Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sr Brigid Speaks Her Mind About Ratzinger And His Ideas About American Sisters

Sister Brigid McDonald has the look of a woman who knows her place and it isn't where Pope Benedict thinks it is.

The following interview was done by the webzine MinnPost.  It is with 79 year old Sr Brigid McDonald of the Sisters of St Joseph of Carondelet.  Sr Brigid is a member of Benedict's generation, but does not have Benedict's particular theological bent. It's a fascinating read from a woman who knows her true place and worth and that itself separates her from the man she refers to as 'Ratzinger'.  Be sure to follow the above link for the whole article and some fantastic comments by readers.

Sister Brigid McDonald calls Vatican's reprimand of U.S. nuns group a 'misuse of power' 

 Beth Hawkins - Minnpost - 5/4/2012
MinnPost: What are you hearing in your community about the decision?
Sister Brigid McDonald:
Well, some are shocked that he would go that far, you know, to start using his power. To me, it is a misuse of power, a misuse of authority where he can step into religious communities and dictate how they should speak about these issues.

MP: When you say “he,” you are talking about Benedict?
SBM: Yes. I still call him Ratzinger. That fits him better. But that is just a personal bias.
I think they are overstepping their jurisdiction to expect that nuns are going to think as they tell us to think. To me those issues are not spiritual issues; many of them are political issues and some, of course, are social justice issues. I think that our personal spiritual life, it is another matter and that is our private belief.I can't even begin to imagine what he could say or do that would change religious women's beliefs. I don't know how he plans to change that. That is of concern. That could be scary — what will he do to change our beliefs. You know, that scares me.

MP: Can you speak a little bit more about that, the difference between changing your belief and silencing you, and where that line gets murky?SBM: You are right, those are two different issues. If he wants us just to shut up about how we believe and don't put it out in public,  that is one issue. Or if he is really trying to get us to make statements that are opposite of our beliefs, I don't know what his motivation is for this. Other than control, I don't know what his motivation is.
I think it is pretty impossible for us to all change our beliefs on these issues to coincide with his beliefs. That sounds impossible.

MP: Can you stay silent about a belief that you hold in good faith?
SBM: I personally would never choose to. But I don't write and speak publicly for the community. I sometimes give talks about the peace movement, because I am in the peace movement quite heavily. Sometimes those things overlap, you know, the social justice issues and the peace and justice issues.
When I am speaking, I am not giving an official stance of The Sisters of St. Joseph. I wouldn't. Mine always is my personal reaction of what he is doing. Nobody is going to speak for the whole community. It is too hard to speak for hundreds of women. They aren't all going to talk alike anyhow.

MP: Can you tell me what you are hearing? Are people afraid?
SBM: It is interesting. The nuns that I talk to aren't really afraid, because they can't see or they can't imagine what he would do to change us. I mean, like, excommunication? That is a thing of the past. You can't excommunicate hundreds of nuns.
Wouldn't that be kind of funny? Excommunicate the whole order! It is irrational. I don't know what other consequences there would be.

 MP: One thing that I have been told is a bishop will now screen all of the speakers at your meetings. Will that have any practical effect?
SBM: Now that could affect our college, the St. Catherine University. And we do still have some high schools. But they have stepped in before to say we can't talk about this or that. I am not affiliated with any schools, so I don't know how their curriculum gets around those issues.
But I know he has tried to silence people in our schools. That could be a very severe possibility, to silence some of the voices, really the social justice voices, you know. Maybe they get around it some way. I don't know.
Why is he picking old nuns? More than half of us are over 75. We are almost an endangered species now. If he is trying to really change the church, he should start at the level with youth and talk to youth groups or something like that.
He should start with getting his priests together and try to help them through some of their problems. He should get after them for molestation.

 MP: Somebody suggested to me that nuns in the past had enjoyed some latitude because you were thought to be powerless, and that in a strange way, this might be recognition that your ministry is powerful.
SBM: That is good insight. Because [before] we were just school teachers and we just had nice little kids in front of us, you know, and we just emptied bed pans in the nursing homes and in the hospitals. But now they are right, we are out there in the different movements. We help with the Occupy movement and the right-to-choice movements.
It is giving us more credibility in the public. Lots of times people will call and seek out our opinions about certain issues, where it never was that way when I entered the convent. After we taught school, we went home, and said our prayers and ate supper and did our lesson plans and went to bed. Now we are out there.

MP: The other thing people have said is possibly dangerous about nuns is that you understand church teachings and can talk about the ways in which they might be being subverted or perverted.
SBM: Nuns [traditionally] haven't been educated in theology. There are more theologians now. We go to workshops and we are at schools and we are taking classes and people are going on for further degrees in theology and stuff like that. So, maybe that is a threat that we are getting educated, especially in theology.
I see the bishops and priests don't get updated in theology. They are still back, for an expression, with Noah's ark.
But, that is a point: People will ask our opinion of theological insight and possibly not ask Father anymore, you know. So, he might be losing his authority in theology particularly.
We should get into cooking or something, I suppose he thinks.

MP: Who do you think will be hurt by this move?
SBM: I have a feeling women theologians who are partners with the nuns and some of our teachers in our schools will be really hurt. It will be a fear hurt and they may not feel free to speak out.
I am suspicious of the motivation. I don't think it is for the common good. They are trying to get us back, bring us back, as it was in the beginning and now as it will ever be, amen, or something like that. They want us back in the habits and being obedient. You don't belong out here with social workers.

MP: Do you think that it will work?
SBM: I can't imagine it working. I think we are too wrapped up in the issues of the time. You can't just forget the common good and the people who are suffering right now. The more you are with those in pain, the more radical you become to overcome that pain. I don't think it is possible to go backwards.
I really feel that Jesus would want us to go forward and to be out there where the people are in pain. I believe that about Jesus. I always say, Jesus never said worship me, he said follow me, so that is what I am trying to do.
We haven't got any more habits left anyhow. We would have to find those all over again.


Sister Brigid is correct when she says "I don't think it's possible to go backwards."  It isn't possible when your world view has been transformed into a bigger and more compassionate world view and you personally have been empowered.  And she is right to be suspicious of the Vatican motivation precisely because it is not about the 'common good' of Catholics.  It is about the self perpetuating good of a hierarchy that will brook no competition, no confusion in the faithful about who speaks as if they are God.

Sister Brigid is also right about another thing.  This won't work because as she says, 'the more you are with those in pain, the more radical you become to overcome that pain'.  Jesus got pretty radical Himself, and if one spends as much time following Him as they do worshipping Him, one can't help but get pretty radical.  As opposed to the hierarchy, which is just getting more and more scared and more and more out of control as they attempt to everything they can to maintain their illusion of control. 


  1. Col, Thanks so much for posting this. It helps to confirm for me that the Vatican is becoming ever more dystopian in its practice.

    Yet more evidence that its mindset seems more about corporate surveillance and control.

  2. It's also evidence that the members of the LCWR have been around long enough that the tantrums of 85 year old men don't phase them. They know it's not about God, it's about papal mystique and protecting the notions of papal infallibility and the down hill chain of command.

  3. I imagine that the

    We help with the ... right-to-choice movements.

    would set off episcopal alarm bells.

    Or is the reference to something other than a supposed right to abortion ?

    God Bless

  4. "Why is he picking old nuns? More than half of us are over 75. We are almost an endangered species now. If he is trying to really change the church, he should start at the level with youth and talk to youth groups or something like that."

    The Pope has given many excellent speeches to young people, and they respond. Note the healthy vocations to orthodox orders, and the withering of the heterodox orders.

    1. The retention rate for the new orders is exactly the same as it is for the LCWR orders and by numbers the LCWR actually attracts more women. There are just a whole lot more orders of sisters in the LCWR.

      I get a little tired of this line of reasoning given the priesthood is also aging at a rapid clip. Yes there is a small percentage of the over all youth age bracket attracted to orthodox orders. In comparison to the over all numbers of youth, it's miniscule. They are not going to save the Church from receding into oblivion in the West.

    2. It's always been a "small percentage" called to Holy Orders and the religious life, so that's really neither here nor there.
      What is telling is not that a small proportion of individuals discern a vocation to Holy Orders or the religious life, but that of those who do, almost none go on to join heterodox groups, but instead join orthodox or explicitly 'traditionalist' groups.
      Nothing is heading for oblivion, apart from some orders which fell prey to relativism.

    3. And many of those young people 'respond' Invictus - by simply no longer showing up to listen because The Vatican hasn't the ability to reach them with spiritually relevant truths. The fact that you get a few percentage points on the extreme end of a bell curve is nothing to be comforted by. What you get is a smaller, more authoritarian, more rigidly controlled environment within the group B16 thinks of as his ghetto church. He is apparently forgetting that the church was told not to 'SORT my sheep' but to 'FEED my sheep'. Christ was not the exclusionist that the Vatican has become.

    4. (The Vatican is a city-state in Italy. From the context, I take it you mean the Church.)

      The sheep are fed, as the Mass is still celebrated in every city, and as it is - praise be to God - the case that the great majority of baptised Catholics are able to attend the Mass in their local area.

      Some Catholics still suffer beyond access to the sacraments, but in active young vocations there is hope there too.

    5. The sheep may be fed in your area, but that is not true for the majority of Catholic faithful, especially in South America, Africa, and rural areas in other countries. And no there is no hope in active young vocations--unless you mean diverting third world priests from their own priest starved countries into the West as is the practice currently.

      Where the sheep have no money they also have no shepherds.

    6. I'm in a rural area, and there are priests here. Indeed, I know first-hand that they have priests in the most sparsely-populated areas of Western Europe.
      S. America and Africa surely don't suffer from lack of access to the sacraments as much as those in China and elsewhere in Asia? That seems to be where the gap is, though I couldn't claim to be particularly well-informed in this matter.

      Your final line is ridiculous, though. The Catholic Church is usually the first to have a presence in a new slum-town, and usually the last to remain in run-down areas past their prime. There are a number of possible reasons for that, not all of which are linked to any particular great-ness in Catholicism, but it does seem to be the case.

      The Church is much for the Church of the poor and the marginalised than are the Episcopalians or Mormons or [insert sect here].

    7. If feeding the people were merely a matter of providing the sacraments, why is it that those doing the providing insist they have a right to sort out those they deem worthy of the sacraments? Are you actually admitting the The Vatican is guilty of overreach here?

      I know what The Vatican is, thank you very much. I also know by whom it is run. I write precisely and without either ill-advised separation or conflation.

      I live in a rural area too. Where there is one priest to cover 3 or more parishes. Where priests must drive 50 miles or more between Masses on Sunday to get to all those parishes. Where the vocations are simply not forthcoming. And God-forbid the bishop might appoint a local nun or other qualified layperson as a parish administrator so the duties of the priest are eased somewhat. He'd rather bring in priests from Africa who preach nothing but fire and brimstone and expect some female will be there to ensure they get their meals on-time and laundry done. Sorry, this kind of caste-driven sexism is a sin and it is on the part of The Vatican and the bishops together with priests - in other words, the exclusively male leadership. It enhances marginalization. It does nothing to mitigate that marginalization.

    8. It's just about what a priest is. You need a priest for X, so if someone ain't a priest, they can't do X. Want a baby, you need a woman. Can't be a male nun, or a female monk, because that is what they are.

      Definitely agree, it'd be cool if we had enough vocations that parishes were less stretched in rural areas...but ordaining priest-esses wouldn't work there. For one, it's not really compatible with the faith. For another, in religious groups who have women in that sort of role, there are still parish pressures as great as there are for the Catholic Church.

      The Church has responded to a need though, with the institution of EMHCs.

    9. Your statement reeks with sexism. Thank you. You have again shown how your institution is not interested in healing the sins of sexism and marginalization of women.

    10. ...?

      Impressive non-sequitur!

  5. In contrast to Pope Benedict or AB Dolan, Sister Brigid makes so much more sense for our Church. I note here what she says about when she speaks, which speaks a Truth about everyone in the Church.

    "Nobody is going to speak for the whole community. It is too hard to speak for hundreds of women. They aren't all going to talk alike anyhow."

    This is also true of the Gospels when they were written. Each Gospel is from a different speaker who highlights the teachings of Jesus within their experience of witnessing Christ in their lives. That was the time when the Church was not a Corporate entity. It was not spoken of in the Gospels to create a corporate state with a monarchal head of fascist state to speak for everyone. The Vatican is a corporate state and not the Church. The Church are the People of God.

    No one is beyond the love of God's reach, whether they receive the Vatican's corporate approval or not.


    1. "fascist"? "corporate state"? Seriously?

      You say some good things, you really do, but you do also let yourself down a lot with things like that...

    2. The Vatican is not the Church, it is a palace that should be a museum, and the People of God who are the Church are currently under the leadership of a fascist dictator octogenarian who lives there should resign and his name is Pope Ratz aka Benedict XVI. Is that better?

      I would never know what good things I have said, for you have never, ever, ever, ever, ever pointed out or commented on anything that you considered "some good things" I have said. Typical abusive behavior is to always find fault, deride, criticize and be demeaning as much as possible. Thank you for your putting me down and then having the audacity of saying that I let myself down a lot.

    3. And another thing, I'm not a scholar like you are or a doctor like some people here. Go pick on somebody else your own size you bully. I have had it up to my eyeballs with smart asses like you.


      Not sure where to start with that one.

      "leadership of a fascist dictator octogenarian"?

      He's still a man, just a person like the rest of us. Where's your charity? How did it get so...dried up?

    5. No charity is needed for a man who seeks to replace my conscience with his assumed authority.

    6. So, the Christian call to love and charity for all one's fellow humans has been superceded by some divine revelation specific to a woman named Veronica?

      You had better rush to spread this new gospel of un-charity, I don't know how Christendom will cope without it!!