Sunday, April 29, 2012

"When Things Get Tough for Clergy, Nuns Suffer Too" (Courier Times, 4/29/12)

Going to 18+ years of Catholic school and growing up in an extended family which included priests, nuns, and religious brothers, I’ve probably known more Catholic clergy and religious than most lay people - be they in my own family, in my parishes, in my schools, and/or in my places of employment. With these familiarities, I am probably less prone to putting clergy and religious "on the shelf" from which it is so easy to fall. I do not view individual clergy or religious as innately more admirable than most - nor do I view the overwhelming majority of them to be the monsters which some in the media would have us believe. I was therefore especially intrigued by Jerry Jonas' most recent article, written with his typical nostalgic flare for the Greater Philadelphia area and beyond:
  • "Throughout the centuries, and even in today’s world, Catholic nuns — those dedicated religious women who have devoted their entire lives to helping others while expecting very little in return — have always been (and still are) treated by many leaders of their church as second-class citizens.... Despite their many hardships, those sisters spent their lives diligently instilling the love of God into us on a daily basis.... While in recent decades many of the seemingly illogical restrictions that nuns endured for so long have been removed, the number of nuns in this country is at an all-time low and still dwindling" (When Things Get Tough for Clergy, Nuns Suffer Too, Courier Times, 4/29/12).
A decade and a half ago, Ann Carey wrote of the atmosphere of "clericalism," during which many women of times past entered religious life (Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women's Religious Communities, 1997). Ms. Carey suggested that shameful mistreatment fertilized the soil for subsequent difficulties. Interestingly, she also noted that the most doctrinally sound communities were NOT "still dwindling" in number. Unlike Mr. Jonas, Ms. Carey does not attempt to portray the Vatican's Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious as misogynistic. To the contrary, Ms. Carey describes conditions leading up to the assessment as "brewing for 40 years."  As per the assessment itself:

  •  "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....
  • "The current doctrinal Assessment arises out of a sincere concern for the life of faith in some Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. It arises as well from a conviction that the work of any conference of major superiors of women Religious can and should be a fruitful means of addressing the contemporary situation and supporting religious life in its most 'radical' sense—that is, in the faith in which it is rooted"

In his article, Mr. Jonas evidences misunderstandings of the Vatican's assessment; I will limit my comments to two areas:

  • "Unbelievably, they [the Vatican] admonished them [the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR)] for 'focusing too much on poverty and economic injustice.'"  In our time, the nun most closely associated with topics of "poverty and economic injustice" was Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Obviously, the Vatican had no difficulty with Blessed Teresa's concerns about "poverty and economic injustice." In fact, some have criticized the Vatican for supposedly "fast tracking" the recognition of her sainthood! That Nobel Prize winning nun's speech at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast typified how authentic Catholic social teaching absolutely incorporates core truth about human life and family in addressing matters of "poverty and economic injustice." By contrast, I suspect that the Doctrinal Assessment may well have had in mind Sister Carol Keehan, the million-dollar-salaried head of the Catholic Health Association. When Sister defied the bishops on the need for conscience protections and gave a pass to the draconian HHS mandates, she betrayed all Catholics - especially those involved in health care.
  • Mr. Jonas also offered a 1967 out-of-context quote from Rev. Josef Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI, evidencing serious misunderstanding of what the Church teaches with regard to conscience and a Catholic's responsibility for forming her/his conscience in line with Church teaching. Defying the Church on hard teachings and the psychological denial of truth are certainly nothing new. Way back in the 16th century, many Catholics - clergy, religious, and laity - were more than willing to accommodate their "consciences" when King Henry VIII tried to pressure the Vatican into granting him an invalid declaration of marital nullity. Few held fast to the defense of marriage and the need to form consciences in line with Church teaching. At the Tower of London, Sir Thomas More announced: "I am the king's good servant, but God's first." The next sound heard was the thud as his head hit the floor, after being separated from his body.

To gain better understanding of the current situation and what the Church actually teaches, I encourage Mr. Jonas and others to read Ann Carey’s Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women's Religious Communities and the Doctrinal Assessment itself.

 

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About Me

I am an enormously blessed husband and dad. In regard to my Catholic theological background, I have a certificate in social ministry & a master's degree (moral theology concentration), as well as a catechetical diploma from the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Clergy (Nope, I am not now - nor have I have ever been - a seminarian, deacon, or priest.). I feel particularly proud to have a mandatum. I also have a doctorate in Christian counseling psychology.

And yup, that's me!

And yup, that's me!
(from page 1 of the NY Sun, 3/22/04)

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