWR method) v.s a definition of doctrine (eg we are a Christian organization, and if we need a non-Christian organization, that needs to be a new / sister organization to this one, the hierarchy’s approach).

    If we honestly look around us, this is a discussion that is happening across our society: different christian groups (inside and outside the Catholic Church) who have declared explicitly or implicitly that they don’t feel that belief in Jesus as God who sacrificed Himself for us is an important part of Christianity, as long as you act on social justice issues. It is driving division within the Episcopal Church (explicit) and the Methodist Church (implicit). For some it is the driving difference between “traditional” and “liberal” Catholics. For many liberals, they think traditional is all “smells and bells” and don’t realize that many of their liberal church friends don’t actually think salvation from Christ is an important idea.

  • Frank6548

    If these nuns want to form and lead their own religion they should do so.

  • rockofritters

    this is typical of all social justice criticisms of the Church. let’s get rid of all that divisive talk about abortion and contraception and just talk about the good sisters helping the poor. Here’s the problem: ALL of the Church’s teachings on “social justice” depend on the dignity of the human person beginning at the moment of conception. if you get that wrong it’s irrelevant what you believe on living wages, the environment, health care for all, homes for the homeless, all of it matters not if you don’t believe in life begins at conception and the intentional destruction of that life is a grotesque evil. sadly the pants suit nuns don’t buy into that anymore. and that’s why their getting a visit. not anything at all to do with patriarchal oppression. the nuns on the bus ought to become nuns on kneelers again…

  • Jim Reed

    Life is complicated, and the church wants a simple answer. They get it wrong, and through setting themselves up as the authority they become wrong about everything. Everything you think doesn’t matter actually does matter. What you think does matter is just wrong.

  • Jim Reed

    They want to change this religion. If the church thought like you do, they could kick them out of the church. Until the church does that, the nuns are doing the right thing by trying to improve the situation.

  • Frank6548

    They are acting like petulant toddlers who aren’t getting their way.

  • Frank6548

    Killing innocent unborn children is wrong. It’s quite simple.

  • Paul Frantizek

    I think the ‘open dissent’ comment was spot on. What else are the positions of the LCWR if not openly dissenting?

    The LCWR seeks to turn the Catholic Church (at least in America) into a vehicle for their Leftist/feminist agenda. Whether it’s within their ‘rights’ as Catholic to dissent from the Church’s teaching on matters like abortion, marriage and freedom of conscience is questionable but it’s certainly within the rights of the hierarchy to make the Church’s teaching on such matters clear.

  • Paul Frantizek

    The Catholic Church has never had a ‘continuum of belief’ when it comes to abortion or marriage. Never.

  • Paul Frantizek

    Or they could simply join the Episcopalian Church. They’d probably be right at home there.

  • Lydia Lombardo

    Nmemos, I have never heard the term post-Christian from any nun I know, and I know quite a few as I am closely aligned with the Franciscans of the Allegheny and attend many lectures and retreats at the Franciscan Center near my home. They, as I, believe in the true presence in the Eucharist and that Jesus was divine and human and was sent by the Father to show us how to live….and die. However, the Catholic Church itself has stated that one doesn’t have to be a declared Christian to enter heaven because that means that Jews, Muslims,etc. could not enter heaven. Jesus came for everybody in the whole world. Maybe your knowledge of the church is not up-to-date. The church also signed an agreement with the Evangelical Lutherans in 1999 declaring that indeed salvation is automatically ours; we don’t earn it with good deeds. That’s a little different than what you learned years ago, isn’t it? Of course, if you believe in Jesus, you will do good works. My point is that yes, the church does change and grow and the good sisters know that and also know that compassion supersedes all the “rules.”

  • cranefly

    Well that’s off-topic. I never said anything about either of those things. I respectfully disagree, however. Doctrines and traditions related to marriage have been some of the most steadily-evolving of all, and Eastern and Western traditions (both in full communion) do not perfectly match each other even today. For that matter, neither the Bible nor the teachings of Thomas Aquinas hold that life begins at conception, and the earliest mentions of contraceptives refer to potions associated with witchcraft. Wait a minute, what Church did those members of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control belong to when the majority of them found no valid theological objection to the approval of contraceptives, leading up to Humanae Vitae? They were members of the Roman Catholic Church, in good standing, in high positions of authority. If the Church’s doctrine was so clear from Day 1, why was there a pontifical commission in the first place? Anyway, the idea that John Paul’s Theology of the Body would have even made sense to apologists in the early church is ridiculous. It was called “one of the boldest reconfigurations of Catholic theology in centuries.”

    We have a Church for a reason: To be a source of on-going guidance. There would be no need, if nothing could change.

    This is not, however, really pertinent to my argument. I don’t even know whether I would agree with everything written by every LCWR nun, but I am against censorship. I am against lopsided authoritarian shaming of intelligent writers, exploring the implications of their consciences. I am especially against the sanctimonious shoving of anyone out of my Church. Especially people who believe that this Church holds the surest keys to salvation. Good Christians can behave better than that. What’s your game?

  • rodlarocque1931

    I am a young Catholic and thank goodness I discovered the traditional Latin mass when I was a teenager. It has restored the faith that was watered down to nothing during my Catholic school days. As for cherry picking a quote from Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, (not Martina) his opinion matters nothing in this discussion of the open dissent of Catholic nuns in North America. The Church may have asked them to update their hemlines, but never to abandon the faith and go “beyond Christ” as was the topic of a lecture given during the LCWR conference some years ago. Of course the only consolation in this whole mess is that Our Lord has rendered these dissident convents barren, no new vocations and they are closing down rapidly. As is the Novus Ordo Church.
    The only segment of the Church that is growing is the traditional Catholic mass communities, the faithful that attend the TLM have many children and they are generous in giving their children to the Church.
    Demographics will solve this controversy where arguments fail.

  • rodlarocque1931

    Not true at all. The teachings of the Church have never officially contradicted themselves, though we are getting close with this liberal pope.

  • rodlarocque1931

    ever heard of the commandment “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”

  • Frank6548

    They should. They obviously have a low view of scripture and of their faith. May as well go be with others who are the same.

  • Frank6548

    That’s Saturday right?

  • Frank6548

    Until the fall messed it up.

  • Jon82

    But, it is not anyone’s place to ask another to leave the faith. And do not bother with the tired, ‘they’ve already left the church.’ That is between each person and God.

  • Jon82

    Pot meet kettle.

  • NanaLynne

    “The Fall” is merely man’s way of interpreting the presence of evil in the world…please don’t be taking it literally.

  • Mary

    Wow, you know a lot more about it than the sisters themselves! The Vatican hasn’t even told the LCWR why they’ve been censured—but thank goodness, YOU know everything. Ha.

  • EmbitteredTA

    Not really much of an interview – shallow, leading questions followed by ignorant, agenda driven answers. Embarrassing.

  • Paul Frantizek

    Most of the hierarchy and the actual Mass-attending portion of the lay population disagree with you.

    Both groups strongly agree with Church teachings on abortion and traditional marriage.

  • James Stagg

    That is hilarious! We have just emerged from the bloodiest century ever recorded and you have the audacity to say “we are ahead”? The Church KNOWS more than modern culture even imagines. Don’t be so silly with your words!

  • James Stagg

    Silly boy!

  • James Stagg

    Yup. Heretics have had that idea since Arius. “Improve the situation”….what drivel.

  • James Stagg

    Don’t think so. Most people don’t talk to their elders in that manner. Your comment is immature.

  • James Stagg

    Troll much?

  • TheRealReginaPhalange

    And yet you ignore the passage I cited. Why is that?

    Who exactly decides what it means to keep something holy? Maybe some people like to spend time at home with their families instead of attending a service. Maybe to them that is how they practice their faith. Why does a person have to attend a service which mostly comprises of the same exact ritual each week in order to keep the Sabbath day?

  • Jon82

    Most elders speak with respect about those whom have chosen religious vocations and dedicated their lives to working for justice in the church.

  • Jim Reed

    I know things seem bad today, but remember we recently went through world wars one and two. And not too long before that this country went through the civil war. As you go back through the centuries, things get worse, usually because of the church.

    I think the biggest problem right now is the conservatives. They have been cornering the wealth of the world, and are now about 10 times as rich compared to the others as they were just a few decades ago. That puts a lot of pressure on society, here and around the world. If we can improve that situation, and do more to control population growth, it could be a pretty good time for humans in the next century or two.

  • James Stagg

    Most elders speak with authority to those who do not follow the orthodox path; it is their duty to instruct the wayward and ignorant.

  • Jim Reed

    We are doing the best we can. There is a lot of resistance from the thousand year old church, so please give us a chance.

  • A Young Catholic

    Not that it’s any of your business, but I happen to have read probably as much liberal literature as I have conservative, before arriving at my conclusions. It’s amazing how liberals think that someone who attempts to be obedient to Church teaching is somehow ‘brainless’ and couldn’t possibly have read a book. There’s nothing clever about being a dissident.

  • A Young Catholic

    You can read all the documents on the CDF website as to why they were censured. It is very clear. And the sisters know full well why they were censured – they just, unsurprisingly, don’t agree with the Church’s reasoning.

  • Frank6548

    Certainly people have the choice to accept or reject the truth. I hope you find it one day.

  • A Young Catholic

    “God is everywhere’ so why do people have to attend mass? Is it so the Church can boast about ‘growing numbers’?”

    It’s something called Worship.

  • A Young Catholic

    It is a precept of the Church to do so. Christ founded the Church, gave the keys to Peter and his successors, who have guarded the deposit of Faith throughout the centuries. These are fundamental Catholic beliefs. Thus when Christ’s Church says it is a precept for you to hear Mass on a Sunday in order to give glory to God and to gain graces for your own soul and the souls of others, the question of ‘who decides’ becomes pretty clear as does the obligation to do so and the reason why it is beneficial. Matthew 5:6 is not an excuse not to attend Mass. It is a warning against prideful piety. Are you saying the Church has been doing it wrong for 2000 years in requiring people to attend Mass? If you believe the Church is divine, how it could make such a fundamental error for two millennia?

  • A Young Catholic

    Torture, as awful as it is and was, was never doctrine. Doctrine concerns faith and morals, not suns and mountains. It really isn’t difficult. And the fact that some people believe every word that priests say even when out of step with Church teaching is not the fault of the Church or its doctrine but that of the individual priest, who purposely misrepresents the Church’s teaching. A grave sin.

    A ‘thought crime’ implies that their dissent is personal, unexpressed, in no way public. It is the very fact that their dissent is so conspicuous and brazen that it is so damaging and why they have been censured. I have read plenty of ‘liberal’ books and am only more convinced than ever of their errors.

  • A Young Catholic

    Well I’m sorry if I have made you shudder, Lydia, that was not my intention. Nor did I mean to sound non-compassionate. But I and large number of youth feel that our Catholic faith has been greatly watered down and in some ways ‘hijacked’ over the past 40 years and it is terribly frustrating. I am sure the nuns you know have done great work. But the question of dissent remains and must be urgently addressed.

  • Jon82

    Well, I may be unorthodox about some matters, as most Roman Catholics are Cafeteria style Catholics, but I am anything but ignorant. Talk about immature, name calling is for the playground.

  • Jon82

    “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass” (CIC, can. 1247). Who says ‘hear Mass?’ we are called in the Catechism to Participate in Mass. OH….a TLM devotee. Go pray to God alone while Mass is going on around you?

  • James Stagg

    Really, Jon? “Pot meet kettle.” is mature? Do you have a big playground there?

  • Jon82

    I do but we only have nice people here. And for the record how would you know if you or he/she are my elders?????

  • Jon82

    I attend daily Mass and several each weekend. I know, even with the most whacky out there pre-VII Catholic I cannot ask them to leave and they should as much if not more than anyone like me who would concern you. You keep bringing up those two issues. The article and this discussion are not about those issues. Must be your own personal hang-ups.

  • cranefly

    Of course torture was not doctrine. But you should remember what the Church is capable of before you assume infallibility of its every motion. It was the Inquisition that killed St. Joan of Arc. The Inquisition (from which grew the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) also investigated Teresa of Avila and censored books by numerous saints, including Robert Bellarmine and Thomas More.

    If you study history with any sincerity, you’ll be hard-pressed to avoid learning that the Church has given a great deal of ground over the centuries in terms of what it claims authority to speak on. This is because foundational Catholic theology makes claims about the condition of the natural world. The relatively recent, awkward divorce of natural science from theology has created loose-hanging ends, and this is a bigger problem than many Catholics realize. It is one of the questions that LCWR theologians have been working to reconcile. Maybe their solutions are incorrect, but denial is no solution at all.

    You’ve just said that people should be allowed to think whatever they want, but not allowed to voice their thoughts. This is typical of an attitude that has gravely wounded the Church over the centuries, that authorities (with God supposedly on their side) should deal with questions by silencing the questioner. There is no brighter flashing sign of fear and weakness of position. But there is nothing to be afraid of. Not if you believe that God has promised to protect the Church when it decides doctrinal questions.

    Fun fact: On the question of liberation theology, the Church has recently reversed its position. This is a matter in which many theological questions are involved. The pope has demonstrated that he is not afraid of fielding such questions. You should not be afraid either. http://religiondispatches.org/vatican-reverses-anti-liberation-policies-in-mexico/

  • cranefly

    I can truly understand that feeling that the faith has been watered down and “hijacked.” Many liberal Catholics feel it very strongly as well, especially when it comes to Catholic teaching on war, poverty, violence, and justice. The difference between “dissent” and “reform” is ideological loyalty. Saints throughout history have been on both sides – some dissenting, some quashing dissenters. St. Robert Bellarmine was on both sides in his lifetime. It’s better not to divide up the Church into warring tribal groups.

  • Jon82

    Very wisely said, unfortunately the right is more likely to divide folks like myself out. B XVI tried with his vision of smaller, purer church.

  • mnemos

    I took the term “post-Christian” from the transcript of an LCWR talk from their website, not from any conversation with a particular nun. I’m an obsessive reader and when the LCWR issue surfaced I read many of the talks on the LCWR website since I wanted to hear them in their own words, not what others were saying about them. The speaker was stating that a number of groups represented in LCWR were essentially “post-Christian” and the speaker felt it should be openly discussed. I’m sure your own relationship with women religious is sustaining since you are so involved, but it isn’t related to the censure and oversight. The censure and oversight are related to the particular groups considering a ‘post-christian’ status and how LCWR is addressing that. Personally, I think I could argue either of the sides I described above – open discussion vs. definition of doctrine. In particular, LCWR are having the discussion, where in parts of the Methodist church they don’t want to have either a discussion or definition of doctrine – and they are drifting apart from each other as a result.

    As far as basic doctrine – yes that is exactly what I learned – if you read what I wrote a bit more closely I hope you can see that. It’s why I pointed out how there are good non-christians – I’m not saying non-Christians are going to hell. I am saying if you don’t think Jesus coming to save us was real and has meaning, you aren’t a Christian, regardless of whether you are a good or bad person. And you would be surprised at how many people consider themselves Christians without any belief in Christ.

    Faith and works? “…if you believe in Jesus, you will do good works.” I think James has something about the devil believes in Jesus and trembles… That’s a whole ‘nother topic!

  • mnemos

    @YoungCatholic – Here’s a different kind of compassion… 50-100 years ago the world was different. Catholics were generally less educated, poorer, had less freedom to discover, think, figure things out, and the Church tried to serve them by providing rules for every occasion. It was neither the first or the last time for that sort of thing in the Church. It can lead to Pharisaical attitudes – ‘I know all the rules and I’m better than you’ – from both the hierarchy and the laity. The world has changed and we are no longer poor, with no opportunity to figure things out for ourselves. Now in our current culture radical individualism is more of a problem than a Pharisaic attitude – and in part it is a reaction against that earlier attitude. Some liberals out there are still fighting against the Pharisaical attitudes of 50 years ago, and haven’t noticed that they are surrounded by an environment of radical individualism. They may never notice it. Some of them actually think that their liberalism is counter-cultural. It was once. Maybe it still is somewhere – I just haven’t seen it. At some point it probably will be again.

    So for yourself, try to take their warning that focusing too much on rules can weaken your compassion, and take from the Church the structure we need to temper our hyper-individualistic culture. That’s one reason behind the resurgence of the Latin Mass.

    And try to notice when it changes because other sins will dominate in the future.

  • Leigh Anne P

    Actually, I consider them PRE-Christian. Before Paul, and before Antioch came up with the term “Christians”, there were “Disciples of Jesus”. The Disciples of Jesus focused not on evangelizing people to a “correct theology”, but on living and spreading the love of the two great commands to help build up the Kingdom of God. There is a BIG difference between the disciples of Jesus healing the sick and feeding the hungry and most of the churches of today……unless you narrow your search to the nuns, they act a LOT like the disciples.

  • Leigh Anne P

    You don’t earn it with good works? Read Matthew 25:31-46….works are at least a part of it…another verse says if you love me you will keep my commands….how can we say we believe if we don’t follow what he says?

  • Lydia Lombardo

    Mnemos, I did read a couple of the LCWR keynote speakers at your suggestion. Here’s my take. First of all, this is pretty advanced theology by women who have studied the issues and see that many clerics and lay people are not denying Jesus. They are opening the door to look at other important spiritual figures and religious who have merit. This is not anything new. Thomas Merton explored this idea many years ago and became very enamored with Buddhaism. He even visited the Dalai Lama on his last journey. Merton said that studying Buddhaism actually made him a better Catholic. I believe the nuns and many laity are looking to see how they can expand their universe and their relationship with God. Some people in the church are frightened by anything that seems to be outside of the church. Some if it is silly, like saying some Yoga practices are against church teaching. Years ago, we were told not to go to,the YMCA because it was affiliated with a church. These look like witch hunts to me and going back to when everybody followed the

  • Lydia Lombardo

    I was somehow cut off. My last sentence is: These look like witch hunts to me and going back to when everybody followed the church’s “teaching” on everything. We were told to never take classes at a non-Catholic university,lest that compromise our faith. We are no longer those sheep, and the very educated and actually thoughtful nuns are asking their own sisters if there is something to be learned in addition to what Jesus said. And my final note. Thus makes me so sad to see us going backward instead of forward, both in our church and in society. And yes, the church has criticized writers and scientists for centuries….Galileo, Teilhard de Chardin, Fr.. Richard Rohr, and Sister Elizabeth Johnson. The last two are still living and have given their lives to Christ and His people. They are out if the box, but they are so very spiritual and they have expanded my spirituality and my devotion to Christ a hundred fold. God Bless Them!

  • Lydia Lombardo

    Hurray.

  • Lydia Lombardo

    Young Catholic, Who made you the judge about anything I might or might not do? You continue to make these blanket statements about Liberal Catholics and what they believe and how they act. You have stereotyped everybody into different categories. How close minded you are. Try to see other sides of a situation. Some of us have lived a long time, and we know not everything is black and white. That is dualistic thinking, and many of us have gone far beyond that. Pope Francis said “Who am I to judge? ” and you come off as judge and jury. Time to look beyond your little world.

  • TheRealReginaPhalange

    And people can worship anywhere. They can worship quietly alone in their minds, not just out loud in front of a crowd of people.

  • TheRealReginaPhalange

    The Church has made many fundamental errors in the past two millennia. It is not infallible.

  • Stan Theman

    Why bother with the nuns? Their average age is already over 70 and it’s rising. Within ten years, they’ll either be in the ground or in nursing homes.
    The March of the Penguins is headed toward Oblivion by way or Irrelevance.

  • Stan Theman

    It would be nice if they addressed accusations of abuse by nuns within their orders instead of ignoring SNAP and other survivors.

  • Stan Theman

    Ignore what people say much?
    The Nuns and Vatican are two sets of twisted celibates with delusions of relevance.
    Take tax breaks from both of them.

  • James Stagg

    No, Stan, I rarely ignore what intolerant, ignorant people, like yourself, have to say. But you really should start your own web-site where your hatred and stupidity can be properly displayed.

  • Stan Theman

    Thanks for the passive-aggressive, and pathetic, attempt at moral superiority.
    Good to get reminders from time to time why religion is shrinking faster than the polar ice caps.

  • James Stagg

    No, turns out you are wrong on both accounts, but ignorance does have a way of exposing itself.

  • Stan Theman

    Celebrate your diversity!

  • Praelium

    “As American nuns “have been the de facto leaders of the country’s liberal Catholics.” True. And very sad. Liberal Catholics look like Gordon: old, grey, bitter, and firm in their rejection of the power of Christ. What does the Lord do with His power? After creating the universe, He placed a church on a rock and since then, there has always been a pope. Power.

  • Stan Theman

    Religion isn’t shrinking away? The Protestant Mainline churches aren’t over 58 years old (on average) and getting older?

  • mnemos

    Lydia – Thank you so much for the thoughtful response. I only know of the times when things like not going to a YMCA, and not going to non-Catholic university from my parents – it’s not what I lived, but I know it was there. I read “Mystics and Zen Masters” back in college, and I agree that we can learn from other cultures and religions. I don’t disagree with what you are saying – and in some sense I don’t disagree with what the LCWR says either. I think they are talking in a non-standard language, and to the extent they realize their audience, that is appropriate. _To the extent that they ignore their audience there can be an issue – they do not have the option of assessing their own statements in a language their audience does not understand._ (Highlighted because this is a VERY debatable statement!) This is difficult in todays world where there is so much less control over who the audience is. This is the heart of the conflict between theologians and the hierarchy in many cases. A good example was a piece published as an ad in the NYT, where a group of theologians said they were making a nuanced theological argument, and the hierarchy said assuming you said something theologically nuanced in the NYT is foolish. In that particular case, the hierarchy was right. (The standard example from philosophy class is “Hitler will talk.” In english it means Hitler is going to say something, in german it means he wants talcum powder. If you publish it in an english language newspaper and expect it to be interpreted as german, you’re full of it!)

    I like some of your other examples – in particular comparing Galileo and Teilhard de Chardin is good: both were scientists whose science was not challenged by the hierarchy – mythology aside – but whose theology was suppressed. In the case of Galileo, he preached that since the earth moved around the sun it was scientifically proven that humanity and Christ could not be significant – it was not particularly interesting theology so we ignore it and focus on his science, but it was not his science that was being condemned. Teilhard de Chardin again did not have his science challenged – it was his ideas about original sin (inspired by his work in evolutionary science) that were questioned. In that case, the theology was interesting and has eventually been appreciated and lauded.

    My point is not that one or the other is right in this particular case – I could argue in either direction, but that there are in fact arguments in both directions that do not require assuming the other side is petty, vindictive and/or stupid.

  • mnemos

    There is a disagreement among some pro-life scientists. They agree that life begins at ‘conception’, but disagree whether ‘conception’ is before or after the blastocyst stage of fertilization. They also assume everyone knows about the blastocyst stage of fertilization (when almost nobody does!) and if you didn’t know about that blastocyst stage you might think the post-blastocyst group was pro-abortion. The same is true here – the ‘public relations disaster’ is understood among a group who doesn’t actually consider that there are other groups out there, and doesn’t necessarily understand how others see them.

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    Jaw droppingly inane. Nuns are not getting abortions. It is sexpigs like you that made my fertility a burden most of my life.

    No thank you. Roman Catholic women have been ignoring the RCC’s attitude to their fertility for decades now.

    My Catholic Mother got an illegal abortion. RC women use contraception at a rate of 98% and RC women have a higher rate of abortion nationwide than Protestants.

    My Mother offered me an illegal abortion when I got inconveniently pregnant as a Teen. I ‘chose life.’ That is one of the most stupid decisions I made in my lifetime.

    The RCC’s attitudes toward sex and human biology is intrinsically disordered. Food is to bulimics as sex is to the RCC.

    Life does not begin at conception. The ovum and sperm are alive. Life is a continuum that began eons ago. Google ‘mitochondrial Eve.’ An individual woman having an abortion can in no way ‘end life.’

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    Right/wrong is a simple minded dichotomy that does not describe the universe or reality except in a very limited way. Life is so simple for the forced birther male. Feh.

    Anthropologically, Homo sapiens has three strategies
    for dealing with unwanted reproduction (births): contraception, abortion and infanticide. All three are practiced in every culture worldwide historically
    and currently.

    Those who restrict contraception and abortion make
    infanticide, child abandonment/abuse and maternal mortality inevitable. We have many in vitro examples of this but the one that troubles me the most at the moment is this example:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new

    There is nothing moral about your position if your
    position is controlling women’s reproductive choices by law or by shaming/blaming. Illegal abortion and sepsis and hemorrhage in childbirth are the three leading causes of maternal death worldwide. Women have blood in the game. YOU do not. Abortion and contraception are human rights.

    Obviously I have thought a great deal more about this than you have. YOU do not occupy the moral high
    ground.

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    Laughing at you. You leaving the Catholic women out? Catholics for Choice does not exist?

    More than seven in 10 U.S. women obtaining an abortion report a religious affiliation (37% protestant, 28% Catholic and 7% other), and 25% attend religious services at least once a month.[38] The abortion rate for protestant women is 15 per 1,000 women, while Catholic women have a slightly higher rate, 22 per 1,000.[32]
    https://www.guttmacher.org/in-the-know/characteristics.html

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    … because you know and can tell us what God thinks?

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    Jesus Christ founded no church. Jesus was an observant Jew.
    I stopped believing the ROCK story a long long time ago. So convenient.
    Just as silly as the Nuns trying to teach religion by telling me the streets in heaven are paved with gold and I can have all the ice cream I want there. I knew that was a scam early too.

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    What a pile of hot and steaming BS.
    “Over the pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one’s own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even the official church, also establishes a principle in opposition to increasing totalitarianism”.
    Joseph Ratzinger, 1967
    (in: Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II )

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    You have your truth. Only God is The Truth.

  • Frank6548

    And there you have it folks. See what the fools believe? That they have the right to kill a life. Pitiful.

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    All you whackjobs have to offer is drama and narcissism.
    There are a number of circumstances in which it is perfectly acceptable and not a crime to end a life: defense of self or others, assisted suicide, execution, war, police work for example.

  • Frank6548

    Certainly there are many examples of action that lack morality and ethics. Taking lives is one of them. If you want to defend a lack of morality and ethics, go for it.

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    Prove that any of those instances are unethical or immoral. I will wait for said proof.

  • Frank6548

    If you want to defend murder go for it.

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    I am asking you to prove what you asserted. I am waiting for your proof.