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Why the Pope Hates Nuns

It's tempting to simply view the church hierarchy as a cult of misogyny. But at its heart, it's a cult of power; misogyny is but one tool for securing that power.
 
 
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In 1979, Sister Theresa Kane was given a very special task. As president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group for most orders of U.S. Catholic nuns, Kane was asked to deliver four minutes of welcoming remarks, on behalf of American sisters, to the newly elected Pope John Paul II during his first papal visit to the United States. At a gathering inside the grand church in Washington, D.C., known as the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Kane offered the pope a warm greeting, and then launched into this:

As I share this privileged moment with you, Your Holiness, I urge you to be mindful of the intense suffering and pain which is part of the life of many women in these United States. I call upon you to listen with compassion and to hear the call of women...As women, we have heard the powerful messages of our church addressing the dignity [of] and reverence for all persons. As women, we have pondered these words. Our contemplation leads us to state that the church, in its struggle to be true to its call to reverence and dignity for all persons, must respond by providing the possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries of the church."

All ministries -- including, of course, the priesthood. Her meaning was not lost on the pope or, it seems, his henchmen in cassocks.

Chief among the new pope's enforcers was Joseph Ratzinger, the bishop from Bavaria, whom, three years later, JPII would appoint to the position of prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine the Faith, an entity once known as the Roman Inquisition. As prefect, Ratzinger soon had his Congregation all but living up to its historical inquisitive reputation as he conducted a jihad against liberal bishops, clerics and nuns in the U.S., and around the world. Today, the former prefect is known as Pope Benedict the XVI, still an enforcer, and one with a long memory.

On April 28, nearly 33 years after Theresa Kane's unprecedented challenge to the pope, the Vatican delivered a verdict against LCWR, the nuns' group led by Kane in 1979: Its members were defying Catholic doctrine, Vatican investigators said, by promoting "radical feminist themes," as well as contradicting church teaching on homosexuality and the no-girls-allowed priesthood. Further, as Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times reported it, "The sisters were also reprimanded for making public statements that 'disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church's authentic teachers of faith and morals.'"

As punishment, Cardinal William Levada, who now occupies Ratzinger's old job at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, appointed Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to oversee LCWR for up to five years, giving him final say on every speaker at the group's conference and every public utterance made in its name. He'll also revise LCWR's governing statues and oversee the revision of a handbook that, according to the Times, was "used to facilitate dialogue on matters that the Vatican said should be settled doctrine." Links between LCWR and two liberal Catholic groups will also be investigated.

Speaking on CBS This Morning [video] last week, Sister Maureen Fiedler, host of the public radio program, Interfaith Voices, said, "If this were the corporate world, I think we'd call it a hostile takeover."

On Friday, in an unprecedented act of defiance, the LCWR board, after a week of meetings in Maryland on how to respond to both the Vatican crackdown, issued a statement of its members' intention to contest the hierarchy's takeover of their organization. It reads, in part: