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.