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Redmond: Vatican Reprimand

06/06/12 7:55AM By Marybeth Redmond
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(Host) The Vatican’s recent reprimand of American Catholic nuns has commentator, writer and journalist Marybeth Redmond feeling as if she herself has been sucker-punched.

(Redmond) Last week, the national board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious met to plan an appropriate response to the Vatican’s reprimand of American Catholic nuns. They’re charged with being too feminist and too involved in issues of social justice.

This association represents 80 percent of Catholic sisters throughout the U.S. The gathering was conducted in an atmosphere of “prayer, contemplation and dialogue.” And, while they articulated a desire not to rush to judgment, they did acknowledge the increased “polarization” this reprimand has caused among church faithful.

The nuns’ stance, in which reflection, openness and conversation are called for, strikes me as such a balanced, mature, Sisterly response – it makes the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which issued the critical assessment, seem all the more bullish and out-of-touch.

This latest development from Rome has me feeling as if I’ve personally been sucker-punched. I’m a life-long Catholic and the product of 15 years of parochial school education. It was religious Sisters who taught me to think critically and to live with mercy and compassion. They modeled strength of moral character.

I admired them then, and I still do now. In fact, there are few people I admire more, and I’m feeling as though my Mother-ship has been attacked.

To cheer me up, a 70-something nun-friend working with Mayan Indians in the remote jungles of Guatemala recently emailed me. “There is so much support,” she wrote, “it’s amazing.”

Still, I can’t help but see the reprimand as an unfair swipe leveled at selfless women, many of whom serve the poor and infirm long into their retirement years. Now this association of women religious has been told it must operate under the supervision of an orthodox archbishop - about as demoralizing as it gets.

Many friends and colleagues have left the Catholic Church recently, often in response to the past decade’s priest-sexual abuse crisis and the marginalization of women and gays. In her recent column for the National Catholic Reporter, Jamie Manson wondered if the Roman Catholic Church could be downsizing into a sect with absolute demand for conformity. And, sadly, that would seem to be so.

I recall a public meeting in Burlington a few years ago where a nonprofit organization advocating for civil rights was being unfairly criticized by several audience members. It was a religious Sister who finally brought the meeting and related disagreement to an abrupt end. She stood up, waited for silence, then spoke a great truth. With quiet authority, she said, “I follow one who said that all are welcome at the table.”

American Catholic nuns, in my view, deserve the very same respect.
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