Thursday, May 24, 2012

Roman Catholicism in the News, with some Protestant Reflections

This was originally an appendix to the link post that I have scheduled for Saturday morning. But it continued to grow and began to take over that post, so I decided that it required separate billing. I recognize that I'm diving into dangerous territory here, what with rolling up theological, ecumenical, sexual, and political issues into a big ball...but what are blogs for if not stuff like this?

I’m sure you have heard about the current fracas within Roman Catholicism over the recent Vatican (CDF, actually) censure of a large North American nun organization (Leadership Conference of Women Religious, representing ~57,000 women whose median age is over 70…). There have also been reports of the USA bishops "investigating" the Girl Scouts and, of course, there's all that stuff in the political arena at the moment over health insurance and contraception. For my very Protestant money, this is one more instance of the deeply broken nature of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and of Rome’s continuing commitment to rolling back not only specific provisions established in the Second Vatican Council but also its spirit. But that’s all I’ll say about it, for now anyway. Here are some good links on the subject.

  • Gary Willis comes right out with it in the New York Review of books and talks about Bullying the Nuns.
  • Mary Hunt writes for the Religion Dispatches mag, offering a pronouncement of solidarity: We Are All Nuns.
  • Nicholas Kristof rips off Hunt’s title when writing for the New York Times a few days later: We Are All Nuns.
  • Maureen Dowd brings her characteristic sarcastic wit to bear on the situation in this stinging New York Times op-ed entitled, Bishops Play Church Queens as Pawns.
  • Sticking with the New York Times, Jim Dwyer writes about the humanitarian work that the nuns undertake in New York City: In Deeds, Nuns Answer Call of Duty.
  • More from Maureen Dowd, this time taking shots at how remarkably un-catholic the Roman Catholic church has looked lately: Here Comes Nobody.
  • Also, it now seems that United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is going after the Girl Scouts. Apparently it doesn't seem to matter that the Girl Scouts are in no way affiliated with the Catholic church... Mary Hunt offers some commentary, under the rather clever title: Bishops Search for Condoms in Cookie Boxes. Here is a nice excerpt comparing this stuff with the Scouts to that with the Nuns:
    "The bishops fretted in both cases about sex and gender, especially reproductive justice. The straw that broke the camel’s back for the nuns was the support some of them showed for a more inclusive health care policy. For the Scouts, it was the organization’s public acceptance of a transgender child into a Colorado troop. Underneath those decisions lurks the fact that nuns, not bishops, were seen as normatively Catholic, and even though a quarter of all Girl Scouts are Catholic, they didn’t consult the bishops before doing the right thing. Who would, given the men’s handling of abuse cases?"
  • Still more Maureen Down, this time tying things back into politics in a piece entitled: Father Doesn't Know Best. I find it impossible to resist reproducing two short but particularly cutting paragraphs:
    The bishops and the Vatican care passionately about putting women in chastity belts. Yet they let unchaste priests run wild for decades, unconcerned about the generations of children who were violated and raped and passed around like communion wine.
    The church leaders headed to court hope to undermine the president, but they may help him. Voters who think sex is only for procreation were not going to vote for Obama anyway. And the lawsuit reminds the rest that what the bishops portray as an attack on religion by the president is really an attack on women by the bishops.
  • Finally, here is a list that has been kicking around the web for a while and that is important background reading for this whole scandal: Top 10 Reasons Why Men Shouldn’t Be Ordained.

As a Protestant reflecting on these things, I'm struck by 4 observations:
  1. This recalcitrant RC curmudgeonly turn is empowered in no small part by the conservative political alliance forged between them and American evangelicals. When will the latter wake up?
  2. All this is, of course, no surprise to Protestants who - despite the tendency of Catholics in the United States to play rather nice during the last half of the 20th century, and the advances made at Vatican 2 - knew that this other side was not exorcised but merely lying dormant.
  3. Continuing, there are some within Protestant theological circles who desire that a greater unity could be achieved between Catholics and Protestants but who are incredibly put off the issue by Rome's paternalism. Stuff like this only adds fuel to that fire. Why would Protestants want to come back to these particular arms? Why should they want to be more closely associated with these highly questionable (at best!) moves? Why should Protestants be inclined in any way to view Roman Catholicism as something to emulate?
  4. Half my student population is Roman Catholic, and I would hazard the educated guess that the RC powers that be are not winning hearts and minds through this maneuver. It also makes it hard for me, as a Protestant teaching a good number of Roman Catholics, to be charitable... Indeed, I am forced to emphasize what I find to be the most salutary aspects of the Catholic church rather than the arch-conservative backlash that has been building since Vatican 2. If that upsets the bishops or the Vatican, they are welcome to investigate me.
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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Here's a column by Ross Douthat on the recent controversy, which takes a slightly different angle than the other articles you mentioned, and is at least worth a read:

http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/08/the-nuns-and-the-god-within/#

W. Travis McMaken said...

One of these days I'm going to turn off anonymous comments...

In any case, in general I find that Douthat is a third-rate (at best) commentator on anything to do with religion. But the angle he brings out here does not undermine the basic narrative. Key to this narrative is, I think, the alternatives that the Vatican has been putting forward for the things it is censuring. If this (take the nuns, for instance, since Douthat's point has nothing to do with the Scouts or political issue) had been purely doctrinal, there would have been no need identify the rest of it and to promote an incredibly socially conservative alternative religious organization.

Matthew Warren said...

To add another "conversation partner," I heard Terry Gross this morning on WNYC's "Fresh Air" interviewing one of the editors of America, a Jesuit magazine, on the state of the Catholic church. I only caught the last few comments, but it will air again this afternoon.