Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

The Catholic Crackup: Network under threat/corrected and updated

Posted by Charles II on April 27, 2012


The Vatican has reprimanded the largest group of Catholic nuns [this isn’t quite correct; they are a group of nuns, laity, and non-Catholics the LCWR includes both nuns and sisters] in the United States, saying they have focused too heavily on issues of social justice, while failing to speak out enough on “issues of crucial importance,” such as abortion and same-sex marriage. In a report issued last week, church leaders accused the nuns of promoting “radical feminist” ideas and challenging key teachings on homosexuality and male-only priesthood. An archbishop and two bishops — all of them male — have been appointed to oversee the nuns. “To me, it’s quite puzzling that our work with the poor, which Jesus told us to do in the Gospels, would be the source of such criticism,” says Sister Simone Campbell, head of the Catholic social justice group NETWORK, which was harshly criticized in last week’s report.

We’re joined from Washington, D.C., by Sister Simone Campbell, head of the Catholic social justice group NETWORK, which was also heavily criticized in last week’s report.

The report highlights the point that the Church is unable to find enough priests (a factor in why they covered up the abuse scandal), yet they will not ordain women. Women, of course, would have been more likely to speak out in the face of the abuse scandal, so the scandal might have proved to be less damaging to the Church.

The group Network, which includes Catholic nuns but also laity and non-Catholics, is being chastised for doing too much of one good deed, namely serving the poor. This is a clear affront to a notion central to the Church, i.e. that conscience should rule us. If one believes that a good deed being performed by someone else is maybe not quite such a good deed as they think, one should be free to leave them to do it, while one pursues the good deeds that one thinks really are good deeds. If one is coerced to do good deeds, then they aren’t good deeds and the result cannot be good.

Campbell also points out something so blindingly obvious that the Catholic hierarchy is unable to see it: if one wants to reduce abortions (which essentially all people want), then one must not block people from using the most obvious means of accomplishing that: contraception.

My guess is that the Vatican’s pronouncement has a lot more to do with the election than with contraception. Network posts such as Ryan is Catholic, His Budget is Not, and Senator Rubio’s Not-so-just Alternative to the DREAM Act, not to mention Join Us As We Prepare For Election 2012! must drive the Vatican wild. One should note that Network, unlike ALEC, is properly registered as a lobbying group.


Update: Brother John made some important points in comments. First, the post is about Network, a lobbying group. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and Network were both criticized, and apparently for similar reasons. The Vatican has direct authority over LCWR, but not over Network. I have conflated the two (there seems to be overlap in membership between the two, so I am not certain exactly how different they are. Clearly they interact.). However, the post was about Network, not LCWR.

Brother John also pointed out that Catholic leadership has come out against the Ryan budget. I have questioned the sincerity of that, pointing out that last year, the Ryan budget received support from high levels. Quoting Jonathan Cohn of TNR from May 2011:

It seems sacrilegious to suggest the leader of the America’s Catholic Bishops has made a deal with the devil. But his latest political gesture makes me wonder if he is in negotiations.

Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York and president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a letter on Wednesday to House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.

The letter, if it didn’t explicitly endorse the Ryan budget, did not criticize the massive cuts to the poor, elderly, and ill that the Ryan budget would have mandated. So, the Bishops are very late to this party. I, for one, believe that they are playing politics. I suspect they are trying to take some of the odor off themselves for having gotten involved in the contraception wars.


15 Responses to “The Catholic Crackup: Network under threat/corrected and updated”

  1. MEC said

    they have focused too heavily on issues of social justice, while failing to speak out enough on “issues of crucial importance”

    Because social justice is not an issue of crucial importance. I mean, it’s not like the Bible tells us that Jesus said anything about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick… Oh, wait.

  2. jo6pac said

    Yep nothing more dangerous than the Nuns that go to Peace Rallies and have made it onto the No Fly list. The church is just jealous of the good work they do unlike the morally corrupt Vatican.

  3. LimaBN said

    Their goal is control of the faithful. If someone can inspire guilt over something as personal as your sex life, he’s got you cold. This is why contraception is forbidden. If you are denied both contraception and abortion, then they really do have control over you. If you cannot have sex – a basic aspect of human nature – without their approval, you have surrendered completely to their authority.

    • Charles II said

      There’s certainly an element of control in the edict against contraceptives. I believe there’s also another factor at work, namely a kind of hunger for membership in family among priests. Just as grandparents dote on their grandchildren as a way of re-experiencing the joys of parenthood without the trials, my impression is that celibate religious leaders crave the presence of children and it turns into an obsession about life.

      The creation of human life is a complicated matter. Eggs are fertilized and shed naturally all the time. To a lesser extent this happens naturally with implanted embryos. Implanted eggs split, with what was one individual becoming two. Sometimes what was two individuals merge and become one. If we want to say that ending the life of an embryo is killing a human being, then we accuse God of murder.

      I would call myself pro-life and pro-choice. I think we have gravely cheapened life, especially through war and deep poverty (especially in Africa and LatAm), but also through poor treatment of the elderly and disabled and tolerating a system whereby abortion is as common as it is.

      But while the cheapening of life is wrong, so is the cheapening of liberty. If women are deprived of having a say in when and how they will bear children, then they are enslaved. The result of forcing women to bear is, by definition, children who are not wanted.

      A genuinely compassionate Church leadership would understand these issues and work to minimize the need or desire for abortion.

  4. It’s a little more complicated. The group being reprimanded by the Vatican is the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), representing about 80% of the sisters and nuns in the US. (Sisters and nuns are not the same.) The reasons given are varied – and I think some of them are specious.

    LCWR is an official group of the sisters’ congregations and so has only women religious as members.

    They are a courageous group, devoted to living the faith – in the chapel and, most often, among the poor and needy.

    Network is a lobby group found by US sisters about 40 years ago. It’s members include lay Catholics as well as sisters and priests, as well as non-Catholics. It has been a thorn in the side of some (especially in terms of the Health Care bill). Many right wing Catholics are upset that Network doesn’t make opposition to abortion a central theme, though Network does not take a stand against the Catholic position in abortion. Network has been courageous in its social justice stands and has accomplished much.

    Network has been critical of the Ryan budget – as it should be. Finally, the US bishops have recently sent their own harsh critiques of the Ryan budget plan to Congress. It took them a while, but at last they did confront the pseudo-Catholic basis of Ryan’s budget plans.

    LCWR’s involvement in Network was criticized, perhaps because the Vatican thinks they don’t speak up enough about abortion and other like issues.

    The sisters have gotten a lot of support – including twitter and Facebook campaigns about “What Sisters Mean to Me.”

    It will be interesting to see what happens.

    • Charles II said

      Thanks for the clarification, Brother John. The DemocracyNow transcript says,

      We’re joined from Washington, D.C., by Sister Simone Campbell, head of the Catholic social justice group NETWORK, which was also heavily criticized in last week’s report.

      But I have conflated Network and LCRW, and will apply corrections.

      • Great.
        Also, I just noticed that “it’s” should be its. The problems of writing too fast – and not editing.
        Network was criticized but since the Vatican has no jurisdiction over them (as it does over the LCWR) Network is criticized but not placed under the restrictions that the Vatican has put on the LCWR.

      • Charles II said

        If you worry about misuse of the possessive form of its, then you are a more perfect grammarian than I. :-)

    • What astonished me is that the bishops actually attacked Paul Ryan — and that their attacks had the effect of making him back away from open avowal of Ayn Rand, though not of the budget his Rand-worship inspired. It will be interesting to see if the bishops pursue this or if they will be satisfied with his publicly forsaking the creed of Ayn Rand.

      • They were preceded, though, by scores of theologians throughout the country, as well as faculty from Georgetown who wrote before he spoke there this week.
        Michael Sean Williams has some interesting comments on Ryan on the National Catholic Reporter blog which notes that Ryan has added solidarity to his list of Catholic principles (instead of Ryan’s Ayn Randian inspired insistence on a truncated version of subsidiarity) as well as other critiques of Ryan .
        Many people are skeptical about Ryan’s and Santorum’s readings of Catholic Social Thought – and their adherence to narrow agendas which are, in my non-humble opinion, hardly Catholic.

      • Charles II said

        I have to say, Brother John, that the appearance of the Bishops on the Ryan budget is so late that it can only be viewed as political. This year’s Ryan budget is no worse than last year’s. To quote Jonathan Cohn from 2011:

        It seems sacrilegious to suggest the leader of the America’s Catholic Bishops has made a deal with the devil. But his latest political gesture makes me wonder if he is in negotiations.

        If the bishops were sincere, they would have been consistent. Instead, having become malodorous over meddling in the contraception debate, they seem to be using concern for the poor to cover over their faults. Well, Judas did the same thing. In Honduras, you see on a daily basis how much hypocrisy there is over the poor, with the very oligarchs that are grinding people into the dirt saying that they are doing it because they love the poor so very much.

    • As I understand it, the LCWR was also reprimanded for not concentrating enough on abortion and other so-called social issues and concentrating on social justice issues. You edited too much!

      • Charles II said

        I don’t think I have edited too much. The post was about Network, which was also criticized. Perhaps it should have been about LCWR, but it wasn’t.

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