Posted by: smstrouse | May 5, 2012

Standing with the Sisters

Before I was ordained – lo these many years ago – I was a chaplain in a hospital run by the Sisters of Charity.  It was an education I could never have gotten in seminary.  In heavily Catholic Buffalo, women clergy were still a rarity, so I was a curiosity.  I would often get asked (usually in the elevator), “Do we call you Sister?”  I’d answer, “No, Mother Goddess will do” and then quickly add, “Just kidding!”

The sisters themselves were amazing. All of them were dedicated, of course. But some of them had a wicked (is that an appropriate word?) sense of humor – which meant we got along just great. Sometimes, though, they didn’t mean to be funny.  The nuns lived together on the top floor of the hospital, and there was a great debate going on in their community about wearing their habits.  One day, Sister Sylvia pumped me for information about my clerical attire. “Do you wear your collar when you’re at home?” she asked, in all seriousness.  When I hooted at the idea, she declared that she was going to tell her community that the women pastors didn’t have to wear their work clothes at home. I confess that I sobered up quickly and counseled her not to lift me up  as their new role model. Talk about a Lutheran Reformation!

I have the greatest respect for nuns.  My two most beloved spiritual directors used to be nuns.  I learned about Creation Spirituality from a radical Sister of St. Joseph. I asked her how she and her sisters where able to get away with some of the  things they were doing and teaching. She told me, “Oh, the Church thinks we’re just harmless old  ladies and they leave us alone.”

Well, it appears that the eye of the Church has turned toward these amazing women and is no longer leaving them alone. The Vatican has declared that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the largest group of Catholic nuns in the US, has “serious doctrinal problems” (i.e. challenges to church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood). The sisters are also in trouble for making public statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals” (i.e support for President Obama’s health care reform).

But the best declaration of all is that the sisters have promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” (i.e. focusing too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping ‘silent’ on abortion and same-sex marriage).

Patriarchal hierarchies just don’t get it; they’re losing power.  Yes, they can fuss and fume and set the dogs (like the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) on us, but their days are numbered.  Wasn’t it that good Jewish/Catholic girl who said, “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly?” I imagine even Mary would be under close scrutiny these days.

I’m not saying that my own church doesn’t have its own work to do; “people who live in glass houses . . .” and all that.  But right now, it’s our Roman Catholic sisters who are under attack. And they deserve our support, prayers, good will, and friendship.  Sisterhood IS powerful!

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