The Thinking 

Sisters of Leftist Mercy

June 14, 2012



The subject of feminism within the “women religious” organizations in the Catholic Church, or, for that matter, the U.S. Forest Service, or the U.S. military, has been discussed before, but please allow  me to add several notable events that might serve as a coda to earlier commentary about its impact on the Church.

The publication of Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics by Sister Margaret A. Farley of the Religious Order of the Sisters of Mercy (2006), has recently caused an understandable firestorm within the Church. In a rare response from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the theological watchdog of the Vatican, and personally approved by Pope Benedict XVI, the Congregation, formerly known as the Holy Office, claimed that the book, “…is not in conformity with the teaching of the Church, and “cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching…” For those unfamiliar with Church procedures, such criticism would normally trigger a serious effort to edit and or replace the objectionable parts included in the book, which in this case included modernist interpretations of divorce and remarriage and homosexual unions. Normally… but not this time. What followed in the wake of this criticism tells you a great deal about the feminist influence within the Church, as well as why Sister Farley was able to author such a clear cut repudiation of held Catholic doctrine.

The first response by the Sisters of Mercy was to circle the wagons. Both the previous and current presidents of the Sisters of Mercy came out to defend the purpose and substance of Sister Farley’s book, despite Vatican objections. Then, the usual male defenders, including two Jesuit theologians, plus a lay Catholic, who serves as Dean of the Yale Divinity School, were brought to add gender balance, followed by the leaders of seven Franciscan provinces, who called the Vatican’s actions, “excessive.”

But allies of the feminist women religious are also in the MSM: earlier this week, The Washington Post, no friend of the Church, interviewed Sister Anne Curtis, also of the Sisters of Mercy. Sister Anne Curtis, “with blond highlights,” whose office is decorated with “warm afghans and photos of her late parents…” but no sign of a crucifix, summarized her personal position as well as that of her religious order: “We are the church, we are the church. We are the church as much as bishops are, as much as our lay colleagues are, as much as people who raise their children in the tradition are…” And she may be on to something.

In earlier commentary, some contributors asked where is the Pope in all this. Sister Anne Curtis may have provided one answer: he and his bishops could be on another planet as far as she is concerned. What is so telling about her statement is its total lack of humility, but that absence does not surprise anyone who has followed the path of sisters religious in the West since Vatican II. It is not surprising, then, to hear the dissident Sisters, under the aegis of Network, which describes itself as “a progressive voice within the Catholic community,” are planning a bus tour to demonstrate that the Vatican criticism was “unsubstantiated. To my knowledge, this action is unprecedented in the history of the Catholic Church in America.

The problem here is the failure of Sisters of Mercy to recognize their primary responsibilities and duties as Sisters Religious. For more than forty years, little or not discipline of wayward priest and nuns has wrought havoc to the Church’s traditions, and that is not likely to change, for the other part of the problem is a weakened papacy to deal with these issues. But that is a tale for another time.

—- Comments —-

Laura writes:

See the previous discussion of Sister Margaret Farley’s book here. The book defends homosexuality, homosexual “marriage” and masturbation. Sister Farley’s Christian sexual ethics are not Christian or ethical.

The book was published in 2006. The Vatican just recently responded. The sisters have been allowed to wander in the desert of progressive politics for decades now, ever growing in the belief that the Church is a democratic institution. They inhabit a fantasy world in which subsidized health care is more important than eternal salvation.

John E. writes:

The Religious Sisters of Mercy in Alma, Michigan (not the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas discussed above) are a community of women religious, all of whom have either received or are in training to receive some kind of medical degree with the intent to use it in service to the Church. This religious community’s peaceful and understated response to the balking of the LCWR at the Vatican is refreshing. An excerpt from the statement, which isn’t very long in its entirety:

As religious women, our whole life is based in faith. Apart from faith, religious life has no meaning. The doctrinal assessment from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) regarding the LCWR is in the language of faith. The responses of opposition are being expressed using the language of politics. There is no basis for authentic dialogue between these two languages. The language of faith is rooted in Jesus Christ, His life and His mission, as well as the magisterial teaching of the Church. In addition, the language of faith does not contradict reason, but elevates it and secures its integrity. The language of politics arises from the social marketplace. The Sisters who use political language in their responses to the magisterial Church reflect the poverty of their education and formation in the faith.

The call to religious life, begun in Baptism, is lived through the practice of the evangelical counsels. A religious call is a gift from God, not a right. The charism of the religious community is given to enrich the Church, and its authenticity must be discerned by the hierarchy. A woman religious participates in the charism and cannot separate her work from the Church. As women religious physicians who uphold the teachings of the Church, we defend the dignity of each human person. This dignity is under attack, as evidenced by our government’s and social media’s use of the language of “women’s rights” to promote birth control, abortion and sterilization as benign health care services. This is a naïve position and demonstrates ignorance of the serious effects of these health care services on women’s physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being.

Perhaps some would interpret this as a cheap shot, but I find it unavoidable to contrast the unaffected radiance on the faces of the Religious Sisters of Mercy in the photograph attached to their statement online, with the hardness in the faces of Sr. Farley and other LCWR representatives. This is not a very sophisticated analytical tool to measure goodness and beauty, but I imagine which of the two types of sisters, based on the physical bearing shown in the photos, would my young children be more compelled to seek out if in need of comfort? Which of the two types of sisters might they, in fact, be more likely to avoid in fear?

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