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


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Kathryn Jean Lopez

In his New York Times column this month, Nicholas Kristof wrote about “A Church Mary Can Love.” If you didn’t read the column, you might not be shocked to learn its contents: He’s not that into the Vatican, and he doesn’t think the Blessed Virgin would be either. He’s more into a priest who reportedly told him that he “would build a condom factory in the Vatican to save lives.” However, Kristof also wrote something sensible: “I’ve come to believe that the very coolest people in the world today may be nuns.” Amen. And in the following interview with Sister Mary Prudence Allen, I think you’ll begin to see why. Sister Prudence is with the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., an order with a special focus on health care. Sister Prudence is also a philosophy professor and a published author, having written the two-volume The Concept of Woman and contributed to The Foundations of Religious Life: Revisiting the Vision (a compilation from the other “nuns” in the health-care debate, the ones who stood by the bishops conference’s objection to the abortion provisions in the legislation — and by Catholic doctrine on the most innocent human life).

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: During the recent health-care debate, we heard a lot about some Catholic religious sisters — the Network — who supported the president’s health-care legislation, despite abortion-funding issues. Were they representative of the Catholic Church or Catholic religious sisters?

SISTER PRUDENCE ALLEN, R.S.M.: This question should be more fully answered by a theologian whose area of specialization is ecclesiology. However, as a Christian philosopher, I see two obvious contradictions that could be initially noted.

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The first contradiction relates to the meaning of “Catholic.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#830-831) states, “The Church is catholic in a double sense:” First, because the whole Christ, head and body, subsists in her, and second because Christ sends the Church out on a mission to the whole human race.

By comparing the statements of the Network religious sisters on health care with the statements of Cardinal George and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on health care, it is clear that there are fundamental contradictions between them. Thus, the Network religious sisters have separated themselves from the head, and therefore cannot be included in the meaning of “catholic.” Therefore, they are not representative of the Catholic Church.

The second contradiction relates to claims about numbers of religious sisters. Network’s letter stated that “we represent 59,000 Catholic Sisters in the United States.” The director of media relations for the USCCB challenged them to do the math. The letter had “55 signatories, some individuals, some groups of three to five persons.” Since there are several hundred communities of women religious in the U.S., the most that could be claimed is that the Network sisters represent a much smaller portion of women religious sisters, more likely a few thousand.

Network’s claim that their position in favor of the health-care bill “is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholic are all for it” needs to be assessed by Catholic physicians and health-care personnel to determine the truth of its claims.


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