Dreher with some must-reading over at TAC.
In other words, the nuns — not laypeople, but consecrated Catholic women — are missing in action on the battlefield. And, they are acting in an insubordinate way toward the bishops on the teaching of faith and morals.
Read the Vatican document yourself. That’s what this is about, not some dinky-butt, Sally-Quinnious, theologically illiterate political nonsense. You cannot claim that what the LCWR was up to was not theologically radical. Do people really expect that the Vatican can turn a blind eye when nuns have grown so theologically corrupt that many of them no longer seem to believe, much less preach or teach, the Catholic faith? I’m not Catholic, but boy, is this investigation and finding overdue. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it’s far too late to do much about it. Those liberal congregations, as the research John Allen reported indicates, are on their very last legs.
I don’t mean to pick on Sally Quinn exclusively here, but her commentary was a prime example of the mainstream reporting and commentary on the controversy that I’ve read. I’ve learned by now not to take the MSM seriously when it reports on religion, and I figured there was a lot more to this story than what I was reading. But it was only when I read the actual Vatican document last night that I realized how massively skewed the US media take was. You don’t have to agree with the Vatican necessarily, but you cannot be intellectually honest and maintain that this was a sexist, politically motivated witch hunt. There are extremely serious issues of doctrine and conduct at issue here. As Thomas McDonald points out, the New Age bizarro the LCWR has lined up to be its keynote speaker teaches off-the-charts crazy stuff, from a Catholic point of view — and yet the entire LCWR summer conference is centered on these themes.
Again, to assert that the Vatican has no reason to care about this, and no right — indeed, no responsibility — to speak out is to be intellectually dishonest. Roman Catholicism is not whatever anybody who identifies as a Roman Catholic says it is.
Why so harsh, you ask? Well, because one of the nuns in question said things like this:
As one sister described it, “I was rooted in the story of Jesus, and it remains at my core, but I’ve also moved beyond Jesus.” The Jesus narrative is not the only or the most important narrative for these women. They still hold up and reverence the values of the Gospel, but they also recognize that these same values are not solely the property of Christianity. Buddhism, Native American spirituality, Judaism, Islam and others hold similar tenets for right behavior within the community, right relationship with the earth and right relationship with the Divine. With these insights come a shattering or freeing realization—depending on where you stand. Jesus is not the only son of God.
Writing in defense of the nuns at Religion Dispatches, Mary Hunt only proved the Vatican’s point:
The crux of the matter, as it were, is that most of the nuns, like many Catholics, have matured beyond the Vatican’s imaginings. The notion that postmodern Catholics assent to “the doctrine of the faith that has been revealed by God in Jesus Christ, presented in written form in the divinely inspired Scriptures, and handed on in the Apostolic Tradition under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium,” (or, simply, the fathers know best) is simply ludicrous. As one observer asked me, “What Bible do they read?”
Obviously from a PR perspective this isn’t the Vatican’s finest stroke. On the employer-contraceptive issue they were pretty aggressive, but they’ve been fairly sedate (comparatively) in response to the new findings on the Bush administration’s use of torture. And we haven’t even gotten into their non-handling of the sex abuse scandal, which continues to boggle the mind. I get it when people like Sullivan raise that issue.
That said, the sort of things those nuns are reported to have said are heresy by any traditionally orthodox perspective. And therefore they strike at the vitals of Catholic religion in a uniquely dangerous way. I think one of the issues at stake here is that for many people religions exist to help people connect to something bigger than themselves and to serve the public good, period. The concept of a religion holding to distinct beliefs that mark it out from another group, therefore, seems foreign to many observers.
What I would say in response to that is that we do not struggle to understand functional “orthodoxy tests” when we see them in the political sphere. If Bobby Jindal started arguing for a single payer healthcare system, the GOP would chase him out – and they’d be right to do so. Likewise, when one of my senators, Ben Nelson, has sided more with the GOP than with his own Democratic party, the Democrats have put some pressure on him. That’s OK. Obviously these sorts of tests can be taken too far, demanding absolute conformity to an excessively long list of essential beliefs only stifles thought, embitters those forced to conform against their will, and makes arrogant those enforcing the conformity. That said, the answer here is not to completely dismiss the notion of certain beliefs being necessary in order to belong to a group, which is the unspoken issue at hand in this controversy.
By any Catholic statement of faith, the nuns in question are heretics. I’m sure they’re lovely people who have done a great deal of good in the world, but according to their church’s own teachings, they are not Catholics. And before someone asks me “who are you to define what’s Catholic,” I’ll answer: I’m nobody, but Rome itself has spoken on these issues. And within the polity of Catholicism, those nuns are not allowed to disagree – and that has nothing to do with their gender, but everything to do with their theology, which is patently not Catholic. You can’t be “post-Jesus” and still be Catholic anymore than you can be pro Stalinism and be a Republican.
UPDATE: Dreher follows this up with another explanation of the Vatican’s actions:
For the 4,678th time, “Why is religion writing in the mainstream media so bad?” If a political party, corporation, sports club, or any other entity had top management discerning that something was wrong in a particular division, that the workers had deviated from institutional values in significant ways, and that it was affecting the work of that institution, there would be consequences. Everybody gets that. The Catholic Church, however, is held to a different standard by these news media….
That’s the root of the problem: a complete failure on the part of these writers <i>and their editors</i> to take religion seriously. If the liberal writer E.J. Dionne were to write about this issue, I would take him seriously, because he takes religion seriously, and actually thinks about it, even though his conclusions are often not the ones I would draw. It’s really something, though, to see writers — and editors — at the Times level consistently demonstrate that they don’t know what they don’t know. In the nun controversy, you have consecrated members of Roman Catholic religious orders in many cases flat-out rejecting basic teachings of the Roman Catholic faith, and remaining obstinate in their views. What is the Vatican supposed to do? If this were, say, a large gay rights organization, and a small but significant minority were advocating the view that homosexuality was a moral evil and that reparative therapy was a good thing, neither Dowd nor Kristof would have the slightest trouble understanding why this would be a serious challenge for the leadership of the organization, which would be responsible for maintaining the organization’s fidelity to its principles and missions. If they made an argument for tolerating dissenters in the ranks — I know, I know, don’t laugh — they would at least account in their columns for the fact that this phenomenon represents a difficult challenge to the organization’s leadership.