Sunday, November 01, 2009

Evolution or stasis?

As I have noted on this site before, it has been my honor over recent years to meet and learn from several groups of American Roman Catholic nuns of different congregations. Mostly these have been older women who entered their convents pre-Vatican II and have subsequently reinvented themselves to serve the Church and society in ways that would have been unthinkable in earlier times. Wimples have been discarded in favor of modest modern dress. Rote liturgical practice and adherence to antique doctrine has been replaced by a creative, socially liberal, and ecumenical engagement with modernity. I have been deeply moved by the sisters' joyous identification with the gentle Galilean, and by their willingness to redefine spirituality in ways that recognize the goodness of nature and the exhilarating vision of scientific cosmology. I have detected nothing but loyalty to the Church -- albeit a Church that bears little resemblance to the misogynistic, homophobic patriarchy in Rome.

For this, they are currently being investigated by two Vatican commissions, one focussed on the sisterly "quality of life," the other on doctrinal orthodoxy. Apparently, Rome is worried that American nuns have "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."

In the current issue of Commonweal (October 9), a longtime sister provides a moving and quietly angry response to the investigations. She chooses to remain anonymous for reasons she describes, and which are relevant to the subject in question. "In the Catholic Church," she writes, "it is men who tell women how they should understand themselves as women. Rome wants women religious to accept such understandings not merely without dissent, but without comment." To put it bluntly, she says, American women religious are being "bullied." You can read the article in its entirety here.

On Thursday, I discussed a book that prescribes the empowerment of women as a way to ameliorate the (presumed) biological predisposition of our species to male intergroup violence and the social disorders that accompany rampant population growth. One would think the Church would prefer to be on the peaceable side of these issues -- even if the simple justice of female equality were not enough.