Scary Nuns Terrify the Vatican | Sojourners

Scary Nuns Terrify the Vatican

Nun image by CREATISTA via Shutterstock.
Nun image by CREATISTA via Shutterstock.

The Vatican has always been scared of forceful nuns. Even (and perhaps especially) the three female doctors of the church made prelates nervous.


    • In the 14th century, Catherine of Siena meddled in papal politics and brought the Avignon pope back to Rome.
    • In the 16th century, Teresa of Avila survived an investigation by the Spanish Inquisition of her mystical writings (and Jewish ancestry). 
    • In the 19th century, Thérèse of Lisieux disregarded the commands of her priest and Vatican officials until the pope gave in and let her do what she wanted.

    And last week, following a two-year investigation, 80 percent of American nuns came under Vatican fire.

    The Washington Post reported that

  • the Vatican has launched a crackdown on the umbrella group that represents most of America’s 55,000 Catholic nuns, saying that the group was not speaking out strongly enough against gay marriage, abortion and women’s ordination. Rome also chided the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) for sponsoring conferences that featured “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”
         ... One of the groups singled out in the criticism is Network, a social justice lobby created by Catholic sisters 40 years ago that continues to play a leading role in pushing progressive causes on Capitol Hill.

    Interestingly, the same edition of the Post also carried a short article by Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the maligned Network. Campbell, writing in honor of Network's 40th anniversary, described the group's activities as

    lobbying our elected officials to consider the needs of people living in poverty, the left-out, the marginalized in our society. We have worked on many issues of economic justice, immigration, peace building, health care reform and the environment. We have studied the adverse impact of welfare reform especially in a down economy. We have partnered with Iraqis in helping them to build lives and an economy in post-sanction, post-invasion Iraq. We have partnered with thousands of people around the country in articulating what is the common good that we seek in order to realize the promise of our Constitution.

    Even as the Vatican was worrying about the self-sacrificing sisters, yet another priest was placed on administrative leave for sexual misconduct. A third article in the Post noted that

    from 2004 until last year, [this priest] was director of the [Northern Virginia diocese's] Office of Child Protection and Safety, which trains church employees and volunteers to spot abuse and monitors youth activities “to ensure that all contact with young people is appropriate,” its Web site says.

    Yes, every organization has its bad apples. But this particular organization, remember, is the one that did not punish Boston's Cardinal Law after his part in that city's sex scandal went public, but rather rewarded him with a cushy appointment in Rome and, last year, a lavish 80th birthday celebration.

    As I understand the Gospels, Jesus had a lot in common with the nuns.

    He identified with the poor and spent a large percentage of his workday on health care. He sent women on apostolic missions (see Jn 4, the woman at the well, and Jn 20, Mary Magdalene in the garden). He protected children.

    "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me," he thundered, "it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Mt 18.6).

    Apparently Jesus's priorities are very different from the Vatican's.

    For further reading: The Vatican's latest crackdown is covered thoroughly and well by Laurie Goodstein in the New York Times and by Joshua J. McElwee in the National Catholic Reporter.

    LaVonne Neff is an amateur theologian and cook; lover of language and travel; wife, mother, grandmother, godmother, dogmother; perpetual student, constant reader, and Christian contrarian. She blogs at Lively Dust and at The Neff Review.

    Image: CREATISTA

    ++ Join us in showing our appreciation for Catholic women religious (aka nuns or "sisters") on Thank-a-Nun Day, May 9. Click HERE to send a thank-you note online. ++