I am not Catholic, although more than half the members of my family, including my husband, are and our marriage was sanctioned by the Catholic Church. I firmly believe that organized religion has much to offer in terms of helping people discern what is ethically and morally right and wrong. And I realize that organized religion has helped many people who are struggling and looking for more meaning in their lives.
But I am absolutely baffled by the Catholic Church of late. It seems to keep digging itself into a deeper and deeper hole with each new scandal. First it was the apparent cover-up of sexual abuse of young boys by priests. After seeing the outrage over the scandal at Penn State earlier this year, I was struck by the lack of accountability illustrated in the tepid response of the Catholic Church to these heinous crimes.
Now, the Church has decided to publicly chastise one of its greatest assets: nuns. The New York Times had two excellent opinion pieces about this issue this weekend, one written by Nicholas Kristof and one written by Maureen Dowd. The Kristof article included a link to the public reprimand recently issued by the Vatican, in which the Church proclaimed that Nuns in the United States were getting a little too big for their habits (my words, not theirs).
I am sure all of us have seen the magnificent work that nuns perform daily throughout this country, indeed throughout the world. As a feminist, it is a wonder to me that women are willing to make the sacrifice that it requires to become a nun, when it appears that the Catholic Church has historically had little regard for women.
I truly believe that this could be the beginning, or at least the middle, of the end for the Catholic Church. I know that many will disagree with me, saying that this is just a conservative phase that the church is going through under its current leadership. But the Catholic Church has had a difficult time of late recruiting people to serve as priests and nuns. With displays like this, I can’t help but believe that the pool of people willing to make the significant sacrifice that is required to serve the Church and their higher ideals will only dwindle further – and that is too bad.
My Aunt was a nun who inspires me to this day with stories about her community organizing in low income neighborhoods. And my grandmother did the “holy wash,” cleaning all the church linens for more than 40 years. Both of these strong women significantly helped shape who I am today.
And I know the positive aspects of organized religion and the Catholic Church. My husband and I went to the required pre-marital counseling to enable us to be married in the Catholic Church and it was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.
But the Catholic Church should play a central role in helping the poor and in comforting the down-trodden. And that is what nuns have been doing, without fanfare or glory, for generations.
I hope the Catholic Church rethinks their reprimand and begins to listen to the stories of these inspiring women. They should try to understand the nuns’ concerns with the current direction of the Church. The very future of the Church could depend on this.
These women are heroes and I have no doubt they will survive and thrive after this recent setback from Rome; I have less confidence in the Church’s ability to do the same.
What do you think? I am sure that plenty of people will have differing perspectives on this issue and I welcome those. Do you think that the Catholic Church will be able to recover from the scandals that have plagued it in recent years? Do you think that the Church will be forced to be more inclusive in the future to survive? Do you have an inspiring story about how nuns have touched your lives? What do you see as the future of the Catholic Church and of organized religion?
I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!