|This could seriously be me back in the day. Not the sister, the too talkative little girl.|
Here's part of another NCR opinion piece I found insightful. It's written by Patrick Rearden, and in it he wonders if the sisters of the LCWR represent a real and present danger to the culture of both Church and State. The following is an excerpt but includes what I found to be the best part of the article.
....Our society gives a lot of lip service to the idea of God, to the sacredness of a human being, to truth. But how much faith do we really have? How comfortable are we, as a society, with ideals, visions, dreams?
Not much, if our treatment of nuns in modern media is any measure.
In movies, plays, ads and songs, sisters -- always in the religious habit that most real-life nuns set aside decades ago -- are shown as clucking hens, sometimes loveable, more often just plain stupid. They are outside the world, needing to be saved from the harsh realities of life. Like by a Las Vegas showgirl. Exhibit B: “Sister Act.” (I get his point, but I thought Sister Act was really funny and it dissed Las Vegas culture just as well as convent culture.)
The movie defines a nun on the basis of her habit, so distinctive, so otherworldly, so un-normal. And that’s how American society sees sisters. They’re not after the good life. They’re not looking for wealth and comfort, the American dream. Instead, they work to improve the lives of the poor and oppressed. In a nation with a long history of violence and the largest military in the world, they work for peace.
They’re seen as good-hearted, perhaps, but childlike. Asexual naifs. Talk about not fitting in.
That’s why the American culture goes to such great efforts to misunderstand nuns. It’s because women religious are a challenge to the status quo. Nuns are countercultural. Their lives of service are a challenge to American materialism and consumerism. Their chastity is a challenge to the American mechanistic view of sex. (That's the necessary view for a certain clerical mind set. Religious women have to be seen as more immature and wrestling less with chastity--for a number of reasons and one of the primary reasons is a sexual morality which sees men as the active sexual agent and women as the receptive agent.)
They are the butts of Hollywood humor because they are dangerous. We make fun of what threatens us. This is how this nation has dealt with communists, anarchists, hippies, Native Americans and African-Americans. To blunt their challenge, sisters are reduced to punch lines.
Humor hasn’t been the method of the Vatican, though. Rome’s weapon has been a club -- a bureaucratic club to crack down on sisters for failing to toe the line that male hierarchs have laid down. For listening to the Spirit and following that inspiration, for being creative, for coloring outside the lines. (Only in public do we see the club.)
Sisters are a challenge to the male power structure in the Catholic church because they’re not male. (Radical masculinism at it's finest.)
Recent popes and prelates have made so much of the maleness of the clergy, arguing against female priests with great vehemence and theological legerdemain, that, of course, women religious are a challenge.
They do God’s work without being male. So, unless they are knocked down and forced into some sort of male-defined orthodoxy, their work raises an unanswerable question: If women, as nuns, can do God’s work, why can’t women do God’s work as priests?
Nuns are a danger to the Vatican. That’s why they’re under attack.
I think it's not so much that the sisters are a threat to the Vatican, as it is they are a threat to the type of Catholic identity the Vatican clerical system needs for it's own in tact survival. The sisters symbolize a form of Catholicism that is capable of witnessing Christianity by living directly in the culture, while the Vatican has opted for a form of Catholicism which is to survive by removing itself from the culture--ostensibly by living 'above' the prevailing culture and 'transcending' it. That transcendence is to be firstly symbolized by a priest centered ritualized Catholicism complete with all the accoutrements of a supposedly spiritual monarchy which points to the Vatican and the papacy as the closest thing to heaven on earth.
The second component where the sisters apparently have failed is with the theological conception of the laity. The laity can't really constitute the People of God in the transcendent view of Catholicism. That Catholicism needs laity catechized in it's idealized concept of the patriarchal nuclear family, a male led family which is essentially self sufficient except for it's religious and spiritual formation. Historically that religious formation has been accomplished by nuns living in convents, teaching in parochial schools, and reflexively assenting to male clerical authority. In this scenario, which many of us boomers have actually lived in, the Parish becomes the village in which families find their religious/social/cultural identity. In this Catholic form of village, the sisters served as the teachers which passed on the tribal culture, but not the 'elders' which determined what would be passed on. The nuclear family served as the lived reality of the symbolic relationship of Jesus the bridegroom and his Holy Mother Church. Priests functioned in the person of Christ, the traditions and teachings were embodied in 'Holy Mother', and the laity were the obedient children who paid for all of it. Sociologically, the glue that held all of this together were the thousands and thousands of teaching sisters ----and the world view they held and accepted about themselves. They were in the world but not of it, dressed accordingly, and they lived walled off from the laity whose children they taught. The parents of those children reflexively enforced the authority of the sisters, believing it came from a higher source than their own. The sisters may not have been priests, but they most certainly weren't mere laity either.
For a lot of sisters, this sort of 'table scraps' level of authority sufficed, but then darn it all, things started to really change, and not just with regards to women's status in the world, but Vatican II came along and upset the whole Catholic apple cart. Religious orders were mandated to re evaluate everything about themselves in light of this whole new vision of Catholicism, and so they did, and not necessarily happily. At least not at first, but they kept at it, recentered and eventually found their charisms were as badly needed in the world as they ever had been. They also found the cultural environment in which those charisms were needed had drastically changed. But more than that, they educated themselves to be real leaders in the various professions in which they found themselves. In the secular world they didn't have 'table scraps' authority, they had real earned authority and they were making real differences in real human lives----and they were changing and growing. Eventually they found themselves moving beyond the very rigid conceptualization of a Jesus that supported the male clerical system, the Catholic parish as Catholic ghetto, the laity as clerical and religious meal ticket, the Vatican as the only voice of the Holy Spirit.
That last moving beyond was their big mistake. It is the unforgivable mistake. It is the exact same mistake many many catholic laity have made. We have grown up spiritually in a religious system whose authority structure depends on keeping adults spiritual children. It is no wonder so many laity support the sisters. It isn't just about clerical abuse or betrayal of authority by the hierarchy, it's about not going back to the status of children to support too many male clergy who never grew up and who therefor can't let others grow up either---especially nuns.