Friday, December 19, 2014

Vatican Report on U.S. Nuns: Valuable Commentary by Joan Chittister, Christine Schenck, Sandra Schneiders, and Tom Fox

Some brief excerpts of responses to the Vatican report on American women religious that have struck me as well worth reading:

Joan Chittister maintains that the lingering questions about why this witch hunt took place and what role women are to have in the church point to the following conclusion:

These are the questions that will make real both the concern of the universal church for the development of women religious and for the development of the male church itself.

Christine Schenck reminds us of some telling details about what Rome immediately demanded of American nuns when the investigation was sprung on them:

At first, each community was required to submit detailed financial reports of assets, liabilities and cash flow along with lists of all the properties they owned. Rome also wanted to know each sister's age, her address, and her ministry. (This is especially puzzling since the Vatican seems to have had difficulty keeping track of whole orders of sisters, let alone individuals. Some communities were completely overlooked in mailings about the apostolic visitation.) 
These requirements would be hastily withdrawn after canon lawyers (who volunteered their services pro bono) advised congregations that every response could eventually be used against them and they need not disclose detailed financial and personal data.  

Sandra Schneiders argues that, in light of this investigation of women religious, it's time to retire talk about "feminine genius" and "sexual complementarity," which is really codespeak for sexual apartheid and subordination of women in the Catholic church:

Another highly symbolic linguistic feature of the press conference was the gingerly dancing around the language of "sexual complementarity" and the so-called "feminine genius." It’s time to acknowledge that these words, and others in the same linguistic group, are code for the theory and the program of sexual apartheid and female subordination in the church. We are not looking for a “place” or “role” of women who are intrinsically “other” in a church where only men are fully, and without qualification, human and Christian. The role of women in the church is exactly the same as men’s: baptized members of Christ. Gifts differ according to the giving of the Spirit, not according to sexual or racial or any other biological markers. The Spirit can make men tender and women courageous, men quiet and retiring and women forceful leaders. And vice-versa. Any qualification of the full equality of women and men in the church, by any language of anthropological essentialism, no matter how “sweetened” by pious imagery or laudatory rhetoric, has to be finally repudiated and removed from our theological and ecclesial lexicon.  

Tom Fox points out that that the most important questions the investigation of American nuns leaves us with are about us as church:

The apostolic visitation, then, whatever its initial intentions, finally reveals more about our church, about anachronistic structures, entrenched clericalism, the undue separation of men and women, and the lunacy of men taking on the task of investigating women than it provides fresh insights into religious life or answers to the complex challenges facing the women religious today. 
If we are looking for a silver lining, it's here -- if one cares to learn.

The photo of Advent candles is from Will Humes's Flickr photostream, which he has generously made available for sharing through a Creative Commons license. 

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