The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has prompted a wave of euphoria for people who long for the Catholic Church to change its teachings, particularly those relating to sexual morality, priestly ordination and so-called “reproductive rights.” And many media outlets have been only too happy to provide a platform for outlandish comments about the pope and the hierarchy, with many of these folks implying that a new pope could change church teaching on his own whim.
Much of this recent criticism has focused on the Vatican’s apostolic visitation of women religious and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s mandate to reform the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, both approved by Pope Benedict. Little to no effort is made in most of these articles to provide space for the other side of the argument, so here are some of my own thoughts:
• A CNN Feb. 27 Newsroom program about Benedict’s resignation and the upcoming conclave included an interview with Dominican Sister Donna Quinn. Sister Donna told host Carol Costello that “We women are calling this papal election invalid. It has to be declared fraudulent because it has no women included in the process.” She went on to declare that young women today “don’t respect the church.”
Guess what, Sister Donna? You don’t speak for me, and you don’t speak for many other Catholic women, and you certainly don’t speak for the thousands of sisters who respect and support the hierarchal model that Jesus established for His church. Of course, Sister Donna had no facts to back up her pronouncement, but she still was given an international platform to express an inaccurate image of Catholic women and sisters. As a Catholic lay woman and as a friend of countless sisters, I take great offense at her audacity.
To her credit, interviewer Costello did interrupt Sister Donna, observing that she had “a very liberal view” and that not all sisters shared that viewpoint. What troubles me is the fact that CNN chose to interview Sister Donna about the papacy, for she has been open about dissenting from church teaching for years, and her point of view was predictable. In fact, Sister Donna probably is best known for proudly sporting her “Nuns for Choice” sweat shirt and for her work escorting women into an abortion clinic.
• Jason Berry, who long ago had done some responsible reporting on the clergy sexual abuse crisis, has apparently taken up the cause of the LCWR and the religious sisters who resisted the apostolic visitation. In two rambling new essays published on the online news site Global Post Feb. 27 and 28, Berry asserted that both Benedict and John Paul II “dispensed of Vatican II’s collaborative model of dialogue and exchange on matters of doctrine and policy and instead imposed loyalty tests on prospective bishops on matters like celibacy and women’s ordination.”
He also charged that “a generation of bishops and cardinals” have “become more rigid and reactionary, while disaffected communities of nuns have challenged the male authority of the church by ignoring it or going around it, fusing theology and action as Catholic witnesses on their own terms.”
Berry suggested that the questionnaire from the Vatican’s apostolic visitation of women religious was designed to identify property owned by women religious for possible confiscation by male church authorities to pay off deficits from the clergy sex abuse crisis, even though canon law prevents such seizure.
“If the Vatican got all the financial information on each motherhouse, convent or community,” Berry wrote, “particularly that of a religious order in its twilight—the information could be used by a given bishop to state a claim on any assets, legitimately or not.”
Mr. Berry’s wild conjecture makes for sensational reading, but he offers not one shred of evidence for his claims. Instead he applauds the two remaining Benedictine Sisters of Madison, Wisc., who quietly transferred the order’s ownership of their monastery and 100-plus acres to a civil corporation they formed. Then they gave up their vows as Catholic sisters, tore down the monastery and built an ecumenical center where the women offer Sunday “Eucharist” to anyone who shows up.
As Berry put it: “Their message, though never formally stated, was sledgehammer blunt: the male hierarchy has gone backwards and we’re moving forward. They quite literally held their ground.”
• In his Feb. 27 blog, National Catholic Reporter’s publisher Thomas Fox, was absolute giddy at the prospect of going for a couple of weeks without a pope in the chair of Peter.
“We all become adults again, at least until we have a new ‘Holy Father’,” he crowed. Fox also wished for a new pope who would move “away from repeated judgments on what constitutes Catholic orthodoxy.” Hmmm. I thought it was the pope’s responsibility to uphold Church teaching.
Fox seemed most jubilant that “The old guard, those Vatican prelates who colluded to force an outrageous investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and who ordered LCWR into a receivership until it mends its ways, are out.” (Well, not really: See canon lawyer Dr. Ed Peters here.) He continued: “At a minimum, it seems, LCWR’s receivership ends tomorrow—either temporarily, or permanently.”
Well, this is wishful thinking by Mr. Fox, for Canon 335 declares that “When the Roman See is vacant or entirely impeded nothing is to be innovated in the governance of the universal Church.” That simply means that everything remains in place until a new pope is elected, a protection against folks who would like to undo the work of the Pope Benedict XVI and change Church moral teaching to accommodate a secular culture that rejects timeless moral truths.