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Friday, April 20, 2012

The Vatican, the nuns, and Rosemary Radford Ruether

I guess everyone's by now read of how the Vatican has criticized US nuns for focusing on social justice instead of the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. Of course, I'm on the nun's side, and I recall something Sister Sandra Schneiders said in 2009 ...

"Some sisters surmise that the Vatican and even some American bishops are trying to shift them back into living in convents, wearing habits or at least identifiable religious garb, ordering their schedules around daily prayers and working primarily in Roman Catholic institutions, like schools and hospitals. 

"'They think of us as an ecclesiastical work force,' said Sister Sandra M. Schneiders, professor emerita of New Testament and spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, in California. 'Whereas we are religious, we're living the life of total dedication to Christ, and out of that flows a profound concern for the good of all humanity. So our vision of our lives, and their vision of us as a work force, are just not on the same planet.'"

There’s a post at The Tablet's blog on this .... Despite the Vatican, support for the US nuns has been overwhelming. The post brought up something interesting from the past that I hadn't known of before - the Vatican 24. There's a Wikipedia page about this, a 1984 full page ad in The New York Times taken out by Catholic theologians and religious and laity stating that Catholics have differing opinions on women's reproductive issues and also asking that religious who dissent not be penalized for it .... the nuns who signed the statement came to be known as the "Vatican 24".

One of the signatories to that statement was Rosemary Radford Ruether and she wrote something about the subject for The Christian Century in 1985 - Catholics and Abortion: Authority vs. Dissent. The latter part of the article is currently relevant - it's about contraception and the church - but here's just a bit from the article on how those who signed the statement were penalized ...

[...] those ideas were made public in this particular manner in order to defend Catholic legislators’ right of public dissent on abortion. In the months following the ad’s appearance, however, its admonition that dissenters should not be penalized has not been heeded. Threats and penalties have rained thick and fast upon priests, religious and theologians from religious superiors, church employers and bishops. But the chief initiative in this repression has come from a source beyond that envisioned by the writers of the ad -- namely, the Vatican. 

In early December 1984 there arrived in the mailboxes of the religious superiors or bishops of the four priests and brothers and most of the 24 nuns who signed the statement a letter from Cardinal Jean Jerome Hamer, O.P., head of the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes. Dated November 30, 1984, this letter stated that the position taken in the New York Times advertisement was "in contradiction to the teachings of the Church" and that the ad’s signers were "seriously lacking in religious submission to the mind of the Magisterium." Pointing out that the revised code of canon law declares that anyone who procures an abortion incurs automatic excommunication, the letter then directed the superiors of each of the nuns, brothers and priests to demand that the signer under their supervision make a public retraction. Any signer who declined to make such a retraction was to be warned by the superior with an explicit threat of dismissal from his or her religious community. 

The two priests and the two brothers quickly made pro forma statements of retraction and got the Vatican "off their case." None of the nuns who signed was willing to do so since, for them, such a retraction represented a serious violation of their moral conscience. It would also have violated the basic principles of their relationship with their religious orders, which in their view are not simply a part of a military-type hierarchy that could be ordered about from the "top." Since most of the women superiors of the 13 religious orders involved were not prepared to deal with this issue, an organizational meeting was quickly set up to allow the nun-signers, their lay fellow-signers and the religious superiors to sort out the issues together and create a collective strategy. 

For a while, in the early months of 1985, it appeared that the collective strategy the women devised had thrown the Vatican off course. Vatican officials had assumed that each woman would be forced to conform or would be dismissed individually. When the nun-signers, through their religious superiors, indicated that they would not retract the New York Times statement nor would the superiors threaten them with dismissal, the Sacred Congregation appeared to back off; it asked only that the nuns affirm their support for the "teaching authority of the Church" -- a statement that might be construed in several ways. But by March it was made clear that this request meant that the 24 should affirm the church’s teaching authority on abortion -- i.e., the monolithic nature of the present official position. To date, none of the nuns has either fully complied with this request or been dismissed from her order. But the Vatican clearly is not pleased with this insubordination, and new efforts to gain compliance or dismissal will doubtless be forthcoming.   By January of 1985 it was evident that reprisals against the lay signers were beginning as well ....

It's taken me a long time to understand that the people who get in trouble with the church are not necessarily people who do or think "bad" ... you can do what Cardinal Law did and be rewarded not punished by the church. The worst sin in the world of institutional Catholicism seems to be disagreeing with the hierarchy and this is why the nuns are in Dutch.


Blogger Ron Langhals said...

Readers may be interested in:

Article: Pope Fiddles While Rome Burns

7:15 AM  
Blogger TheraP said...

Just adding to the current crop of blogs supporting our courageous nuns!

9:09 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks for the links, you guys - I'll be sure to visit.

11:55 AM  
Anonymous Haley said...

My sister was a nun and because she had MS I spent a lot of time in the convent with these wonderful women. Men who have covered up their own sexual abuse would dare to accuse these women of anything is disgusting. What nun has ever been accused for sexual harassment? Of course, they should be priests - they are the real examples of Christ. Not the Bishops. Mother's Day, let' show our support and contribute the the Retired Sisters or other organizations that support the nun and do not contribute to your local parish, or archdioceses.

Radi Haley

9:41 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks for your comment. I agree.

2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is about time something official was done about reprimanding the nuns who took a vow to support Church teaching and then oppose it. There is no question about church teaching on abortion, etc. One only has to look in the catechism. Not every nun supports the statements made by those who oppose Catholic Church teaching. Think abortion is OK, I suggest you check out the Silent No More web site and see how women are harmed by aborton.

9:13 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

It's my understanding that religious like priests and nuns don't take a vow to follow church teaching, they take a vow to God, and opinions may vary on what God asks of us and how to live that out.

10:02 PM  

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