Hey, Maureen It’s None of Your Business

To hear the mainstream media tell it, the Vatican has viciously attacked poor, unsuspecting old nuns.

Carol Marin’s piece in the Chicago Sun-Times was headlined: “Vatican waging a war on nuns”.

Maureen Dowd, in her Sunday column in the New York Times asked, rhetorically, “Who thinks it’s cool to bully nuns?”

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We Catholics might reasonably ask, “What’s going on here?”

In April 2012, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Religious Women. Click on the link and read it. You’d be doing more than Dowd, Marin, and the rest of the media did.

The thrust of the hysteria against the Vatican is based on a perception that the Vatican is commanding nuns to cease their efforts in regards to social justice and helping the poor, and to start promoting Catholic sexual teaching.

Marin says it boils down to this: “According to the Vatican, these nuns have been too focused on issues of poverty, war, health care and homosexuality. And not fixated enough on what the bishops think is most important — women’s wombs.”

Dowd chimes in: “How can the church hierarchy be more offended by the nuns’ impassioned advocacy for the poor than by priests’ sordid pedophilia?”

So, is the Vatican really trying to put the kibosh on American nuns working with the poor? Um . . . no.

Here’s what the report actually says:

The documentation reveals that, while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States. Further, issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.

Note that the Congregation does not say that nuns have been “too focused on issues of poverty” and the like. Note that in no way could this statement be construed as the Vatican being “offended by the nuns’ impassioned advocacy for the poor.” Note that nowhere does it say that the nuns’ actions are worse than, or a priority over, the priest abuse scandals.

Now, note that the report does question the total absence of the Church’s teaching on life, the family, and sexuality. Note also that, not only does the LCWR not promote these teachings, but it is often publicly opposed to them. Public opposition to Church teaching is heresy.

It’s worth noting here that this is not a report on “nuns” in general, as the media would have you believe, but a report on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which is “the association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States.” It has 1500 members across 80 percent of the various orders of sisters in the U.S. There are over 55,000 nuns in the United States.

Now, flip back to the beginning of the Assessment: “The Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contribution of women Religious to the Church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years.”

War on Nuns, indeed.

This is not an attack on nuns, and it is not an attempt by Vatican to “muzzle American nuns,” or even a “scorched reprimand,” as Dowd asserts.

After waxing shocked and stunned at the Vatican’s so-called “scathing rebuke,” Marin implores: “Surely, there are thoughtful bishops who recoil at what the Vatican is doing here.”  Perhaps now would be a good time to look at exactly “what the Vatican is doing here.” Here is the action that will be taken, in full:

1) To revise LCWR Statutes to ensure greater clarity about the scope of the mission and responsibilities of this conference of major superiors. The revised Statutes will be submitted to the Holy See for approval by the CICLSAL.

2) To review LCWR plans and programs, including General Assemblies and publications, to ensure that the scope of the LCWR’s mission is fulfilled in accord with Church teachings and discipline. In particular:  Systems Thinking Handbook will be withdrawn from circulation pending revision – LCWR programs for (future) Superiors and Formators will be reformed – Speakers/presenters at major programs will be subject to approval by Delegate.

3) To create new LCWR programs for member Congregations for the development of initial and ongoing formation material that provides a deepened understanding of the Church’s doctrine of the faith.

4) To review and offer guidance in the application of liturgical norms and texts. For example: -The Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours will have a place of priority in LCWR events and programs.

5) To review LCWR links with affiliated organizations, e.g. Network and Resource Center for Religious Life.

So the Vatican will “implement a process of review and conformity to the teachings and discipline of the Church.” The above steps are hardly an attack. These nuns are, after call, Catholic, right?

What could be so harrowing about a “deepened understanding of the Church’s doctrine of the faith”? Or what is so terribly offensive about giving the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours “a place of priority” in the daily operations of the LCWR? They are, after all, a religious organization within the Catholic Church.

No, this is not a war on women. Or a war on nuns. Or a war on the poor. This is a shepherd leading the flock. And it’s something that the secular world not only does not understand, but actively fights against.

The Church is not saying, “Stop helping the poor!” It’s saying, “Start following Catholic teaching.”

And therein lies the problem. The Church’s teaching on life, the family, and human sexuality is at odds with the secular world. It’s a threat to them. Such a threat that a letter to a group of 1500 Catholic women that says they need to follow Catholic teaching has been decried as “unpardonable scorn” by Marin.

That nuns are women is just a convenient fact that secularists like Dowd and Marin use to attack the Church. If the Vatican came out and told the Benedictines they needed to get in line, the media wouldn’t even notice.

Dowd, Marin, and the rest of the media are simply out of their depth here. This whole situation is a matter of Catholic doctrine. And a severe one at that. It’s unbecoming to highjack it for one’s own political hobbyhorse.

The media can have their opinion, of course, but to blatantly misrepresent (and misunderstand) the facts for so that it fits nicely into the liberal’s election year narrative is worse than irresponsible.

Nope, this isn’t a war on women. This is standard Catholic teaching. These are Catholic nuns. Women, yes, but also Catholics. And they’re subject to Catholic teaching just like the rest of us.

And, contrary to the way it’s being portrayed by Marin, Dowd, and the rest of the media, the Church has given the sisters what amounts to a gentle nudge, especially in light of some of their fairly massive transgressions. Such as this nifty passage from the LCWR’s main handbook: An Invitation to Systems Thinking (“Systems Thinking” by the way, is a convoluted philosophy of sorts that amounts to a direct rejection and alternative to traditional Western thought).

In a case study looking at a dispute as to why the Eucharist within the Mass was not being offered at an LCWR conference, the LCWR took the side of:

Those who view reality largely from an “Organic” model while adhering to liberationist and feminist theologies, [and who] cling to their understanding of Eucharist because they believe that as long as men control women’s lives, there will be no justice.

“Their understanding of the Eucharist,” incidentally, is that it has no place at an LCWR conference. This is a prime example of what the Vatican characterizes as “a diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of the religious consecration which leads, in turn, to a loss of a ‘constant and lively sense of the Church’ among some religious.” Furthermore, in public addresses and in conferences, there has been ample and repeated support within LCWR for “moving beyond the Church” and beyond Christ.

As far as the Church is concerned, this has nothing to do with women, or declaring war on them. It has everything to do with the fact that Catholics in positions of authority —regardless of their sex—are holding to teachings in blatant opposition to Church doctrine.

All of this amounts to heresy, really, and as such, the LCWR should actually be breathing a sigh of relief at the pastoral gentleness of the Vatican’s rebuke.

It’s certainly much more measured and caring than Dowd’s solution: “The pope needs what the rest of us got from nuns: a good rap across the knuckles.”


  • Christian Tappe

    After a brief career restoring timber-framed barns, Christian Tappe worked as an editor for Regnery and ISI Books. He is currently Editor of Saint Benedict Press/TAN Books in Charlotte, NC.

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