Nun Sense: Women in the Catholic Church
A habited woman speaks.


Kathryn Jean Lopez

LOPEZ: In case you haven’t been watching MSNBC, as I have, you should know that the pope may resign and that he is akin to Richard Nixon, caught in crimes and cover-up. Aren’t you ashamed at all to be a part of an institution that has such a scandal-rich contemporary history, which it still hasn’t cleaned house over?

SISTER PRUDENCE: The statement in the first sentence reveals such a lack of knowledge and understanding of the Church and of our present Pope that it does not merit a response. The Church is not just another human institution, but one instituted by Jesus Christ.

Although off the mark, the second question is more approachable. You ask about shame and being ashamed to be a part of an institution. An analogy might be useful here. Consider other kinds of institution, such as we find in sports, academia, businesses, etc. If one person in that institution is accused of doing something wrong — an athlete, say, or a university president, or a businessman — should that imply shame on the part of all who participate in the sport, study at the university, or invest in the business? Rather, it would likely evoke the passion of sorrow for the one who has strayed and for the people who have been wounded by his or her straying. A further analogy can be drawn from these examples. Should a sport, university, or business be judged on the basis of one of its members who does something poorly or wrong? Shouldn’t we rather try to judge the sport, university, or business by the best examples associated with it? Thus, shouldn’t the Church be evaluated more by its saints, such as Mother Teresa, and the many others who through it have done so many works of charity through the years?

It might be useful to you to find out, diocese by diocese, how many men and women are entering the Catholic Church this Easter. Likely there are many thousands across the United States. These persons reveal by their acts how much the Church is loved, even when some persons in it commit terrible sins and crimes against those to whom they were entrusted.

Personally, I love the Church and I love our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict. I believe that he is a holy man and a wonderful leader in this new millennium. As you may be aware, many false statements and accusations are being made about him. The facts, however, seem to indicate that Pope Benedict has been at the forefront of reforming the procedures to confront scandalous behavior. John Allen’s “Keeping the record straight on Benedict and the crisis” begins the hard work of clarifying what is true and what is false, what is accurate and what is approaching slander and calumny. I pray that God will have mercy on those who promote and repeat false positions against people in an attempt to ruin their reputations.

LOPEZ: In the wake of the latest news stories, I’ve also heard, once again, that the Catholic Church simply must have more women involved, as priests and in the hierarchy. I’ve heard one prominent reporter simply declare that the Church needs more women. What is the role of women in the Church, and is that at the heart of the Church’s current problems?

SISTER PRUDENCE: Again, this question is wrongly framed within a political model of power struggles. Rather, the Church is a communion in which all the baptized are called to holiness through complementary vocations. In the apostolic letter “On the New Millennium,” John Paul II summarized it this way: “The unity of the Church is not uniformity, but an organic blending of legitimate diversities. It is the reality of many members joined in a single body, the one Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:12). Therefore the Church of the Third Millennium will need to encourage all the baptized and confirmed to be aware of their active responsibility in the Church’s life” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, #46).

As mentioned before, integral complementarity of vocations holds an interior tension between the fundamental equality of dignity and worth of all vocations and the significant differentiation of vocations. When one part or another of this tension slides out, the result is either a unisex model of interchangeable roles (the sliding out of significant differentiation) or a rigid polarity model (the sliding out of fundamental equality of dignity). This sliding out can happen in relation to a particular vocation, such as marriage, or it can happen in relation to the interrelation of the vocations within a parish or particular Church.

In his essays on Genesis, Mulieris Dignitatem (9-11), and other documents such as The Gospel of Life (99), Pope John Paul II discussed the rupture in relations through the effects of sin. Simply put, for men this takes the form of a propensity towards domination of others, especially women, rather than the assumption of a properly held dominion in areas of responsibility; for women this takes the form of seeking to possess others, especially men, rather than fostering their personal growth.

The answer to the final part of your question is “Sin”; sin is at the heart of the problems in the Church. The different vocations (not roles) of women and men, giving themselves in service to one another for the good of the Church and the world, are not a problem. They are the solution to the problem.

For further reference to ways that Catholic women are being formed in their vocations, see the work of ENDOW (Educating on the Dignity and Vocation of Women).

LOPEZ: If I’m watching these news stories and wondering whom or what to believe, do you have any recommendations that are not about spin and not going to preach to a simple fact-seeker?

SISTER PRUDENCE: If you are seeking to understand and report the truth about something, you should read the original sources, interview trusted people, ponder what you find, develop a hypothesis, test it out, and reformulate it. Always seek greater accuracy, and always maintain gentleness (truth persuades by its own gentle power) and love for the good reputation of everyone.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.


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