Rather than publicly chastising nuns, the Catholic Church should be thanking God for every single compassionate, thought-filled and selfless one of them.
Here we go again! Instead of getting more pressing matters of its own house in order (the issues of priest pedophilia, the race for the exits by disillusioned Catholics worldwide and deviant political forays from the pulpit by a rogue bishop or two come to mind), the Church has decided to take another swipe at a Sister. The most recent Vatican-imposed time out comes on the heels of the Church's decision to micro-manage the largest nun society in the United States, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, just weeks ago. It would seem, at least to this lay person, that the tunnel visioned boys at the Vatican have way too much time on their holy hands.
Sister Margaret A. Farley, a scholarly woman of faith who taught Christian Ethics at Yale University and served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, is being brought to the woodshed by Rome for penning "Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics." How dare she use her God given gifts of cognition to share her educated point of view with the world! It's difficult to say what is more sizable -- her nerve or the nerve she's seemed to have struck with the holier than all of us "Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith" committee at the Vatican.
The committee said "Just Love" is "not consistent with authentic Catholic theology." No truer words have probably ever been spoken. Without doubt, Sister Margaret's perspective is wildly threatening to Catholic leadership. She had the audacity to pose a theological basis for same-sex relationships, same-sex marriage, divorce and masturbation, all in one book! And rather than point out how her perspective lacks complete biblical footing, the Catholic Church instead wants to demean the woman's work because she strayed from "authentic" Catholic teaching.
The elephant-in-the-room question that begs to be answered is this: Was Sister Farley's book a fair, logical biblical interpretation or was it somehow erroneous and misleading? A host of religious leaders and scholars, including the head of her Order and the Dean of Yale Divinity School (a Catholic), have issued statements supporting the good Sister's work. What did she write that was inaccurate? Deceptive? Or was the Catholic Church's objection to her perspective simply a matter of differing biblical interpretation? (As a free range Catholic, I would like to be told why the Church thinks the Sister was off her nut, not simply that she was.)
If the point of the Vatican was to discount the validity of Sister Farley's message, it seems to have failed miserably. The New York Times and a myriad of news outlets have given ink to the Vatican's objection to Sister Farley, affording the book priceless publicity. And thanks to the Church, countless Catholics and others around the world who had never heard of the good Sister will be clamoring to find and read her work.
As a Catholic woman, I am keenly interested in what nuns in particular have to say. Their tireless commitment to quiet service in the face of inequality within the Church is an amazement to me and to millions of others whom they have served in the past 2000 or so years. My favorite nun (if Topps made nun trading cards, I would have hers), Mother Teresa, didn't fear poverty, she made her home within it. She welcomed the pain and desperation and sadness that seeped from the gutters of Calcutta with the grace and love and compassion that simply cannot be fabricated from the ivory tower balconies of Vatican City. We can learn life lessons from the women of the Church, and I believe the Good Shepherd wants us to be led by their positive examples.
Whatever we fear, I sincerely believe, owns us. What does the Catholic Church fear in Sister Farley's writings? If we said that the Bible doesn't have it out for gays and lesbians, would our Church crumble, or would it grow? If divorce was not condemned, would more people leave our faith or stay in it? Do we really think God cares whether or not we masturbate? How we interpret the Bible and God's intent is not a science, but a faith-based journey we are called to take. I humbly submit that God wants us to welcome him, not fear Him. Maybe that's where the journey should start.
I believe God gave us gray matter in hopes that we would use it to grow. If the Catholic Church has problems with "rogue" nuns, open a dialogue. Discuss the differences, and come to agreement where possible, even if it is to disagree. The boys on the balconies need to clue into what the female members of the cloth are doing in the name of Christ in the trenches, and how us regular Catholic gals are living in and out of the pews. Maybe then Church leadership might fully experience the love and compassion Jesus hoped would fill our lives.
Fear not, Vatican. Those nuns? They're just doing God's work.
Sarah O'Leary is an author, licensed minister, and world's first and only Midlife®. She addresses conferences and church groups whenever possible. You may reach Ms. O'Leary via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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