Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Nuns on the Run

Sr Joan Chittister wrote something on the apostolic visitation of female religious orders. Not surprisingly she is still against it. Not surprisingly she missed the point.  She concludes that if she cannot see the point there must not be one. But the process continues. Even though there are many things happening and resources are always tight the Vatican is driving this forward. Why? It is about God. God hardly gets mentioned in Sr Joan's analysis. Nobody doubts that teaching nuns are good teachers and social worker nuns are good social workers. The question is whether they get their theology right. Not individual nuns but the leadership of many orders. As she says:
No one seems to be sure why the investigation is really being done, except that to declare an Apostolic Visitation signals that someone somewhere has already decided that something is wrong.
There are many people who don't have any trouble guessing at what the Vatican might find troubling. Nun have been well known for their liberal teaching for a long time. In more recent years new orders have popped up that are orthodox and attracting new vocations. Many find it quite easy to tell the difference but there is still some chance young ladies will get confused.

There is also the matter of assets. These new orders start with nothing. If you reform an existing order they often have empty facilities and pretty good fund-raising. If one could restore their previous charism and attract new vocations they could become quite powerful quite quickly. But the existing leadership doesn't get it. History is full of saints coming onto the scene and restoring orders that had gone soft and lost their way. We could use a few of those about now.

One more objection from the column:
“The process will conclude in 2011 with a final report to Cardinal Rode. The report will not be made public or shared with the religious communities.”
What? The report won’t be shared with the communities being investigated? The patient will not be told the diagnosis? The accused will not be told the crime? The paralytic will not be asked whether or not crutches can really solve her particular situation?
Because this concerns matters of orthodoxy the details of the report should be left sealed. Orthodoxy deals with questions of whether a teaching is heretical. So it will contain discussions of degrees of heresy, error, or theological opinion. It really is only appropriate for Rome to get involved if there is a serious problem. That means that many findings of the report won't have enough gravity to warrant a pope overruling the authority of the order's leadership. If, as expected, some do then those matters will be dealt with. That may or may not include giving the report to the leadership in question. The fact that the procedure does not require this is right.

The one thing these visitors seem really interested in is female ordination. Have nuns been teaching that women should be ordained priests? This was infallibly defined by Pope John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Because of the authority John Paul invoked to remove all doubt, anyone teaching against this dogma is guilty of a more serious offense. So the groundwork was really laid for this in 1994. The church does not move fast but she does move. The reports in 2011 will not be the end of the process either but it will end. It has the potential to do much good.

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