Beyond Dogma: In Deeds, Nuns Answer the Call of Duty
Tesa Fitzgerald began her day on Tuesday by welcoming a new resident to the house that she runs in Long Island City, Queens, for women who are getting out of prison and have nowhere to go. Joan Dawber, in Brooklyn, spent Monday evening with three women who had just moved into the new safe house that she helped build for victims of human trafficking. In the Bronx, Lauria Fitzgerald was organizing evening meals that she serves to drug addicts and prostitutes who work under the Major Deegan Expressway and other dim elbows of the city.
These three women, who work and live in New York City, are members of Roman Catholic religious orders. The old-fashioned word is nun, a noun. They are verbs.
“Do what you can, with the life you have,” Sister Tesa said.
Last month, the Vatican said it was time to overhaul an organization that represented about 80 percent of religious women in the United States. An investigation had found “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in Consecrated Life.” It acknowledged that the sisters showed great vigor on matters of social justice, but said they were “silent” on the right to life from conception to natural death, and did not promote church teaching on sexuality and family life.
The investigative technique outlined in the Vatican report seemed to lean heavily on reading speeches and documents, finding occasional fault with what was said, but more serious problems with what wasn’t. To read the report here in New York is to feel that somewhere along the alleys and switchbacks of power in Rome, the actuality of life as lived by religious women in much of the United States was lost. The pews in the churches may be empty, but they have turned the lowest places into cathedrals.