The Vatican vs American Nuns


This week, the Church cracked down on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 80% of American nuns. How Barbie Latza Nadeau frames the dispute: 

[Sister Beth Rindler of Detroit, who is part of the National Coalition of American Nuns as well as a member of the LCWR] believes the Vatican is focused on the American sisters because they tend to be more independent than their European, Latin American, and African colleagues. While nuns in the rest of the world still wear conservative habits and head covers, the majority of American nuns stopped the practice shortly after the Second Vatican Council reforms.

Many American nuns also live independently and reach high education levels—all while still serving the church. Rindler says she believes that the hierarchy in Rome is really worried that the American nuns will influence other sisters around the world. “That’s why the men in the Vatican want control, what they see as influence, we see as enlightenment,” she says, adding that some nuns are brainwashed into thinking they are lesser beings than their male counterparts. “What woman truly believes she is not equal to a man?”

I don't think the bishops will either ever forgive the nuns for backing universal healthcare as the highest priority rather than the control of women's contraception. Their witness to a balanced and sane Christianity put the cramped authoritarianism of Dolan et al in an unflattering light, and Dolan takes his orders from Rome. An example of the nuns' alleged "doctrinal problems":

In 2009, a woman arrived in the emergency room at St. Joseph’s hospital in Phoenix. She was twenty-seven years old, eleven weeks pregnant, and she was dying. Her heart was failing, and her doctors agreed that the only way to save her life was to end her pregnancy, and that her condition was too critical to move her to another, non-Catholic hospital. The member of the ethics committee who was on call was Sister Margaret McBride. She gave her approval, under the theory that termination of the pregnancy would be the result but not the purpose of the procedure. The woman, who had four small children, went home to them. When the Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix heard what happened, he excommunicated Sister Margaret on the spot. A Church that had been so protective of priests who deliberately hurt children—keeping them in its fold, sending them, as priests, to new assignments—couldn’t tolerate her. A spokesman for the diocese called her a party to “murder.”

Why the bishops might be scared:

American sisters do outnumber the priests, and it’s the women who have the troops, too – at schools and hospitals the bishops couldn’t close if they wanted to. The nuns no longer only empty the bed pans, you see, but now also own the institutions where they work. And you have to wonder whether that’s the real problem.

The timing is also politically suspect as the Vatican subtly tries to campaign against Obama's re-election:

Hard to believe it’s a coincidence that the Vatican moved to curb the nuns for implicit insubordination against the Bishops just as the USCCB announced a big summer series of protests for “religious liberty” keyed to categorical opposition to the Obama administration’s efforts to implement a contraception coverage mandate, particularly since LCWR has been notably willing to support compromise efforts and earlier supported the health reform legislation that authorized the mandate.

(Photo: A nun listens to Pope Benedict XVI address, from the window of his private apartments, pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's square at Vatican on March 11, 2012, to attend his sunday Angelus prayer. By Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)