U.S. NUNS once again are under scrutiny by the Vatican—this time for “serious doctrinal problems,” including the charge that they have spent too much time and effort on issues of poverty and injustice (like, um, St. Francis?) and not enough on demonizing abortion and same-sex marriage. Among their other “crimes”: challenging the male-only priesthood and supporting President Obama’s health-care reform.
An American archbishop has been tasked by Rome with chastising and controlling the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the largest domestic group of nuns, representing 80 percent of all sisters in the U.S. (see “Vatican Reprimands a Group of U.S. Nuns and Plans Changes” by Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, April 18, 2012). Over the next five years, the organization’s statutes and handbook will be revised, and every speaker in its public programs will have to be approved.
It seems to me that these courageous and devout sisters mirror our country’s secular history of outspoken, uppity, indomitable women (whom the male power structure, jealous of the status quo, then tries to quash). The Leadership Conference hasn’t done anything so very radical. Its undoing seems to have been a penchant for raising questions and encouraging dialogue rather than accepting the Vatican’s policies as fixed, infallible, and non-negotiable. To a religious hierarchy intent on guarding its privileges, I guess any kind of discussion becomes subversive. Add the gender factor, and it is doubly so.
The legend of a female pope in the Middle Ages, now largely discounted by historians, may be due for a revival. Perhaps American nuns should simply secede from Rome and elect their own pontiff. I’m pretty sure that the Holy Mother’s compassionate and socially progressive outlook would be closer to the original Christian spirit.