Monday, May 13, 2013

American Catholic Nuns

Raise your hand if you're tired of hearing about the pope!!! 


I mean, is the pope Catholic, right? Am I? Nope. Are 1.8 billion people on this planet? Sure. But the rest of us 5.2 billion aren't and seeing as Benedict simply Palin-ed out of his leadership responsibilities because the rest of the world doesn't believe condoms are made from the devil's skin, we can give it a rest as far as the 24/7 news coverage is concerned.

I'm sure the next pope will be like the last pope who was like the last pope who was like the last pope, times infinity, forever and ever, amen. For all this incessant talk about the possibility of great revision within the Catholic church during the next papacy, one might be tricked into forgetting change is not the forte of the church. Francis can wash as many ladies' feet as he wants, but I'm not buying this hopey, changey stuff. (2 Palin refs, 1 post!) 

How do I already know nothing will change under new pope Francis? Umm, well, again with the lady feet washing. Many viewed this act to be ominous and foreboding. Ominous and foreboding? But how? If the pope could and would dare to wash a woman's feet, what else would he then possibly bestow upon the lesser sex!? Female ordination!? L'horreur! The Vatican is the OG Bro-dom; so I really don't know why anyone would freak out about the potential possibility of women priests being allowed to exist anytime soon just because of a little, albeit radical, foot wash. But they did. Which makes me wonder, can you imagine if women were so adamantly opposed to men in leadership positions? 

What if we flipped shit every time a man was elected or ordained or chosen!? We don't and we wouldn't of course because just like everyone else we're conditioned to believe men are the rightful, natural leaders. But are they? Not all of them, certainly. The women's movement was vilified for pointing this out which is how the man-hating, hairy, god-denouncing, feminist stereotype was born. As Jimmy Carter affirms in the following quote, men in religious leadership positions have actively worked against women by interpreting Biblical text to their benefit:
Religions are only successful when a group of like-minded individuals come together to decide on an interpretation. Like our governments, modern day religions have developed under male leadership. To retain power, the best way to subjugate other groups is to claim they are less- than under the laws of god. Godly authority seems to be the most difficult for us mortals to question. The Catholic church is one such religion that has excelled at packaging gender roles and distributing them to followers as god-given fact. Thus, no lady priests, bishops, cardinals, or popes. 

As I predicted, the newest "Supreme Pontiff" has doubled down on the godly tradition of woman-hating by affirming the last "Supreme Pontiff"s persecution of American nuns. Less than 2 months and this new guy's change campaign is already over and done. 
"And Eve took that apple from the tree of knowledge, and she ate that shit, cuz Eve was a baller." - The Bible - Babe Parker
Luckily, women are awesome and unafraid of rejecting any false interpretation of our position. Always have been, always will be. Sorry to disappoint "Papa", but there are plenty of amazing nuns out there who actually don't really care what "His Holiness" has to say about their leadership abilities. 

After being accused of "radical feminism", undermining the church, not promoting male-only priesthood, not opposing same-sex marriage, etc., The Leadership Council of Women Religious (which represents about 80% of American nuns) has continued it's mission of serving the poor, educating generations of children, and speaking out against the patriarchal values that relegate women to a second class status. 

When asked by 60 Minutes what her reaction was when she learned her group was being accused of radical feminism, Sister Pat Farrell (former president of LCWR) said:
"I don't know, but it feels to me like fear. What would happen if women really were given a place of equality in the church?"
LCWR March
FEAR!!! The church is afraid of the same thing all male dominated institutions are afraid of: loss of power. I'm reading Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In" right now and I can't recommend it enough. Even though she's speaking through a capitalist lens with regards to women in the corporate world, a lot of what she calls for from women is what the nuns are already doing. They are making their voices heard by being fearless and leading without waiting for male approval. The men in the church are so afraid, the office that is investigating the LCWR is the same office that was once The Inquisition! For those unfamiliar, The Inquisition tortured heretics, burned witches, and even persecuted Galileo by calling his stationary sun "theory" contradictory to the Bible!!! (Global Warming skeptics, anyone?) The church is literally going medieval against a bunch of women who'd rather take their spiritual cues from their own brains, community service, and connection to god than a group of men who've completely overlooked and covered up their own GLOBAL PEDOPHILIA CRISIS. 

Tradition is a staple of the Church. There can be meaning in following the same rituals as people who have lived centuries before, however, if the main thing your ideology has going for it is tradition and history, it is antiquated and unnecessary. Progression must be a part of the equation. Priests can baptize, marry, counsel, and preach. It is not unfair for nuns to want to perform these duties for their parishioners. If they believe the people they serve need access to comprehensive health care that includes reproductive care, the Church should trust their motivations. And, as Sister Farrell reminded 60 Minutes, the nuns traditionally have "never wanted the men to tell (them) what to do." 

Damn yo, I wanna be a bad ass nun. I mean, not really, but if I could someday be half as brave as they are, I would die an accomplished woman. 

I understand many find solace and comfort from the guidance of their priests and look to the pope for spiritual inspiration. I am not saying the church is all bad nor am I saying all male leadership is corrupt. In fact, many priests are on the side of the nuns. Noted peace activist, Father Roy Bourgeois has been excommunicated for his efforts to ordain Catholic nuns to the priesthood. In an interview with Democracy Now! he points out the hypocrisy within the Church: 
"Less than three months after I attended the ordination of a woman in Lexington, Kentucky, less than three months, I received a letter from the Vatican demanding that I recant within 30 days or I will be excommunicated. The severity, the swiftness of the Vatican’s letter, I think it calls into question, you know, just what’s going on here. What really is the problem? I do believe that I did not commit a crime. I am following my conscience. Women—you know, it’s amazing, the thousands of priests and the many bishops were aware of these crimes of their priests, they remained silent. These priests committing the crimes and the bishops who remained silent have not been excommunicated. Yet, the many women who have been ordained to the priesthood and the priests and bishops who support their ordination are excommunicated. I do believe that there is a problem here. This is also a grave injustice."
The Catholics who defy the Vatican insist they have taken a vow of obedience to god and not the Church. This is an important distinction. I don't know what it exactly means to be Catholic or a "good" Catholic, but it seems when you have devoted followers in a world that is hemorrhaging spiritual believers, you should probably work to keep the faithful you have instead of needlessly excommunicating them from their community. As Sister Simone Campbell says:
 "I am Church."

Sister Campbell came to the national stage during the last election due in part to the budget laid out by Paul Ryan and endorsed by Mitt Romney. Ryan proclaimed his budget to be in line with the principles of the Catholic church and used his faith to campaign for the Republican party. The right regularly declare themselves the moral center, but there are plenty of progressives who are religious leaders. Ryan's budget really irked the women who are working on the front lines of the war on poverty. They formed "Nuns on the Bus" and campaigned around the country for economic justice. In her speech during the Democratic National Convention, Campbell stated their position:

"Paul Ryan claims his budget reflects the principles of our shared Catholic faith. But the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that the Ryan budget failed a basic moral test, because it would harm families living in poverty. We agree with our bishops, and that's why we went on the road: to stand with struggling families and to lift up our Catholic sisters who serve them. Their work to alleviate suffering would be seriously harmed by the Romney-Ryan budget, and that is wrong."

You should note that this criticism came before Ryan posed for his infamous soup kitchen photo-op. What a nerd.
Ryan, working hard to scrub clean dishes.
Perhaps the main reason the male leadership of the Church is persecuting the nuns is because they are redefining what it means to be pro-life. By focusing the term on providing for our nation's most vulnerable families, and spending day after day caring and listening to their needs, the nuns have a more comprehensive understanding of what life is actually about as Campbell stated in an interview with NPR
"When you don't work everyday with people who live at the margins of our society, it's so much easier to make easy statements about who's right and who's wrong," Campbell said. "Life is way more complicated in our society and it's probably way easier to be 8,000 miles away in Rome."


The fight by some Catholic organizations to preserve the separation of Church and State with regards to Obamacare covering abortions (it doesn't) and employers not wanting their health care plans to "pay" for birth control is ridiculous. It's important to acknowledge that these efforts are a waste of time because if they succeed, where would it stop? Not being able to use the money from your paycheck to pay for the pill because of your employer's personal beliefs? The nuns are working toward real things for actual people and it's shameful they don't have the support of the Vatican simply due to gender discrimination. The "Nuns on the Bus" supported the bishops after all, but the men are not being interrogated and harassed. Today, the pope addressed 800 nuns in Rome and told them to be "chaste mothers" and not "spinsters". Great tip! He also reminded them to be obedient to the Church/him. Submission, ladies! It's your calling!

Sister Joan Chittister* has been leading the charge against the Church's sexism for years. She maintains it is not an opposition view to disagree with the Vatican but rather her own understanding based on spiritual commitment and research. She doesn't advocate for abortion (does anyone?), but as a rational human working with actual women, she knows the reality: abortion is sometimes necessary for the health and well-being of the woman. The anti-choice movement is oftentimes at odds with the end result of carrying a pregnancy to term: a human being. Chittister summarizes this perfectly: 

"I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born, but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. 

I've been working hard on this post for a while now. I think I've had a difficult time writing about these women because there is too much awesome to compact into one readable post. And that is the point I want to leave you on. Look further into the work they are doing because whether or not you are a Catholic or understand any of the motivations behind religious people, I believe inspiration can be drawn. Sisters Farrell, Campbell, and Chittister and many other American nuns do not limit their work to people who believe what they believe. They reach outside of their religion to affect actual change within their community. In addition, they are standing up to one of the oldest, most aggressive male organizations the world has ever known. This will impact all people for many generations to come and for that work, I am grateful. 

While I understand the Church's use of the "Radical Feminist" accusation is meant to be a dis, I'd say that is EXACTLY what the nuns embody and we should look up to them for it. To march in the face of obvious subjugation, at the risk of excommunication from your chosen church for the betterment of that very church: this is the purest form of revolution. I hope they succeed because I know their leadership will make the entire world a better place. 

*Please, please read the full transcript of this interview with Sister Joan. She is extremely eloquent and clearly states her positions and the basis for them. It is incredibly informative.

And Just for Lawlz: