Bishops make ‘Nunsense’

The recent Vatican decree that put a bishop in charge of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) ought to … Continued

The recent Vatican decree that put a bishop in charge of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) ought to be viewed as a radical measure — because it is. Critics might allege that this is episcopal revenge for how these and other Catholic organizations undercut the effort of the bishops to prevent the passage of the Affordable Care Act. The official decree has a jumble of assertions alluding to heresy, including one that says the LCWR had been taken over by “radical feminists.” Whether or not such claims are true, we can be certain that the takeover is based on the totalitarian conception of episcopal power.

Persons of my generation may remember that when the Communists still ruled Poland, the political scholar, the Polish-born Zbigniew Brzezinski (“Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy,” 1956) noted the similarity in the claims to totalitarian power of both the Catholic Church hierarchy and the Communist Party. Under the inspiration of the saintly Blessed John XXIII, the council, however, set about the recasting of power within the church so as to reject the authoritarian claims derived from history when absolute monarchy held sway. It adopted collaboration and democracy as new models for church power. Permission was given for self-governance for the religious women (“sisters” are canonically different from “nuns”), and the LCWR was a result. Rather than be “under” the bishops and priests, sisters and nuns were now to be co-workers, each bringing a special and different gift, or charism, to ministry in Catholic America. The new structure did not emasculate the hierarchy; it only redefined how bishops and sisters came to decisions.

This spirit of the II Vatican Council has been in retreat over past decades, however, as bishops appointed by a Pope John Paul II began reasserting the top-down, no dissent model of imposed Catholic obedience to the Ordinary Magisterium. By substituting obedience to the Magisterium for obedience to papal infallibility, some hierarchs could claim religious women had to obey their every order to remain Catholic.

The two visions of church fought over the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 by Obama and Democrats. The bishops rejected the law because of provisions they held to be irreconcilable to Catholic teaching; religious women, on the other hand, disputed the bishops’ opinion, claimed Catholic freedom of conscience and embraced the act.

Shortly afterwards, Rome began a planned investigation of all congregations of American religious women. However, this was a self-study of reform, while the new decree comes from the U.S. bishops’ ally in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada. I consider it a coup delivered on April 18, 2012 to replace the women’s self-governance with submission to the orders of Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle. This is a clear step backward to pre-conciliar episcopal absolutism. If the bishops get their way, the party line of the USCCB will be echoed perfectly by a submissive LCRW that will never dare to deviate from the words they are ordered to repeat.

I would remind the bishops, however, that we Catholics in the pews love our sisters and turn to them more often than to the hierarchs. In our Catholic American nostalgia, the old black-and-white films like “The Bells of Saint Mary” show religious women to be our closest allies. We laugh as the old-fashioned “Nunsense” of pre-Vatican Catholic schools. But the point is we laugh; while bishops are greeted with far less affection.

There is virtue in holy obedience, certainly, and male leadership is ordained while female leadership is not. What bothers me is the symbolism of issuing this decree on the 100th anniversary – almost to the day – of the sinking of the Titanic. Perhaps unintentionally, we have the captains steering the church seemingly ignoring the huge problems of clerical corruption and are busy “rearranging the deck chairs” while “the band plays on.” The American church needs every hand on deck right now and sending nuns “to the brig” is nonsense.

Remember the “Honeymooners “rerun where Ralph (Jackie Gleason) says to Alice (Audrey Meadows): “I’m king and you’re nothing!”? Alice replied, “Then you’re king of nothing.” It’s happening again with bishops and nuns.

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  • DavidJ9

    Yes, Benedict and the reactionary band of bishops that he and John Paul have been imposing on the Roman Catholic Church have done all they can to undo the reforms of Vatican II. They will continue to do this until they are punished in the only way the congregants can punish them: withholding contributions.

    Bishops have spent too much time conspiring to protect priests and too little caring about the congregants. Using their power to oppress women shows how petty they have become. They are not worthy of respect today.

  • usapdx

    The problem with the RCC is not the religion but the administration. This pope instead of useing his time to bring correct change that is needed in the RCC, he wants to turn the clock back to the standard time of the DARK AGE. In due time as the RCs lose faith in their church and more child sexual abuse cover up crimes are brought out, this pope will resign for heath reasons but a new honest pope will come and bring correct changes by Vatican 3.. The RCC administration in the USA cannot take a right away from any American account of our supreme law, the Constitution and the RCC must comply with Constitution. The RCC control by the guilt complex of hell fire damnation just does not cut it with many born after 1960.

  • Catholicforlife559

    Mr Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo

    I am just glad you are not Catholic. Attack the church and its leaders all you want, this is just another pathetic example of what a Catholic person is not. You are confused and you have a sick sense of humor. Do the church and everyone in it a favor, do NOT claim to be a Catholic. “We Catholics in the pews” , please……………Join some other liberal church and spread your venom there. So there, you have your two minutes of fame. LOL

  • Elohist

    Catholic for life you haven’t gotten there yet. According to Lumen Gentium the nuns are “leaders of the Church” and the Church is much, much more than the bishops. So if you refuse to follow the infallible teaching of the church, how can you have the pretense of being Catholic? Spread your venom in some evangelical anti-catholic rant session and leave us Catholics to love the nuns who have given us so much.

  • ccnl1

    Way beyond “nunsense”:

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the “bowers”, kneelers” and “pew peasants” are converging these religions into some simple rules of life. No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of “worthless worship” aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues.

  • usapdx

    Elohist,…. Most USA RCs do not know all the ” INFALLIBLE ” teachings of the RCC but they do know the teaching on BIRTH CONTROL which they DO NOT AGREE with. Are they Catholics ? Define a catholic.

  • immigrant1

    Anthony Stevens-Aroyo you are full of it. You’re geat at contorting the truth. I will be praying for your salvation

  • Elohist

    What kind of sick comment is that? Stop trying to play God. As Jesus said, instead of complaining about the mote in someone else’s eye, remove the beam from your own.

    Pious prattle demonstrates shallow intelligence.

  • Elohist


    I think “Catholic” is a commitment from you to God. Sadly, some people like to make it into obedience to men (yes MEN).

  • usapdx

    Elohist, many good people world wide make a commitment to God and they are not catholic. Does the baby that is baptized make this commitment with total free will and or full consent for this life time agreement? Are all catholics the same when it comes to beliefs? How many catholics would rather been brought up as good protestants? There are many unhappy campers in the RCC that want real correct change by a new pope and then Vatican 3.

  • Elohist

    Ther are different types of commitments to God. Catholic is the oldest of the Christian commitments; it has 7 sacraments and an unbroken line of succession from the time of the apostles. Change is good. Iglesia semper reformandum est.

  • usapdx

    Elohist, you still have not defind a Catholic that covers all Catholics.

  • Catholicforlife559

    Elohist: with all due respect,and I mean with all due respect, you’re an idiot. Try reading Lumen Gentium first. Wow and you seriously think you’re Catholic? Not in a million years,sorry Elohist. You need to open up the Catechism and read the Bible once in a while.

  • miller_g

    The great flaw with Mr. Stevens-Arroyo’s analysis is that the appointment of the bishop is temporary in nature and very narrowly defined. That hardly qualifies as “totalitarian”.

    Additionally, in either rampant ignorance or willful misconstrual of the evidence, he implies the act was retaliation for LCWR support of the “Affordable Care Act”. This claim blatantly ignores that the investigation that led to the appointment of the bishop has been going on for years–long before the Act was even introduced–and those of us who are informed Catholics know it (I knew of it in 2006, while still in graduate school).

    Mr. Arroyo-Stevens, you are ostensibly paid to provide factually accurate reporting. Next time you might want to make an attempt at research.

  • Elohist

    Actually, Stevens Arroyo never said it was retaliation, he said others said it was.
    Once totalitarian, always totalitarian. I can bet you if the sisters don’t kowtow to the Archbishop (once he gets out of court for ordaining a known pedophile) the power will be extended. Don’t be nieve.

  • jimwalters1

    Some things for you to consider, Catholicfor life:

    First, Catholics do have a much greater affection for sisters and nuns than for for the clergy. I have spent somewhere in the ballpark of 30,000 hours interacting with sisters. One of my wife’s best friends is a sister. I have spent perhaps 1/3 as much time interacting with brothers, and many of those memories are not nearly as fond. Not counting mass and the sacraments, I have spent no more than 100 hours with priests. Not counting 30 seconds during my confirmation I have spend zero time with a bishop.

    Sisters are beloved teachers, priests are accaintances, and bishops are strangers. Bishops who bash the sisters with charges that – to be blunt – look trumped-up are not going to get an enthusiastic response from the laity. This can only hurt the bishop’s own standing among the people, and that can only hurt the Church.

    Second, I think the bishops have to relearn humility. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Bishops seem to consider themselves the “Princes of the Church” who cannot be questioned by anyone doesn’t hold a crosier. They need to remember that the laity are not their serfs. Rather than act as divine right monarchs issuing decrees,they would do well to have true conversations with the laity. They need to listen, consider, what they hear, and possibly even reconsider their old postions.

    The clergy exists for the benefit of the laity, rather than the other way around. We need them, they need us, and together we are partners in God’s work. Vatacin II took the laity beyond the days of “pray, pay and obey”, and I do not intend to go back to them.

  • miller_g

    DavidJ9, you know not what you are saying. John Paul II was one of the key luminaries that drove the reforms of Vatican II. Benedict (as Joseph Ratzinger) was also consulted by the bishops at that Council.

    If you care to study the history of the Church, you’ll learn that it has traditionally taken about 150 years before the Church has fully understood and instituted the truths revealed by the Holy Spirit in an ecumenical council. There is nothing sinful, negligent, or repressive about that. Consider that we’re talking about the single largest organization on the planet. Doing the translations (say, of the Vatican II texts) into just about every human language alone is a daunting task.

    In comparison, look at the pace of “reform” in other organizations. The US gov’t’s efforts to eradicate poverty since the 1960s haven’t made a statistical dent over 50 years of time. We’ve been trying to reform education in the country for about as long, with an abysmal record. And that’s just one country, and the most powerful one at that. Keep in mind that the Church must consider the impacts and needs of multiple nations worth of people–between 1.1 and 1.3 billion people, to be exact.

    I’d like to see any other organization tackle the logistical problems and do as well. Fact is, none even come close.

  • miller_g


    1) He did not say “others” claim it was retaliation, he said “critics” said it was retaliation. He is a critic, therefore, the inclusion fits quite well.

    2) There is a difference between an hierarchy and totalitarianism. Look it up. As C.S. Lewis said, we live in a universe composed of hierarchies. Hierarchies are natural, necessary, and God-ordained.

    3) You’re claiming the bishop knew the man was a pedophile when he ordained him?! That’s one of the most absurd things I’ve heard. The bishop would be defrocked if that were true. The man may be guilty or only accused (I don’t know the circumstances of the particular case)–would you care to give us citation on your claim?

    4) Don’t be naive, Elohist…the word is spelled “naive”.

  • eddie_the_k

    Episcopal power is not totalitarian, it’s divinely-ordained. For Jesus Christ did not hold elections for either Himself or the Apostles he hand-chose. And the bishops of the Church are the successors to those Apostles, whom we believe are selected through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. If you don’t like that, there are a number of protestant sects that hold annual elections – for their leadership as well as their moral theology!

  • eddie_the_k

    And do you not think, Mr. or Ms. Elohist, that your comment about the Archbishop ordaining a “known pedophile” qualifies as “complaining about the mote in someone else’s eye”???

  • eddie_the_k

    Yo, Elohist, wanna provide a cite from LG regarding your assertion of nuns as “leaders of the Church?” I’m not recalling that one. I’m not saying it’s not there, but save me some time, will ya, and let me know where I can find that. Thanks

  • eddie_the_k

    OK, DavidJ9, praytell: which “reforms of VaticanII” are the Pope and reactionary band of bishops attempting to undo?

    Or is that sort of ad hominem something that folks here let stand unchallenged?

  • Elohist

    Actually, the first replacement bishop was chosen by lots: after that, (e.g. St. Augustine) by election by the parishoners. Deus ex machina stuff aside, your response demonstrates a woeful appreciation of the glorious history of the Catholic Church.

  • Elohist

    1) You are a critic too therefore you are included in those who said that the bishops’ action was retaliation. My logic can be used to obfuscate just as much as yours.

    2) Jesus said that hierarchies are against God’s plan: that’s why he told his followers to take notice of the birds of the air and to suffer the little children to come to him. Hierarchies are the result of distortion of nature, unnecessary and not ordained by God. Read St. Paul on the gifts of the Body of Christ: we are different, we are equal.

    3) The Archbishop received an open letter, published in the Seattle newspaper from true Catholics faithful to Gospel values begging him not to ordain the seminarian caught in flagrante delicto.

    4) When you’re losing an argument, change the subject. It doesn’t really matter how the word is spelled, the description fits you to a T.

  • Elohist

    Pedophila and the cover-up of it are sinful and also criminal offenses. Motes and eyes can be your way of excusing what the pope calls “the filth of the church,” even if you condone it. We Catholics are taught not to tolerate such evil.

  • Elohist

    By the way Miller_g, this is the most current version found on the internet of the Archbishop’s ordination of a criminal:

    “Sartain’s credibility will continue to be dogged by his role in the ordination of a man for the Joliet, Ill., diocese who seven months later was arrested for child molestation and is now serving four years in prison for criminal sexual assault of a minor.”

  • tony55398

    The Church is far too wealthy it’s time that the Bishops begin to live more like the Christ they chose to follow, they love money far too much and it’s the laity’s right to withhold the funds that makes it possible for them to live like the kings they emulate. It’s true they are far from that poverty in which Christ walked, and are living more like the rich that Christ condemned.

  • used2bnun

    my screen name describes a parrt of me. i was a nun for 16 years. I finally liberated myself, but it was a tortuous process. I have learned to revel in my freedom and am a very happy Humanist!! I would say to my former sisters, be strong and stick to your guns!!. However, if you are getting nowhere fast and your life is wasting away, there is a world of need out here waiting for your helping hands and hearts!!!