Monday, October 26, 2009

Recycled Dowd response

Since Maureen Dowd's usual display of discursive nonsense is attracting some attention around the Catholic blogosphere (and elsewhere), I'd like to post a response I wrote to it yesterday, and posted in the comment box at Rod Dreher's blog. Somebody there kept calling for a Serious Response, so I wrote one--even though responding seriously to Ms. Dowd is a little like using an acetylene torch to toast a marshmallow. Anyway, I hope you won't mind that I'm recycling this morning--but the only thing worse than crafting a Serious Response to Dowdiness is having to craft two such responses. Without further ado, then, here it is:


Like so many opinion pieces written by disaffected Catholics about something pertaining to the faith of their childhood, Maureen Dowd begins her latest exercise in studied irrelevance with an anecdote about the schoolyard, a mean nun, a handsome priest, and a cowering child--herself.

But only Dowd, with her splendid disregard for common sense, could conclude from such a story of her rescue at the hands of the kindly priest from whatever wrath the improbably-named nun might otherwise have been motivated to wreak that the real problem here was that the nun was a second-class citizen. Presumably, the priest should not have acted the role of male patriarchal oppressor, and the nun should have been free to employ whatever cliched punishment involving rulers or rosary beads or any other instrument of Catholic grade-school torture caught her fancy. Dowd, one is led to infer, would much rather have been punished by an empowered nun than forgiven by an oppressed one.

But apparently for Dowd, as for so many liberal Catholics or liberal ex-Catholics, the story of the evils of male hierarchical oppression must never deviate from a handful of preconceived notions tossed into a stew of reheated petulance and stale, leftover feminism. Nuns are oppressed because they are not priests; priests are oppressors because they are male; raise the felt banners and affix the peace signs, and join in a rousing chorus of Kumbaya.

Seen through this fogged feminist lens, the visitations--not inquisitions--the Vatican is now conducting as to the state of American nuns can only be an attempt to stifle dissent and muzzle the kind of intelligent spiritual growth that leads to nuns serving as abortion clinic escorts, nuns engaging in pagan worship rituals, and nuns, like Sr. Jeanne Gramick whom Dowd mentions, who campaign actively for gay marriage in clear defiance of Church teachings on the matter, and who, if they are ever disciplined, are inclined to don Che t-shirts and mutter about oppression and revolution to the tune of their favorite Marty Haugen song.

There’s a much more interesting story going on in regard to religious sisters in America--but Dowd misses it altogether. That story is simple, and can be demonstrated with a little light Internet searching. The average age of all American nuns is about 69--but the average age of the nuns in the young, traditional, habit-wearing, Latin chanting Vatican II orders, the ones who worship according to the Novus Ordo Mass but have resurrected such discarded practices as the rosary, Eucharistic Adoration, the wearing of the traditional habit, and the like--is about 35.

It is the old orders who are dying out, the ones who cast aside their spiritual patrimony because it has the Latin root word for “father” in it, the ones who imagined themselves as priestesses or at least as figures of power ushering in a new Church and a new Gospel based on openness to sin and aversion to judgment, a sort of combination of the words of a Gandhi with the practices of a Saul Alinsky. But a funny thing happened on the way to the revolution; people began to realize that a faith which never asks them to die to themselves isn’t really worth living for, and it certainly isn’t worth living in community with a few dozen other women one’s whole life to achieve.

The story of religious sisters in America has yet to be finished. But if there is a renaissance of women religious about to begin, it won’t be beginning in the middle of the prayer labyrinth, and it won’t be ushered in by the sort of woman who doesn’t have a problem ushering women in to abortion clinics to have their unborn children put to death. It’s a pity Dowd missed that part of the story; it’s a pity she doesn’t know the kind of nuns who would laugh over her portrayal of Pope Benedict and her templates of Church--as--oppressor and nuns--as---second-class--citizens. They would laugh, and then they’d probably offer up a prayer for her. But that’s a fantasy, of course; the kind of sisters I’m writing about here would never waste their time reading the New York Times.


Dawn Farias said...

How does someone even write what she wrote? And how do people anywhere make such sweeping conclusions all the time based on a few bad things they find??

Kim said...

Awesome--thanks for the great article (yours, of course!).

Scott W. said...

Lydia McGrew reminded me of a scene from C.S. Lewis The Great Divorce (I believe) where one character shrinks smaller and a fades as he rants louder and louder. Reading MD reminded me of that.

paladin said...

:) As a friend of mine at college once put it: your article was "keyboard ambrosia", Erin!

Anonymous said...

Too many irrelevancies were brought up in a brief piece by Ms. Dowd. Without knowledge of previously written opinions (nor particular interest to find out), if the premise is that women in the Catholic Church are considered second-class members, the topic development is inadequately supported.

It is still troubling, though, it seems Catholics argue basis for someone's worth in the Church is as a supposed 'stand on abortion', or if the order wears a habit or not.

When talking about dying out of 'young' orders, or 'older' orders, there's inconsistency in distinguishing age of members, or time the Order was established. But, also, it doesn't seem fair to say that the newer or older religious prefer to speak Latin or not.

My sisters have celebrated their silver jubilees and belong to an Order established in the 1800's and their Sisterhood ages from 17 to 97 (or more) from all over the world.

When we were kids, my sisters participated in Eucharistic Adoration, and we prayed the Rosary together as a family especially in months of May and August. These were not practices that emerged, re-emerged, etc. It's always been practiced.

When they joined they could very well have chosen medical school or founding businesses. They brought their talents, dedication, and love to the mission and religious profession. The 'quality' of their members has not changed over the years.

There is nothing to suggest in their lifework or occasional visits that they belong to an order that is 'dying out' and neither are they standing in the entrances of abortion clinics.

They aren't clamoring to change the Mass one way or the other, or promote its celebration spoken in on language or another. They are an international lot, and affirm their beliefs in one holy and catholic Church. Nor, are they pushing for greater autonomy in their worship. They often rise at 4:30 AM to a life of prayer, work, modesty, humility, and fellowship without a lot of time spent on attempts at social or political correctness.

There is enough shortage of people joining the religious life as professed priests, nuns, or truly Christian couples without seeming to badger nor alienate those that make their life choices based on whether or not they appear to ascribe to current or past Church leadership views.

The obsequious sensationalism of pieces like Ms. Dowd's article seize to capitalize on a current vein of cantankerousness that permeating the Church nowadays, and responses that describe an imagined division within the Church that do little more than promote dissonance and diversionary tactics to mask deeper issues that can lead to wars, such as in US Civil War, or Ireland or even between brothers in the original inhabitants of Jerusalem.

JMB said...

Once again, I didn't read Maureen Dowd's piece, nor am I going to. But I have a brother who is a Catholic priest. He's 44. He became a priest at 35. He's very well educated, speaks a few languages, has lived & traveled around the world. He's not gay, nor does he want to get married to a woman. The very people (like Dowd) who criticize the Catholic Church are criticizing a Church which may have or may not have existed 30 or 40 years ago. They are constantly surprised to find that their assumptions are completely out of date. I've met many young nuns through my brother. A lot of them are from Africa. Their joyfulness is infectious.

Anonymous said...

What I found appalling too was the fact that Dowd stated the celibacy isssue is a "dogma"--not true. But of course she uses it to her advantage when talking about the invitation to Anglo-Catholics, as if Rome is stumbling over itself and ignoring the rules to get all those "homophobic" Anglicans. Yuck.
Also, has she never heard of Catherine of Sienna or Theresa of Avila? Nuns who don't speak out? Please! Dave S.