By Tom Holmes
When Mary Ziegler heard that the Vatican was cracking down the largest organization of American Catholic Nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), she called a meeting after one of the Masses at St. Giles Catholic Church, where she is a member, to discuss how those interested might respond.
The 75 people who stayed after church agreed to take out an ad in Wednesday Journal and the Forest Park Review. The ad, which appeared in the last two issues of both papers and was eventually signed by 218 people, read, "We celebrate the lives of the women religious of the United States of America. We pray in deep thanksgiving for these nuns and the work they do, the leadership they offer, and the example they provide."
The group chose to make a positive statement about women religious, as the LCWR refers to its members, instead of a statement critical of the Vatican because, first of all, that was what they understood most nuns wanted. The three sisters in this area who were contacted by Wednesday Journal all said that they "preferred not to comment at this time."
Ziegler said she thinks the nun's response of "no comment" does not arise from fear but from their preference for processing decisions collegially instead of being reactive. "I don't think it's a fearful response," she said. "I think they are saying, 'Let's pause and take time to think.'"
The group also decided to run a positive ad because they felt this was a family matter and any criticism would have to be leveled at the "whole family." Charity Cooper, a member of St. Giles, said, "I can say what I want about my mother, but don't you say something." The statement, conveyed with a laugh, reveals the deep affection and commitment to the very church she is criticizing.
The group also found it easy to praise the women religious in the Catholic Church. "Women religious represent the best of what it means to be faithful to the Catholic Church," declared Cooper. "They have selflessness with a purpose, a selflessness that is other-directed."
Carole Albores, a member of St. Giles, who herself had been a nun, said women religious are "one of the backbones of the church. Since Vatican II [held in Rome between 1962 and 1965], they really got out there and did what they were called to do by the Council: feed the hungry, take care of the poor, shelter the homeless. I think they hold the Church up. I really do."
Muriel Quinn, a St. Giles member who has a Master of Divinity Degree from Catholic Theological Union in Hyde Park, said, "American Catholics in the pews have a different lens than does the Vatican in Rome. We demand respect from our leaders, and we expect our leaders to earn that respect, which is why, I think, there has been such a groundswell of support for the sisters. They have earned our respect."
An article in the April 18 issue of the National Catholic Reported summarized the news that sparked Ziegler's meeting after church.
"The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has ordered the largest leadership organization for U.S. women religious to reform its statutes, programs and affiliations to conform more closely to 'the teachings and discipline of the Church.' The Vatican also said Wednesday it has appointed Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain to oversee the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which has been the subject of a 'doctrinal assessment' by the Vatican congregation since 2009, and has given him power to review and revise the organization's policies."
"Radical feminism," said Quinn, "is the term the Vatican has used in its criticism. Catholic or Christian feminism traces its roots back to the actions of Christ. Radical means wholly inclusive. If one of the criticisms, therefore, is that the nuns have been wholly inclusive of womenkind and all of humanity, then they are probably guilty as charged."
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