Sisters on the side of Jesus in Vatican controversy
By Rev. Doug Koesel
The following article by Rev. Doug Koesel is from the parish bulletin of the Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in Cleveland, Ohio and is reprinted with permission.
Many of you have asked me to comment on the recent investigation into the U.S. nuns. Here goes. In short, the Vatican has asked for an investigation into the life of religious women in the United States. There is a concern about orthodoxy, feminism and pastoral practice. The problem with the Vatican approach is that it places the nuns squarely on the side of Jesus and the Vatican on the side of tired old men, making a last gasp to save a crumbling kingdom lost long ago for a variety of reasons.
One of the results of the council was that the nuns became more educated,
more integrated in the life of the people and more justice-oriented than
the bishops and pope. They are doctors, lawyers, university professors,
lobbyists, social workers, authors, theologians, etc. Their appeal was
that they always went back to what Jesus said and did. Their value lay
in the fact that their theology and their practice were integrated into
the real world.
The Vatican sounded like the Pharisees of the New Testament — legalistic, paternalistic and orthodox — while “the good sisters” were the ones who were feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, educating the immigrant, and so on. Nuns also learned that Catholics are intuitively smart about their faith. They prefer dialogue over diatribe, freedom of thought over mind control, biblical study over fundamentalism, development of doctrine over isolated mandates.
SUPPORTING THE SISTERS — A demonstrator holds a sign during a vigil supporting religious sisters outside St. James Cathedral in Seattle. (CNS/Brashear)
Far from being radical feminists or supporters of far-out ideas, religious women realized that the philosophical underpinnings of Catholic teaching are no longer valid. Women are not subservient to men, the natural law is much broader than once thought, the Old Testament is not as important as the New Testament, love is more powerful than fear.
They realized that you can have a conversation with someone
on your campus who thinks differently than the church without compromising
what the church teaches. (For example, I could invite Newt Gingrich here
to speak. You’d
all still know what the church teaches about divorce in spite of him.)
Women religious have learned to live without fear (Sisters Dorothy Kazel,
Maura Clark, Ita Ford) and with love (Mother Teresa). And the number
of popes and bishops and cardinals following in their footsteps, Jesus’ footsteps,
This is what annoys Catholics. The Vatican is hypocritical and duplicitous.
Their belief is always that someone else needs to clean up their act;
the divorced, the gays, the media, the nuns, the Americans who were using
the wrong words to pray, the seminaries, etc. It never occurs to the
powers that be that the source of the problem is the structure itself.
We can say that now with certainty as regards the sex abuse crisis. It
was largely the structure of the church itself, the way men were trained
and isolated, made loyal to the system at all costs and not to the person,
that gave us the scandalous coverup.
U.S. nuns work side by side with the person on the street. They are involved
in their everyday lives. Most cardinals spent less than five years in
a parish, were never pastors, are frequently career diplomats.
This time their prophetic voices may take them out of the
system. They may take a lot of Catholics and a lot of their hospitals,
schools, colleges, orphanages, prison ministries, convents, women’s shelters, food
pantries and, of course, the goodwill they have earned over the centuries
This investigation is not about wayward U.S. nuns. It is the last gasp for control by a dying breed, wrapped in its own self-importance. It is a struggle for the very nature of the church; who we are, how we pray, where we live, who belongs, why we believe. The early church endured a similar struggle. The old order died. The Holy Spirit won. Happy Pentecost Sunday!
Koesel is pastor of the Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in Cleveland, Ohio.