In a nod to tradition, Pope Francis I has reaffirmed the reprimand issued by his predecessor, Benedict XVI, against a group of U.S. Catholic nuns criticized for eschewing church doctrine by ranking charity as a higher priority than railing against abortion and homosexuality. The pope also endorsed a plan to have three bishops oversee efforts to reform the group, known as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). It is a disappointing reminder how steadfastly resistant the Church is to the idea of recognizing the full equality of women and gays.
The newly elected pontiff, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, reiterated Benedict's edict in a statement released by the Vatican on Monday, 15 April. In that decree, Benedict accused the nuns of using their organization to promote "radical feminist themes" incompatible with the doctrine of the Catholic faith and for making public statements that "disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church's authentic teachers of faith and morals" (and all of whom are men); in particular, he reprimanded them for their soft stance on issues like homosexuality, abortion, and the male-only priesthood, and for focusing too much attention on economic and social justice issues like helping the poor and working for peace.
Pope Francis's announcement, which came after a meeting in the Vatican between the LCWR and two bishops, has disheartened American nuns and their supporters, who were hoping for a more progressive stance on the part of the Holy See regarding equality and social justice issues. Talk of a dialogue concerning women's reproductive rights, their role in the church, and acceptance of homosexuals was put to rest by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the head of the Vatican's doctrinal office which ordered the crackdown one year ago. Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, who was appointed by the Vatican to supervise the five-year effort to reform the LCWR, was also present to reassert patriarchal authority.
The Radical Feminist Agenda
Catholic women have been actively pursuing their own agenda of reform within the Catholic Church in recent years. One of the most vocal of these female leaders is Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun from Erie, Pennsylvania who criticized the Church's pro-life policy on the Bill Moyers show in 2004:
I do not believe that just because you're opposed to abortion that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking. If all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed, and why would I think that you don't? Because you don't want any tax money to go there. That's not pro-life. That's pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.
But while women like Chittister have become more emboldened with reason and critical insight, Pope Francis's recent announcement suggests the Vatican has no plans any time soon to soften its hard-line stance against homosexuality, reproductive freedom, and the full integration of women into all ranks of Church leadership.
As most of our ordained ministers might assume, the Universal Life Church Monastery strongly believes in the full sacerdotal equality of women and men, as well as gay and straight people, for every person has access to divine wisdom. There is an old Christian saying that "God works in mysterious ways." In regards to these issues, the Catholic Church is sadly undermining this notion.
The Los Angeles Times
The New York Times