Commonweal’s ululating Sister X

A reader alerted me to an exemplary snotty whine in Commonweal from a radical dissenter nun – the anonymously ululating Sister X – about the upcoming Apostolic Visitation.

A couple samples:

What I sense today is that the Vatican will not budge in how it thinks theologically about what it means to be a woman; nor will it consider opening positions of real ecclesial authority to women. There is simply no getting away from the fact that in the Catholic Church it is men who tell women how they should understand themselves as women. Rome wants women religious to accept such understandings not merely without dissent, but without comment. The Vatican doesn’t want independent-minded women theologians or biblical scholars, and seemingly won’t read or quote them unless the women mimic the Vatican’s—and that means men’s—voice and views. But we are not “men” or “mankind.” We are persons with minds and hearts and voices, who have lived lives of integrity and loyalty, and who remain loyal to this church, even when it treats us as second-class citizens and makes us beg for financial support in our old age.


Is the Vatican visitation truly being done out of concern for American nuns? Here in the cemetery, I couldn’t help but think that the question Rome is really asking is, “Why don’t you have more nuns to bury? Why aren’t there more of you?”

Do they really wonder why our numbers shrink and shrink? They might ponder their own actions. The visitation and investigation continue; the doctrinal assessment will ferret out our patches of heterodoxy. Standing at our late sister’s grave I remembered, as if it were yesterday, a question she innocently asked me years ago in a group meeting. “Do we have rights?” she wondered. “What are they?”

Well done!


I love pieces like these.

Nail those colors to the mast, sisters!

Put ’em out there for all to see!

And I the advert that went with the whine especially apt:


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. PJ says:

    “There is simply no getting away from the fact that in the Catholic Church it is men who tell women how they should understand themselves as women.”

    What an incredibly depressing insight into this lady’s thinking about herself as a woman, the church, and the ultimate source of the church’s doctrine.

    But this of course begs the question: does Sister X read the gospels? Or does she perhaps think that Our Lord (a man) has nothing to say to her (as a woman)?

  2. JayneK says:

    “The Vatican doesn’t want independent-minded women theologians or biblical scholars, and seemingly won’t read or quote them unless the women mimic the Vatican’s—and that means men’s—voice and views.”

    What she is doing here is dismissing the views of women who are loyal to Church teaching as not being real women’s views. She is saying that only women who agree with her have real women’s views. So while she is complaining about the Vatican defining what it means to be a woman, she, in fact, is the one who wants to do that.

    I already am a real woman. I do not need to disagree with the Magisterium to be a real woman. I do not need Sister X to authorize my views to be a real woman. I am a real woman and I say that obeying Church teaching is the most liberating path open to any woman. I am not repeating what I’ve been told. This is my deeply held conviction from the experience of my life.

    Sister X, not “the Vatican”, is the one who needs to change what she thinks about what it means to be a woman. She is the one who is not listening to women because she only listens to women who agree with her. She sure isn’t listening to women like me.

  3. emily13 says:

    I pray that these women would come to know and have a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the example par excellence who can teach us what it means to be a woman and who says to us “Do whatever He tells you.” ~John 2:5

  4. Athelstan says:

    “Why isn’t the priest shortage the subject of a visitation?”

    Perhaps Sister X missed the Vatican visitation of diocesan seminaries in the United States just last year?

    “But we are not “men” or “mankind.”” [Cylons?]

    I am gratified that the Sister recognizes that there are indeed real differences between men and woman.

    Nonetheless, she still seems to advocate women “priests,” especially as a solution to the priest shortage. Never mind that the Episcopal Church’s energetic opening of its orders to women and even sexually active gays has not solved its own shortage nor arrested its ongoing collapse in membership – if anything, quite the opposite. At some point, empiricial evidence has to taken account of.

  5. Sam Schmitt says:

    It works both ways, Sister. LEt me re-write your first paragraph:

    “What I sense today is that the LCWR will not budge in how it thinks theologically about what it means to be a woman; nor will give up pressuring to open up positions of real ecclesial authority to women. There is simply no getting away from the fact that in the Catholic Church it is Christ who tells women how they should understand themselves as women. Rome wants women religious to accept such understandings not merely without dissent, but without comment. The LCWR doesn’t want an independent-minded Vatican, and seemingly won’t read or quote the Vatican unless it mimics the LCWR’s — and that means liberal nun’s — voices and views.”

    No, Sister X, I’m afraid the Vatican is not “really wonder[ing] why [your] numbers shrink and shrink?” – since the answer is so obvious. What’s it’s desperately trying to do is stop the hemorraging before you completely disappear.

  6. Supertradmom says:

    These comments reveal a lack of spirituality which conforms to any Catholic spirituality I know. Where are the connections to the great rules of life of Ss. Benedict, Dominic, Augustine, Teresa of Avila, etc.?

    Sadly, the “new nun” has created her own order-the order of individual rule over common rule, which has been approved and resting in the wisdom of the Church.

    Disobeidence enshrined in liberal ideals is still disobedience.

  7. Jordanes says:

    “There is simply no getting away from the fact that in the Catholic Church it is men who tell women how they should understand themselves as women. ”

    This sentence betrays the author’s disbelief in the divine origin and authority of the Catholic Church.

    If Sister X doesn’t believe the Church is who and what She says She is, why does Sister X bother any longer with the pretense of being a Catholic? If Catholicism is false, why does she want to be, or to be seen as, a Catholic?

  8. irishgirl says:

    Jordanes-all I can say is, AMEN! You got it right!

  9. Fr. John Mary says:

    VOTF…uhm, faithful to whom?

  10. trad catholic mom says:

    I’m speechless. How do such people become nuns?

  11. Fr. John Mary says:

    trad catholic mom: Good question. That’s why there is a visitation of the LCRW and apostolic women’s communities.
    From unfortunate life experience, I can only say that many, not all, are either very confused, or very hostile towards the traditional Catholic Faith (and I mean this including the documents of Vatican II interpreted in the light of Sacred Tradition). Radical feminism, the influence of non-Christian religions, and a desire to be “autonomous” from any kind of accountability (except to themselves, which is a very manipulative and oppressive thing in and of itself).
    We need to entrust them to our Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph, as well as all the saints who reformed consecrated life throughout the centuries of the Church that God will grant them enlightenment and conversion.

  12. spesalvi23 says:

    Ok. This might be a bit off point, here; and possibly a tiny bit emotional.
    But anyway. I’m a woman. I boss all types men around at work (machinery industry in Germany – not exactly dominated by women), I drill my three sons to death at home and I’m not exactly Miss wall flower in general.

    When I go to Church, I WANT men to be in charge!! I refuse to take communion from females, I would NEVER even dream of demanding the same ‘rights’ (more like a calling connected to lots of sacrifice and responsibility) as men in the Church!

    I’m an ex protestant convert. If those women are so keen on having ‘equal rights’..: GO JOIN THE SOLA SCRIPTURA GANG AND BE HAPPY OVER THERE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!!

  13. Chris M says:

    Is it just me or does the cross on the VOTF logo look like it’s falling down? I wonder if that’s some intentional symbolic meaning there or not.

  14. Fr. John Mary says:

    spesalvi23: I concur.

  15. edwardo3 says:

    It is probably a sin aginst charity that I cannot muster any empathy or concern for these sisters’ feelings. But when they drivel on about living lives of integrity, I’m sorry, but to have done so would have required them to have become formally protestant many decades ago. Also, when did the Vatican start wanting any independent-minded theologians? There is a difference between looking into theological questions in union with the heart and mind of the Church, and being of an independent mind from the Church. As for loyalty, one works tirelessly to build up and strengthen those institutions one is loyal to, not to tear them down, deface and defame them.

  16. Luke says:

    spesalvi23 and Fr. John Mary, I must disagree with you. We don’t want people to leave we want to understand that our salvation is bound up in following and not in anything else. Freedom in Christ is offered to every person male or female and “this” freedom is priceless.

  17. Oleg-Michael says:

    “Sister X”? It’s like a female Malcolm X, isn’t it?

  18. Luke says:

    Hey, hey! The Benedictine majority thinks highly of her I’ll have you know!

    I suppose that’s kinda telling in itself, isn’t it? But I digress.

  19. JohnE says:

    It reminds me of some skit I heard on the radio several years ago (Dr. Demento?). Someone was taking a self-defense class and kept asking “When do we get to learn how to beat people up?”

    Sister seems to yearn to be in charge and have “real ecclesial authority”. “I wanna be the boss.” It’s all about power and authority. I think even men with this attitude should be screened away from the priesthood.

  20. Fr. John Mary says:

    Luke: Please do not misunderstand my comment; I surely want these sisters to be in “the fold”; but if they cannot be obedient to Holy Mother Church, and the norms of the consecrated life, don’t they need to repent and convert? That is what I want; I don’t want more division. But God, in His wisdom, has left us free to choose…what…well, that is the question.

  21. Luke says:

    JohnE: I couldn’t help but have this thought when I read your comment about screening: Doesn’t discerning a vocation imply prayerful holiness? When one is arrogantly in opposition to ecclesial authority, isn’t this attitude then also in opposition to the very holiness required to discern the mind of God for one’s life?

    I agree with what you said, but it was your comment that struck up this thought..that’s all.

  22. Luke says:

    I understand, Father John Mary…Only in a strict sense these sisters, brothers, are really separated brethren already. It’s an outlandish shame that they falsely maintain the Catholic identity when they could never be Catholic by the very definition of Church. This is proof that the Vatican Visitation is an effort to correct this deficiency in a spirit of God’s Love.

    These people do need help, and often serious help. May God grant it to them and move them to accept it.

  23. Melody says:

    Want to see a woman with real ecclesial power? How about this?

  24. patrick_f says:

    I too want these sisters in the fold, but not if they are working against the efforts of everyone else.

    On a side note…

    I wish they would denote some way between these religious and contemplatives. This nun in the photo has “O.S.B” after her title.

    My point,

    I see no humble dress, no habit… I have no way of knowing how true she is to the rule, but It makes me uncomfortable that they claim the same order as some of the truly pious, humble, holy monks and nuns that I have had the great privilege of meeting. I see a very secularized, worldly person in appearance, who has forgotten humility.

    For the average faithful, all they see is a benedictine, so they assume the norm.

  25. Fr. John Mary says:

    patrick_f: I share your concern.
    Unfortunately, “monastic” has been stretched beyond the limits of Catholic tradition.
    There are definite charisms that are strictly contemplative (cloistered) to contemplative/active (meaning apostolic work within a monastic lifestyle). But to call oneself monastic while living a secular type of lifestyle is a real disservice to the Church and to the world.
    The life many of these “consecrated apostolic religious women” live is more like a “secular institute”…but members of secular institutes (like our own consecrated laity in our association of the faithful) live more faithful to the Church in their prayer, fidelity and devotion than many apostolic religious women…hate to say it, but, well, I think that’s the truth.

  26. Luke says:

    Amen. Patrick_f. Amen.

    Well I came here for the sole purpose of engaging in a much needed and very lengthy discussion in another thread which appears to be at its end.

    May God speed you all! Please say a prayer for me.

  27. Larry R. says:

    I feel inclined to fisk at least some of this. Many of the presumptions and assertions by this ‘Sister X’ are simply too outrageous to let stand without comment.

    To try to be as concise as possible, I’m going to excerpt small segments of this editorial and comment on them in line.

    Sister X – Why are American sisters being singled out? One widely shared area of concern, of course, is the dramatic drop in vocations in recent decades. Forty years ago, there were 180,000 vowed sisters across the country; today there are fewer than 60,000. Yet the number of priests has also dropped precipitously during the same period, leaving more than 10 percent of parishes without resident pastors. Why isn’t the priest shortage the subject of a visitation?

    My response – First, there was a visitation of US seminaries, as other pointed out. American sisters are being singled out as those who fall under LCWR are uniquely in breech of Church doctrine on a number of very key subjects. The number of women religious has collapsed largely due to this secularization and doctrinal perversion which has made joining many of these ‘communities’ and exercise in futility. Not many young women are attracted to living and serving with bitter, perpetually outraged, radical feminists. The orders that make up CMSWR are no so doctrinally challenged and are not dying out rapidly (quite the opposite), so there is no visitation needed.

    Sister X says – Let me begin by saying that I want to believe in the good will of the institutional church.

    My response – How is this possible when everything you say subsequent to this does nothing but castigate the Church and its leadership. At no point do you show any willingness to submit to the authority of the Church.

    Sister X says – Canon law, as well as the constitutions of our congregations, ensures that vowed members can freely elect our own leaders, rather than have them imposed on the community by a bishop. Like those in other vowed religious congregations, I have acted on the belief that democratic governance of my community is ultimately guided by the Holy Spirit. In helping me choose our leadership, I have relied on my knowledge of my sisters’ gifts and my history of prayer and dependence on the Holy Spirit. Yet Cardinal Levada now informs me that the doctrinal integrity of those leaders is questionable.

    My response – Yes, when this leadership has repeatedly, in spite of clear warnings to desist, challenged and attempted to subvert the authority of the Church and doctrine of the Magisterium, it is quite reasonable to expect that the leadership would be questioned.

    Sister X says – Suffice it to say, most bishops are good and well-meaning men; still, it is the rare bishop who has any real understanding of the lives women actually lead.

    My response – As some women have pointed out, what do you know of the lives women actually lead? What possible insight could a constantly outraged, very angry, late middle-age or elderly woman with a lifetime of dissidence from Church teaching and a secularized life of proclaiming bizaare leftist theories provide to my wife of six young children? What do you know of that kind of woman’s life, sister? What you mean to say is, the bishops don’t understand what it is to be a dissident, radicalized woman with a constant axe to grind with the Church and society.

    Sister X says – Some women’s communities, to be honest, also worry about designs bishops might have on appropriating their properties.

    My response – Oh, really, you mean those same properties that ‘liberated’ nuns moved out of decades ago in exchange for a one bedroom apartment? You admit to the same later, when you say “The assumption seems to be that in putting aside our habits and moving out of parish convents…..”. The truth of the matter is, some of the women religious that make up LCWR have been selling those same properties for their own financial benefit. The bishops are right to appropriate them to insure they remain the property of the Church.

    Sister X says – The inquisitorial spirit behind the current initiative contrasts sharply with that taken by Pope John Paul II in the early 1980s, documented in Religious Life in the U.S. Church: The New Dialogue (1984). Then, the pope asked bishops to assist in a process aimed at strengthening and encouraging religious life for women. The purpose was to widen a dialogue between U.S. religious and U.S. bishops, and between members of U.S. religious communities and the church as a whole.

    My response – Yes, that was a very charitable effort on the part of JPII to try to gently bring the dissident orders back into the fold of Church doctrine. That the women religious chose to continue their radical agenda and continue to refute Church doctrine indicates that such an approach was, sadly, not effective. Stronger measures are necessary. It is a shame that the women religious refused to accept this very charitable means to come back into the Church. I am certain that the Pope and Vatican staff are not pleased that it was so spectacularly unsuccessful.

    Sister X says – The plain fact is: Since the early 1980s the Vatican has not seemed interested in hearing what women religious themselves think about the quality of life in their own communities. This lack of interest puzzles and disappoints.

    My response – Really? I think the Vatican has heard you loud and clear. What they have heard is utterly unacceptable. They don’t need to hear another 5000 word screed on the hateful misogyny of the Church for not allowing women to ‘fulfill’ themselves and priestesses. Christ instituted what He instituted – I am sorry you find it so impossible to accept.

    Sister X says – It’s not lifelong fidelity to the church that matters, but conformity of mind to current formulations of doctrine, formulations that theologians and even bishops have not reached a consensus on.

    My response – I’m sorry, which formulations don’t bishops agree on? That women can’t be priests, because they were not so instituted as Christ? That murdering a baby in the womb is always wrong? That homosexuality is fundamentally disordered? Sister, you have been in complete disagreement with the Church on all these issues for decades. And you have proclaimed that dissidence from the rooftops. Now that the fruits of your labor are being harvested, you seek to complain about its harsh taste. I genuinely feel for you – I have never read such a narcissistic viewpoint from someone consecrated to Christ.

    Sheesh, I could go on ad infinitum. This entire piece is incredibly intellectually shoddy – it never once addresses the serious doctrinal concerns that instigated this visitation in the first place. Instead, it is an exercise in self-righteous special pleading, shroud waving, and “protect us from the big, bad, Vatican bullies.” It is hilarious to watch a woman who has probably spent most of her adult life proclaiming “I am woman, hear me roar,” cower in the light of this visitation. I have never read such self-indulgent rationalization in my life. What I find most disturbing is Sister X constantly referring to “the worldview of women” and the “lives women actually lead,” while assuming every woman is just like her – an elderly, single person with advanced degrees in various esoteric subjects and a seriously leftist ideological bent. She completely discounts the many women religious who have remained faithful to the Church and consecrated life, and the far more women of different vocations who also lead a more faithful, orthodox life. To her, such women don’t exist. I am sorry to say, and I know this is not charitable, but this woman gives every indication of being a badly educated, elitist bigot.

    It is simply inexplicable that this woman blames the lack of women vocations on the actions of the Vatican – I supsect she knows in her heart that the opposite is true. Women’s vocations have collapsed because of Vatican lethargy, not because of its intervetions. If Vatican intervention were the problem, female religious numbers would only now have started to collapse, not 40 years ago as actually happened. This woman is either willfully blind or is engaging in self-delusion to preserve in her mind that her life’s work has not been destructive to the Church and that her vision of women religious will die with her and her peers.

    I pray Father Z allows this excessively long comment.

  28. The real problem is not that men are telling women how to be women. (Although Christ is a good guide for that!)

    The problem is that these ladies have turned their back on what their own founders tell them about how to be women religious, or at least they only pay attention to the parts they like. All the traditions built by women for women, they have trampled down. All the community life of living together as women religious, they have rejected — or at least they only pay attention to the parts they like.

    When women religious reject what women tell them, and repress their own heritage of female wisdom, what right do they have to complain about men telling them what to do?

    And if women religious reject everything told to them by anyone, except for the parts they like, why are they surprised that young women reject them in turn?

  29. TKS says:

    What happened to humility and obedience? I think those are the biggies that are missing. That would mean trusting in God totally. Which is what I thought all religious do. No?

  30. Fr. John Mary says:

    ul·u·late (ly-lt, yl-)
    intr.v. ul·u·lat·ed, ul·u·lat·ing, ul·u·lates
    To howl, wail, or lament loudly.
    Sorry, Fr. Z. Had to look it up. Haven’t heard it used it lately…fits very well!

  31. catholicmidwest says:

    One has to wonder what some women thought they were choosing when they accepted the habit. Did they think they were getting a free ride and an excuse to be little girls forever? That’s how some of them behave, in spite of their loud (adolescent) yells about “thinking for themselves.”

    Sisters, at the time of their profession, make life commitments similar to those of married women. Perhaps that hasn’t been made clear in the past–I don’t know. I do know that the sisterhood has historically been populated with a certain number of cases of arrested development. The ones doing the most yelling are in this group. It’s repugnant. Religious orders ought to be more careful who they accept.

    Someone ought to tell the errant nuns we keep hearing spout off that adult women support themselves financially and have responsibilities. There is no reason why they shouldn’t have to do the same. Adults, including women, pay a price if they engage in childish histrionics. It’s about time they learned this.

    I think the investigation should proceed with rigor and attention to detail. Individuals that can’t behave need to lose their funding. Houses that are outside the bounds of what is expected by the Holy See need to be shut down. Orders/organizations that operate counter to the interests of the church should be de-funded and lose their official religious status. Business enterprises (eco-farms et al) that don’t serve the needs of the church need to be dissolved and the capital & goods re-designated to the good of the church and/or the legitimate, faithful and appropriate support of the sisters.

  32. catholicmidwest says:

    TKS, no. There is an abundance of proof.

    Religious are supposed to work in the church for the church, and the structures that support religious life assume that this is the motivation for joining an order. Unfortunately, not all people who join orders a) share that basic motivation with the psychological maturity needed, and b) can maintain that motivation, even if they once shared it, and c) have the honesty and character to get out when they no longer share the motivation.

    “Giving one’s all” in the religious life is rather like giving one’s all in the married life. It’s very easy to love the glamorous and emotional appeal, but it requires a lifetime of grit to get through the details. There are a lot of failures, frankly–in the religious life, just like there are in the married life. It’s reality.

    These cases of acting out in middle age happen in the secular/married/single life too. They mean losses of relationships, losses of employment and re-orientation of one’s situations just like they should in the religious life. [I have no sympathy, you might say, simply because this phenomenon is not new nor do religious who behave in this very common way deserve any “special” treatment.]

    Religious orders (and the priesthood) have got to be more discerning in who they accept for membership. The religious life is NOT an escape from life. On the contrary. People need to understand this.

  33. Luke says:

    My comment about Sister X being Benedictine wasn’t helpful and I take it back. The Benedictine Rule is most beautiful and the many men and women who live it are good people.

    I live very close to an OSB Abbey that’s done a great deal of harm to the Good News. My comment reflected my disgust of that particular situation.

    It’s challenging to live in times where the university system is corrupt at best and dissenters are in the spotlight every day. I’m going to fall back on an old spiritual maxim that used to seem impossible to live and now looks more sensible than ever. Consider neither the deeds nor the lives nor the words of others. The may sound familiar to some of you. Wish me luck (What I really mean is that if you pray for me God may be moved to help me along toward my salvation if you, his means, intercede on my behalf…) Anyway…moving right along…

  34. ar_danziger says:

    I’ve always wondered how liberal orders explain their own shrinking numbers. Apparently its because they are not allowed to be liberal enough?

    It’s a perception problem of their own making. If they teach that the Church is so oppressive and wrong-headed about everything, I guess it’s not a surprise that no one in their right minds wants to dedicate their lives to serving such a Church.

  35. This is what happens when the salt goes flat.

  36. Luke says:

    I haven’t read that far in the Gospel yet. Wherewith are we salted again?

  37. Fr. John Mary says:

    catholicmidwest wrote: “Religious orders (and the priesthood) have got to be more discerning in who they accept for membership. The religious life is NOT an escape from life. On the contrary. People need to understand this.”

    You speak a great truth.

    The often-espoused opinion is that religious life/priesthood IS an escape from responsibility.
    Let me tell you, if you live it according to what God intends, it is not an escape.

    Priests and religious are called to be “spiritual fathers and mothers” and live a life that is not oriented towards “self-fulfillment” but self-donation, self-giving.

    A wise Mother Superior once said that she did not want women who would not be good mothers to become Sisters in her congregation.

    I second that.

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