Washington Post Carries the Vatican's Unholy Water to Douse Nuns

While Catholics across the country rally to the cause of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the group representing Catholic nuns that is under attack by the Vatican, the Washington Post, as is typical, is using one of its religion columns to try to undercut the sisters. (For background, see my piece, "Why the Pope Hates Nuns.")

On Friday night, after the LCWR board issued a statement saying they rejected the Vatican's "findings" from its investigation of their organization and would send emissaries to Rome to contest the hierarchy's takeover of their votes, the Post published an edition of its Under God column under the headline, "Is clash between nuns, Vatican a battle of the sexes?"

The column features the comments of "several Catholic Church experts and activists," all three of whom just happen to be conservatives -- two of them real right-wingers. And guess what? They all write, to no surprise, that the Vatican's attack on the nuns has nothing to do with gender, despite the Vatican's contention that the nuns deserve to have control of their organization taken from them because they have been advancing "radical feminist themes." (What's that saying about the river in Egypt?)

One imagines that the Post editors thought they had their "liberal" base covered by inviting the retrogressive author, Michael Sean Winters, to be one of the commenters. Winters describes himself as a liberal Catholic -- when in reality, he's anything but. In fact, after comparing the Obama administration's refusal to exempt big Catholic-affiliated institutions from the contraception mandate in the health-care law to the Dreyfuss affair, Winters, in a later writing expressed his own enthusiasm for a right-wing Catholic group, the Society of St. Pius X, best known for its virulent anti-Semitism.

As Anthea Butler wrote at Religion Dispatches in April, after Winters' fanzine post about the society (abbreviated as SSPX), which the Vatican is considering re-admitting to the fold after having excommunicated its leaders in 2009:

When Winters says that the bigger point for the SSPX's return is to recall the parable of the lost sheep, he is obfuscating the major issues that remain if the SSPX is allowed back into the Church. Beyond the anti-Semitism, the SSPX considers Vatican II to be a heretical council. While the Vatican plays nice with these miscreants, it also cracks down on the Women Religious for "radical feminism" and their positions on homosexuality, women's ordination, and abortion.

Another of the Post's august commentators on this question is Father Frank Pavone, head of the far-right group, Priests for Life. While Pavone evinces some sympathy for the sisters on the question of the Vatican's lack of transparency in its investigation of LCWR, he fails to mention that he himself is under investigation by his bishop for financial affairs at his group. However, that's where his sympathies end. Pavone writes:

We should not start with the conclusion that this is about gender, any more than we should conclude that the church’s position that she is unable to ordain women flows from a disdain for women. Rather, it is precisely the confusion about gender in our society that leads to positions contrary to Catholic teaching – positions which the Vatican may be concerned are not being adequately embraced by the LCWR.

Then he goes on to accuse the nuns of misrepresenting themselves.

Rounding out the triumvirate chosen by the Post as the authoritative voice on the question of sexism in the Vatican's crackdown on the nuns is Colleen Carroll Campbell, a former Bush speechwriter.

It's not as if there's a shortage of liberal Catholic voices to draw from, should the Post have cared to. Anthea Butler, as it happens, is Catholic and an associate professor of religion at University of Pennsylvania. She -- or any of the many actual liberal Catholic academics (some of whom are nuns) -- might have been worthy of inclusion in this discussion, dontcha think?

Meanwhile, on the editorial page of the New York Times, the nuns get an entirely different kind of treatment from the paper's editorial board. From Saturday's Times:

Raising the cry of “radical feminism” seems a particularly dated canard to anyone familiar with the nuns’ actual life and role in the nation. No one is denying their holy vows or demanding the overthrow of the male hierarchy at the Vatican. They are asking basic, nonheretical questions about gender equality in the church.
AlterNet / By Adele M. Stan

Posted at June 3, 2012, 5:46am

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