If anyone had told me, back in Catholic parochial school in the 1950s, that, in place of black and white habits, aka “penguin suits,” future nuns would be wearing multicolored J.C. Penney’s pantsuits and traveling the country in a tricked out bus like those used by rock and roll bands, I likely would have nodded, said, “Um hum,” and figured they’d found out where the priests stash the altar wine.
What’s more, if anyone had told me — just 10 years ago — that a 77-year-old nun would write a book advocating same-sex marriage, divorce, and “self pleasuring,” I would have said, “Sure. When pigs fly ... and fish climb trees!”
Enter Nuns On The Bus — a group of Roman Catholic nuns on a nine-state tour who felt called to show how Republican policies are affecting low-income families — and former Yale professor, Sister Margaret Farley, whose book “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics” uses theological arguments to advocate justice and fairness in human Catholic sexual relations by moving away from a “taboo morality.” The Vatican, as you might expect, has denounced it.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote: “The denunciation of Sister Farley’s book is based on the fact that she deals with the modern world as it is. She refuses to fall in line with a Vatican rigidly clinging to an inbred, illusory world where men rule with no backtalk from women, gays are deviants, the divorced can’t remarry, men and women can’t use contraception, masturbation is a grave disorder and celibacy is enshrined, even as a global pedophilia scandal rages.
The bus tour — visiting shelters, food pantries and community centers, as well as local congressional offices to highlight social justice issues — was organized by the Network, a Washington-based Catholic group criticized in a recent Vatican report that said some organizations led by nuns have focused too much on “economic injustice” while failing to promote the church’s teachings.
Not to mention that during the debate over the health care overhaul in 2010, American bishops came out in opposition to the health plan, but dozens of sisters, many of whom belong to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, signed a statement supporting it.
While Rome criticized the Network, officials have not ordered a full-scale overhaul — as has been ordered with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Three U.S. bishops have been given five years to reorganize that group. Fat chance.
To quote columnist Mark Engler, “They run hospitals, schools, and social programs. They are stalwart leaders in many spiritual communities. And they are contributing vital insights to the Christian theological discussion. If nuns went on strike, many of the institutions of the Catholic Church would grind to a standstill.”
Now that would really be something — a general strike by Catholic nuns — led, in the spirit of union rabble-rouser, Mother Jones, who organized the wives of striking coal miners, by a rabble-rousing Mother Superior.
Page 2 of 2 - What’s happening with the Catholic rank and file? A Pew Forum study found that slightly less than one third of Catholics have stopped practicing their faith. The study indicates they did so for three reasons:
• personal reasons: “the pastor who crowned himself king and looks down on all,” “the Church’s handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal,” “divorced and remarried Catholics are unwelcome at Mass”;
• political reasons: “eliminate the extreme conservative haranguing”; and
• doctrinal reasons: “don’t spend so much time on issues like homosexuality and birth control.” (A recent Gallup poll showed that 82 percent of U.S. Catholics say birth control is morally acceptable.)
And, despite the fact they no longer attend Mass, nearly 25% of the respondents still consider themselves of the Catholic faith, calling themselves “lapsed” Catholics.
Of course there are some out there that are, like me, “half-lapsed.” I still go to Mass to experience Christ and His message of love, compassion, forgiveness and redemption in the Eucharist — but I don’t fall in line when it comes to all church edicts. Which is to say, much the same as the nuns, I refuse to be forced into an “all or nothing” position, especially when it comes to my view of political leaders.
Years ago, when weighing a run for president, Catholic Mario Cuomo gave a speech at Notre Dame in which he explained how officials could remain good Catholics while going against church dictums in shaping public policy. “The American people need no course in philosophy or political science or church history to know that God should not be made into a celestial party chairman.”
To be sure, the nuns espouse many Catholic’s views on social justice in the spirit of Dorothy Day, who started the Catholic Worker Movement in the slums of New York, and Mother Teresa, who ministered to the poorest of the poor in Calcutta.
In the words of Sister Simone Campbell, the head of Network, and organizer of the Nuns On The Bus tour, “We work every day to live, as Jesus did, in relationship with people at the margins of our society. There’s enough to go around … if we would only share.”
J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Counseling Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or email@example.com