Prelates and Cats

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Disclaimer: this is not about the pope and his pets.

NCR’s Tom Fox groups the revered Cardinal Bernardin with the once and present clerical culture now on headhunts against homosexuals and women religious. Maybe he’s got a point about American women religious not being sufficiently “orthodox.”

Considering one of the investigations of U.S. women religious sponsored by the Vatican, against the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, one of the areas of stated Vatican concern is the women’s teachings on “homosexuality.” It appears the women have not been judgmental enough, have not taught openly that, according to the bishops, homosexuality is a “intrinsically disordered” state.

A few of my readers have dissented from my premise that clergy sex abuse and episcopal cover-ups tie closely together if you consider tham as two aspects of an addictive system. My sense is that addiction to power is the root here. Sexual dominance is one way to assert power–it happens in the animal kingdom (heck, my neutered alpha-male cat (imaged upper left: he’s a sweetie, but not without issues) has made a practice of jumping on the other household cats, a male and female, for over ten years). Roman Catholic clergy have power issues up and down the line. So it’s not a surprise to me that both addiction and clerical brotherhood would allow a cardinal to say this to a sexual criminal:

May I take this opportunity to thank you for your fine work. As you look forward to this important transition in your priesthood, please know that you have my support and prayers.

Power addicts may find their problem surfacing in sex, but it may also be in other areas: money, anger and other emotions, or even spiritual counsel. I’m sure that some young men enter into seminary with certain addictions already in place: substances, food, and sex, certainly. My sense is that social factors within the seminary and diocesan priest cultures work to reinforce, or at best, hide the limitations brought into the community.

I have no doubt that if a bishop were to walk in on a priest having sex with a minor, he would almost always do the right thing. Hearing conflicting reports, however, and being the likely target of the grooming process … I can imagine how a bishop would have doubts stirred by the addict, and concede a large benefit to the offender.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that some women religious are ignoring the Vatican investigation. I wouldn’t be inclined to cooperate, and I’d probably go public with my opposition, if it were me. Given the nature of scandal, and how the laity at large perceive it, suppose we Americans were polled–all of us; I don’t mind including the bishops and clergy. Suppose we were asked which group needs investigation for the good of the Church. Do you suppose it would be bishops or sisters?

I’ve been looking over the instrumentum laboris issued for the investigation. I’m not usually in the practice of rewriting stuff to spoof others, but I confess I was tempted to rewrite this document’s questions for bishops and offer it for your input. There are a lot of questions Catholic would like to ask bishops. Some answers would be very interesting, don’t you think?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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8 Responses to Prelates and Cats

  1. Gavin says:

    WHY is it such a horrid thing to progressives to hold religious accountable to their professions? I really don’t get this. Let’s say I’m working for a Democratic party local HQ. We spend a lot of time writing editorials criticizing the actions of the Democratic party on both the actions and platform of the party. We regularly join in pro-life protests, tea parties, and protesting health care, all while self-identifying as “The X City Democratic Party”. We walk around in clothes which frequently feature elephants, and many people have an idea that the local Democrats have a stronger interest in seeing Republicans elected than Democrats. Is it wrong for the state/national DNC to investigate us?

    That many orders of nuns are perfidious or heterodox is no surprise to anyone here. It’s an open secret. So why should it be offensive that the Vatican wants to look into that matter?

    Suppose we were asked which group needs investigation for the good of the Church. Do you suppose it would be bishops or sisters?
    I’m no friend of the bishops, believe me. From their shameful behavior which caused the abuse scandal to their borderline-simony treatment of ICEL and publishing bodies, and their faux-moral politicizing, they’re no heroes of mine. BUT in what way does their corruption make any less necessary the investigation of women religious? The “but someone else did something bad too!” argument is simply unworthy of the high caliber of commentary which is typical here.

  2. Neil says:

    Dear Gavin,

    I don’t want to disagree with everything that you’ve written. But I do want to quarrel with your comparison of the church to a political party.

    A political party exists to influence politics – to get people elected, to get bills passed, to shape the language that we speak when we discuss health care or the economy. An unsuccessful political party has no reason to exist. Thus, it makes sense to imagine that a political party would exercise strict party discipline (and oppose competitors) in the name of effectiveness – at least, until such acts can clearly be shown to hurt the party’s present or likely future success.

    The church isn’t bound to this idea of success. The church dispossesses itself in response to God’s call, which always involves emptying oneself like Christ – taking the form of a servant, and embracing the cross. We can say that responding to God in discipleship involves a loss of control and perhaps the final loss of any measurable “success” in martyrdom.

    Thus, while a member of a political party might simply be expelled, the church can’t always be so quick and harsh. The church can’t simply ask, “Is this person good for the church? Will this person increase our influence and power?” The church has to ask more difficult questions, “Can we give and receive – however imperfectly and messily – the gift of Christ to and from this person? Can this person, however difficult, help us hear God’s call?”

    Thanks for your comments. I enjoy reading them.


  3. Alphonse Bernard says:

    Every opinion in here is great and indeed welcome. I just thought of 2 more recommendations for the Vatican. I feel Roman Authorities ought to institute an investigation each of all Catholic laywomman-men and everyone in the hiearachy. Thus everyone’s dogma/moral (belief/behavior) could be equitably tested.
    How come religious nuns cause more harm as compared to men like myself who profess and practise faith?
    Or perhaps, is there an avowed “casteism” in spirituality, an additional and awkward layer of hierarchy? Al Bernard

  4. Deacon Eric says:

    Neil’s note on the comparison of political parties and the Church is right on. Membership in the Church is by baptism, a supernatural act, which is vastly different from merely joining a group whose stated policies are in line with one’s own. In the Church, we are called to remember an important principle: “In necessary things, unity; in questionable things, liberty; in all things, charity.”

    That being said, the role of the Vatican in any canonical action, such as the visitation, is to abide by canonical structure. Canonically, women religious do not have a teaching role in the Church, and the Vatican is adamant about that role being reserved to men. However, the curia wants to have its cake and eat it too, questioning how women religious teach about homosexuality — or even perhaps their lack of teaching about it. In “A Man for All Seasons,” Thomas More famously tried to argue that legally silence indicates consent, but the curia today will have none of that.

    The irony here is that the Church was the first community in human history to grant women the right to vote and create their own forms of life in religious communities. Today, as the world begins to embrace that principle we pioneered, the curia seeks to deny women religious that ancient right.

    No crosiers or miters for women today, as was common in the past for abbesses. Now it’s a papl inquiry into what they’re wearing and whether they issued a condemnation of gays and lesbians in the past six months.

  5. Gavin says:

    Thank you all for the interesting responses. Neil made some interesting distinctions on where my analogy falls apart, but I still think it may be applicable to my point. Party organizers and volunteers don’t have the “authority” to “teach”, in this case establish policy, but their actions are still carry a reflection upon the party that voters’ actions do not. They carry out the “work” of the party by spreading the message and doing those acts that the party needs done (setting up rallys and such). Religious have the duty to carry out the work of the Church through prayer, acts, service, and evangelism. Now, I’m in no way a “burn the dissenters” person, and find such attitudes juvenile and backwards. But what use is claiming to do the work of the Church when one is agitating against the Church’s mission? Analogy aside, this is the core of my confusion with “liberal” (for lack of a better word) orders.

    Al: “How come religious nuns cause more harm as compared to men like myself who profess and practise faith?”
    Because religious exist as an example to us in lifestyle, faith, and deed. Dcn. Eric speaks of the lack of a religious teaching role, but I propose that he is wrong: all Christians have a teaching role for eachother, and that of religious is quite strong. Would anyone read the Desert Fathers today if not for their holy way of life?

    And as for homosexuality: I searched the Instrumentum and saw nothing about sex. So I’m unsure what the beef is with that. In fact, I’ve never heard of any religious offering immoral teaching on sexuality, but if they are, then yes that should be an area where their actions are investigated.

    In my view, this is simple: American nuns of late have a reputation for lax lifestyle, agitating against Catholic teaching, liturgical abuse, and power grabbing. If that reputation exists of those who should be an example of asceticism, holiness, and orthodoxy, then it should be investigated whether that reputation is deserved or not. I really don’t get what’s so controversial about this, other than those who think religious should be able to do as they please. If they don’t want to practice those virtues, lay life has less accountability.

  6. Todd says:

    “American nuns of late have a reputation for lax lifestyle, agitating against Catholic teaching, liturgical abuse, and power grabbing.”

    Individual religious sisters, perhaps. But again, if you polled Catholics across the board, and not just in the internet echo chambers, which group of believers would they say need a visitation?

    The visitation is controversial because it appears to be too lazy to investigate particular offenders. It would be similar to the outrage I see and read when Catholic priests are singled out for suspicion of abuse, and other clergy, or teachers, coaches, and other lay people seemingly ignored.

  7. Jim McK says:

    Recently US seminaries were “visited”. The conclusions from that visitation could probably have been written without the visiting, and maybe were. That disappointing event set the tone for this visitation.

    I think the sisters have an opportunity now to do what they have often desired. They can express their faith in the context of their lived commitment to Jesus.

    It could be a time for the Vatican to listen, not simply to pass judgment. Few think it will turn out that way.

  8. Gavin says:

    “Individual religious sisters, perhaps”

    Well, yes, that’s whom the orders are made up of. Although one has to wonder about orders that allow that kind of stuff. I hesitate to speak of individuals, but since you say individuals: were I a mother superior (unfortunately the sexist Church won’t let me be one), I would probably order Sr. Joan Chitester to refrain from publishing without my permission. The fact that she’s allowed to say the things she does by her order indicates something wrong with the order. There is a motherhouse not far from me, whose liturgies are known for their plenteous abuses. Should we just say “tsk tsk, that’s just some nuns preaching when they shouldn’t. Let them be.”? Or is this indicating there may be problems with the order itself?

    “if you polled Catholics across the board… which group of believers would they say need a visitation?”
    I fail to see why this is relevant at all. See above: one bad act, even a worse one, doesn’t excuse another. And as far as I have heard, Benedict doesn’t have a reputation as being soft on molester enablers.

    “It could be a time for the Vatican to listen, not simply to pass judgment.”
    I fail to see why they can’t do both.

    “They can express their faith in the context of their lived commitment to Jesus.”
    This is a good idea. I have a hard time believing Jesus or any of his followers would respond to questions, friendly or otherwise, about their beliefs with the kind of hostility some orders have displayed.

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