$upport Our $ister$

Last night I attended an event at a Catholic parish in Manhattan to support US Catholic sisters in response to the Vatican’s recent statement about them. First we viewed a new documentary about the sisters, Women and Spirit which tells the amazing story of Catholic sisters’ work in the U.S. since the first of them arrived here in 1727. It’s produced and marketed by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the primary target of Vatican criticism. Then we discussed the current situation facing the sisters and US Catholic women more broadly. A number of us had read in advance the assessment of the LCWR by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

I am often struck by how basically benign US Catholics are (except about clergy sex abuse)—especially those who still belong to parishes, as most of the attendees last night did. A few of them were angry, but for the most part they seemed more disappointed, or sardonic.

Several women said it was best not to do anything until the LCWR issued its own statement later in the month, and then to follow their lead. Several attendees had come to the meeting from a demonstration outside the archdiocesan cathedral, St. Patrick’s. The event was one of a series of actions being held in support of the sisters on Tuesdays in May across the country. Those who went were greatly encouraged by the event. Seventy-five people had turned out, they reported, some carrying big signs. There was only one young cop who gave them no trouble. Maybe a thousand people will come next time, somebody said.

I was not entirely encouraged. It was clear that the sisters who watched the film with us were gratified to hear about the action, but with nineteen million people in the metropolitan area, a demonstration that small is lucky to get a mention from a blogger or two; no media turned up at all. Neither did Cardinal Dolan.

It happens that I am preparing to go down to Philadelphia this weekend to join with other members of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference to picket outside the annual (men’s) ordination in the Catholic cathedral there. This is the thirty-second year of our protest. I’d like to tell you that our action has had a big impact on the bishops and the Vatican, but alas, I can’t. I suppose if thousands of people turned out to join us we would be more effective. Sixty-three per cent of US Catholics favor women’s ordination, but getting seventy-five of them out on ordination day is no small feat.

In the thirty-seven years that I have been working for Catholic women’s ordination, it has become clear to me that while protesting and writing letters and op-ed pieces and celebrating the Eucharist with women priests is worthwhile, only one thing will really get the bishops’ attention: money.

If US Catholics really want to “support our sisters,” they need to put a note in the collection basket saying they reject the Vatican’s vile treatment of the nuns and won’t contribute again till a retraction is forthcoming. Then they need to start sending some of the money they would have given to the parish to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious to help pay the legal fees the group is going to incur resisting the Vatican power move. And they should send the rest, on a regular basis, to the congregation of sisters who educated them. Most of these groups have web pages telling how to make a donation. They also have very many old sisters to care for. $upport our $ister$. [See also Mary E. Hunt’s op-ed here, and Nicholas Kristof’s supportive response. –Eds.]