I’m sure that most of you have heard by now about the Vatican’s “crackdown” on American nuns. Essentially, most American nuns and American nun organizations are spending “too much” time and energy on helping to combat poverty and too little time opposing same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
Nuns are not the female equivalents of Catholic priests. Nuns are the female equivalents of monks. They are in positions of service to the Church and their communities, where priests are in positions of service to the Church but also in positions of authority (along with service) when it comes to their parishioners. Nuns do not lead mass or take confession; they are recognized for the work that they do.
I can see where the Vatican is coming from on this, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but when your complaint is that someone is spending too much time caring for the poor, the sick, and addicts, you should at least realize that your criticism is going to sound a little weird and may not be taken well.
To my mind, nuns are the most popular Catholics. Probably not the severe, ruler-wielding nuns of a couple of generations ago (I do not care if it is on the hand; hitting children is detestable), but contemporary nuns are fairly popular, likable figures. Do you guys remember Sister Peg from Law & Order: SVU? She was a recurring character, a nun who gives out clean needles to addicts and tries to help prostitutes without interfering in their lives. Horrible things would happen to her sometimes because she put herself into dangerous situations in order to help others, but she kept doing her work because she believed in helping people. When watching SVU, you felt bad whenever bad things happened to her, no matter what your feelings towards the Catholic Church might be.
While that’s a fictional and somewhat dramatic portrayal of contemporary American nuns, I do not think that it is inaccurate as far as values and attitudes are concerned.
Now, I disagree with the Vatican. I believe that same-sex marriage should be legally recognized everywhere, and I believe that every woman should have the right to choose. But I do understand where they are coming from with these criticisms.
From their perspective, it’s like the Vatican is the parent and American nuns are the child who is doing lots of work and extra credit and making straight As in most of their classes but neglecting a few classes. I can see how they would want for nuns to work in this area (I guess that saying “the Church wants for nuns to focus more upon pushing social injustice” is a bit melodramatic).
But I think that trying to force this issue right now is a mistake on the part of the Vatican. I am sure that these organizations of nuns have many motivations for choosing their priorities as they have, but one motivation has to be that opposition to marriage equality continues to diminish, and I honestly don’t think that female reproductive rights are going away on a national level any time soon (despite a number of attempts in the past few years). And while nuns enjoy some popularity and familiar recognition now—which the Church, in many places, does not—part of that might be due to the fact that they are focusing upon doing good works that just about everyone can support. If nuns start taking hard stances on social issues, as the Vatican is insisting that they do, then they may lose some of that popularity and good public image, which could, in turn, make it harder for them to do the work that they really want to be doing.