Sister Florence Deacon and Sister Pat Farrell
The leaders of the nation’s largest group of nuns sidestepped a confrontation with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, announcing Friday that they would “dialogue” with the archbishop appointed by the Vatican to take over their group, but not “compromise the integrity” of their mission.
Pat Farrell, the departing president of the nuns’ group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, said at a news conference that the members of her organization wanted to be “recognized as equal in the church,” to have their style of religious life “respected and affirmed,” and to help create a climate in which everyone in the church can talk about “issues that are very complicated.”
“Their expectation is that open and honest dialogue may lead not only to increasing understanding between the church leadership and women religious,” the nuns said in a statement, “but also to creating more possibilities for the laity, and particularly for women, to have a voice in the church.”
…Cardinal William J. Levada, an American who until June was in charge of the church’s doctrinal office, called the nuns’ approach a “dialogue of the deaf.”
The Catholic Church wants women to listen and obey – end of discussion.
The decision to seek a dialogue came after more than 900 nuns spent four days doing what they call “listening to the Holy Spirit” inside a hotel ballroom. They represent about 80 percent of the 57,000 Catholic nuns in the United States. They were responding to an edict issued in April by Cardinal Levada’s office, which ordered three American bishops to rewrite the Leadership Conference’s statutes, evaluate its programs and publications, and revise its liturgies and rituals.
The standoff between the Vatican and the nuns has become a proxy for the struggle between the church’s right and left flanks. As the nuns were reminded this week, many Catholics who want to see their church reformed are looking to the nuns to be their voice.
Like the American politics these nuns reflect, the confrontation is between reactionaries whose ideology resides in a mythical world somewhere in the distant past when the population as a whole and women in particular obeyed a small group of self-centered men.
These religious women represent an essential spirit of humanity long recognized by the breadth of American society, willing to confront demagogues who fear democracy, civil rights, equal opportunity – characteristics long honored in the United States in word if not in deed.