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Monday, June 11, 2012

Roman Catholic Women Feminists

Washington Post writer Lisa Miller may have created a Vatican inspired quote for the ages.  "Members of the Vatican hierarchy are using the word 'feminist' and even 'radical feminist' the way third graders use the word 'cooties'."

Miller's put down is a response to recent Vatican communications claiming Roman Catholic religious nuns are becoming too secular.  She quotes a radio interview given by Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rode, who said nuns are exhibiting "certain irregularities" and are promoting a feminist spirit. 

Unfortunately, it's likely Cardinal Rode wasn't asked about "certain irregularities" among the Roman Catholic male clergy during the radio interview.

Vatican officials, assuming this means The Pope and all who he supervises, are upset with American nuns because they go about their business helping the poor and supporting social justice causes consistent with Roman Catholic teaching.  But, the nuns don't preach about the evils of abortion and the church's teachings on contraception, because they've moved beyond these issues.  Instead, nuns are in the people's trenches, helping others to live outside the box of strict sexuality rules that put us into sinners prisons.  Clergy are among those of us who are already included in the sinners prisons, but the male only group doesn't seem to get this.  Nuns, on the other hand, aren't wasting their lives sitting in judgement of other people. Modern religious nuns, by their examples of compassion and humility, lift our human spirits when they reach out to people in search of support. They offer hope in the form of education and by performing exceptionally good deeds.  

Sister Margaret Farley of Yale, for example, writes about sexuality issues in instructive ways, rather than preaching hell and damnation.  Curiously, Vatican officials must, cynically, have learned to rise above the issues they scorn Farley for writing about, like masturbation, in her book, "Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics".  I don't think so.

My personal mantra is to ask officials, like Cardinal Rode, if their sainted mother's ever practiced family planning.  

More to the point, however, is the duplicity of Vatican officials who put a negative feminist spin on nuns, when our Church history is adorned with hundreds of women who would likely be honored by the title.  I begin with Saint Mary Magdalene, who was the 13th disciple of Jesus Christ. This woman was a feminist, because she obviously broke the social norms of other women in her times, to follow Jesus on his journey from Calvary to the Resurrection.  But, she was, also, the first human Jesus appeared to after the miraculous Resurrection on Easter.

Soon to be canonized Algonquin and Iroquois Native American Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), was evangelized by the French Jesuits in Canada, during the colonization of New France.  She was under extraordinary pressure to conform with her tribal customs on spirituality and marriage. In spite of social pressure from the tribe, she stood firm against her adoptive father, who was a tribal chief, to remain a Christian and not marry. Standing strong for our beliefs are feminist character traits. Kateri was a role model for other tribal women who may have been justifiably inspired by her when their right to individuality became challenged.

It makes absolutely no sense for the Vatican hierarchy to challenge women religious. These devout women renounce materialism and take up social justice service with little compensation, like a nun I know in Maine, who helps prisoners learn to read.

In the absence of inside the Vatican information, my cynical observation about the criticism of nuns is that their "irregularities" are really manifested in their independence. Many nuns have developed careers living outside the confines of cloistered Roman Catholic convents, where their obedient participation once supported church infrastructure. Although many nuns continue to live in cloisters, it's because their religious orders can afford to support the operations of the facilities.  Nonetheless, many nuns are required to live and work outside of convents because declining recruitment has left the buildings empty, unsustainable, structures. In other words, the Vatican may be more interested in how nuns can help improve the church's bottom line than in how well they carry the social justice teachings of the church to the poor (my opinion, for what it's worth).

But, the Vatican's disdain for women religious is unbecoming, to say the least, and hypocritical at worst. Nuns have dedicated their lives and often their personal wealth to following the teachings of Jesus.  I suspect men like Cardinal Rode have seldom, if ever, job shadowed a nun for a day, especially before labeling them on radio interviews. 

Men like Cardinal Rode should try walking in the shadow of amazing women like Saint Mary Magdalene or the compassionate Mother Theresa of Calcutta.  

It's likely nuns would rather be called working religious women than to be labeled as feminists; but they and their saintly predecessors bring honor to the label.  



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