What the Catholic Church Cannot Tolerate
There were two Santa Maria! stories out of the Vatican this week. First, the bad news: The ultra-traditionalists of Marcel Lefebvre’s Society of St. Pius X are another step closer to being welcomed back into the fold — though they have yet to sort out the problem of the dissident group’s Holocaust-denying bishop, Richard Williamson, whose excommunication Pope Benedict XVI lifted two years ago.
Then there was the even worse news, by my votive lights, that the Vatican is cracking down on American nuns — who, as one of my fellow Catholics noted over a cup of unconsecrated wine last night, “only do what Jesus told us to do,” in their hospitals, schools and orphanages, “so no wonder they’re in trouble.”
After a lengthy investigation by the office formerly known as the Inquisition, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle has been signed up to oversee a forced reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of the 57,000 Catholic nuns in this country.
That’s because, according to the Vatican report released Wednesday, a number of the good sisters appear to investigators to have been influenced by “radical feminism,” and to have fallen out of step with church teaching on homosexuality and women’s ordination.
Maybe timing isn’t everything, but the juxtaposition of these two announcements on the same day was perfect. If, that is, the intent was to send the message that while schisms may come and go, feminism won’t be tolerated. Or that a man who says, as Williamson did, that history is “hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed” will be waved back in, but women accused of dissent can leave if they like.
In fact, with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council coming up in October, what better time to remind people how far we still have to go, five decades since Pope John XXIII promised to throw open the windows of the church and let in some fresh air?
Some things about the Vatican report do leave me torn: I can’t, for instance, decide if my favorite part is where they dare to indict the sisters for silence on abortion since, if memory serves, the Vatican itself has now and again been accused of keeping quiet when it shouldn’t have been. Or maybe it’s where they describe one sister’s language about “moving beyond the Church” as “a cry for help.”
“Such a rejection of faith,” the document warns, “is also a serious source of scandal and is incompatible with religious life.”
The Vatican, of course, knows a lot about scandal — to the point that the nuns are the only morally uncompromised leaders poor Holy Mother Church has left.