Saturday, June 9, 2012

The nuns are coming! The nuns are coming!

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. The nuns are coming

The Vatican is doing its best to silence American nuns, but the nuns are refusing to shut up, sit down, and do whatever the bishops say.

On June 6, Catholic sisters announced they would begin a multi-state bus tour to highlight the nuns’ good works on behalf of poor people and to criticize Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget. The bus is expected in Wisconsin on June 19.

“Because of their work, Sisters see the suffering of people in poverty on a daily basis,” according to the press release announcing the tour. “As a result, they recognize the harm that the Ryan budget will cause.” 

The tour comes amid a struggle that broke open in April when the Vatican harshly rebuked the nuns for, among other things, focusing too much on social justice and too little on gay marriage and abortion.

The Vatican, stained by its complicity in a global network of pedophiles, has found that the U.S. public has more respect for the nuns than the bishops. In Cleveland, for instance, 640 people attended a prayer service in late May to honor the nuns. “When the nuns were asked to stand for a blessing, the congregation responded with a spontaneous standing ovation that lasted nearly five minutes,” according to a New York Times report.

The Sisters’ tour is being billed as “Nuns on the Bus: Nuns Drive for Faith, Family and Fairness.” It begins in Iowa on June 18, stopping in Janesville and Racine in Wisconsin on June 19, and ending July 2 in Virginia.

Not coincidentally, Nuns on the Bus overlaps with the U.S. bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” crusade against Obamacare and its call for comprehensive contraception coverage in insurance plans, even at Catholic universities and hospitals. The bishops’ 14-day effort of “prayer, education and action” begins June 21 and ends July 4. Events are planned throughout the Milwaukee Archdiocese, including an opening mass on June 23 and a closing mass on July 4, both with Archbishop Jerome Listecki.

The nuns’ bus tour is being organized by Network, a social justice lobby in Washington, D.C., that was founded more than 40 years ago by group of Catholic nuns inspired by the Vatican II reforms and religious involvement in civil rights, antiwar and feminist movements. The nuns and laypeople in Network stayed true to the group’s founding mission; the Vatican, meanwhile, moved on to its preoccupation with all things sexual.

The Vatican’s attack on the nuns focuses on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of U.S. nuns. (The conference is listed on Network’s website as one of a number of “Partners and Coalition Groups.” Network, meanwhile, was mentioned in the Vatican’s critique of the leadership conference.)

The nuns’ leadership conference took its time responding to the Vatican’s charges. On June 1 the group issued its first public statement and noted that its national board had met and had “raised concerns about both the content of the doctrinal assessment and the process by which it was prepared.” The statement also lamented that the Vatican’s assessment had “caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.”

Most significant, the statement categorized the Vatican’s actions as symptomatic of a larger problem in the church involving matters of faith and justice. “The board believes it is imperative that these matters [of faith and justice] be addressed by the entire church community in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, and integrity.”

Given the Vatican’s long-standing reliance on feudal structures and beliefs, it wasn’t hard to see the statement as a broadside against Rome’s increasingly fragile relationship with 21st Century realities.  

Less than a week after the statement, Network announced its Nuns on the Bus tour. Officially, the nuns are being deliberative. In practice, they are still speaking out for social justice and refusing to be silenced.

A side drama is unfolding, meanwhile, on a 2006 theological treatise on love and sexuality that seemed destined to gather dust on academic bookshelves — until the Vatican attacked the book.

On June 4, the Vatican’s doctrinal enforcer — the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — called a book by Sister Margaret Farley inconsistent with Catholic teaching. The Vatican said Catholics should not use the book. (The congregation is the institutional successor to the Inquisition and the same group that censured the U.S. nuns.)

Farley’s book, blandly named Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, involves wide-ranging issues of sexual desire and “our yearning for pleasure.” More blasphemous, it presents a theological defense of gay marriage, masturbation (referred to as “self-pleasuring”), and the right to marry again after divorce.

Farley is far from a theological lightweight. She is a retired professor emeritus at Yale’s Divinity School and past president of the Catholic Theological Society.

If you want to have some fun reading about this rather racy controversy, check out Maureen Dowd’s June 6 column in the New York Times. Dowd also takes on Milwaukee’s beloved former Archbishop and now New York Cardinal, Timothy Dolan.

The New York media has fulfilled its journalistic responsibilities and treated Dolan as the politician he is, and thus fair game for media scrutiny. The Times stance, in particular, is noticeably at odds with the kid gloves’ approach that the Milwaukee media has taken, and continues to take, with Dolan.

Back in 2003, when there were reports that the Milwaukee Archdiocese had paid off a pedophile to leave the priesthood, then-Milwaukee Archbishop Dolan said that the inference of a payoff was “false, preposterous and unjust.”

But as news reports last week made clear, the Archdiocese under Dolan did indeed pay off at least one and quite possibly more suspected pedophile priests in order that they accept “laicization” —giving up their priestly status. The New York Times called Dolan on his double-speak and fraudulent denials; the Milwaukee media did not.

But back to Sister Farley and self-pleasuring.

The story didn’t end with the Vatican’s attack. On June 7, less than a week after the Vatican’s denouncement of Just Love, the Catholic Theological Society of America said it considered Farley’s work “reflective, measured and wise.”

“Wise” is not often used to describe the crisis-plagued Vatican these days.

The Theological Society’s statement not only supported Farley, it also raised concerns about the Vatican’s “rather constrained understanding of the task of theology.”

So here we have the Nuns on the Bus overlapping with the bishops’ Fortnight of Freedom, and Catholic theologians in the United States chastising the Vatican’s straightjacket approach to theology.

To make matters even juicier, the Pope’s butler has been arrested as part of a broadening scandal involving byzantine power struggles, leaked documents, and fears of money laundering by the Vatican bank.

Who needs another Dan Brown novel? All you have to do is read the news.

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This blog is cross-posted at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Purple Wisconsin project.

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