Also in the news right now, hot off the Vatican's presses (so to speak): the latest slap-down administered to U.S. nuns by the head of the Vatican orthodoxy watchdog office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller. The Vatican has just posted the text of remarks Müller made at the end of April to the leadership team of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. In a word (or two), Müller is Not Pleased with how LCWR is handling its current situation of receivership, about which I have blogged here, which requires it to consult with its Vatican-appointed overseer, Archbishop Sartain, for any important steps it chooses to take.
Müller is particularly displeased that LCWR gave its 2104 Outstanding Leadership Award to Sister Elizabeth Johnson, whose work was censured several years ago by the doctrinal committee of the U.S. Catholic bishops. Readers interested in following what I've previously posted about that matter and about Elizabeth Johnson's work can click on her name in the list of labels below.
Müller is now demanding that LCWR really skip to the tune played by Sartain, that American nuns submit and obey and ask how high they ought to skip when Sartain and the Vatican tell them to skip. Because church. And because sentire cum ecclesia, which apparently means, "Do as I say. When I tell you to do it. Because I'm the one who's ordained. L'église, c'est moi."
Helpful commentary on Müller's statement: Rebel Girl at Iglesia Descalza, Grant Gallicho at Commonweal, and Ken Briggs at National Catholic Reporter. I particularly appreciate Briggs's question, Where's Francis in all of this? As he states,
Good Cop Francis warms the hearts of the world and renounces the pomp and pride that has given the church a bad name. His humility is exemplary, so far as we know, but does that humility become conformity when it comes to changing things? Or does that humility invite the Bad Cop to put strict limits on change or to block it entirely? If the pope has agreed with yet another censuring of Sister Johnson, what does that say about him and his convincing humility. And if he's appalled by the Congregation's treatment, why doesn't he step in and put a stop to it?
If Francis is with Müller (and how could Müller not be speaking with Francis's blessing?), then where does hope lie for any meaningful reform of the Catholic institution at present? Are all of us Catholics who placed such hope in Pope Francis as a reformer really watching the "evolutionary extinction" of our church continue to play out on his watch?
My own take, for what it's worth: through the slapdown that Müller has just delivered to American religious women, the Vatican is playing to the right wing of the American Catholic church and to its Republican political allies. It's doing so, in part, to throw a bit of red meat to the "orthodox" faithful (read: Catholics who vote Republican) as the 2014 elections near.
And it's doing so above all to assure that the funds these Catholics and their allies keep pouring into Vatican coffers continue to pour in. Religious women have become a neuralgic sore spot for the American political and religious right because they're, after all, women — they're women who appear to have gotten out of control. To the reactionary mind, which is obsessed with seeing women under tight control of men, they give the appearance of being out of the orbit of control of the male leaders of the Catholic church.
In their current out-of-control stance, they keep going on and on about how the Catholic faith calls on all Catholics to place themselves and their resources at the disposal of the least among us. When the Catholic right and its right-wing political allies talk about being faithful to "the" Catholic message, this is decidedly not what they mean.
What they mean is that women are to be slapped down in the name of Jesus, gay folks shoved back into closets because Holy Bible, and abortion made the preëminent and paradigmatic moral issue always to be thrown by Catholics in the face of a culture of which Catholics of a controlling bent imagine they have lost control. Throwing a bit of red meat to the crowd who think this — and that group has significant influence in the American Catholic media and in the public square — assures that the money on whose side these folks stand keeps pouring in to oil the machinery that makes the Vatican run.
In the last analysis, this is what it is all about (just as this is what it's all about as the Vatican seeks radically to limit its legal responsibility for abuse committed by Catholic priests): $$$$$$. And €€€€€€.
And where's Francis in all of this?