The Catholic Right’s meme on angry religious sisters resisting the Vatican inquiry is an honest headscratcher for me. I read Sister X’s Commonweal piece in its entirety today, and I have to say that while I read frustration, wonderment, and suspicion into the woman’s essay, I don’t see anger. Not at the forefront, anyway. The anger I see in print is in the comboxes of the blogosphere, and it comes through in typically adolescent ways: name-calling, a certain willful reading into others’ positions, and a lack of curiosity with alternate viewpoints.
One thing I also found in Sister X’s piece was a certain poignancy:
Since Rome wants to know about the quality of my life as a religious sister, let me tell you about a common form of liturgical life in my community. At our cemetery we recently observed the gravesite rite for a deceased sister. No priest was there. One sister led the prayer, and another sprinkled holy water, while the rest of us made the responses.
Earlier that day we had been lucky to find a kindly but frail eighty-plus priest to say the funeral Mass at the motherhouse. Priests’ numbers have dropped, even in a metropolitan area like ours, and it’s all “retired” priests can do to manage multiple Masses and pastoral services at some local parish. Consequently, women religious aren’t at all assured of having daily Eucharist—the practice that grounded their spirituality for most of their lives as religious and one that is fundamental to their congregational constitutions. (Cardinal Rodé and his consultors would do well to ponder the relationship between Vatican policy and the “quality of life” of women religious: the refusal to ordain women has created a shortage of priests, and the quality of nuns’ spiritual and sacramental life has suffered accordingly.)
Fortunately, despite the crisis in priesthood, there were men present to serve us in conducting our sister’s last rituals on earth. I’m referring to the unionized cemetery crew. … Balancing on their grass-stained, thick-soled sneakers, the four men carefully coordinated the sets of tightly woven, three-inch-wide straps around the coffin. Two quickly pulled away the steel beams holding the coffin above the open grave. The coffin’s weight shifted to the straps, and letting out the strap length evenly, fist over wrist, they skillfully lowered the coffin till it touched bottom.
Regarding anger, my response is often “So what?” I think there’s some projection from the Right on to some of the religious sisters speaking out. I’m sure there’s anger at them for being articulate in ways the hierarchy has been far from forthcoming (on this and many other issues). There’s also the how-dare-they attitude. Which, I’m thinking, is just an instance of getting over it. I get frustrated with lots of things: the economy, my credit card masters/mortgage holders/banks. People handling billions of dollars are doing a pretty shoddy job of it, but I sure don’t let it color my day.
Getting back to the funeral, I wonder how many bishops preside at the funerals of women religious. We know they line up for politicians. I’m especially curious as to how many funerals at which curial cardinals like Franc Rode and William Levada preside. Daily Eucharist, or the provision for it, might also be nice. Frankly, given stories of faith like this, I can see why the Vatican is so frightened of the discussion of who presides at the Eucharist. At the very least, one might consider less the selling of Vatican treasures and instead set the clergy loose from adventures in Rome to work where they are needed.
So anger? It’s one of any number of human emotions at play. I read anger in South Africans’ reaction to the new RomanMissal: “I hate you hierarchy.” That’s anger. But make no mistake: the anger is definitely there too among the visitation apologists and in the hierarchy. My remedy: deep breathing, bag if needed.
As for the investigation, what’s there to say? It’s just another manifestation of an institution that misses opportunities, focuses on minutiae at the expense of the big picture, stumbles over itself, and just plain is having a horrific year. I suppose there’s always 2010, but liturgy is on the horizon for us English-speakers. Look out.