Saintly, Seductive or Sadistic?

— Why We Can’t Make Up Our Minds About Nuns.

Sydney Sweeney (center) in the 2024 movie “Immaculate.”

In uncertain times, religious sisters are often invoked as vessels for collective doubt.

By Amanda Fortini

From Chaucer’s supercilious Madame Eglantine in “The Canterbury Tales,” with her spoiled lap dogs and secular French airs, to Ryan Murphy’s ruthless Sister Jude in 2012’s “American Horror Story: Asylum,” a woman who wears a red negligee under her habit and is not above indulging in some communion wine, fictional portrayals of nuns have long captured and confounded the imagination. How could it be otherwise? The sisters’ vows of chastity and poverty and the air of secrecy that shrouds their cloistered lives are all intriguingly antithetical to modern Western values of sex, money and fame. Many of us have also encountered nuns in our actual lives — I spent much of fourth grade facing a corner of the classroom at the punitive behest of Sister Rosalia — and are left with what I’d call a primal fascination. But if the aesthetic interest in nuns is an enduring one, it’s also true that every few years, like fashion trends or viral flus, nuns have a particularly concentrated cultural moment. We’re living in one now.

Perhaps the starkest, knottiest contemporary depiction of nuns is the playwright John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt: A Parable.” First staged on Broadway in 2005, it recently wrapped another run there, directed by Scott Ellis. (Three of the cast members have been nominated for Tony Awards.) The play tells the story of the iron-fisted Sister Aloysius (Amy Ryan in Ellis’s revival), the principal of a Bronx Catholic school in 1964, who, based on the hunch of a guileless novice, Sister James (Zoe Kazan), accuses Father Flynn, the parish priest (Liev Schreiber), of making advances toward the school’s only Black student (whose mother was played by Quincy Tyler Bernstine). It’s a detective drama with no resolution, a morality tale with an insoluble ambiguity at its heart. Ellis says he was drawn to stage the play because its titular emotion feels more crucial than ever in our increasingly polarized world. “Given everything that we are in society right now, the black and white of it all, the red and the blue,” he says, “doubt is the most important place to live.”

Liev Schreiber dressed as a priest with a collar standing behind Amy Ryan, in a black robe with a hood.
Liev Schreiber as Father Flynn (left) and Amy Ryan as Sister Aloysius in the recent Broadway production of “Doubt: A Parable” by John Patrick Shanley.

Rebecca Sullivan, the author of the 2005 book “Visual Habits: Nuns, Feminism and American Postwar Popular Culture,” says that “in times of deep doubt,” we tend to see cultural representations of nuns crop up. She notes that the cascade of nunsploitation films of the 1960s and ’70s — a campy, provocative, mostly European cinematic subgenre in which nuns are sexualized, tortured or possessed — occurred at a time of great social upheaval. Second-wave feminism was afoot, secularism was on the rise and the Second Vatican Council, held between 1962 and ’65, had ushered in numerous church reforms: Nuns, for example, were encouraged to get out of the convent and serve the community and were no longer required to wear habits. The liminal status of sisters — they were independent women who also exhibited a “subversive subservience,” as Sullivan puts it, to a patriarchal institution — made them rich and complex symbols, ciphers for exploring the era’s feelings about women at large.

We’re in another profound period of disruption, particularly when it comes to women’s rights and roles: Roe v. Wade has been overturned; tradwifery is a trend. And thus we’ve seen a new spate of arty nunsploitation films, with “Immaculate” (2024), starring Sydney Sweeney, being the latest. (Others include Paul Verhoeven’s 2021 erotic lesbian nun satire, “Benedetta,” and Rose Glass’s taut 2019 psychosexual horror, “Saint Maud.”) Directed by Michael Mohan, “Immaculate” follows a devout Midwestern novice, Sister Cecilia, who arrives at a gloomy convent in the remote Italian countryside and mysteriously becomes pregnant, leaving church elders to conclude that she’s carrying the savior. In a turn reminiscent of “Rosemary’s Baby,” the sinister Father Tedeschi more or less imprisons Cecilia in the dark, labyrinthine building. For all its gory, sexy-nun fun, the film raises all-too-familiar questions about female bodily autonomy in oppressive male institutions. But this nun, a feminist heroine for the 21st century, is the agent of her own destiny: Unlike so many sisters in the first wave of nunsploitation films, she frees herself.

A nun holds a shirtless boy with bandaged hands in her arms.
Cate Blanchett and Aswan Reid in the 2023 film “The New Boy.”

​It’s a fantasy of escape; the plight of young women imperiled by the church has usually been much darker. The legacy of Ireland’s Magdalene laundries and mother and baby homes — in which women and girls were made to labor without pay, or even surrender their children, often under the direction of nuns — is the subject of two new cinematic productions. “The Woman in the Wall,” a gothic six-part BBC drama, which aired in the United States earlier this year, follows a traumatized survivor (played by Ruth Wilson) as she searches for her missing daughter. And “Small Things Like These,” the film adaptation of the Irish writer Claire Keegan’s 2020 novella of the same name, stars Cillian Murphy as a coal merchant in a small Irish town who discovers that the local convent is a Magdalene laundry and is forced to make a fateful choice. A third, “The New Boy,” a quiet, dreamlike movie released last year, likewise highlights the misdeeds of the Catholic Church, but in 1940s Australia. It features Cate Blanchett as Sister Eileen, a wimpled, tippling nun on a mission to assimilate her young Aboriginal charges, who have been forcibly removed from their families by the state.

For years, the Magdalene laundries, which operated from the mid-18th century until 1996, were met with a “code of silence,” says Joe Murtagh, the creator of “The Woman in the Wall.” But in recent decades, the Irish government and the Catholic Church in Australia have both publicly apologized for these chapters of their respective pasts, joining Catholic institutions throughout the world in grappling with centuries of abuse. This reckoning is arguably why real-life nun horror stories are surfacing now: In these depictions, inspired by actual events, nuns are no longer cartoonish saints or sexualized victims but often perpetrators of violence. As a genre for exploring this history, “horror comes to mind naturally,” says Murtagh, “because it’s horrific.”

Complete Article HERE!

Blessings for same-sex couples?

— Going, going, gone…


CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell asked Pope Francis on Sunday about the blessings for same-sex unions he seemed to sanctify last year.

In his latest explanation, the Pope said the church can only bless individual homosexuals. In other words, there is now and never was a blessing for same-sex unions!

Norah O’Donnell posed a straightforward question the the Catholic leader.

“Last year, you decided to allow Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples,” O’Donnell That’s a big change. Why?”

“No, what I allowed was not to bless the union. That cannot be done because that is not the sacrament. I cannot. The Lord made it that way. But to bless each person, yes. The blessing is for everyone. To bless a homosexual-type union, however, goes against the Church’s law. But to bless each person, why not? The blessing is for all.”

Why the subject ever arose then, who knows?

There was a widespread belief at the time that Francis supported the blessings of same-sex unions. The statement prompted celebration among same-sex Catholics at what they perceived as progress in the church. Meanwhile, conservative Catholics attacked the Pope openly for his perceived support of same-sex unions.

Responses to questions about blessings and same-sex unions have been ambiguous in the months since.

Francis continually criticizes conservative bishops, recently, for example, calling conservatism a suicidal attitude.

But he also regularly reminds everyone that same-sex unions go against Church law.

Which is the bit in the Bible that says, “Thou shalt have thy cake and eat it too?”

Complete Article HERE!

Cardinal Hollerich urges caution, dialogue on women’s ordination

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the relator general of the 16th Annual General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. |

By AC Wimmer

In a new interview, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ, suggested that the Church’s position on female priests is not set in stone and should be discussed further, at the same time warning of triggering “a huge backlash.”

Speaking to the official Swiss Catholic portal on May 17, Hollerich, who is the archbishop of Luxembourg, said the prohibition against ordaining women was “not an infallible doctrinal decision” and could be changed over time with arguments.

“The way I see it, most bishops are in favor of a greater role for women in the Church,” the Jesuit cardinal said. “I am in favor of women feeling fully equal in the Church. And we will also work toward this. I don’t know if that necessarily has to include ordination to the priesthood. You can’t tie everything to the priesthood alone. That would be clericalization.”

When asked whether he thought Pope Francis would introduce female priests, Hollerich replied: “It’s very difficult to say. The pope is sometimes good for surprises.”

The archbishop of Luxemburg added: “But I would actually say no. Shortly before the synod, there was a ‘dubia’ from a few cardinals. They asked whether John Paul II’s rejection of the priesthood of women was binding for the Church. Francis replied very wisely: It is binding, but not forever. And he also said that theology would have to discuss this further.”

The cardinal, who has previously courted controversy on doctrinal matters, emphasized the need for ongoing discussion.

“It means that it is not an infallible doctrinal decision. It can be changed. It needs arguments and time,” Hollerich said.

At the same time, the Jesuit cautioned against pushing too hard for changes, noting that “if you push too much, you won’t achieve much. You have to be cautious, take one step at a time, and then you might be able to go very far.”

The interview was conducted by Jacqueline Straub, who works for the official portal of the Church in Switzerland and publicly describes herself as “called to be a Roman Catholic priest.”

Her assertion to Hollerich that women were forced to take a back seat in the Church was “based on a typically European principle of the individual,” the cardinal responded.

Citing the example of blessing homosexual couples after Fiducia Supplicans, Hollerich warned of a potentially “huge backlash” if the Vatican were to introduce the ordination of women to the priesthood.

“We have to have these discussions with the whole Church; otherwise, we will have huge problems later. Then the Catholic Church will fall apart.”

In 1994, Pope John Paul II, citing the Church’s traditional teaching, declared in the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

Complete Article HERE!

8 survivors speak during special hearing in Archdiocese of Baltimore bankruptcy case

Frank Schindler, a member of the Maryland chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, speaks to reporters on Monday outside the Edward A. Garmatz U.S. Courthouse in Baltimore following a hearing in the Archdiocese of Baltimore bankruptcy case.

By Dylan Segelbaum

From the witness stand in a small, packed courtroom, Cathy Roland held up two photos, one of herself and one of her late twin sister, Terri, as children.

Inside the Edward A. Garmatz U.S. Courthouse in Baltimore, Roland then showed a picture of the two of them together, which she said was taken after the Rev. Eugene Ambrose McGuire had sexually abused them at St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish.

“It’s just different,” she said Monday. “It’s just sadness.”

After presenting her statement, Roland told other survivors in the courtroom that her heart goes out to them. “We will get through it,” she added.

For a second time, survivors of childhood sexual abuse presented statements during a hearing in the Archdiocese of Baltimore bankruptcy case. Eight people shared their stories. Many spoke about how being sexually abused stole their childhood, drove them to alcoholism and drug addiction, and ruined their ability to develop relationships and trust others.

“I hate God,” one woman testified. “Because he let this happen to me. And all these other people here.”

Archbishop William Lori said he was moved by the powerful testimony of the eight survivors who spoke on Monday during a hearing in the Archdiocese of Baltimore bankruptcy.

Archbishop William Lori again attended the court proceedings and listened to their statements. He later said the testimony moved him and commented about the courage of the survivors.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michelle M. Harner set aside time for the statements at the request of the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, which represents survivors in the case. The Archdiocese of Baltimore supported the effort. Six people spoke on April 8 during the first specially set hearing, which was designed to increase transparency and understanding in the process.

“From the court’s perspective, this is a listening session: an opportunity for individuals to be heard,” said Harner, who largely echoed her remarks at the first hearing. “Today, the court will provide time and space for listening.”

As a lifelong Baltimorean, Mark Easley said he went to church every Sunday at St. Vincent de Paul.

His family members, he said, were devout Catholics. He said he trusted everyone in that environment. It seemed like a haven during the political and racial turmoil of the 1960s.

The Rev. Edmund Stroup, he said, would have some people stay with him overnight, which was considered an honor. Easley said he was excited for his opportunity to do the same.

“I viewed this man as one of God’s messengers,” Easley said.

Stroup, he said, sexually abused him during that visit as well as a subsequent overnight stay.

Easley said he was mortified and kept what happened to himself, sinking into music as a coping mechanism. The abuse, he said, “turned me and my life upside down.”

Joe Martin spoke about the sexual abuse that he experienced at the hands of the Rev. Francis LeFevre, whom he met in fifth grade as an altar boy at St. Anthony of Padua.

LeFevre, he said, was outgoing, energetic and likeable. In retrospect, Martin said, the priest “ingratiated himself in all aspects of my life.”

Martin said LeFevre abused him during trips to places including Sea Isle City, New Jersey, and stated that the victimization continued after he started attending Calvert Hall.

He said he felt ashamed and embarrassed. Martin said he hated everyone and everything, with destructive thoughts turning into destructive behaviors.

Eventually, Martin said, he moved back home and returned to church. Elders prayed over him and stated that Jesus loved him, an instance he described as the most peaceful moment in his life. Finally, Martin said, he knew that somebody loved him.

Often, Martin said, he has anger. But he said he has also learned to let go and noted that he joined the creditors’ committee.

Following the hearing, Frank Schindler, a member of the Maryland chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and Teresa Lancaster, a survivor, activist and attorney in Maryland who testified at the first hearing, criticized the Archdiocese of Baltimore for filing for bankruptcy. They also spoke out against the Catholic Church for challenging the Child Victims Act of 2023, which eliminated the statute of limitations for survivors to file lawsuits and allowed more people to sue institutions that enabled their victimization.

Right before the law was set to take effect on Oct. 1, 2023, and open up the church to a flood of lawsuits, the Archdiocese of Baltimore filed for bankruptcy.

Teresa Lancaster, a survivor, activist, and attorney in Maryland, speaks outside the courthouse following a bankruptcy hearing for the Archdiocese of Baltimore on 5/20/24 in Baltimore, MD.
Teresa Lancaster, a survivor, activist, and attorney in Maryland, criticizes the Archdiocese of Baltimore for filing for bankruptcy as well as the Catholic Church for challenging the Child Victims Act of 2023 during a news conference outside the Edward A. Garmatz U.S. Courthouse in Baltimore.

The Maryland Supreme Court has agreed to decide the constitutionality of the law.

The chair of the creditors’ committee, Paul Jan Zdunek, said it was gut-wrenching listening to survivors recount what happened to them.

Zdunek said the deadline to submit a claim in the case is May 31 and emphasized that survivors can do so anonymously. The committee also has a website that contains up-to-date information about the court proceedings as well as resources.

He said the committee has been meeting with the archbishop and his team.

“They’re saying the right things. Now, we just hope they will continue to do the right things as we move forward,” Zdunek said. “We’re all stuck in this together — and are trying to do what we can for those who have been abused.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis says U.S. conservatives have a “suicidal attitude”

Pope Francis being interviewed by CBS’ Norah O’Donnell on “60 Minutes.”

By Rebecca Falconer

Pope Francis responded to U.S. conservative bishops’ criticisms of his progressive shift to Roman Catholic Church doctrine in an interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes” airing Sunday evening.

Details: The pope noted during the interview via a Spanish translator that the adjective “conservative” in such instances was “one who clings to something and does not want to see beyond that.”

  • He added: “It is a suicidal attitude. Because one thing is to take tradition into account, to consider situations from the past, but quite another is to be closed up inside a dogmatic box.”

Why it matters: Since being elected pope in 2013, Francis has advocated for progressive issues and moved to make the Catholic Church more welcoming to LGBTQ+ people while at the same time upholding its historical views on the sacrament of marriage — angering some conservatives in the process.

What he’s saying: During his CBS interview, Francis clarified his position on allowing priests to bless same-sex couples.

  • “What I allowed was not to bless the union,” the 87-year-old pontiff told CBS’ Norah O’Donnell. “That cannot be done because that is not the sacrament. … But to bless each person, yes. The blessing is for everyone,” he added.
  • “To bless a homosexual-type union, however, goes against the given right, against the law of the Church. But to bless each person, why not? The blessing is for all. Some people were scandalized by this. But why?”
  • O’Donnell noted that the pope had previously said that “homosexuality is not a crime,” to which Francis replied: “It is a human fact.”

Zoom in: The pope also criticized Texas officials’ efforts to shut down a Catholic charity that offers undocumented immigrants humanitarian assistance as part of a wider crackdown at the state’s border with Mexico.

  • “That is madness. Sheer madness. To close the border and leave them there, that is madness,” he said.
  • “The migrant has to be received. Thereafter you see how you are going to deal with him. Maybe you have to send him back, I don’t know, but each case ought to be considered humanely.”

On surrogacy, the pontiff said in the “strictest sense of the term” it is not authorized by Vatican doctrine.

  • But when O’Donnell noted sometimes this was the only hope for women, Francis replied: “It could be. The other hope is adoption.”
  • He said in each case the situation “should be carefully and clearly considered, consulting medically and then morally as well.”
  • The pope said he thinks there’s a general rule in these cases, “but you have to go into each case in particular to assess the situation, as long as the moral principle is not skirted.”
  • He then told O’Donnell she was right in her assertion. “I really liked your expression when you told me, ‘In some cases it is the only chance,'” he said. “It shows that you feel these things very deeply.”

Complete Article HERE!