Patriarchy: they’re having nun of it

The Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR) has gathered to respond to the Vatican’s criticism, writes Nathan McDonnell.

These sisters are doing it for themselves.
These sisters are doing it for themselves.

In April this year, the Vatican denounced an organisation representing 80 per cent of American nuns for ‘radical feminism’ and not focusing enough on the destruction of gay marriage, abortion, and contraception. Rome delegated Seattle Archbishop Sartain to overhaul the Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR), which came as a shock to the nuns who saw their social justice work as embodying the spirit of Christian love for the modern world.

So last week, buoyed by a groundswell of support from broader society, the LCWR gathered to discuss their response to the Vatican’s criticism, agreeing to engage in dialogue but not to compromise their core work and deciding the right response “entails resisting rather than colluding with abusive power”.

Firstly, what the heck does a club of patriarchal leaders from Rome know about the needs of nuns who devote their every day to the lives of the poor, the sick, the abused, and the lonely in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, counselling clinics, and homeless shelters?

Secondly, given the devotion of their lives to serving society, why shouldn’t nuns be radical feminists? Jesus Christ’s gospel of love for the oppressed was a radical one. So why shouldn’t these nuns be supporting those on the margins and resisting the extraordinary social, political, and economic injustices of our time?

The group have been very outspoken on Obama’s initiative of universal healthcare and are currently on a nine-state bus tour protesting Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s budget of cuts because of its disproportionate impact on government programs for the poor.

A few months ago, an 82-year-old nun, along with two peace activists, caused the biggest security breach in the history of the US’ atomic complex, pouring human blood and spraying “Woe to the Empire of blood” in the inner sanctum of a Tennessee nuclear weapons facility. It is these nuns, not the crustaceans of Vatican City, who are enacting the Church’s authentic mission of justice.

Thirdly, why is the Church so dominated by patriarchal crusaders? It seems the authoritarian Church patriarchy are the neo-Pharisees, imposing their power on the people through legalism, guilt, and fear, a type of religion that Jesus himself overturned. And why is the Church so insistent on choosing gay marriage, abortion, and contraception as its frontline political struggles? Why is the traditional nuclear family sacrosanct? Is this a defensive flash of sectarian fundamentalism against progressive changes in a society that the Church no longer controls? Is this really ‘pro-life’?

I am pro-life. But I don’t see telling gays their love is unacceptable or denouncing women who make the difficult choice to abort as ‘pro-life’ things to do.

What about the industrialisation of murder, the incineration of whole villages in Afghanistan by near supernatural military technology, demonic legions in the service of Empire? Or what about those poor souls who, fleeing to Australia as refugees like Jesus’ family fled Herod’s genocide, are sent to concentration camps on Nauru and Manus Island? What about our systematic pillaging of the Earth, from open cut mining in the Pilbara to the deforestation of the Amazon? These should be the focus of any sensible ‘pro-life’ faith.