Even as the Catholic Church shields and panders to child rapists masquerading as priests (I use the word “panders” advisedly, since so many of the children are altar boys), it’s gone to battle against its own nuns.
The Apostolic Visitation currently in progress is not a new take on the Annunciation. It’s an investigation of convents and women’s orders in the U.S. inspired by the well-founded suspicion that they’re not all Vatican-kosher. Essentially, it’s a form of Inquisition. And yet another sign of how firmly the Church has its finger on the self-destruct button.
Not so long ago, outrage was restricted to feminist Catholics like Mary Hunt, whose article here pulls no punches. A brief extract:
God knows Catholicism has a gender problem. But the structures of power are so perverse as to be dangerous. More than mandatory celibacy, homosexuality, all-male priesthood, and other reasons floated to explain why so many priests abuse children and why so many bishops cover up for them, the monarchical model of power is, to my mind, the major reason why crimes went unchecked and criminals remained in ministry. In a monarchy, there are no checks and balances against power at the highest levels. There is no way to vote the bums out or force them with threats of removal to run institutions in a transparent, indeed legal, way.
Now the outrage is spreading within the Church itself. Earlier this year, the bishop bums created a ton more of it by censuring the dozens of leaders of women’s Catholic orders (representing tens of thousands of nuns) who signed a letter to Congress supporting the health-care bill. And then news broke of a critically ill pregnant mother of four told by her doctors in a Catholic hospital in Phoenix that the only way to save her life was to terminate her 11-week pregnancy. Sister Margaret McBride, the hospital administrator on duty, convened the Ethics Committee and with the patient’s agreement, approved the procedure. By doing so, she ensured that the woman lived, that four children still had a mother, and that her Church dug itself still deeper into an apparently bottomless moral cesspool.
It excommunicated her.
So here are two faces of Catholicism: on the left, the nun who faced what for her was an agonizing choice (reportedly a strong right-to-life advocate, she indeed opted, though not in any way she expected, for life over death):
And on the right, the bishop, Thomas Olmsted, who ordered both Sister McBride and her patient to be excommunicated, and threatened to remove recognition (and thus funding) of the hospital as a Catholic institution.
The excommunication seems to be up in the air since it was publicized, though Sister McBride has been “reassigned” within the hospital. Maybe she’s swabbing floors as punishment. But what’s needed, as Mary Hunt so cogently advocates, is far more than a clean-up of the Church by women, “as though, being women, they will flap their white veils and make all things new.” What’s needed isn’t women as bishops, or even, as Maureen Dowd argued in the New York Times, a woman as Pope. What’s needed is “a new model of church without a pope or anyone else on top… A democratic, participatory, egalitarian church.”
The irony is that that’s exactly how the church began in the first and second centuries, before power, wealth, and hierarchy took over. Before it incorporated. That’s when the Jesus movement was still about liberation and social justice, Mary Magdalene was still the apostle to the apostles, and the least relevant thing about Jesus’ mother was whether she had an intact hymen.
(Postscript: the day after I posted this, Nick Kristof wrote an op-ed in the NYT with a title I wish I’d thought of: “Sister Margaret’s Choice.“)