The Vatican freezes out nuns and warms to traditionalists

COMMENTARY

Catholic liberals in the United States are making much of an interesting juxtaposition in Vatican initiatives. This week the Holy See lashed out at American nuns for insufficient fidelity to church teachings while making encouraging sounds about welcoming back a right-wing breakaway movement called the Society of St. Pius X.

As one commenter on the National Catholic Reporter website put it: “The timing of it all is nothing less than stunning! Just as the CDF/Vatican is rewarding of group of right-wing anti-Semites for ‘bad’ behavior, it’s punishing U.S. women religious for their faithful devotion. Oh well, would you expect anything less from a group of paternalistic elderly men who thrive on secrecy & cunning?”

The CDF is the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican agency once headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. This week the congregation criticized the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for “protesting the Holy See’s actions regarding the question of women’s ordination and of a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons.” It also faulted the umbrella group for not speaking out enough in opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. The Vatican may also have noted that the Leadership Conference supported “Obamacare.”

The archbishop of Seattle has been assigned to oversee changes in the group, “in order to implement a process of review and conformity to the teachings and discipline of the church.”

Also this week, a Vatican spokesman called “encouraging” a communication from the SSPX, a schismatic ultra-traditionalist group formed by the late “rebel archbishop” Marcel Lefebvre. In 2009 Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications of four bishops ordained by Lefebvre, including Richard Williamson, who has said the historical evidence is “hugely against” the deliberate gassing of 6 million Jews by the Nazis. (The Vatican said the pope wasn’t aware of Williamson’s views about the Holocaust when he lifted the bishop’s excommunication.)

You can ring any number of changes on these two developments and the reaction to them. One could argue that liberal Catholics, who are usually in favor of diversity and tolerance, aren’t very tolerant of traditionalist Catholics like SSPX. On the other hand, it’s somewhat disingenuous for traditionalist, Latin-Mass-loving Catholics to champion diversity in the church. If they had their druthers, every Mass would be in Latin.

What is most revealing about the two developments is the emphasis the Vatican places on issues related to sex, sexuality and reproduction. Opposition to abortion is now the defining issue for Catholicism internationally and in the United States. On that issue the SSPX is seen by Rome as more orthodox than liberal nuns who emphasize the social gospel and flirt with feminism. The SSPX also believes in an all-male priesthood. Those positions, it seems, cover a multitude of sins.

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Leader of ‘radical’ US nuns rejects Vatican criticism

The leader of a group of US nuns the Vatican accuses of flouting Church teaching has rejected the claims.

“I’ve no idea what they’re talking about,” Sister Simone Campbell, head of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, told the BBC.

“Our role is to live the gospel with those who live on the margins of society. That’s all we do.”

On Wednesday the Vatican announced a crackdown on US nuns long considered too liberal by the church hierarchy.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a highly critical report that accused US nuns of engaging in “corporate dissent” and of ignoring, or worse, challenging the church’s teachings on abortion, homosexuality and an all-male priesthood.
‘Radical feminist themes’

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents 80% of America’s 57,000 nuns, was the subject of a lengthy of investigation led by Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio.

The resulting report noted the good work they did with the poor and in running schools and hospitals, but also documented what it called a “grave” doctrinal crisis.

It said the sisters were promoting radical feminist themes and criticised US nuns for challenging the bishops, who it said were “the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals”.

The Archbishop of Seattle, Peter Sartain, is to lead a reform of the LCWR.

This will include a review of ties between it and its close partner, Network, a social justice organisation involved in healthcare and poverty programmes.

Network was singled out for criticism in the report for “being silent on the right to life” and other “crucial issues” to the church.

Sister Campbell suggested that her organisation’s vocal support for President Barack Obama’s healthcare bill was behind the slapdown.

“There’s a strong connection,” she said. “We didn’t split on faith, we split on politics.”

American Bishops saw the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act as backing state-funded abortion. The nuns disagreed.

The Vatican said that the mandate to carry out reforms of the nuns’ leadership “will be for a period of up to five years, as deemed necessary”.

Archbishop Sartain said, “I hope to be of service to them and to the Holy See as we face areas of concern to all.”

But Sister Campbell suggested a difficult time ahead: “It’s totally a top-down process and I don’t think the bishops have any idea of what they’re in for.”

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Vatican Reprimands U.S. Nuns Group

The Vatican has appointed an American bishop to rein in the largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns in the United States, saying that an investigation found that the group has “serious doctrinal problems.”

The Vatican’s assessment, issued on Wednesday, said that members of the group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, have challenged church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

The sisters were also reprimanded for making public statements that “disagree with or challenge the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” During the debate over the health care overhaul in 2010, the American bishops came out in opposition to the health plan, but dozens of sisters, many who belong to the Conference, signed a statement supporting it — support that provided crucial cover for the Obama administration in the battle over health care.

The Conference is an umbrella organization of women’s religious communities, and claims 1,500 members who represent 80 percent of the Catholic sisters in the United States. It was formed in 1956 at the Vatican’s request, and answers to the Vatican, said Sister Annmarie Sanders, the group’s communications director.

Word of the Vatican’s action took the group completely by surprise, Sister Sanders said. She said that the group’s leaders were in Rome on Wednesday for what they thought was a routine annual visit to the Vatican when they were informed of the outcome of the investigation, which began in 2008.

“I’m stunned,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby founded by sisters. Her group was also cited in the Vatican document, along with the Leadership Conference, for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping “silent” on abortion and same-sex marriage.

“I would imagine that it was our health care letter that made them mad,” Sister Campbell said. “We haven’t violated any teaching, we have just been raising questions and interpreting politics.”

The verdict on the nuns group was issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is now led by an American, Cardinal William Levada, formerly the archbishop of San Francisco. He appointed Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to lead the process of reforming the sisters’ Conference, with assistance from Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki and Bishop Leonard Blair, who was in charge of the investigation of the Leadership Conference.

They have been given up to five years to revise the group’s statutes, approve of every speaker at the group’s public programs and replace a handbook the group used to facilitate dialogue on matters that the Vatican said should be settled doctrine. They are also supposed to review the Leadership Conference’s links with Network and another organization, the Resource Center for Religious Life.

Doctrinal issues have been in the forefront during the papacy of Benedict XVI, who was in charge of the Vatican’s doctrinal office before he became pope. American nuns have come under particular scrutiny. Last year, American bishops announced that a book by a popular theologian at Fordham University, Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, should be removed from all Catholic schools and universities.

And while the Vatican was investigating the Leadership Conference, the Vatican was also conducting a separate, widespread investigation of all women’s religious orders and communities in the United States. That inquiry, known as a “visitation,” was concluded in December 2011, but the results of that process have not been made public.

Complete Article HERE!

Bettany Hughes: Women ‘held sway’ in early church

Bettany Hughes believes that the early church presents a profound case for the ordination of women.

As the Church of England moves towards its first women bishops, the historian will argue in an upcoming TV programme that the ordination of women neither contradicts the faith nor the practice of church in its early formation.

“By suppressing the true story of the connection between women and religion, we etiolate both history and the possibilities of our own world,” she wrote in Radio Times.

She believes that the early church was a place where women were the “lifeblood”. In the first 200 years of Christianity, more than half of all the churches in Rome were built by women, she says, while Paul invited Phoebe to take the word of God to Rome.

In the early church, women had been allowed to preside as deaconesses, priestesses and bishops.

“This Easter will be the last when I go to a church knowing it will be dominated by men. I love my (male) vicar, who has spent 45 years encouraging his flock to be clear-sighted about the world – past, present and sublime,” she said.

“But the paradoxical thing for me as a historian is that I’m keenly aware Christianity was originally a faith where the female of the species held sway.”

Miss Hughes is to present the BBC Two series Divine Women, which explores the role women have played in world religions.

She suggests that a stronger role for women would be good for the church.

“Consider this: throughout the history of humanity, 97 per cent of all deities of wisdom have been female.

“Who knows whether God is a girl, but mankind has turned to the female of the species for good ideas.

“Our own monotheistic institutions might do well to take a leaf out of the book of human experience and build on this consensus when it comes to reaping the benefits of a close relationship between women and the divine.”

Complete Article HERE!

Holy Wisdom Monastery provides church services for disaffected local Catholics

Alice Jenson’s faith took an irreversible turn six years ago.

It was Nov. 5, 2006, and she was contributing to Mass at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Madison as a lay person, reading Bible passages from the lectern.

The same day, Madison Bishop Robert Morlino required all priests to play a recorded message from him explaining his position on three issues state residents would vote on that week, including a ban on same-sex marriage, which he supported.

When the priest hit “play,” Jenson walked out.

“It was the first time I’d ever outwardly gone against what I was raised to follow,” said Jenson, 67.

She found a new religious home at Holy Wisdom Monastery, a former Roman Catholic monastery in the town of Westport, just outside Madison. Its Sunday service, offered by the sisters who live there, retains many elements of a traditional Catholic Mass but diverges in sometimes startling ways.

Women can lead the service and preach the sermon. Gay relationships are warmly embraced. All parishioners, not just Catholics, can consume the communion wine and bread because the service is ecumenical, meaning welcoming of all Christian traditions.

It’s an alternate universe of sorts — what some think a Catholic Mass might look like today if the liberal spirit of Vatican II in the 1960s had taken root and flowered.

“We’re doing what the hierarchical church was afraid to complete,” said Jim Green, a longtime Holy Wisdom parishioner who is gay and describes himself as “a Catholic in exile.”

The service, called Sunday Assembly, is attended by people from many denominational backgrounds but has become especially popular with Catholics displeased with Morlino or church doctrine in general. Membership doubled in five years to 335, and parishioners estimate a majority are Catholics who left their regular parishes.

Detractors say the parishioners strayed too far from Catholicism to warrant the label.

Approach evolves
Though many self-described Catholics attend Holy Wisdom, it’s no longer an official Catholic Mass.

A little history: In the 1950s, a group of Benedictine nuns opened a high school at the site for girls in the Madison Catholic Diocese. Benedictines belong to a monastic religious order regulated by the canon law of the Catholic Church. Masses at the site were led by Catholic priests, often provided by the diocese.

In 1966, the nuns closed the school and turned the buildings into a Christian retreat center. The sisters, spurred by the Benedictine tradition of hospitality, gradually made the service more inclusive to all Christians. Lay people, especially women, took on greater roles.

In 2000, the Benedictine sisters went a step further, welcoming a Protestant woman to live with them. “When we chose to open our community to Protestant women, it meant other doors closed,” said Sister Mary David Walgenbach, the monastery’s head.

The sisters sought independence from the Catholic Church, and the Vatican granted it in 2006. Consequently, they no longer are tied to the local diocese. They remain affiliated with a Benedictine federation, but they have a special status, not a full membership, because of their ecumenism.

Bishop’s request
When the sisters disassociated from Rome, Bishop Morlino asked them to no longer celebrate Mass at the site so as not to cause confusion, said Brent King, a diocesan spokesman.

“Many people had visited (the monastery) over the years, and the bishop felt it would take time for people to understand that it was no longer a Roman Catholic institution,” King said, adding the bishop “was in no way unfriendly toward their desire to start a non-Catholic ecumenical community.”

The sisters understood the bishop’s position and stopped calling the service a Catholic Mass in 2006, Walgenbach said. Priests ceased to lead the service.
Today, the sisters describe the Sunday Assembly as being “for the celebration of Eucharist,” a term most commonly used to refer to Catholic communion. However, Walgenbach said some Protestant churches also use it. To many people, the service still has the essence of a Catholic Mass.

“You wouldn’t know it wasn’t a Catholic church, except for the person officiating,” said parishioner Pat Hobbins-Kemps, 64. A lifelong Catholic, she said she left her regular parish partly out of a lack of opportunities for women to lead.

Finding a home
Trisha Day, 66, said she came to Holy Wisdom after growing tired of sermons that focused on politically charged issues such as abortion and homosexuality while saying little about social justice and the poor.

Jeanne Marquis, 68, found Holy Wisdom after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “I needed someone to talk about forgiveness instead of retaliation,” she said. “I needed a place where I was encouraged to ask questions.”

Ann Baltes, 44, a lifelong Catholic, said she sought a place where she and her husband, Bill Rosholt, a Lutheran, could participate in communion together.

Are these parishioners still Catholic? The answers vary.

Jenson says she’s not. “Too much divides us.”

Day calls herself “a transitional Catholic,” unsure where she’ll end up. Green said his Catholic identity can’t be taken from him. “The church is the people of God, not the institution,” he said.

Joanne Kollasch, one of the three Benedictine sisters who live at the monastery, said she “is a Catholic and will remain a Catholic,” adding, “I don’t like to be thought of as less Catholic because I’m ecumenical.”
Said Walgenbach: “The Catholic spirituality is bigger than the Roman Catholic Church.”

Both sisters said they respect the Catholic Church and Morlino and don’t seek controversy.

Detractors
Syte Reitz, a member of Madison’s Cathedral Parish who blogs about Catholic issues, said disaffected Catholics are free to start their own churches, but they shouldn’t confuse people by suggesting they still are faithful Catholics.

“Does it matter whether they are errant Catholics or not Catholics?” asks Reitz. “No matter what we label them, the laws of right and wrong and of morality still stand, and they and others will suffer from the mistakes that they make.”

Reitz said because a male priest is not presiding over the Eucharist, the bread is not being turned into the body of Christ, thus depriving attendees of the Catholic Church’s central sacrament.

King, the diocesan spokesman, said for Catholics to fulfill their obligation to attend Mass on Sundays, they must attend a Catholic Mass validly offered by an ordained Catholic priest.

Does the Holy Wisdom service qualify?

“In charity, we must respond that it does not,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!