Word of the Vatican’s action took the group completely by surprise, Sister Sanders said. She said that the group’s leaders were in Rome on Wednesday for what they thought was a routine annual visit to the Vatican when they were informed of the outcome of the investigation, which began in 2008.
“I’m stunned,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby founded by sisters. Her group was also cited in the Vatican document, along with the Leadership Conference, for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping “silent” on abortion and same-sex marriage.
“I would imagine that it was our health care letter that made them mad,” Sister Campbell said. “We haven’t violated any teaching, we have just been raising questions and interpreting politics.”
Bloggers tempted to cheer at this outcome might consider Omar F. A. Gutierrez's sober analysis:
Second, we shouldn’t be cheering because the year is 2012. We’ve known about this goofiness among the women religious for how long? Where I grew up, I remember the weird, quasi-pagan rituals the local sisters would do in the mid 80’s. My Mom would come home and report these things to my young ears and I just wondered where in God’s name the bishops were… and were these the same splendid sisters who taught me in grade school?
Sure, we should be glad that the Holy Father and the USCCB is taking hold of this situation now. God bless Archbishop Sartain who will be taking on this Herculean task, but honestly, why did it take so very, very long to address something so obviously corrupt. Since this all seems to be a matter of enforcing canon laws, again why did it take so long?
In one convent I entered some years ago – not in Omaha – I read the newly drafted mission statement of the women religious community that was so proudly displayed in the lobby. Nowhere in this mission statement did the name of Jesus or Christ appear. NOWHERE. The word “Eucharist” didn’t even appear in the mission statement even though the particular order was dedicated to adoration. Instead, it was a bunch of drivel about being modern St. Francises as they strove to bring reconciliation between Mother Earth and humanity. It was about being a prophetic voice of change to the rest of the Church. Blah blah blah. This should not have taken as long as it did.
Amen to that!
In fact, back in 2008 when the visitation of the LCWR was first underway, I wrote a post about it here. The whole post follows, for those newer readers who may not have seen it then:
Many people have already posted excerpts from this, reported by the Catholic Key, which helps explain why some women religious are being investigated:When religious communities embraced the spirit of renewal in the 1970s, they took seriously that the world was no longer the enemy, that a sense of ecumenism required encountering the holy “other,” and that the God of Jesus might well be the God of Moses and the God of Mohammed. The works of Thomas Merton encouraged an exploration of the nexus between Eastern and Western religious practices. The emergence of the women’s movement with is concomitant critique of religion invited women everywhere to use a hermeneutical lens of suspicion when reading the androcentric Scriptures and the texts of the Tradition. With a new lens, women also began to see the divine within nature, the value and importance of the cosmos, and that the emerging new cosmology encouraged their spirituality and fed their souls.I couldn't help but be reminded of a story:
As one sister described it, “I was rooted in the story of Jesus, and it remains at my core, but I’ve also moved beyond Jesus.” The Jesus narrative is not the only or the most important narrative for these women. They still hold up and reverence the values of the Gospel, but they also recognize that these same values are not solely the property of Christianity. Buddhism, Native American spirituality, Judaism, Islam and others hold similar tenets for right behavior within the community, right relationship with the earth and right relationship with the Divine. With these insights come a shattering or freeing realization—depending on where you stand. Jesus is not the only son of God. Salvation is not limited to Christians. Wisdom is found in the traditions of the Church as well as beyond it.
On Beyond Jesus (with apologies to Dr. Seuss)
Said Sister Androgina Guevara Mao,
(An old friend of mine who worships the Tao):
You start out by studying Adam and Eve
(Though I find that story too hard to believe)
Then you go through the prophets; you study the kings
Who all hated women (misogynist things!)
Some poems called psalms, and some proverbs, and then--
You get to the Gospels; and that's where it ends.
You read about Jesus, you learn His whole story,
With good bits with women, and other parts gory,
And then you should know, from the very Creation,
The whole of the story of humans' salvation.
I was nodding--because that is how it should go--
When she frowned and said sternly: No. Oh, dear, no!
That's what they tell you, that's what they try
To make you believe while you live till you die.
But some of us know this is no place to stop!
I could keep finding prophets and myths till I drop!
You can stop, if you want, with the Lord Jesus Christ.
But not me!
I won't stop here, not at any price!
If you stop here with Jesus, you'll never explore
The non-androcentric religions galore:
The ones that have goddesses, holy and wise
With perhaps a bit more than their fair share of eyes,
The one around Buddha--you really should try it!
If nothing else Buddhism's good for your diet.
And then there are legends of spirits that come
When you carve a big totem or beat a big drum.
So, on beyond Jesus! To Zeus and to Hera!
Don't let a word like "heretic" scare ya.
There's so much empowerment you'll never know
If you stop at Jesus. So go, go, go, go!
Go on to the Norse Gods, to Freya or Thor
You'll learn so much more than you could have before.
Cosmology, circles, spell-casting and chant--
But not the old sort. No, that kind we can't.
We've forgotten the words, if we ever did know them,
Besides, we worked hard so we could overthrow them.
On beyond Jesus! There's so much beside Him!
The gods of the Romans, (though they crucified Him)
Are interesting sorts, like the two-headed Janus.
We'd put up an altar to him, but they'd ban us,
Those narrow suspicious ones coming to check--
They've seen our free writings, but called them all dreck.
They stopped at Jesus, and now you can see,
Just what would happen to you--and to me!
If we stopped at Jesus, and never went past Him.
We'd be just like them--but we will outlast them!
Oh, maybe some orders are doing quite well,
Who stopped at Jesus. It's hard to tell.
They have new members, and growth, and much joy.
But what we have is better. Oh boy, yes, oh boy,
We went beyond Jesus! Our convents are empty,
Young Catholics avoid us, or say things contempt-y.
We have no future, we turned from our past,
We built nothing permanent, nothing that lasts.
But we did explore all the gods ever prayed to!
Except the real God, unless we were paid to.
So what if our convents are left now in tatters?
We went beyond Jesus. And that's all that matters.
I shook my head sadly as she finished talking,
Said my goodbyes, and quickly left, walking
Straight through the big labyrinth inside her foyer,
She shouted at me, but I just ignored her.
In other words, as Gutierrez's post points out, the tendency of American nuns to combine sincere and much-appreciated works of charity with goofy leftist political activism and even goofier paganism and a wholesale rejection of many of the Church's teachings in various moral areas is not a new problem, and this first attempt to address it is long overdue. If the sisters quoted in the NYT piece are truly surprised, shocked, and appalled that it has come to this, then a small reminder is in order: Catholic nuns, like Catholic priests, Catholic brothers, Catholic deacons, and all other Catholics, are supposed to be--you know--Catholic first. If you really think that the Church is a misogynistic and patriarchal society which oppresses women, and that abortion or birth control are liberating, that sex outside marriage, divorce, and other forms of immorality are good ideas, that gay "marriage" is just trendy enough to be worth supporting, and that Jesus Himself a) would have no problem with any of these things and b) isn't really any more important than Gaia or Isis or various unnamed spirit-gods and demigods of other traditions, then the question isn't "Why, then, are you a religious sister?" but "Why the heck are you even Catholic?"