As the number of leaders of groups of US women religious being summoned to Rome has been growing, an expert on the status quaesitionis of the same US groups, Ann Carey, offers some insights in the form of a dialogue. You all will want to see her book Sisters in Crisis (UK HERE).
At CWR. Here is the first part:
The Dispatch: More from CWR
Vatican and American Sisters in Conversation: A Creative Summary
This is an imaginary yet likely conversation between Vatican officials and the leader of one of the several religious orders who recently have been summoned to Rome to discuss “areas of concern” coming out of the Apostolic Visitation of United States Women Religious conducted by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life CICLSAL).
The Sisters of Justice and Peace (JP) are an imaginary religious order, but all the positions voiced by its leadership in this conversation are approximations of actual statements or writings by U.S. women religious in recent years.
Vatican: Welcome, Sister Mary. We appreciate you coming for this serene conversation.
Sister Mary, JP: We always are happy to cooperate with requests from CICLSAL and to be in dialogue with our brother bishops. [“brother bishops”… remember: Magisterium of Nuns] And we welcome the opportunity to tell you about the mission and commitment of our order.
Vatican: Oh yes, we have heard many wonderful things about your order and all the good works your sisters are doing. That is why it is difficult for us to believe reports that some of your members have publicly dissented from church teachings by supporting “gay marriage,” promoting access to abortion, and directly countering the U.S. Bishops’ efforts to protect conscience rights. Surely, this is not true, is it?
Sister Mary, JP: Well, the hierarchy often interprets things as dissent that really aren’t dissent, you see. What these sisters are doing is standing in solidarity with oppressed and marginalized people, a Gospel value that we embrace. When the church does not understand the necessity for women to be able to control their own bodies, some sisters feel called to support these women. And when the church calls illicit the genuine love between two sincere people, some sisters feel they must work for the rights of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. As for so-called conscience rights, some sisters feel that the right of poor people to receive the full range of reproductive services outweighs the right of others to object to such services.
Vatican: Well, your empathy with marginalized people is certainly laudable, and we share your concern for them. , but how can your sisters support behavior that clearly is immoral?
Sister Mary, JP: Since women are marginalized and face injustice within the church and are not given positions of power and authority in the church, we feel especially empowered to raise our voices against injustice and to continue to fight for systemic change on behalf of all oppressed peoples.
Vatican: My apologies for our confusion, but have you told these sisters that under their vow of obedience, they must cease this activity?
Sister Mary, JP: Oh, goodness, no. As a Gospel-based faith community, we believe we must not stifle our members’ freedom of conscience, for they are adult women who claim and embrace the right to make their own moral decisions. Besides, we Americans have a different view of the vow of obedience than do those of you sequestered in the Vatican. For us, obedience is discerning well and then responding to the Spirit.
Vatican: How then, do you perceive a sister’s obligation to her vows of poverty and chastity?
Sister Mary, JP: Poverty can mean many things to us, including making oneself available to other people, engaging in dialogue, working for redistribution of wealth, caring for the earth, and divesting our order’s institutes, buildings and properties. Chastity means for us to be in right relationships with people.
Vatican (growing less serene): We see. These are certainly very creative and innovative interpretations of the vows. Could you help us understand how your order implements the spiritual and community life of your congregation, for we are having trouble comprehending how your way of life resonates with the Church’s definition of apostolic religious life.
Sister Mary, JP: Well, we believe there are different understandings of religious life: The European understanding, the hierarchal understanding and the understanding that U.S. sisters have evolved. In fact, we U.S. sisters are constantly birthing new forms of religious life, and our order is on the cutting edge of this prophetic vision. After all, your congregation approved our constitutions.
Vatican: Oh, yes, we were very happy to approve the language of your constitutions. But we are confused by reports from some sisters in your order that your actual manner of living religious life does not conform to what your constitutions say.
Read the rest there.
Fr. Z kudos to Ann Carey.