Supporting The Sisters

sistersSupporting the Sisters?

The email was from a friend who had just signed the petition to “Support the Sisters” and wondered if I would sign too. The sisters are the members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) who claim to represent 47,000 women religious.

The petition explained that the nuns were “shocked” at the “crackdown” on American nuns by the Catholic hierarchy, specifically the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Sounds awful, I thought, and I pictured a bunch of authoritarian male clerics attacking dedicated nuns whose only wish is to bring Jesus to the world.

So I said to myself, Let me see just how bad it is, and checked the Vatican statement that the nuns found so offensive. It announced that an assessment of the LCWR would be undertaken for three reasons. First, because some public statements by the group—for example, references to “’moving beyond the Church’ or even beyond Jesus”—amounted to a “rejection of faith” and thus was “a serious source of scandal . . .  incompatible with religious life.” Secondly, because LCWR officers have taken positions on sexuality that “place themselves outside the Church’s teaching.” Thirdly, because some LCWR programs advance “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Reading the Vatican statement made me wonder, Is it possible the Vatican’s position is reasonable? So I visited the LCWR website and read a number of the “Resolutions to Action” presented there under the heading “Social Justice.” Here is a fairly representative sampling:

  • March 2003: Denounced Bush administration “practices and policies that promote poverty, racism, and violence.”
  • July 2003: Urged members to join the movement to “cancel impoverished countries’ debt.”
  • January 2004: Supported “reverencing the earth” by buying hybrid cars and replacing incandescent light bulbs.
  • March 2004: Called for a protest of free trade agreements.
  • June 2004: Called for a boycott of Wal-Mart.
  • December 2004: Supported adopting the UN’s “Earth Charter” and the idea of “Eco-Justice.”
  • October 2007: Warned about global warming and supported lower greenhouse gas emissions, fuel-efficient cars, and personal carbon neutrality.
  • January 2009 and April 2009: Warned about “Climate Change.”
  • Fall 2011: Supported entitlement programs and rejected conservatives’ arguments against big government and high taxation.
  • Spring 2012: Supported the Occupy Movement.

These looked more like liberal/progressive political positions than expressions of the Catholic faith, so I concluded that the Vatican’s decision to investigate LCWR was not unreasonable. After all, the religious orders represented by the organization are all Catholic, and Church leaders have every right to determine which Catholic individuals and groups are in good standing and which are not.

Underlying the dispute between the LCWR and the Vatican is an interesting question, the answer to which is relevant to much of the social discord evident in America today. That question is, why do people who reject almost everything a group stands for insist on being associated with it? (In this case, the question is, why don’t LCWR members leave the Church?)

Throughout history, when people have had broad, fundamental disagreements with their groups, they generally left and joined other groups or founded new ones. Most Christian denominations were established in that way. Entire religions and nations also were, as were political parties and businesses. Except where the course of action was reckless or violated an obligation, it was perfectly honorable.

One reason people behave so differently today is the widespread acceptance of two related ideas: that each person is his or her own authority on everything, and that each person creates his or her own truth and reality. These ideas were central to Humanistic Psychology, which came to prominence in the 1960s, especially in the work of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, and quickly became embedded in mass culture.

The popular expression of these ideas is “Nobody can tell me what to think or do” and “I have a right to my opinion,” which translates to “My opinion is always right,” sometimes with the unspoken addendum, “Whoever disagrees is a fascist.” The fascinating ways in which these ideas have affected people and institutions are too complex to discuss here. (I deal with them in depth in a forthcoming book.) Nevertheless, I suspect that these ideas have played a role in the LCWR’s rebellion against Rome. At some level, no doubt unconscious, LCWR members have refused to leave the Church because they believe they are more Catholic than the Pope!

A final note: I did not sign the petition to “Support the Sisters.”

Copyright © 2012 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved