Catholic Bishop Responds to The Nuns’ Story

Terry Gross followed up her interview with Sister Pat Farrell of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious with the view of the church as presented by Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio.  Bishop Blair lead the commission that investigated the nuns and wrote a report criticizing the sisters for not sticking to church teachings.  The Bishops are planning to take over the LCWR and impose conformity on it.  You can listen to Bishop Blair’s interview with Gross here.

I’m at a loss for words.  Wait, that’s not quite right.  What I mean to say is that the bishops seem to be undergoing a process of self-immolation on a public stage because if what I’m hearing is the “logic” of the church, it is incomprehensible.  I find the bishop’s response to Sister Pat’s interpretation of obedience to be particularly confounding.  Sister Pat says she interprets her vow of obedience as obedience to God and her conscience.  You would think that God’s word would be the ultimate authority.  Not so, says the bishop.  The sister isn’t allowed to get around the obedience to the church even if it is in contradiction to what the sister interprets as God’s will.  The church is a hierarchy and the sister is not in it.  She doesn’t have the right to discuss or question anything.  She only has the duty to do what she’s told, even if she thinks it’s wrong.

And you know, that’s probably ok.  I mean, if you’re going to be a believer of a certain religion and that religion says you must follow us unquestioningly and not rely on your own understanding, then you’d better do what they say or find another church.  The Catholic church is particular flavor of Christianity.  You need to accept that it’s always going to be lime and never fruit punch.

The bishop has more to say on the church sexual abuse scandal.  To me, he is saying that the church doesn’t have a problem with homosexuality and pedophilia (which don’t have to go together but these priests are not mature in their sexuality. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature of their teachings and training).  Bishop Blair attributes the sexual abuse cases to an evil that has gotten into the church.  And in some weird way he justifies the crackdown on the sisters as a response to that evil.  The priests and bishops need to refocus on church doctrine to keep themselves in line and so the first thing they do is make sure the sisters are conforming.

There’s more on human sexuality in marriage and contraception but with every issue, I feel like I’m hearing 2000 years of rationalizations layered into some bizarre accretion.  Somewhere back in the 4th century, the Roman empire co-opted early Christianity and Catholic dogma took a hard right turn forcing everything around it to twist itself into knots trying to keep up.  It’s like one of those old models of the solar system where the earth is the center and everything around it takes more and more complicated paths to explain observations of astronomical patterns, like retrograde orbits.  But hey, this is the Catholic church we’re talking about.  It only took them 400 years to forgive Galileo for being right.

This is what Sister Pat is up against.  And I have to say that if she stays in the church and complies with this assessment, she will need to lose her own conscience.  It will be substituted by some other entity’s conscience.  The loss is not just to herself though.  All of the people who depend on the assistance of her organization will be harmed by her compliance.  She’s going to have to make a choice.  She won’t be the first person to have to defy the church.  Martin Luther did it and that turned out alright, sort of.  But what Martin Luther did to church dogma, Sister Pat would be doing for women in general.

At some point, Catholic women are going to have to ask themselves what’s in it for them that can’t be provided by some other faith.  Is it true that God only speaks to one man in Rome and this holy representative made it to the top through piety and not politics?  And if there is a political element to his election to pope, doesn’t that undercut his authority in some respects?  He’s not the most holy or wise.  He’s just the most popular of the cardinals.  And if that’s true, then how do we know that they’re operating in the best interests of God?  And if they’re using their own judgement and not hearing from God directly, how is their conscience more reliable than Sister Pat’s?

I only ask but *she’s* not allowed to.  The Catholic hierarchy is telling her that this is what she signed up for, no matter how self-serving it is for the guys in charge.  If she wants to do things her own way, well, she’s not being a good Catholic.  It’s sort of like being a woman in the Democratic party.

It’s up to her.  Get in line and be silent and subservient forever or listen to God and her conscience, leave and  start her own order.  This might be the most courageous thing a Catholic woman has ever done.  It would be so significant that it would shake the hierarchy to the core.  Who knows, the Church might need to start asking some questions of itself.  Don’t wimp out, Sister Pat.

31 Responses

  1. “Somewhere back in the early 4th Century, the Roman Empire co-opted early Christianity…”

    BING BING BING WE HAVE A WINNER!

    I think that is where my faith took its great wrong turn. The Church cannot be both the metaphorical Bride Of Christ and the concubine of Caesar.

    All states are composed of human beings, therefore all states will sin at one time or another. A church which is beholden to the state for at least part of its income will be poorly situated to rebuke that state when it sins.

    For example, the Roman Empire was inherently a sinful society, as it was based on the sin of slavery. (Slavery is sin because it steals the energy of human beings for the profit of their masters, hence breaking the Commandment against theft.) A Church which was the official religion of that Empire could hardly rebuke Imperial sins.

    To give a later example: As RD has pointed out at times, one of the great causes of the decline of Christianity in Europe was disgust at the official state churches’ ready support of the frequent wars of the European nations, as well as those churches’ tolerance of the brutal exploitation of workers both in traditional jobs and the new industrial jobs.

    My right-wing brethren (and sisthren?) :mrgreen: who want to make our faith the official faith of the USA have failed to learn from history. The absence of a corrupt, cruel, authoritarian state church in the USA is one of the greatest reasons that Christianity remains far more vital in the USA than in its historic heartland of Europe.

    • Awww, I cut myself off too soon. To continue: If my authoritarian brethren ever do succeed in establishing our faith as official, it will soon suffer the same decline here as it has suffered in Europe. Indeed, it’s suffering some decline now (whether the decline will continue remains to be seen), due to understandable disgust at the authoritarian antics of the fundies, or as the late great Molly Ivins called them, (IIRC) “Wahhabi Christians”. :twisted:

      • Some of the highly dedicated, easily led Christians in my family are claiming this country was founded on Christianity and they are having the history books in their schools rewritten to prove it. The Republicans are trying hard to push for a Christian gov’t because those who follow religious leaders are so much easier to manage…that umbrella of “Good” just makes keeping people in line a given. I’ve never been intolerant of any group, but I’m rapidly losing all patience for these fools who are so readily led into hate, revenge, greed, and the self-righteous idea that they are within their rights to force their idiotic beliefs onto everyone.

        • You know there is a hypothesis that being gay is genetic. Why not a a “Christian” gene. A defect that makes you susceptible to the 700 clubs blandishments.

          • How about a “follower” gene which makes the victim susceptible to the blandishments of authoritarians, whether religious like Robertson or anti-religious like Lenin?

    • I would put it the other way. I would suggest that the early Church figured out how to co-opt the Roman Empire and retarget Roman Imperial resources to the aggressive conversionist mission of the Church Militant.

  2. “You would think that God’s word would be the ultimate authority. Not so, says the bishop. … The church is a hierarchy and the sister is not in it. … She only has the duty to do what she’s told, even if she thinks it’s wrong.”

    Wow. Just wow. Amazing that anyone, even sausages with some kind of god on their side, could flat out say that, post-Nuremburg.

    I’ve never understood why women participate in any of tribal cults whose purpose seems to be keeping them down. Maybe the sisters will stop understanding now, too. I hope so.

    Don’t wimp out, indeed!

  3. “You would think that God’s word would be the ultimate authority. Not so, says the bishop. … The church is a hierarchy and the sister is not in it. … She only has the duty to do what she’s told, even if she thinks it’s wrong.”

    Wow. Just wow. Amazing that anyone, even sausages with some kind of god on their side, could flat out say that, post-Nuremburg.

    I’ve never understood why women participate in any of tribal cults whose purpose seems to be keeping them down. Maybe the sisters will stop understanding now, too. I hope so.

    Don’t wimp out!

  4. {Gaa. Forgot to close tag around “say.” Help, please.}

  5. I just watched the Italian archery team compete against China! There are other countries and obscure team sports at the Olympics. Who knew?? And where would we be without NBC spoon feeding us?

    Plus, the US Swim team is having a good time:

    • The BBC online coverage of the Olympics is nothing short of phenomenal. You can see replays of anything you missed, in any sport, or watch live–with instant replay! Worth every cent of the $10 I spent for the proxy server. NBC sucks.

      • Spread the word of the mighty suck-a-tude of NBC. Remember they are host to the Bog Trotter Chris Matthews one of the trolls responsible for Barack Obama.

    • Ah, I’ve been watching archery too. The women’s competition. And have been struck by how totally adorable all these young women are. No matter what country or continent they’re from. And those cute sunhats; love them.

      I’m also touched by how, after a fight, the competitors often embrace in what seems like genuine mutual fondness and respect, winner and loser alike. Makes me wonder if there’s a special code of conduct/ good sportsmanship taught in archery? But whether or not that is the case, it’s so uplifting to witness.

      • I think you kinda have to be nice in archery and not make it personal because otherwise your opponent might look like a big red 10.

  6. The Pope has said that he would be satisfied with a smaller but more “pure” church. He would be more than happy to see the nuns leave because they’ve been challenging him and his predecessor or decades.

    I would probably leave but I would like to see the nuns stay and fight the good fight. If the Pope ex-communicates them, I think that even more American Catholics will go with them. The Roman Catholic Church is way too powerful in American politics and that needs to change. That’s more likely if the church is in the news every day because they’ve thrown out yet another nun who followed her conscience.

    An archbishop in Arizona ex-communicated a nun who is a hospital administrator in that state. She was kicked out in 2009 for approving a life-saving therapeutic abortion for an eleven-year-old girl. Her ex-communication resulted in a lot of bad publicity and, I’m sure, a lot of reflection on what it means to blindly follow RC teachings. She has been welcomed back to the church because of, I think, public pressure. Not a single pedophile priest has been ex-communicated. That outrageous difference in how women and men are treated in the RC Church needs to be on the front page of every newspaper and blog in the country. My hope is that the RC hierarchy will be too busy dealing with the fallout to insert themselves into public health policy.

    The LCWR is meeting in August. My guess is that they will not leave the church but will remove themselves from the authority of the Vatican. I’m not sure how that works but, apparently, it’s been done by dissident groups before.

    • What if the LCWR in effect dared the Hierarchy to excommunicate them each, excommunicate them all?

      • I’m going to guess that the church will apply economic pressure. Who supports the nuns? Where do they live? Is that church property? Where do they get the money for outreach?
        Compliance requires a financial threat. And I have no doubt that Vatican lawyers have already looked into how to do this without any interference from the country of residence. It’s probably regarded as a private religious matter. So, for these nuns to truly rebel means they’re going to rely heavily on their vow of poverty. They’d be going the poor Clares route, which may be ok by them. But we might end up with homeless nuns who are as dependent on services as the ones they provide.
        It’s a PR thing. If I were the church, I might not have gone all Mel Gibson on the sisters but now that they’ve decided to make a big deal of their doctrinal compliance program, they’ve got to stick with it to the end.
        Maybe the first mistake the church made was electing pope hardass in the first place. Catholics needed a pope who would have reviewed the church dogma and said someone made a mistake about 1600 years ago that needs to be corrected. It was probably some typos or miscopying or something. All better now.
        Definitely a missed opportunity with pope Benedict.

        • The Sisters may well turn directly to the Laity for financial and otherwise survival support. They may find deep and broad support there.

        • the LCWR nuns have received alot of publicity, & from that, have gained alot of support. I imagine some of those supporters have fairly deep pockets. The nuns may (or may not!) have to cut back some, but I doubt they will become homeless

          7

          • Mebbe. But we’re talking about a LOT of nuns. Hard to believe that private donors are going to be able to support all of them.
            And there’s precedent for disbanding religious communities. Henry VIII did it. Turned a whole lot of nuns and monks out on the street. Yep. Fend for yourself.
            If it were any other pope, this probably wouldn’t be an option. But then, it was this particular pope that decided to pursue a power struggle in the first place.
            I don’t see a happy ending here. Maybe a new beginning but not a happy ending. If the nuns prevail, the church is going to look stupid. If the church prevails, well, there goes the sensible part of their organization.
            The only way they get to do as their consciences direct them is to sever some of their connections they have with the Vatican and Benedict is likely to make that very painful for them. It’s his nature.

    • JeanLouise said: “The Pope has said that he would be satisfied with a smaller but more ‘pure’ church.”

      That’s what he’s going to get–smaller and smaller and smaller, finally vanishing with a *POP*–regardless how this or any other future decision goes. We are witnessing the death spiral of a 2,000-year-old institution. Like it or not, the Roman Church was the foundation of Western civilization.

      Nothing lasts forever. But damn, they had a good run, pedophiles and all. I only hope that our future barbarian overlords don’t destroy the Sistine Chapel.

  7. The LCWR is an umbrella organization for nuns who are members of different orders. A lot of them have jobs but, then, a lot of those jobs are in Catholic hsopitals, schools and charities so they’d probably lose their jobs if they were ex-communicated.

    I’m not sure how property works in the RC Church. I don’t know if convents that shelter elderly nuns or those who work for no money are owned by the order or by the Vatican. I doubt that the Vatican provides the elderly or the disabled with stipends. They’re not known for their generosity to nuns and I’ve heard from some Catholic friends that elderly or sick nuns are sometimes sent back to their families if they become too expensive for the order to care for them.

    r u reddy, I don’t see mass ex-communications occurring. There is written church law and lawyers who would undoubtedly sue on behalf of the ex-communicated if the Vatican or its representatives tried to get rid of them en masse. I would guess that the leaders, particularly those who have publicly suggested that the RCC should ordain women as priests, would be the first to go because they’ve made public statements that are contrary to church doctrine.

    John Paul II was a snake in the grass. While he smiled and quoted poetry that he had written, he reiterated the most conservative stances in the church and promoted men who agreed with him. When he died, I read that there was only one Cardinal who was not known to be very conservative and that guy has died or retired. When Benedict goes, his successor will be chosen by an ultra-traditionalist College of Cardinals. That could and, likely will, be the kind of men who run the RCC in the forseeable future.

    • The Women Religious probably understand Long Game and Protracted Conflict just as well as the Hierarchs do . . . and they will not surrender or leave quietly. They will find some way to make the Hierarchs defeat them or expel them as slowly and painfully as possible in hopes that the Hierarchs defeat themselves along the way.

  8. OTB . . . I have said before that I get the feeling that former HRClinton sceptics who are re-assessing HRClinton with an open mind
    for Our OWN selfish benefit are expected to prove our new open mindedness about the HRClinton record and possibility-spectrum . . . by turning a blind eye toward the down sides of the President WJClinton record. I have said before that I can’t do that, and I won’t even try.

    Matt Stoller at Yves Smith’s NaCap has written a newest article containing an explosive allegation about President Clinton’s planned conspiracy against Social Security. I will cutpaste the relevant paragraphs here, but I would want to see proof of it before I commit to believing it. I would also welcome any proof-to-the-contrary that anyone else cares to post here. Herewith, the cutpaste . . .

    “One of the little known political stories of the late 1990s is how Bill Clinton tried to work with Newt Gingrich to cut Social Security for recipients and pour some of the Social Security trust fund into the booming stock market. Clinton was willing to oppose the liberal wing of his party to cut a deal, and accept Republican demands for private accounts and a higher retirement age. Gingrich was willing to let Clinton succeed at doing so. And Clinton put Erskine Bowles, a conservative Democrat, in charge of the effort.

    But then Monica Lewinsky happened, and Clinton had to take refuge with the liberals, who might have abandoned him during his impeachment had he cut entitlements. As Bowles said, “Monica changed everything”. Bill Clinton was an obscenely corrupt politician, starting with NAFTA in the early 1990s and ending with financial deregulation until his final days in office. After he left office, he took over $80 million in bribes, and his team of advisors – people like Gene Sperling, Bob Rubin, and Larry Summers – operated just like he did, spinning between DC power and New York money for decades in a sea of graft and pay-to-play favors.”

    Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/07/obamas-second-term-agenda-cutting-social-security-medicare-andor-medicaid.html#TGkDePHP06Fi0sY6.99

    (Neat, how the URL just self-loaded itself without any effort on my part. New features? )

    • Oh, Mighty Monica! Please save us from Obama privatizing social Security! So, lemme get this straight, for once The Clenis was doing good? Not on purpose, of course, but somehow ended doing good? What a story! Now I really don’t care about the catfood commission – busy obsessing about the Mighty Clenis again!

      • I’m young enough that I have to care about the Catfood Commission because it is my future Social Security and Medicare that they are plotting to steal from me. Of course they will play the game of holding harmless the SS and MCare of people already old enough to already be recieving the benefits. They hope thereby that the people already recieving these benefits will stand by and accept the conspiracy to steal these benefits from those of us still paying for them and expecting them in the future.

        And if the Catfood Plan is passed into law, I will certainly support efforts to retro-enforce it against the current recipients of SS and MCare to exactly the same extent that it is scheduled to be enforced against me. Perhaps that will induce people who think they are too old to have to care . . . to decide to care.

        And as I said in my comment, I am perfectly willing to consider all evidence that this is just a nasty story being spread by Matt Stoller at Naked Capitalism to polish and buff up his “progressive bona fides”.
        But Social Security and Medicare do have enemies. And we have to know who each and all of those enemies are . . . as well as not chasing after wrongfully-presumed-enemies who in fact aren’t.

    • First and always, Hillary is not Bill. While not as charming as he is, she’s much more liberal, particularly, on domestic issues. So, let’s stop wondering whether we would be voting for a strong woman who can make her own decisions or a “little woman” who would simply represent a third term for Bill.

      The source for this tale is an Oklahoma history professor who is the chief historian for the History Channel (a channel that currently features pawn shops) and is garnered from Newt Gingrich’s private papers and interviews with the likes of Erskine Bowles. Frankly, those facts, alone, would make me doubt them if they claimed that water was wet. That said, Bill Clinton was always a business friendly president and my 401k was exploding during the time that these discussions supposedly occurred. He also likes to talk about lots of things. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had those discussions. He may even have thought that those changes were good ideas. I really don’t know anyone who thought that Clinton was a perfect president, his personal foibles aside. I certainly don’t, although, I’ve always thought that he was better than the alternatives and voted that way.

      If Monica prevented such a plan from going into effect, we owe her an income for life.

      • I hope your judgement in paragraph one is correct. I am prepared to consider for my own selfish benefit the possibility that it is. I have already decided that if we can apply enough excruciating pain and outright torture and absolute terror to the Democratic Party so as to force it to replace Barry with Hillary on Ticket 2012 . . . that I will take the chance of voting for Hillary as a hopeful experiment. I have also decided that if the election is between Obama and Romney, that I am definitely voting for Romney. Destroying Obama is that important to me now.

        So . . . what are everyone’s best ideas for torturing the Class Enemy Occupation Democratic Party into replacing Obama with HRClinton? Anything beyond writing various SuperDelegate-grade Democratic officeholders and elders and telling them we will vote against their ticket if Obama is on it? Because that is certainly a good first step to take . . . but are there other takeable steps as well?

  9. ” … what are everyone’s best ideas for torturing the Class Enemy Occupation Democratic Party into replacing Obama with HRClinton?”

    Got none–haven’t bothered because it’s not gonna happen. As idiotic as the Dems are, they’re not stupid. They know what people want, and they know where their interests lie, i.e., with the FIRE industries. Clinton has been radioactive to them since she proposed an American version of national health insurance some 25 years ago.

    • Which people feel their interests lie with the FIRE industries? How many people? Given what Riverdaughter wrote about how many plain Democratic primary voters voted for Clinton all through the primaries, that’s a lot of people who found Clinton not radioactive at all.

      Of course if you mean the elite people who staff and drive the Democratic Party, that’s another matter. That’s why only “torture” and “terror” would work on the Democratic Party. Should I accept that there isn’t enough “torture and terror” in the whole wide world to change the DemParty leadership’s mind and choices about the PrezVice ticket?

      If so, I’m voting for Romney and the downticket Dems in hopes that combination might be a little less fast-actingly lethal to my future SS/MCare than the combination of Obama 2.0 and those same downticket Dems.

      • Sadly, I think of “Dems/Democrats” as the people running the party. It never occurs to me to label working-class and middle-class people as Democrats. Or Republicans, for that matter. I think of us simply as folks getting screwed over by the powers that be.

        And for what it may be worth, I decided some time back to vote much as you describe, for the reasons you outline.

        Sorry to confuse!

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