Garry Wills has a superb piece in the New York Review of Books about the Vatican’s recent attack (h/t Ed Kilgore) on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (the administrative organization that represents Catholic nuns and lay sisters) for focusing too much on helping the poor and the sick, and not enough on opposing abortion, birth control, LGBT rights, and male-only ordination.
The Vatican has issued a harsh statement claiming that American nuns do not follow their bishops’ thinking. That statement is profoundly true. Thank God, they don’t. Nuns have always had a different set of priorities from that of bishops. The bishops are interested in power. The nuns are interested in the powerless. Nuns have preserved Gospel values while bishops have been perverting them. The priests drive their own new cars, while nuns ride the bus (always in pairs). The priests specialize in arrogance, the nuns in humility.
Now the Vatican says that nuns are too interested in ”œthe social Gospel” (which is the Gospel), when they should be more interested in Gospel teachings about abortion and contraception (which do not exist). Nuns were quick to respond to the AIDS crisis, and to the spiritual needs of gay people””which earned them an earlier rebuke from Rome. They were active in the civil rights movement. They ran soup kitchens.
I saw their regard for the neglected or despised when our grade school had an influx of Mexican immigrants during World War II. The jobs left open when men went into the army were filled by Mexicans coming into the country to fill them. These families were not welcomed by some in the community, but the nuns insisted that their children, our classmates, must be treated as brothers and sisters.
Last week, following an assessment by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican stripped the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, representing most American nuns, of its powers of self-government, maintaining that its members have made statements that ”œdisagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle has taken control of the Conference, writing new laws for it, supplanting its leadership, and banning ”œpolitical” activity (which is what Rome calls social work). Women are not capable, in the Vatican’s mind, of governing others or even themselves. Is it any wonder so many nuns have left the orders or avoided joining them? Who wants to be bullied?