Bishops Face a Hard Sell, Indeed

Article excerpt

You can bet that in the eyes of the Vatican, its condemnation of the book Just Love by Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley has nothing to do with other recent and not-so-recent actions taken against U.S. Catholic sisters.

No, the move against Farley, one can hear the officials saying, stems solely from an independent Vatican investigation that began more than three years ago into one wayward book.

That it comes a mere six weeks after the very same congregation issued a highly critical doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the single most prominent voice for U.S. Catholic sisters, is coincidental.

That the Vatican critique of Farley's book, which tarnishes her as a Catholic moral teacher, comes a month after the congregation placed LCWR in receivership with the intent to diminish its independent voice is not to be viewed as related in any way.

No, the prelates would have us believe their three-year investigation of the Yale theologian's book and their three-year investigation of U.S. women religious communities, the works of two separate congregations, have nothing to do with each other.

And then there's that other doctrinal critique of a book by another prominent Catholic sister and theologian, St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, a professor at Fordham University. The Farley and Johnson matters are separate, I can hear the prelates say.

After all, the condemnation of Johnson's book was not the work of the Con gregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but rather that of the U.S. bishops' doctrine committee, a group of half a dozen men who found her work similarly inconsistent with Catholic doctrine, even undermining the Gospels.

If this is what our prelates want us to believe, they are going to find it a hard sell.

Given these cumulative actions, it's nearly impossible not to think our bishops and Rome are frightfully afraid of our Catholic sisters and are trying as they might to keep the sisters tethered to their staffs and miters.

Who among our sisters and their supportive laity or in popular media does not find in the actions of our bishops hints of misogyny?

Why is it that each episcopal move against a consecrated woman or group of consecrated women follows secret episcopal meetings and correspondence? Why the darkness?

Why is it our bishops find it so difficult to deal with women as equals? Yes, we play different roles within the church. But aren't we all fundamentally equal by right of our baptisms? And haven't the sisters, just like the male religious and clergy, given then-entire personal, ministerial and professional lives to the church? Doesn't this count for something?

Why is it our prelates refuse to sit together around a table in a room with the sisters and discuss issues with them respectfully, God forbid, as might be expected of Christians? Of inhabitants of the 21st century?

I am not envisioning here the kind of discussion that comes at the end of secret conversations, papers and investigations by the men, but rather, the kind that happens before any of these are first set in motion. …