Nuns

Breaking Silence, U.S. Nuns Say Vatican Probe Cleared Up Confusion, Reinforced Their Mission

Photo via CNS photo / L’Osservatore Romano / RNS

Pope Francis and representatives of the U.S. LCWR. Photo via CNS photo / L’Osservatore Romano / RNS

The controversial Vatican probe of American nuns that abruptly ended last month looked from the outside like a tense standoff between Rome and the U.S. sisters, punctuated by occasional public jousts that appeared to signal even tougher negotiations behind closed doors.

Not so, say the sisters, now freed to talk after both sides agreed to a month-long media blackout that ended May 15.

Those involved in the talks said that after a rocky start, the talks settled into a constructive dialogue that cleared up many misunderstandings that Vatican officials had about the sisters.

Maria and the Rabbi

IT’S THE 50TH anniversary of The Sound of Music. I never thought I’d write about it here, but someone recently offered me the kind of gentle admonishment that Maria might have given to the von Trapp children. Maria is usually right, and my friend is too. One of the wisest film critics I know, a man dedicated to contemplation and activism and who doesn’t shy away from the more challenging edges of cinema, still considers it his favorite film.

Don’t get me wrong— it’s not the greatest movie he’s ever seen (that’s usually an entirely different category to “favorite”). But The Sound of Music did something unique for my friend—it showed him that there was a bigger world out there. My friend was suffering constant night terrors. When The Sound of Music finally showed up in his town, it was the first film ever to be approved by the local religious authorities. He felt safe to watch it (as did many other townsfolk— it played at their local theater for six years without a break); it became a bath for his soul. The scale, the energy, the sheer heart seemed to leap off the screen. The night terrors stopped, and never came back. He says he’s seen it nearly 60 times in the last 50 years. Lest we forget, the story is one of hope trumping almost unimaginable odds.

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Sister Mary Ann Walsh, Catholic Journalist and Longtime Bishops’ Spokeswoman, Dies at 67

Photo via U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops / RNS

Sister Mary Ann Walsh. Photo via U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops / RNS

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a quiet nun with a keen wit who led a very public life as a journalist and a longtime spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, died on April 28 after a tough battle with cancer.

She was 67 and passed away in a hospice in Albany next to the regional convent of the religious order she entered as a 17-year-old novice in 1964.

Walsh had moved to her native Albany from Washington last September after it was discovered that the cancer that had been in remission since 2010 had returned.

She was able to receive better care there and live out her days with other members of the Sisters of Mercy. She was transferred to the hospice on April 23 as her condition deteriorated.

“Sister Mary Ann,” as she was known to the many journalists she sparred and joked with and, with regularity, befriended, worked at the communications office of the American hierarchy for 20 years, retiring in the summer of 2014 just before she fell ill again.

She became director of media relations for the USCCB — the first woman to hold that position — after coordinating media for World Youth Day in Denver in 1993, which featured an enormously successful visit by then-Pope John Paul II.

'Nuns on the Underground Railroad'

The way forward railway. Photo via hxdyl / Shutterstock.com

While some people may have heard of the great work of Nuns on the Bus to engage people on pressing social issues, there’s also the “Nuns on the Underground Railroad”—a quiet movement of nuns working together to restore dignity and healing for victims of labor and sex trafficking across the nation and the world...

For several years now, Catholic nuns have been proactive in preventing sex trafficking before, during, and after major sporting events like the Super Bowl by raising public awareness and conducting personal visits to hotels to alert them to the signs of human trafficking. Nuns have also placed full-page ads in airline magazines to educate the public about the dangers of child trafficking.

A fundamental theological and scriptural principle for Christians is that each human person is made in the image and likeness of God. This belief in the imago Dei helps us to see the face of God even when the person doubts her own beauty and worth because of oppression. “Nuns on the Underground Railroad” seeks to restore a person’s sense of dignity and beauty through two rails of freedom: healing through programs and shelters and empowerment through education and employment.

As we move toward the Lenten season, the prophet Isaiah reminds us: "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?" (Isaiah 58:6)

How is God moving your heart as you awaken to the stories of human trafficking victims? What action can you take for your enslaved sister and brother? What will you bring to your faith community to stir up concern? One single action to educate others and liberate the oppressed strengthens freedom throughout the world. As our mission affirms, “Ending slavery is everyone’s work.”

The Vatican vs. the Nuns: 3 Takeaways from the Vatican's Investigation of Women's Religious Communities

Photo courtesy of Leadership Conference of Women Religious / RNS

Sister Sharon Holland, IHM, LCWR President-Elect. Photo courtesy of Leadership Conference of Women Religious / RNS

The moment was more “Kumbaya” than “Come to Jesus” on Dec. 16 as the Vatican released the much-anticipated results of an investigation of women’s religious communities in the U.S., the first of two controversial investigations of American nuns by the Roman Curia.

The 5,200-word report was largely positive, and participants at a Vatican news conference were even more effusive in their praise for each other, the process, the outcome, and prospects for future collaboration to meet serious challenges. That was a big change from how things started six years ago.

So what did we learn from this whole saga? Here are three takeaways:

1. Rome’s “War on Women” is over

“It is not a truce,” Sister Sharon Holland of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the main network of U.S. nuns, told reporters in Rome. “We are not at war.”

Report: Vatican Investigation Ends with Praise of U.S. Nuns

Nuns listen during a Dec. 16 Vatican press conference of the final report. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The much anticipated final report of a Vatican-ordered investigation of U.S. nuns was released today without controversy. The report ends a process launched six years ago under Pope Benedict XVI through the leadership of Cardinal Franc Rodé, the former head of the Vatican office of religious life, who raised concerns of “secular mentality" and a "feminist spirit" among U.S. women religious communities. 

Weekly Wrap 10.3.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. The Strange Nostalgia of ‘Left Behind’

The rapture movie (out in theaters today) is—to borrow a phrase—neither hot nor cold. So why the re-make? We take a crack at answering.

2. Lipstick and Seminary

“During seminary, I paid close attention to ways men acted in and outside the classroom. Playing by their rules helped me fit in…I guarded what I considered feminine-seeming parts of my personality — creativity, emotion, and relational ways of perceiving and acting. I got A’s, but my soul was wilting.”

3. WATCH: A Million Ways to Die in the U.S.

Jon Stewart puts concerns over ISIS and Ebola in perspective. “The American government has a sacred obligation to do whatever it takes to save American lives…unless it’s stopping the things that are actually killing Americans.”

Murdered Nuns Laid to Rest in the Congo as Crime Investigation Continues

A street in the Democratic Republic of Congo town of Bukavu. Photo via Fredrick Nzwili/RNS.

Three elderly Italian nuns murdered in Burundi were laid to rest Sept. 11 in a Xaverian cemetery in the Democratic Republic of Congo amid heightened calls for action about their death.

Sister Lucia Pulici, 75, Sister Olga Raschietti, 82, and Sister Bernadetta Boggian, 79, of the Xaverian Missionary Sisters of Mary were gruesomely murdered Sunday in their convent in the Kamenge area of Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura.

The triple murders shocked Christians across the globe and ignited calls for the protection of sisters worldwide. The nuns were reportedly beaten and killed with a knife. At least one nun was decapitated. There were conflicting reports about whether they had been raped.

New ‘Nuns on the Bus’ Tour to Tackle Political ‘Dark Money’

Sister Simone Campbell addresses an audience July 2, 2012 to conclude the Nuns on the Bus tour. Photo via Chris Lisee/RNS.

This time it’s the Catholic sisters versus the Koch brothers.

That’s one way to look at the upcoming “Nuns on the Bus” tour, which hits the road Sept. 17 for the third time in three years, a monthlong trip though 10 key U.S. Senate battleground states to campaign against the influence of outside money on politics.

The issue has come to be identified with the wealthy industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch, whose huge contributions to conservative political causes have raised concerns about the role of “dark money” on elections.

The spigot for such undisclosed donations, which can be made by unions as well as corporations, was opened by the controversial 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision. That was followed by another 5-4 ruling in April of this year, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.

Catholic Sisters Are Redefining Leadership

A new model of leadership that’s been refined in the fires of change and conflict is emerging from U.S. religious women.

In June, the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, along with Solidarity with Sisters, invited 150 people to Catholic University for an opportunity to discuss the model of leadership that has developed in Catholic women’s communities around the world over the last 50 years since Vatican II. The event coincided with the release of Spiritual Leadership for Challenging Times, an anthology of 10 addresses given by Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) presidents.

Catholic sisters are emerging as leaders ahead of their times. From Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, and Nuns on the Bus to Catholic Health Association CEO Sister Carol Keehan, DC, who helped pass the Affordable Care Act, to former LCWR president Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, who practiced authentic spiritual leadership in the face of the Vatican’s ongoing investigation of that organization (an investigation that Pope Francis should have laid quietly to rest, but has not), religious women are getting notice for their thoughtful, faithful leadership in the face of withering criticism and their own communities’ dramatic changes.

What are the marks of this new leadership?

1. Leadership must begin with facing oneself. Sister Marie McCarthy, SP, calls this taking “a long, loving look at what is.” Developing a prayerful, contemplative consciousness allows illusions and judgments to fall away. What changes are needed so that we can go “deeper into life, into service, into God,” as Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, writes? “The purpose of leadership is not to make the present bearable,” writes Sister Joan, but “to make the future possible.” This kind of leadership is measured and evaluated by the degree to which the people around the leaders are inspired to effective, resilient change.

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