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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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Board members concluded that the assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency. Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission. The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.

The sisters said that LCWR President Sister Pat Farrell and Executive Director Sister Janet Mock would travel to Rome to take up these concerns with the prefect and the bishop he appointed to rule over the sisters, and would then consult with the organization's general membership in August. One option the organization could choose is to disassociate with Rome altogether and reconfigure itself as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, according to its Web site, "has approximately 1500 members who are elected leaders of their religious orders, representing approximately 80% of the 57,000 Catholic sisters in the United States."

Theologian Mary E. Hunt, co-director of the Catholic feminist resource center, WATER, told me in a telephone interview from her office in Silver Spring, Md., that the Vatican set its sights on LCWR because, as an organization that is part of the church structure, its members are "canonically vulnerable" -- meaning that they are subject to the law of the hierarchy, known as canon law, as interpreted by its appointed enforcers. Should the group dissolve itself and incorporate as a non-profit, it need only operate within the bounds of U.S. law, under which the religious freedom of its members is guaranteed under the First Amendment.

A Cult of Power

When examined in combination with the recent tantrum taken by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over the birth control mandate in the health-care reform law signed by President Barack Obama in 2010, Pope Benedict's crusade against the nuns would seem to render the Roman curia and the bishops, above all other things, a cult of misogyny. But that would be too simple a reading. At its heart, the church hierarchy is a cult of power; misogyny is but one tool for the already powerful to ensure that power remains in their possession.

One need only look at the current scandal engulfing the Vatican over dealings at the Vatican bank, and an internecine battle waged by partisans and enemies of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Last week, the pope's own butler was arrested for allegedly having leaked confidential papal correspondence and documents to journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, author of a just-released book about Pope Benedict.

Then there's the recently revealed pay-offs doled out by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, while he served as Archbishop of Milwaukee, to priests accused of abusing children who agreed not to contest their own defrocking.

The campaign to discredit Bertone is believed to be orchestrated by partisans of his predecessor, who want Bertone out of the way before Benedict dies, in order to prevent him from presiding over the conclave that will elect the next pope. In Dolan's case, he used payouts as a means of preserving his own power while serving as Archbishop of Milwaukee, by getting troublesome priests out of the way. (It seems to have worked; Dolan is now the cardinal archbishop of New York.) Dolan's payola scheme, of course, is but one tiny aspect of the enormous and shameful disaster the hierarchy brought upon itself by covering up the crimes against children committed by more than a few priests over the course of decades -- all in an effort to preserve its own power by maintaining a false appearance of propriety that put countless children at risk.