No doubt some pom-pom Catholics are feeling good this week. One usually poetic soul has been reduced to the simple refrain “Heck yeah,” in response to the final verdict of the Vatican investigation of American women religious. Lyrical, that.
The LCWR are treating this like any other obstacle or catastrophe. They’ll take it to their leadership and discern. That’s one point of difference from the bishops–when the purple-piped boys get shoved, they usually call a lawyer to shove back. Blogosphere commentary is shooting up like the grass in my backyard on the so-called crackdown on LCWR. I’m inclined to read it not so much–I’m not sure that personally I’m inclined to deal that much (or well) with anger that it stirs up in me. And that’s from the sites with which I largely agree.
I think of Princess Leia’s slip-through-your-fingers comment to Darth Vader. Problem is, Vader was prepared to enact great damage. No doubt the bishops can too. But I suspect this will be a pyrrhic effort for them. And victory is by no means assured. Ewoks lurk.
Since the main players of this effort are getting a lot of scrutiny, I’m going to throw out some peripheral comments on a few side players. And maybe one or two of the big ones.
- I’m not sure what to make of Archbishop Sartain. I don’t know the guy. Is heading the enforcement division of this investigation a path to Chicago and a red hat? He was near there once. He could go back again. On the other hand, Archbishop Jerome Hanus took a lot of heat from progressives for a rather controversial Lectionary II back in the late 90′s. Talk was he was heading to Saint Louis. That sure never materialized. Peter Sartain is on his third
wife diocese now. That a rather O’Malleyian pilgrimage, it might be said. Or maybe Archbishop Sartain will get buried in the Pacific Northwest.
- What about the curial heads? Cardinal João Braz de Aviz heads the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, originally responsible for the public face of the investigation. His predecessor was shown the door. American Joseph Tobin, too, was making nicey-nice talk when he was tapped for the position of Secretary of the CICLSAL. These guys were nowhere to be found in the news stories of this week. Are they sidelined by fiat or by choice?
- I can’t see the laity swallowing this well at all. Some of us may have had the occasional knuckles rapped by a woman in a black habit. But the institution cannot expect to get much traction on this, except for a few hundred bloggers. And those few hundred are always angry about something. One of the punishment crew can get a nick, and the Temple Police will be all over him like piranhas at a hemophiliac pool party.
- The TP have had their hat handed to them on the investigation thus far. They poured a lot of money into it. But now it seems like victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat. I suspect that the good sisters aren’t going to take this with acquiesence. Though I trust it will be with good grace. The TP are power-hungry narcissists. They have played their darlings in the upper hierarchy like fiddles and perhaps they think they will gain some happy results now. Five minutes, and the smile will fade. Then it will be time for the next victim. Crusades like this appeal to the basest and crudest of human emotions, and such warfare is never satisfying.
- I predict some backlash from a wide swath of laity on this. A bishop is going to trial in the Fall, and people will deduce that if a yoga teacher is enough to get you a Vatican investigation, then shielding child abusers from the law should merit at least prison orange and a work detail on the interstate roadside. I realize the CDF is rightly concerned about theology. But most Catholics who care aren’t concerned about the yap about a post-Christian option. We do want to ensure the protection of the innocent. This is where Cardinal Levada and his posse are way, way off the moral track on this. That’s how the laity see it. And given the long list of bishops who have become mired in scandal since the Charter: George, Walsh, Rigali, Finn, Mahony, Lennon, McCormack, Egan, Grahmann, O’Brien, among others. The Catholic hierarchy is on probation where many lay people are concerned. They are the wrong, wrong, wrong people to be tackling the women religious. Even if the cause were just. And especially if the cause were just.
- The LCWR was founded at Rome’s request. What’s to stop it from just disbanding, but getting together to conference under a new umbrella, a new organization?
- People only have power over you to the extent you choose to give it to them.
I hope the good sisters continue to turn themselves over to Christ and discern the Lord’s will through their own ministries, collaboration, and community life. I’m inclined to support them 100%. A woman religious friend asked me to give the Religious Retirement collection a pitch in church one weekend about ten years ago. It was an easy task. I have a deep affection and respect for the women I serve with in ministry. I could tell stories. And while I’m happy I don’t need to do it, I would have no problem whatsoever if I had to get on my knees and beg for support for my sisters and colleagues. Considering what they give to the Church, it would be no humiliation at all. It would be a joy. So I’m going to take my love and affection for these fine women and reconsider my anger at their persecutors. I’m going to look at my personal upset from different sides, take it to prayer, and support my friends wherever and in whatever way I can.
Finally, I think this is going to be formative more than it will be punitive for women religious. I think that the hierarchy are about twenty feet from the brink of the falls, and that this is going to get very grisly and ugly for them. The damage to unity will be significant. Whether he realizes it yet or not, the pope is very close to being on the clock for this decision.