Though she is at the center of one of the biggest crises in the Catholic Church today, Sister Pat Farrell is loath to talk about herself, and certainly not in any way that would make her a focus of the looming showdown between the Vatican and American nuns.
To be sure, Farrell has spoken publicly and with quiet clarity about why the organization she heads, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, rejects Rome’s plans to take control of the umbrella group that represents most of the 57,000 nuns in the U.S.
In announcing its proposed takeover last April, the Vatican accused the nuns of embracing a “radical feminism” that questions church teachings and focuses too much on social justice causes. Farrell says the American sisters are simply doing what the gospel requires, often speaking on behalf of so many in the church who have no one else to advocate for them.
The high-profile confrontation will reach another crucial pass next week (Aug. 7-10) when LCWR members gather in St. Louis to develop a formal response to the Vatican’s plans. Options run the gamut from complying with all of Rome’s directives (unlikely) to decertifying the group and re-establishing it outside of the pope’s control (a possibility).
MOHAWK VALLEY, New York — Twelve-year-old Jake Finkbonner leaned over and ran his hand through a pool of water from a natural spring at the National Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, in Fonda, N.Y.. With that simple gesture, on a recent July weekend, the boy connected literally to the story of the 17th-century Native American woman who the Roman Catholic Church will elevate to sainthood on Oct. 21.
Jake had already connected to her story in what he believes is a miraculous way. The boy's inexplicable recovery from a flesh-eating illness in 2006 is attributed to prayers to Kateri (pronounced Gad-a-lee in Mohawk) on his behalf.
Jake, who is of Lummi descent, said he's gotten used to the attention he draws when people learn he's at the center of the miracle that led the Vatican to decide to proclaim Kateri a saint — a step that will make her one of the church's holy role models, and the first Native American to be canonized.
He likes to read and play basketball, and he loves video games. He and his 10-year-old sister, Miranda, are also training to become altar servers.
"I feel a great amount of gratitude and thanks to her," Jake said of Kateri.
MARINE, Ill. — Joseph Haegele remembers going to the church across the road from his grandparents' house on Windmill Street in this farm town in 1956, when he was 5 years old.
Haegele has attended other Catholic churches in the area. But St. Elizabeth's remains special to the former General Chemical employee and his wife, Lynn. The annual church picnic has been part of family tradition for decades. And after their 25-year-old son died of a brain tumor 15 years ago, Haegele said, the couple adopted a priest's flower garden behind St. Elizabeth's rectory as a memorial.
But a Madison County Circuit Judge Duane Bailey has ruled that Haegele can worship at St. Elizabeth's only on the last weekend of each month.
Legal experts say the judge's order illustrates the conflict between orders of protection and religious liberty. And prior cases have affirmed the rights of courts to issue restraining orders on individuals even if it affects their ability to attend a house of worship.
Bailey's order is extraordinary in that it imposes not only distances of separation, but specifically bars access to a church on particular days.
NEW YORK — So who is the funniest Catholic in the Western world: New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan or Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert?
It's a tough call for anyone who has followed either man's impressive record of rim shots, but we may finally get an answer to that urgent question when the cardinal and the comedian team up for a panel on faith and humor this September at Fordham University in the Bronx, N.Y.
“I’m looking forward to a great conversation with a terrific theologian and a gifted comedian. They are both,” quipped the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and popular author. Martin will be moderating the Sept. 14 event, titled “The Cardinal and Colbert: Humor, Joy, and the Spiritual Life.”
Martin’s recent book, Between Heaven and Mirth, explores the relationship between humor and faith, and the priest said that the panel wouldn’t be just a couple of Catholic tummlers yukking it up for the audience – or distracting the public from the many controversial stories about the church.
“This is just what the Catholic Church needs,” said Martin, who has been on The Colbert Report so many times that he is called the official chaplain of the Emmy-winning news parody program. “Being joyful does not mean that you overlook suffering or pain or even scandal.”
Nearly lost amid ongoing reports about the Vatican leaks scandal, Rome’s battle with American nuns, the American bishops’ battle for religious freedom, and the priest on trial in Philadelphia, was the news that, by the way, Pope Benedict XVI plans to visit Philadelphia.
Benedict made the announcement at the end of his visit to Milan on June 3 for the church’s triennial World Meeting of Families. The next meeting would be in Philadelphia in 2015, he said, and he planned to be there, “God willing.”
True, the trip won’t happen until 2015, and it may well not happen at all — Benedict would be 88 by then. Even if there's a new pope in 2015, the City of Brotherly Love is still almost assured of getting a papal visit — new popes like to underscore continuity, and respect the plans their predecessors had in place.
In a larger sense, the visit would be about more than promoting family life, and in many ways it's related to other Catholic issues now dominating the headlines. Here’s why.
Pope Benedict XVI is set to visit Philadelphia in 2015 for the Vatican World Meeting of Families. This event, which happens once every three years, is a time of discussion and fellowship around issues like the definition of marriage, contraception, and abortion.
Read more about the Pope's visit from USA Today's Faith and Reason page.
Groups of Boston-area Catholics who have waged an eight-year battle to block the sale of parish buildings are running out of options as the Vatican has rejected their appeals.
In rulings dated March through May, Rome's Congregation for the Clergy upheld the Archdiocese of Boston's plans to convert six parish buildings from sacred to profane (non-church) use.
Now parishioners, including vigil keepers who've occupied two church buildings round-the-clock since a wave of parish closures began in 2004, must decide whether to appeal one more time to the Vatican's top court.
Over the course of the last six months, Pope Benedict XVI delivered five major speeches to small groups of American bishops who were in Rome for their "ad limina" visits, which are required once every five years.
The ad limina visits are the way the pope and and Vatican departments keep tabs on bishops from around the world. They are also an occasion for the pope to address the major issues faced by a local church.
In his speeches, Benedict often echoed bishops' concern about religious freedom and the challenges confronting the American church. In his last address, on May 22, he warned bishops of the “threat of a season in which our fidelity to the Gospel may cost us dearly.”
Pundits and politicians who opine about the so-called war on women ought to take note of the lawsuits filed Monday against the Department of Health and Human Services contraception mandate by 43 religious groups, including several Catholic dioceses and colleges.
The suits object to the requirement that religious institutions provide their employees with insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.
In the propaganda surrounding the mandate, HHS seems to suggest that women’s only stake in the matter is “free” contraception. This is a shallow – and frankly demeaning – view of women, who, equally with men, have an important stake in the preservation of religious freedom in the United States.
Archbishop Michael Seneco, of Washington, D.C., is a gay man who plans to marry his longtime partner in September.
Bishop Jim Morgan, of Ogden, Utah, is also gay and has been with the man he considers his husband for 30 years.
In this church, the bishops’ marital relations haven’t caused a ripple among the clergy or the laity. No protests. No outraged believers. No furious voting.
Dozens of Catholic universities, dioceses and other institutions filed lawsuits in courts around the country on Monday in a coordinated effort, spearheaded by the U.S. hierarchy and Catholic conservatives, to overturn the Obama administration’s contraception mandate plan.
The 43 plaintiffs, which include 13 dioceses and the University of Notre Dame, say the mandate forces religious employers to provide contraceptive and sterilization services to employees that violate their beliefs. They say that infringes on First Amendment religious freedom protections, and charge that the federal government’s exemption for religious organizations is too narrow.
It's been nearly a month since Bishop Richard Lennon announced he would reopen 12 closed churches, but so far no shuttered sanctuaries have been resurrected.
As they wait, parishioners from some of the moribund parishes have begun organizing committees in preparation for the reopenings, which the diocese says are in process, although there's no official timetable.
At St. Mary Catholic Church in suburban Bedford, parishioners have formed a parish council, a finance committee and a music committee. And they have tied blue and white bows and a "Welcome Home" sign on the front of their church.
"We've got our committees organized," said St. Mary parishioner Carol Szczepanik. "We're just waiting for the bishop."
VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican's doctrinal office said “further discussions” will be needed with the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) in order to heal a decades-long split within the Roman Catholic Church.
Cardinals and bishops from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith met on Wednesday (May 16) to discuss the response of the SSPX Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay, to a Vatican reconciliation proposal delivered last September.
According to a Vatican statement, members of the Vatican doctrinal office drafted a series of “observations” that “shall be taken into consideration in further discussions between the Holy See and the SSPX.
The Vatican announced on Tuesday (May 15) it had settled a lawsuit against Italian clothing group Benetton for using an image of Pope Benedict XVI in one of its advertisement campaigns.
The image had been modified to show Benedict kissing Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed El-Tayeb, imam of Cairo's renowned al-Azhar Mosque.
The Vatican's chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the image was "offensive" and stressed that the Benetton group had agreed to remove the pope's images from its campaign, and to ask third parties to do the same.
The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops are reviewing the church’s long-standing ties to the Girl Scouts of the USA after complaints that some of that venerable organization’s programs might contradict church teachings on contraception and abortion.
The inquiry by the Catholic bishops has been ongoing for two years and was prompted by persistent reports, circulated on the Internet and by some social conservatives, that the Girl Scouts of the USA has ties to Planned Parenthood or, for example, endorses material on sexuality that the church would not approve.
Here are two things that don't typically go together: Pope Benedict XVI and feminist culture.
Yet they both share a veneration for Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th-century German nun who was the first woman to be officially recognized as a “prophetess” by the Roman Catholic Church.
On Thursday (May 10), Benedict ordered Hildegard, who died in 1179, to be inscribed “in the catalogue of saints,” thus extending her cult “to the universal church.”
Last month liberal Catholics were upset over House Republican budget chief Paul Ryan using a Georgetown University platform to defend his hard-line fiscal plan as a natural outgrowth of his Catholic faith. Dozens of Georgetown faculty and administrators wrote a letter welcoming Ryan but blasting his understanding of Catholic teaching and asking him to explain his views during his talk at the university’s Public Policy Institute.
Now it is the conservatives’ turn: The flagship Jesuit university has announced that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic who has angered conservatives and bishops for overseeing the Obama administration’s contraception insurance mandate and other controversial policies, will address the policy institute's graduating class at commencement on May 18.
Author's Note: Meeting Sister Catherine during my years as a seminary student in North Carolina played a pivotal role deepening and expanding my spiritual formation, in my personal healing and in discerning key callings of my future vocation.
Sister Catherine is a Catholic nun in the Society of the Faith Companions of Jesus, an order in the spirit of Saint Ignatius, t in France in the mid-19th century under the auspices of Marie Madeleine Victoire de Bengy de Bonnault d'Houet (1781—1858).
I began Spiritual Direction sessions with Sister Catherine after the unforeseen death of my father and in the midst of a spiritual crisis.
What follows is taken from my book Reluctant Pilgrim: (A Moody Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert’s Search for Spiritual Community) Copyright c 2010 Fr
esh Air Books. Used with permission. Upper Room Books
I started seeing Sister Catherine once a week and within two months I felt as though I were going through a spiritual transformation, like I was being radically broken open and the thick outer shell I had maintained for so long was cracking and pieces were falling off one by one, slowly and painfully. And I learned the difference between a therapist and a spiritual director. She helped me think through my relationship with God and how different areas of my life affected or were seemingly affected
by my sense of spiritual self.
“I know this season of the liturgical year is called “Ordinary Time” because the weeks of Sunday are numbered but I like to think of it meaning plain and uneventful time more so than ordinal,” I told Sister Catherine during one session.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because it kind of feels like a gift to me, to be trying to experience God in really simple ways during the church season of ordinary time when nothing exciting is happening like Easter or Christmas. I’m not going to church on Sundays very regularly but I feel like God is graciously revealing God’s self to me through other people and becoming really alive for me in very incarnate mundane ways, not just in my own head and heart, or in my own silent prayers or weak devotional life.”
++ 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. ++
When the Vatican last month announced a doctrinal crackdown on the leadership organization representing most of the 57,000 nuns in the U.S., the sisters said they were “stunned” by the move. Many American Catholics, meanwhile, were angry at what they saw as Rome bullying women whose lives of service have endeared them to the public.
Vatican watchers also were perplexed since a broader, parallel investigation of women’s religious orders in the U.S. was resolved amicably after an initial clash. That seemed to augur a more diplomatic approach by the Vatican to concerns that American nuns were not sufficiently orthodox.
Now it turns out that conservative American churchmen living in Rome—including disgraced former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law—were key players in pushing the hostile takeover of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, or LCWR, which they have long viewed with suspicion for emphasizing social justice work over loyalty to the hierarchy and issues like abortion and gay marriage.
++ 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. ++
Silly and serious, strict and kind, profoundly faithful and sometimes hilarious — Catholic nuns are evergreen characters on the big (and the small) screens. Here's a list of some of our favorite portrayals of Catholic women religious from film and television.
1. Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) in Dead Man Walking
2. Mother Abbess (Peggy Wood) in The Sound of Music