Men On Top

NCRep reports on the “doctrinal assessment,” and the commentariat there predictably (and perhaps not groundlessly) muses with phrases like “witch hunt.”

Still, I have questions …

A leadership organization is, by definition, an administrative/consultative/participatory body. While you can’t separate charisms and expressions of faith from said body, it is formed for a purpose other than doctrinal. One might say doctrine has no direct bearing on the particular role of the LCWR.

It would be like a bishop (or even lay people) criticizing preaching in a diocese, then assessing the diocesan presbyteral council on homiletics. You might find some bad preachers in the group, sure. And you might convince them to put their noses to the homiletic grindstone. But you wouldn’t catch the lazier clergy who don’t step up for committee work and who keep to themselves and their poor preaching. Is it about deficient practices in the clergy, or is it about the leadership group of priests?

Take the bishops’ management scandal: why couldn’t someone assess the doctrine of those bishops who permitted sex abusers to run wild? No wonder they’ve delayed acting on their feelings toward women religious for eight years. Some few sisters may get a bad rap for pounding students’ knuckles or for wearing polyester, but there’s no way this “doctrinal assessment” would have flown back in ’02. It’s probably not going to go down well today.

It’s easy to deny this event is connected with the visitation, but someone might have assessed that men needed to be involved with the supervision of women religious. The matter seems simpler than this possible set-up for humiliation. Let each bishop decide which group or groups of women religious are involved in parishes, and let individual pastors hire and fire as they see fit (and already do).

It’s hard to see where the Vatican fits in this at all. They say CDF stands for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but it looks like that middle initial should be a “P” for politics.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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20 Responses to Men On Top

  1. Tony says:

    It’s easy to deny this event is connected with the visitation, but someone might have assessed that men needed to be involved with the supervision of women religious.

    I guess it’s a “men vs. women” thing insofar as it’s the job of the Vatican to insure that professed religious stick to Magesterial teaching (expect Catholic religious communities to be Catholic; what a concept).

    Like most liberals, you seem to be fine with centralized authority as long as liberals are running the show. When they’re not, you fall back on the Catholic equivalent of “states rights”.


    I don’t have a problem with the pantsuited sisters per-se, but the pantsuit is a symptom of deeper problems.

    Why do you never see reiki, “prayer labyrinths”, liturgical dancers, abortion proponents or female ordination advocates among the habited sisters?

  2. Todd says:

    Is it really the job of the Vatican to police religious orders?

    While I might seem, Tony, in your view, to favor centralized authority, I do not see it as proper to tradition as subsidiarity.

    As an aside, I prefer neither liberals nor conservatives to be running the show, as you say. Give me a good pastor any day.

    As for your questions at the end, I don’t know, yes, yes, no, and yes, in that order. If you’re speaking contemplative orders, that’s a whole separate sort of apostolate.

  3. Liam says:

    Well, there is a practical issue regarding religious orders.

    The original “order” in the Western church as such was that of St Benedict. And, before the Cluniac reforms at least, each abbey was a tub on its own bottom. The OSB organization and some of its progeny still have a bit of that flavor. In a such a context, the local ordinary would probably be best suited to issues of fidelity to teaching.

    But, since the advent of the mendicant orders in the high middle ages, more and more orders are themselves more centralized, reflecting a more global mission as orders. In such cases, piecemeal review by local ordinaries would (and probably has) been more maddening. Remember, a distant tyrant is almost always preferred to a local tyrant, subsidiary notwithstanding.

    Some more background that might offer insight about what’s motivating this particular round of investigation:

  4. Jimmy Mac says:

    Faults are thick where love is thin. English proverb.

  5. Kris says:

    I’m in a religious order and I agree that the main reason the CDF is flexing it’s muscle is simply because the church has a right and responsibility to make sure those operating under the auspices of the Catholic Church truthfully, and accurately represent the teaching of said church. If the ladies of LCWR want to make it into an man vs women sort of thing (and believe me, I’ve heard a lot of THAT bulls**t) then by all means let them. They can stick their heads in the sand and continue to live in 1970’s, still fighting the good fight as it were. The problem is they’ve missed the signs of the times, and are still waiting for the revolution. Well, there was one, and it was started by the laity. They decided they wanted their Catholicism back; and with that the unity and identity of their catholic faith. It still amazes me the way the people respond to sisters in their parishes, how much they value us. And, boy do they love seeing the veil!

  6. Jimmy Mac says:

    Ah, yes. they sure do love seeing the veil. And the tridentine vestments. And grandmas’s lace tablecloth made into a surplice. And the cute little beanie with the pompom on top. And the cappa magna being held up by young men. And the good sisters praying and obeying the men.

    Laissez les bons temps rouler!

    Now let’s talk about those who are younger than 70.

  7. Tony says:

    Thank you for your witness, sister. Jimmy likes the pantsuited sisters better. They’re more likely to support his disordered lifestyle choices.

  8. Kris says:

    Dear Jimmy,

    I am talking about the younger than 70 crowd. Look at the communities that are getting and keeping vocations. There are by and large “traditional” religious. I sorry, you seem to be one of the wounded, but adopting a “Catholic-Lite” approach hasn’t helped our faith. It has eroded it’s foundation and diluted it’s robust spirituality. I’m not talking about a return to the authoritarian clericalism of yore, just an appreciation of a legitimately structured corporal entity. Our Lord chose to reveal himself to us as a Father. One has to think there may be a good reason for that. With a little meditation and prayer you may realize the wisdom in that.

    Tony, thank you. My community actually is a mixture of the pantsuited and the veil. We are currently reviewing our dress because we have come to realize that we have lost a great deal of our corporate identity. People do respond more to the habited simply because we can be more easily identified. I once had a woman tell me that when she saw a habited sister she had the opportunity to tell he children about religious life. I wonder, would all this fuss be made about habits if we were discussing Buddhists monks in their saffron robes? I believe there is a double standard at work here. A witness to faith is a witness to faith. It matters not if it’s occidental or oriental. It’s just that to see someone within our own culture bearing witness challenges us, and many find that uncomfortable.

  9. Todd says:

    Thanks for a vigorous discussion, but let’s keep in mind we’re often talking about two different types of religious life.

    Some sisters live in stable, contemplative communities, and others serve in the world as founders have determined a need.

    One would hope that communities have already determined where they fall along the lines of cloister and mendicant apostolates, and that women joining have a clear sense of the possibilities of each before joining. Clearly, not all lay people have sorted out the differences and the possibilities.

  10. Jim McK says:

    If the religious habit were to be used to foster appreciation of Buddhist and Islamic women’s religious wear, I’d probably respect it more. If it is used to promote “Catholic identity”, I would oppose it as an example of “Catholic Lite”. The mission of the Church is to identify with all people(LG 13), so “catholic identity” seems oxymoronic in some ways.

    But then, I think “The Lord revealing himself as Father” is another example of “Catholic Lite” thinking. It seems to ignore that any time we see God as like something, we have to remember God is more greatly unlike that thing. Just my opinion, which may be greatly skewed by the ‘disorder’ of my life if it is not born of the faith I learned in the Church.

  11. Kris says:

    I don’t get where you’re coming from JMac. You seem to contradict yourself. Why would a Catholic sister wear her habit to foster respect for Buddhist or Islamic wear? We wear the habit to identify ourselves among our own faith, just as a Buddhist monk or Moslem woman.

    I do agree that God is greater than what our pitiful thinking can conjure up on its own. That is why the Holy Spirit steps in to reveal the mysteries to us in ways we can understand, hence the “Father” image. That is not “Catholic Lite”, it is the teaching of the church.

    Perhaps a better term for your version of your faith is “Cafeteria Catholicism”. You seem to pick and choose among the least challenging tenets of spirituality. What I’ve come to understand is that at precisely the point of discomfort is where the greatest growth can be found. You will never see the summit of any faith if you bail at the areas that challenge you.

  12. Jim McK says:

    Most importantly, I am not Jimmy Mac. I would say it is unfortunate we have such similar names, but I am always glad to see his input. (Maybe I should become James the Greater ;-> )

    I have seen women in burkas, hijabs or jibabs inspire fear in others, despite the signification of modesty. If more sisters were willing to dress in the same manner, these outfits would not be, and would never have been, so shocking. While Buddhist outfits may come from a different source, they too reflect a self denial that is not unlike the others. If the religious habit were just a uniform, a sign of belonging to the Catholic team, it has almost no place in our societies. (Is it the Sisters of Social service who call their outfit a uniform, rather than a habit?)

    In any event, your confusion of habit and uniform seems to me to fit your categories of “Catholic Lite” and “Cafeteria Catholicism”. I have no problem with that — I think each of us is constantly challenged by God to a greater acceptance of faith. We are where we are, and there is always room for a fuller understanding. If you have already achieved the fullness of faith, I hope you will contribute more here.

  13. Jimmy Mac says:

    Thanks, Tony. I know that I can always count on you to keep the Christian charity prominent in your comments.

    Jim McK: not to worry … I’m really Jim McC. Close, but no disordered lifestyle for you! Sorry for your loss.

  14. Jimmy Mac says:

    Kris: isn’t it a bit out or character for a habit-wearing sister to identify herself as “Kris?” Wouldn’t Sr. Kris be more in keeping with your well-ordered lifestyle?

  15. Tony says:

    Thanks, Tony. I know that I can always count on you to keep the Christian charity prominent in your comments.

    You’re welcome, Jimmy. Now if you take that Christian charity to heart and reform your life, my prayers for you will have been answered.

  16. Jimmy Mac says:


    Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. Gabriel Marcel.

    I’m very happy to live my mystery and ask that you don’t insult me by praying for me to live my life as you think I should. I’ll refrain from doing the same for you.

  17. Tony says:


    It’s as God thinks you should.

  18. Patti says:

    “It’s as God thinks you should.”


  19. Jimmy Mac says:

    Tony has taken over from Shirley McLaine as Channeler-in-Chief.

  20. Tony says:

    Don’t have to “channel” God, Jimmy. His word is pretty clear:

    4″Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,'[a] 5and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'[b]? 6So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

    Matthew 19:4-6

    He didn’t say a man leaves his mother and father and be united to his “partner”. Besides, there’s no way for them to naturally “unite”, let alone procreate.

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