We Are All Nuns. We Are All Same-Sex Couples Wanting to Marry.

American Nuns

Roman Catholic feminist theologian Mary E. Hunt boldly challenges the Vatican’s current crackdown on the Church’s nuns:

When it comes to the Vatican’s crackdown on women religious, I believe it’s time to declare that for the purpose of this struggle: we are all nuns.

The mandate by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to reform the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) via the appointment of an Archbishop Delegate to bring the nuns back in line—below and behind the bishops—has outraged those who respect its rich legacy.

If you can spell Catholic, you are probably asking: how dare they go after 57,000 dedicated women whose median age is well over 70 and who work tirelessly for a more just world? How dare the very men who preside over a Church in utter disgrace due to sexual misconduct and cover-ups by bishops try to distract from their own problems by creating new ones for women religious?

While this story is focused on nuns, it doesn’t stop there. Flowery medieval rhetoric by the Vatican about the nuns’ “special place in the Church,” and the fiction that religious women have “full participation in all aspects of the Church’s life” (while ordination is still for men only—come on!) make the dictum especially pernicious.

But it’s really about all of the laity, especially women, who see the world in terms of needs we can fulfill, not power we can hold; of radical equality, not hierarchy; of the many, not the few.

(Read her entire article, published by Religion Dispatches, here.)

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain

The Vatican’s “flowery medieval rhetoric” about “full participation” of women religious in the church (while in fact they are relegated to second-class status) couldn’t fail to remind me of the Church hierarchy’s weaselly dicta about same-sex marriage. In an April 2012 letter to Catholic parishioners in the Seattle Archdiocese, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain went to great lengths to explain why Washington State Catholics should sign a petition to put Referendum 74 on the November ballot. (If it gets on the ballot, Referendum 74 will ask Washington voters to accept or reject the legislator’s recent enactment of a law granting same-sex couples the right to a civil marriage.)

In his letter, Sartain denies that the Church supports discrimination: “Treating different things differently is not unjust discrimination,” he writes, as though the object of the discrimination in question were a mere concept that had nothing to do with flesh-and-blood people.

Sartain knows that replacing “things” with “people” in his little formula would get him in a world of trouble. Imagine if he had written: “Treating people who are different differently is not unjust discrimination.” That tack might have worked prior to the Civil Rights era, but nowadays it doesn’t wash. He might have gotten closer to the truth if he had written “not always unjust,” but I suspect he was less interested in clarity than in muddying the waters.

After focusing on differences (where one might have expected a Christian to ignore or transcend them), Sartain then informs us that “people who experience same-sex attraction have equal dignity.” Note his word “equal” and then compare Mary Hunt’s call for “radical equality,” and you’ll understand why I chose the word “weaselly” to describe the hierarchy’s dicta.

And here’s the real zinger in Sartain’s pastoral letter: “… the Church teaches that persons with same-sex attraction must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

Yeah, right. Just don’t let us start thinking we’re equal to straight folks.

How eerily reminiscent Sartain’s justifications are of the pious protestations of 19th-century white slaveholders and 20th-century segregationists. And how artfully he stakes out the moral high ground for the structures of oppression that he represents.

Catholic nuns who routinely have to put up with this kind of unctuous falderal are saints indeed.

Do you suppose the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and same-sex marriage advocates might find common cause?

BTW, the “Archbishop Delegate” appointed by the Vatican to “bring the nuns back in line,” as Mary Hunt writes, is none other than Seattle’s own J. Peter Sartain.


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