Liberal women's religious orders are about to send their last person out the door with instructions to turn out the lights when they leave. Sister Joan, a Benedictine, and a pioneer of the destruction of women's religious life is no one to lecture Catholics on how to survive the current scandals we are experiencing.
She has been spewing her version of Catholicism, which is truly heretical, since I started reading the NCR in the seminary in the 1970's. Like Cardinal Kasper and others their age, they just keep giving and giving and giving!
But with that said, she makes some good points in a National Chismatic Reporter (NCR) article she penned.
I have to agree with Sister Joan on these points all of which continue a bit of truth:
In the midst of the angst that has accompanied the revelation of unparalleled amounts of sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church, the cry for reform gets louder by the day.
For some, it's a call for the elimination of celibacy as an unnatural and therefore impossible way of life. For others, it's about barring homosexuals from the priesthood, as if homosexuality was in essence a model of immorality rather than simply another state of nature — just like heterosexuality with its own immoral aberrations. For many, it's about a lack of psychosocial development in seminaries; for others, it's about the liberalization of the church since the Second Vatican Council, no matter that the bulk of assaults happened, apparently, before the end of the council.
But then she goes off the rails, or remains on her rails of deconstruction and destruction that has led religious life of liberal women to the brink of extinction with the following 1960's ideologies she is so well-known for. I have to wonder if there aren't any modern Catholic women, who were her age in the 1960's who could espouse something that would help the Church rather than destroy it:
Francis is painfully clear about one such root of it — the scourge of clericalism that creates a caste system in Catholic Christianity.
What Francis' statement fails to unmask, however, is the second issue that must be addressed: The fact is that clericalism touched more than the clergy. It was Catholic police, lawyers, staff, even parents who shielded pedophiles by refusing to make complaints, listen to children, or rip away the secrecy that shielded them. It says that the theology of the church itself must be retaught. It says that the rest of the church itself must grow up to be equal to the Christianization of the church itself.
A third dimension of the problem is certainly the theology of obedience that derives, of course, from our definition of church and the role of the clergy but affects the personal lives of Catholics in a particularly insidious way. It turns obedience in the church — a commitment to "listening to the Spirit" — into blind obedience, a kind of military code attached to a series of clerical commanding officers.
As a result, 100 percent of the decisions, the discernment and the moral perspectives of the laity are simply ignored. National conferences of bishops, dioceses and parish priests — the clerical 1 percent of the church — all stumble along laying down laws developed by few but heralded by the clergy alone.
Pope Paul VI toyed with the notion of clergy/lay consultation on the birth control question — certainly a question for the sacrament of marriage if ever I saw one. But then, at the end, under pressure from Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who would later himself become Pope John Paul II, Paul VI rejected the advice of some of the strongest Catholic lay couples on the globe and declared birth control legislation binding. And we know where that got them.
And finally, under it all, the fourth necessary element of reform lies in the theology of priesthood that insists that the ontology of the human being is changed by priestly ordination. Translation: a priest is not like other human beings. Ordination gives them a special mark, an eternal one. Then, out of that reasoning, they connect their special character, their special place in the church, their special authority, their special holiness.
To be honest with you, I have never met anybody who wasn't special in a special way. To reserve that for priesthood obviously distorts the character of the rest of the church. As it has.
From where I stand, it seems to me that what we wind up with is a sin against adult conscience and the infantilization of the laity. What we finally wind up with are questions of church, clericalism, obedience and human ontology unanswered and unaddressed.
What we wind up with is a church still living in the last century while pretending to have answers to the questions of this one. But that's just what they did in the 16th century when Martin Luther wanted to talk about celibacy, the sale of relics, and publishing the Bible in the vernacular so that everybody, not just the clergy, could read it.
The truth is that real reform depends on the teachings of the church. Not simply on a change of structures.
As the song says, "When will they ever learn?" (NO SISTER, THE QUESTION IS WHEN WILL YOU LEARN?)
[Joan Chittister is a Benedictine sister of Erie, Pennsylvania.]
My final comment: The way out the scandals of the Church caused by the heterodox theologies of the 1960's and 70's isn't more of the same. Retire Sister Joan to her monastery to remain silent. Let's hear from orthodox women, who are young, who can lead the way out of this mess. Sister Joan isn't the one to do it, nor Cardinal Kasper or anyone their ages or older.