I am a feminist Catholic who has worked in the church my entire life. Some of my best friends have been sisters. I’ve been asked repeatedly in the last days what I think of this. Well, here goes: I know sisters who have refused to go to mass because there is a male presider. For years. And, they resent that I still support that kind of patriarchy. I know sisters who openly say that they can’t profess the Creed. They long since excised any kind of Christocentric language from prayers. I routinely arrive at least 15 minutes late for meetings, because I don’t want to be party to prayers that are, at best, Unitarian, and often enough, neo-Wiccan. This has flowed into the prayer of my colleagues who are not consecrated religious, as well.
When I share some of these anecdotes (and they are not few and far between, but common in the last twenty years of my experience), even non-Catholics and non-believers agree that Catholic sisters should probably believe in Jesus and worship at mass.
It seems to me that this all that the bishops are asking. Would they be doing their job if they didn’t? Isn’t that what they are supposed to ask of everyone – in the church and as they evangelize?
And here, a thoughtful comment from another woman disagreeing with what the Vatican has done. This writer, Martha Sherman, is responding in comments at an article in National Catholic Reporter and takes issue with a priest who wrote saying that the nuns have abandoned their calling post-Vatican II and deserve to be condemned. Martha begs to differ:
"I was educated by the School Sisters of Notre Dame as was my mother. The School Sisters no longer staff the school I attended. It is not because they have abandoned their charism of serving the needs of poor and women, but because they realize that that parish is no longer an immigrant parish, that the educational needs can now be served easily and willingly by others.
The same School Sisters who once taught me now teach is inner city and rural schools where qualified teachers are hard to attract. They are administrators in rural parishes where the population and small collection plate do not merit but a weekly or even monthly visit from a priest. They are working on reservations with Native Americans to catechize and help move the population from addiction and dependence on entitlements to freedom and strength of faith. They are working until they can no longer work, running tutorial centers for disadvantaged youth, teaching, coordinating educational programs in parishes, visiting the sick and the elderly, serving as doctors, nurses and chaplains in hospitals. They pray daily, attend Mass when it is available and demonstrate a faith that is a positive example in the communities where they serve. When they can no longer work they pray for the Church, the world, the community and all of us sinners. They are members of LCWR."
(Update) Another interesting anecdote, this from Robert McClory's post at NCR:
"Last Sunday at our church, St. Nicholas in Evanston, Ill., the retired pastor, Bob Oldershaw, praised in his homily women religious for creating in the U.S. "the most successful realization of Catholicism in history." No sooner had he uttered the words than the entire congregation rose spontaneously as one and began applauding and applauding and applauding. It continued for almost two minutes. It's true we are a clapping-prone parish, but this was unprecedented. When it finally died down, Fr. Oldershaw looked upward and said, "I hope they heard it upstairs." It wasn't clear whether he meant the Vatican, heaven or both."
(UPDATE) The wonderful Fr. James Martin has a whole article up at Washington Post On Faith blog about the conversation going on about these issues and his unique role in it due to a twitter hashtag he set up. Well worth a read.