Thursday, July 2, 2009

What now, Pope Benedict?

I will be forever grateful for the Dominican Sisters at St. Vincent Ferrer and the Sisters of Mercy at Catherine McAuley High School in Brooklyn for educating me and giving me the incentive for life-long learning. So I became incensed this morning when I read U.S. Nuns Facing Vatican Scrutiny in today’s New York Times.

To me the investigation of women’s religious orders is another incident of a male-only clergy not only out-of-step with the times, but one that refuses to recognize the important history of women in the church. The old men of Rome and leaders of the Catholic Church in the United States not only continue their adamant stance against women priests, their new aggressive actions display more openly their fear of the role of women in the church. Underlying all this, I believe, is a historical distrust of women in general.

Below you will find three excerpts in today's article guaranteed to cause intense discussion, especially among those of us who were educated by these devout and dedicated women.

1) Nuns were the often-unsung workers who helped build the Roman Catholic Church in this country, planting schools and hospitals and keeping parishes humming. But for the last three decades, their numbers have been declining — to 60,000 today from 180,000 in 1965.

While some nuns say they are grateful that the Vatican is finally paying attention to their dwindling communities, many fear that the real motivation is to reel in American nuns who have reinterpreted their calling for the modern world.

2) The second investigation of nuns is a doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella organization that claims 1,500 members from about 95 percent of women’s religious orders. This investigation was ordered by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is headed by an American, Cardinal William Levada.

Cardinal Levada sent a letter to the Leadership Conference saying an investigation was warranted because it appeared that the organization had done little since it was warned eight years ago that it had failed to “promote” the church’s teachings on three issues: the male-only priesthood, homosexuality and the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the means to salvation.

3) Besides these two investigations, another decree that affected some nuns was issued in March by the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops said that Catholics should stop practicing Reiki, a healing therapy that is used in some Catholic hospitals and retreat centers, and which was enthusiastically adopted by many nuns. The bishops said Reiki is both unscientific and non-Christian.

Nuns practicing reiki and running church reform groups may have finally proved too much for the church’s male hierarchy, said Kenneth Briggs, the author of “Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns,” (Doubleday Religion, 2006).