Nuns with Guns.jpgOkay, that’s a joke. Actually, it’s the other way around. (You knew that, right?) But friends in the religious community have suggested that turning the tables might not be a bad idea.

The reason for the asperity is set out in this recent New York Times story by Laurie Goodstein about the Vatican’s double-barreled review of the bona fides of American women’s orders sets out the issues and the complaints very well. The story has drawn more than 400 comments to date, and has pinged around the blogosphere.

Nuns are often the butt of too many bad jokes, but the nuns did more than most to build and sustain the church in the United States, and to promote justice and Vatican II’s vision of the ancient church in a modern world. And so investigating women religious is going to draw some sharp reactions.

The first investigation was by Cardinal Franc Rode, head of the Vatican Congregation for the Institutes of Religious Life, which deals with religious orders. As Goodstein writes, in a speech in Massachusetts last year, Cardinal Rodé offered barbed criticism of some American nuns “who have opted for ways that take them outside” the church.

In response Sister Sandra M. Schneiders, professor emerita of New Testament and spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, in California, says the orders should politely decline to copperate with the investigation.

“They think of us as an ecclesiastical work force…Whereas we are religious, we’re living the life of total dedication to Christ, and out of that flows a profound concern for the good of all humanity. So our vision of our lives, and their vision of us as a work force, are just not on the same planet.”

 Sister Janice Farnham, a part-time professor of church history at Boston College, added: “Why are the U.S. sisters being singled out, when women religious in other countries are struggling with many issues about the quality of their lives, in the Church and in their societies?”

The second doctrinal inquiry, of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which covers 95 percent of women’s orders, was ordered by the head of the CDF, Cardinal William Levada. According to the Times story, Levada said “an investigation was warranted because it appeared that the organization had done little since it was warned eight years ago that it had failed to ‘promote’ the church’s teachings on three issues: the male-only priesthood, homosexuality and the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the means to salvation.”

Not a few in the U.S. church welcome the investgation, like the folks at Catholic World News. Jeff Mirius, the head of Trinity Communications, its parent company, said they were “admittedly happy to report that the Vatican’s Apostolic Visitation of female religious communities in the United States may actually have some teeth in it.” But he added:

“Of course the ultimate question is whether Rome will enforce its conclusions and/or dissolve the orders which resist.”

Sounds like the Darth Vader approach.

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