By Tom Holmes
I called three nuns living in this area and asked them for an interview regarding the recent news that the Vatican is investigating the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an organization of Catholic sisters in which some of the nuns have challenged church teaching on issues like the ordination of women and homosexuality.
All three replied that they would not comment on the record. One explained that she would get "in trouble" if she said what the really thought about the matter. Silence seems to be the almost universal response—for now—of Catholic sisters in the U.S.
Many in this country, both Catholics and non-Catholics, perceive this silence and the investigation itself as an example of over regulation. Sound familiar?
In the church, in government and in sports, there will always be a tension between let the athletes play and the need for referees to maintain control of the game. Or, to put it another way, without regulation the game tends to unravel, and with too much regulation athletes are prevented from playing their game.
The Catholic leaders in Rome, in my view, are calling the game much too closely, squelching the creative Spirit at work in the American church. That's a concern. Another concern is that some may want to over react by advocating that the game would be better if there were no referees at all. As an observer of religion for a long time, Protestants have shown that when there are no authorities defining limits, the game fragments into literally hundreds of smaller games which wind up eventually needing to elevate somebody as the authority they look to in order to keep their little game from completely disintegrating.
Finding the right balance between authority and autonomy is a tricky challenge indeed.