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The Vatican’s Misogynist Revenge? Try Again


It’s beautiful to see the newfound concern at the New York Times for the health of the Catholic Church and the ability of consecrated women religious to serve the sick and poor, to educate, and to freely operate, as expressed in an editorial today.

Vatican shuts down nuns who supported Obamacare! The women have been running their mouths on hot-button “social issues” and must be stopped. More culture warring! The men in the Vatican are punishing, muzzling, and otherwise oppressing these women religious because they’re feminists, is the media read. As you might expect, that’s a convenient storyline for those hostile to the Church, but it’s not an accurate one. The cover the LCWR provided the president was but a fruit of a longstanding insidious illness in many of these religious communities.

(And since the media didn’t care so much I don’t expect it to be common knowledge that those ladies did not speak for all Catholic religious sisters. The congregations that are more comfortable being Catholic stood in opposition to the legislation, on account o f the threat it has always posed to life and conscience. If you’re interested in meeting such a creature, meet Sister Prudence — don’t you love that name? Or the 100 thriving religious communities who belong to the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious.)

Let’s read from the CDF report:

While recognizing that this doctrinal Assessment concerns a particular conference of major superiors and therefore does not intend to offer judgment on the faith and life of Women Religious in the member Congregations which belong to that conference, nevertheless the Assessment reveals serious doctrinal problems which affect many in Consecrated Life. On the doctrinal level, this crisis is characterized by a diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration which leads, in turn, to a loss of a “constant and lively sense of the Church” among some Religious. The current doctrinal Assessment arises out of a sincere concern for the life of faith in some Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. It arises as well from a conviction that the work of any conference of major superiors of women Religious can and should be a fruitful means of addressing the contemporary situation and supporting religious life in its most “radical” sense—that is, in the faith in which it is rooted. According to Canon Law, conferences of major superiors are an expression of the collaboration between the Holy See, Superiors General, and the local Conferences of Bishops in support of consecrated life. The overarching concern of the doctrinal Assessment is, therefore, to assist the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States in implementing an ecclesiology of communion founded on faith in Jesus Christ and the Church as the essential foundation for its important service to religious Communities and to all those in consecrated life.

This isn’t a story about men slapping down outspoken women. We’re talking about the Vatican office tasked with making sure Catholic entities are raising an alarm on women in Catholic religious communities, established under the authority and oversight of canon law, who, in some instances, question the divinity of Christ. 

#more#Media reports have latched onto the phrase “radical feminism” from the report. Here’s the section from the report on that:

The Cardinal noted a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR, including theological interpretations that risk distorting faith in Jesus and his loving Father who sent his Son for the salvation of the world. Moreover, some commentaries on “patriarchy” distort the way in which Jesus has structured sacramental life in the Church; others even undermine the revealed doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture.  

The Trinity? The Bible? And, I repeat: The divinity of Christ?! No small things here.

This is not about political payback or punishment. It’s about integrity.

The CDF notes that,

while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States. Further, issues of crucial importance in the life of the Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.

Perhaps when Melinda Henneberger wrote her Washington Post blog post about the move, quoting a friend saying over “unconsecrated wine” that it is “no wonder” the sisters are “in trouble” for “Only do[ing] what Jesus told us to do,” she hadn’t gotten to the part where “the Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contributions of women Religious to the Church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years.” The report says that the CDF “does not intend to offer judgment on the faith and life of Women Religious in the member congregations which belong to the conference.” But that “the Assessment reveals serious doctrinal problems which affect many in Consecrated life,” stressing that the crisis is “characterized by a diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration.”

Self-identified Catholics who ignorantly use this report as a bludgeon, during a high season for anti-Catholic pile-on (see the National Organization for Women, see the Feminist Majority), do a real disservice to truth, with a capital-t, too.

For an informed view of the matter, in defense of the CDF, see Donna Bethell on the PBS Newshour last night: 


By the way, New York Times: Pay no attention to the Catholic religious sister who spoke to a room of 1,000 prominent Catholics in the nation’s capital yesterday. She’s consecrated her life to Christ, but she is not considered religious by the United States federal government, which actually has more temporal power over her than the Vatican does. Of course, I didn’t have to tell you to ignore her — that comes naturally on 7th Avenue.

(Typo corrected since posting.)