Nuns bucked by papal bulls


Mary WardLast week the Vatican announced that the union of the United States Leadership Conference of Women Religious (USLCWR), which had been investigated, would be placed under the guidance and oversight of the Archbishop of Seattle. The Vatican found fault with its fidelity in promoting church teaching particularly on life issues.

The news called to mind a spat many years ago between Sydney Bishop Thomas Muldoon and a visiting religious sister who was lecturing in Australia. Muldoon, an attractively larger than life figure with a reputation for being a bull in a china shop, criticised her views. The Bulletin, reflecting the then courteous attitudes of Catholics to women religious, awarded the bishop the Congolese Medal for Bravery.

Tensions between enterprising women religious and church authorities go back a long way. In the early 17th century, when the only form of religious life open to women was of enclosure within a convent, Mary Ward (pictured) felt called to gather a group of educated women who taught young women, engaged in pastoral work, were international in scope, and were not under the direction of men.

She wanted to adopt the Jesuit rule. This was a step or two too far for the Jesuits or the Vatican. Her congregation was suppressed and she was jailed for a time.

The papal bull that suppressed the congregation was direct. It described the women as 'workers who rashly betake themselves to the field of the Lord, scatter what has been sown, root up what has been planted, introduce cockle and spread false weeds through it...'

'Free from the laws of enclosure they wander about at will, and under the guise of promoting the salvation of souls have been accustomed to attempt and employ themselves at many other works which are most unsuitable to their weak sex and character, to female modesty, and particularly to maidenly reserve — works which men of eminence in the science of sacred letters, of experience of affairs of innocence of life undertake with much difficulty.'

It concludes, 'we totally and completely suppress and extinguish them, subject them to perpetual abolition and remove them entirely from the Holy Church of God... And we wish and command all Christian faithful to consider them and think of them as suppressed, extinct, rooted out, destroyed and abolished'.

In those days they made contempt into an art form. Mary Ward's sisters continue today.

The intervention into the USLCWR is mercifully less spectacular and follows an investigation into the organisation in 2008 followed by a critical report last year.

The executive of the sisters were in Rome to meet the Congregation of the Faith to discuss the serious issues raised in this report, only to be told the appointment of the Archbishop had already been communicated to the American Bishops. They were assured the appointment would be kept under wraps until they could inform their member congregations. But it was immediately published on the Bishops Conference website.

All this seems lacking in due respect.

To an Australian reader it all sounds rather like the sackings at Toyota. There was the same summary action, broad-brush charges and humiliation built into the process. The doings at Toyota were received with predictable support from those who wish to enlarge the freedom of employers and predictable opposition from those who want to enlarge the rights of workers.

There will no doubt be the same instinctive response to the treatment of the Leadership Conference.

But if the church is to be judged by its commitment to reconciliation, it is hard to rejoice at this action. The Bishops may be able to establish an effective office for dealing with women religious, but it is hard to see how the religious themselves could see the revised institution as effectively representing them. Their communication will be increasingly through social networks and informal gatherings.

And their trust in the male leadership of the church will inevitably be weakened.

More broadly the Vatican action raises the same questions about respect and process as did the dismissal of Bishop Morris in Toowoomba. But its potential consequences are much larger because the women's religious orders in the United States are so involved in medical care and education.

If relationships between the Bishops and these institutions are marked by distrust the capacity of the Catholic Church plausibly to defend human dignity in the public sphere will be eroded. And the mistrust of the Catholic Church among Western women from a Catholic background will grow.

At first sight it seems that the china in the shop has been broken, and that to put it together again will be a great labour. 

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, women religious, Bishop Morris



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Existing comments

'papal bullies' would have been more apt a heading.

Helena | 24 April 2012  

The issue, as cardinal Levada states in both, a letter and the Official Congregational Report outllining the decision, is that those in Religious Orders of the Catholic Church need first recognise their obligations to Church in order to claim their rights as Churc h. It's a bit like the shortcomings of this, Fr Hamilton's article - facts need to be to be given as well as opinion, so readers can see the whole picture and not just 'be taken along for the ride.'

Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 24 April 2012  

Andrew has hit the target head on. The current Vatican action against the American Religious Women is a futile attempt to silence the ever-growing voice of Catholics in all states of life, cleric and lay, who object to the blind leadership we are suffering from these days. In these actions we do not have a picture of "holy Church" proclaimed in the new English translation. We don't even have the dialogue endorsed by civil men and women when there is difference. Being silenced does not create community. Shame on the Vatican and its henchmen.

Jeffrey Calligan | 24 April 2012  

Do the sisters agree with Church Social Teaching or do they teach something different, based on liberal constitutional thought? If their thinking on this very basic issue comes from somewhere other than The Church, they should ask themselves why they want to continue to speak as Catholics. Why not become a teacher for a secular organization instead?

Fred G. | 24 April 2012  

Thanks Andrew for pointing out the obvious. Will we ever get courtesy and justice outside of Europe from Europe and especially Rome?

Rob | 24 April 2012  

The sooner the Catholic church becomes an all-male organisation the better. Then the bishops can look out from the Vatican School for Slow Learners with arrogant male pride on their empty schools, empty hospitals and empty churches. They remain one of the best argument for atheism that I know. Thank you Andrew for the excellent article.

Claire | 24 April 2012  

And on Will's birthday. The archbishop of Seattle must feel so honored. Is there anyone on earth who can investigate the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith? Just wondering.

fitasafiddle | 24 April 2012  

Thank you for this comment. However, I fear you have let Bishop Muldoon off too lightly. His behaviour was scandalous. I have a copy of his letter condemning Mother Gorman, a respected nun and eminent psychologist. He wrote:"... this female deceiver who is so puffed up by her own arrogance and pride that she no longer has any room left for love of the Church. As St Paul would say:'Her end is perdition'." The evening of 18 December 1966 Anzac House opposite Hyde Park Sydney was packed for the protest meeting - I attended. Unexpectedly, Muldoon appeared and disgracefully, pathetically attempted to justify his comments. He was booed and called a hypocrite. The motion passed included: "We wish to express our regret to Mother Gormman that she was unjustly attacked... we supprt Mother Gorman in her quest to express a vital faith that can be communicated....Her quest accords with the spirit of the Council (Vatican II) when it says: Theological inquiry should seek a profound understanding of revealed truth without neglecting close contact with its own times..." What was achieved that night was significant though some of us wanted a stronger condemnation of the Bishop's behaviour. As far as I know only three priests publicly supported Mother Gorman. I have a letter Mother Gorman wrote expressing mystification and she was "not fearful of being convicted of error". Nothing changes.

John Nicholson | 24 April 2012  

Again the Vatican is using the iron fist without the velvet glove. Their target are women working selflessly with the poor,the marginalised and the outcast.Imagine the outcome if the Vatican had gone after child abusing clergy with the same rigour that it is now dealing out to these women

mary rajca | 24 April 2012  

The comparison between the dismissal of Bishop Morris and the present action taken by the Vatican on the US female religious have nothing in common. Nothing at all.

Tony | 24 April 2012  

This latest action by the Vatican is nothing more than attempt to detract attention from the sexual abuse scandals encompassing the Church. How sad that they choose this path when the women religious are nothing less than courageous, mission driven, shining beacons of faith - Mary Ward's great saying, "seek thruth do justice" is something the Vatican could learn from. Mary Ward would be so proud of all the women religious of today. Felicity Costigan, E.O. Mary Ward International Australia

Felicity Costigan | 24 April 2012  

The Catholic Church is a 'backwoods' organisation, run by 'iggerant' men for their own glorification, power, prestige and self-interest. I am surprised any woman even bothers with it anymore, it is clearly so outdated and out of touch with the reality people live outside of its high walls of protection. In fact, I see no real reason for anyone to remain within its tainted walls of repugnant behaviour. One thing is certain, if Jesus were here today, he'd be in the Vatican tipping over the tables of the liars, cheats, tax avoiders and charlatans, not washing the feet of this Pope and his bunch of dodgy Cardinals.

janice wallace | 24 April 2012  

Again, Andrew hits the nail on the head. The Catholic Church is probably" in its darkest miomenet in history" (said visting Priest Robert Barron of "Catholicism" fame). The darkness is represented by the steadily mounting expressions of distrust in teh institution. Distrust is different from mistrust. It is a matter of degree. Distrust is a pervasive feeling that comes form the multiple experiences of having one's trust broken. Members of the Catholic Church now distrust not only aspects of leaders, but also the processes and the outcomes associated with so much of the Church's business or internal machinations. Andrew's account of the saga of Mary Ward is illunminating, entertaining, and salutary! Sadly though, Catholics are voting with their feet . I heard someone say in frustration recently: "They (the leaders) don't listen to us anymore. They only listen to themselves." Long live the spirit of Mary Ward!

Garry | 24 April 2012  

Very difficult to repair broken china, I agree, Andrew. Never quite the same again! Leunig on male culture: He Was a Man/In Menswear/He shot a brightly coloured sportscoat/with his trusty bow/He harpooned/A large, fat couch/In the furniture department/He clubbed/a pop-up toaster/In the electrical section/With his bare hands/He fought a king-size quilt/In Bedding/He cast his net in Footwear/And caught/A magnificent pair of slippers/He was a hunter/He was a provider/He was a MAN.

Pam | 24 April 2012  

If the Vatican's actions are all about affirming "orthodoxy", then they might succeed in "purifying" the church of the many thousands of love-showing religious sisters, keeping only those lesser numbers willing to toe the line. In the process they will continue to lose many of the non-religious women and men whose aim is to follow Jesus, who taught us to love one another. If the aim to get their hands on the property of religious congregations, better to refill the coffers rapidly emptying as a result of sex-abuse cases, then I hope the good sisters are wily enough to prevent that happening. If their aim is to distract us from the sins of the Fathers, they will fail miserably.

Janet | 24 April 2012  

Thank you Andrew for putting the issue on the table. What a safety valve Eureka Street is for the emotional, intellectual and spiritual pressure that must build up in those catholics who see the Church as The People of God! They usually go to "church" on Sunday to worship their God in assembly. They are proud to be identified as members of a group of Christians (the local catholic Church)who have a separate religious identity in their local community. They rejoice in being part of the world wide community of believers - the Roman Catholic Church. At each level each is "church". At each level there are differences. For God's sake, let us recognise the wind blows where it will and not as directed by some autocratic weather bureau. To quote Sunny from Marigold Hotel: "In the end all will be well, and if it is not well, it is not the end."

Uncle Pat | 24 April 2012  

Andrew, brave and articulate! Your writing is foremost amongst the dwindling reasons I stay hanging in on the edge of the institutional church. Claire - spot on! And Fitasafiddle - great idea, I won't hold my breath though...

Helen H | 24 April 2012  

Reminds me of my great aunt, Saint Mary McKillop. Imagine trying to do something for the poor!!! The London Daily Mail headline is: "Nun-sense! Leading U.S. Catholic group chastised by Vatican for spending 'too much time fighting poverty and not enough fighting abortion'" I wrote a letter to all the Archbishops and Bishops in Sept, 2011. Here, is a small part of what I said: .... It seems to me that by making an extraordinarily simple shift, our view of God and our reality can shift, and all of a sudden Catholics can be all inclusive, loving and bring back all the souls who have left or been shut out of the church in recent years. All we have to do is look at everything being part of God. Everything. His creation – all of it. The Catechism says God is everywhere. That means God is in us. And logically, we must be in God – for we can be nowhere else, because God is everywhere. Which means we are part of God. We must be – there is no logical way to deny it. We are NOT separate from God. We are part of God. Quantum Physics, supported by many eminent Scientists, talk of a world where our seeing events actually changes them. That physical form changes. One such Professor is Dr. Bruce Lipton who teaches a new science called Epigenetics. He demonstrates how our perception of an event changes it. Thoughts create things – so just think good or better ones. We can banish other not so good thoughts to the other side of the Universe. Other people talk of The Field – which can be influenced by our thoughts. And we can stop violence by altering the Field, for example though prayer, and positive thought. I believe that God created us in His image to continue creating and evolving, and to enjoy the process. Once we know and feel that we are part of the One, then we know it is pointless to hurt each other because all we are doing is hurting ourselves, and the Big Self. Neale Donald Walsch explains these concepts beautifully in his series of books.

Clement Clarke | 24 April 2012  

Last night I had coffee with a 30 year old psychologist - bright, compassionate and committed to the most isolated and rejected people. Educated in Catholic schools, she said she would never have children baptised until it was possible to be done by a woman's hand, as she will not collude with her own oppression. She'll be waiting a long time, won't she? Surely this time the tide will turn and women will stand up and say "No More"?

Pauline | 24 April 2012  

It is no surprise that the church has reacted the way it has to the American Sisters. In times of crisis critical questions are asked. The waters of our times are pretty rough at the moment. I would hope that at these times the prophets of our time be heard (but when are prophets heard?). In rough times human nature and this includes institutions revert to the Darwinian ethic of survival of the fittest. But it does not have to be this way. Crisis can and has brought out the best in human nature. Our church or the Congregation of Faith does not have to behave this way.

Paul Donnelly | 24 April 2012  

I'm with Fr Mick and Fred. OK, it seems that the way the disciplining was handled didn't amount to due process. But that doesn't mean there was no cause for the disciplining. What were the sisters doing wrong? Don't most of you care about that?

Gavan | 24 April 2012  

The high handed disdainful manner that marked Archbishop Pell's recent ABC appearance is apparent here on a wider even more damaging scale in this treatment of the American women religious. Father Mick, these apostolic people see their responsibility to the Church as a whole, not just to its narrow teaching authority which seems unable or unwilling to recognise that it is out of touch with the sensus fidelium. It is obvious that this general mind of the faithful is speaking when it comes to contraception, reconciliation and the position of divorced people to mention just three issues. While Rome refuses to dialogue with this different outlook Catholicism will remain split as it is now. The child abuse scandal has shown our leadership for what it is. The future will never be the same and the quicker this is acknowledged by approprate action and a changed mindset the better. One of the manifestations of the present lay frustration is that those unfortunate enough to be selected as Bishops are immediately seen as tarred with the Roman brush; in other words- yes men.

grebo | 24 April 2012  

Considering Mary Ward's experience, Mary McKillop and many other founders of women's religious orders you just have to ask, what's new in the universe? Canonisation (saintly recognition by the Church) seems to only come if you have been excommunicated, and generally abused by the Church's representatives. Thank you for the reminder Andrew.

Anne | 24 April 2012  

Thanks Andrew. As Ez 34 writes, "Thus says the Lord. Ho Shepherds of Israel, who have been feeding yourselves! Should not the Shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed...and with force and harshness you have ruled them." Gods judgement is pretty clear. In the midst of the clerical abuse enquiries in Vic and USA, Ireland, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Poland with other countries still to come, this sadly sounds more like diversionary tactics than shepherding the flock.

Brian F Kennedy | 24 April 2012  

Go sisters! Give 'em hell!

Valery | 24 April 2012  

Honestly, do they realise who they've taken on?

Loreto girl | 24 April 2012  

Another decision by old men out of touch with the real world. When will the Church learn that leadership is more than the exercise of authority and demands for obedience? The Church should not only be respecting committed women of the Church, it should be ordaining them and moving them quickly to the highest levels of Church decision making. The inclusion of women in the leadership of organisations throughout the world has, quite predictably, improved decision making. God knows the Church needs gender balance to address its very real inadequacies in governance. The Church's many problems are aggravated by an exclusive men's club clinging to its power.

Peter Johnstone | 24 April 2012  

There's always the Anglicans, ladies. You even get to stand out the front there.

What a miserable, woman-hating view of god some people have. And it seems to be getting worse.

Penelope | 24 April 2012  

I bet Mary Ward, a devout, orthodox and obedient Catholic, would be puzzled at the comparison of her plight with that of the USLCWR.

HH | 24 April 2012  

Bob Brown for Pope!
The church is NOT the men who wear red hats and fancy robes, although they are part of it The Pope, bishops, priests are no more Catholic than its legions of "lay" men and women- "the faithful". They simply have different responsibilities. Unfortunately too many clerics seem to mistake leadership for power and may see intelligent, educated and articulate women as threatening that power. Bob Brown, in his appearance on Monday's Q & A, demonstrated true leadership with his intellect, humility, humour, empathy, understanding snd real leadership skills.
Bob for Pope, or at least Archbishop!

Adrian Costigan | 24 April 2012  

Furthermore (that's if my first comment isn't moderated) it seems that for the Vatican, the only acceptable female religious figure is a dead one. (OK as saints, not so acceptable expressing opinions.)

Penelope | 24 April 2012  

Gavan asks: 'What were the Sisters doing wrong?' It seems to me that they are doing what Religious are always meant to do - keep holding before the Church the 'dangerous memory of Jesus', which is a constant challenge to those in authority. The Vatican intervention says to me that the Sisters are very much on the right lines.

Peter Dowling | 24 April 2012  

Pauline, I'm with your friend. I just find it really hard to be deprived of access to the sacraments by the 'rules' of a group I respect as little as they respect me. However, there's some wriggle room. Baptism can be conferred by a baptized Christian, male or female, ordained or not. Perhaps your friend and her friends could baptize her daughter without benefit of clergy? Matrimony could be the same, too - it's the partners who administer the sacrament!

Joan Seymour | 24 April 2012  

Felicity Costigan suggests the LCWR issue is a vatican ploy to distract from abuse problem
Bit like suggesting Govt anti-drug campaign
is a distraction from murders, or anti smoking campaign
is a distraction from global warming.
Such conspiratorial reductionism could paralyse needed government social campaigns to a distraction from huge child sex abuse problem in families

Father John Michael George | 24 April 2012  

Thank you Fr.Andrew for your insightful comments. The treatment of Mary Ward was an insulting disgrace and a belittlement of women generally! not much has changed,but most of us of the "weaker sex", will not take it anymore. Bullying is alive and well in the Vatican, and the wider church.

Margaret M.Coffey | 25 April 2012  

The Church expects a great deal of the people consecrated publicly in the Catholic Church for it's service, upholding, proclaiming and defending the Dogmas of the Catholic Faith. Behaviourism from which, women in the USLCWR, have strayed. Thus seeming to me to be Protestants, not Catholic.

Myra | 25 April 2012  

Joan Seymour promotes DIY 'Clandestine marriages an issue dealt with way back and since the Council of Trent Clandestinity is a diriment impediment in the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church. It requires the presence of witnesses to the marriage vows, one of which must be a priest or a deacon, in order for the marriage to be valid. In 1907, Pope Piux X issued the decree Ne temere. This obliged canonical form (a priest and two witnesses) everywhere for all Catholics. The law has remained basically the same in the 1917 and 1983 Codes of Canon Law.

Father John Michael George | 25 April 2012  

I am saddened by this Jesuit publication's editorial decision to regularly depict the Vatican, as a 'bully'. Historically, the Jesuits have seen themselves as antagonists of Rome - and so perhaps it is not surprising that they paint anything coming out of Rome in a dark light - but I think it is simplistic to continue to divide our Church into the 'good guys' and 'bad guys' like some kind of old style Western movie... the Vatican/Rome/Pope always being the 'bad guys' of course. (oh, and the Jesuits.. of course: the 'good guys'!) Every employee and every organisation - usually - has periodical review. Having worked in the Catholic world for a number of years, I have had my work reviewed based on the criteria and duty statement by which I was employed. These nuns are having the same done to them. They profess to be "Catholic" nuns... they operate under that banner; they use the term "Catholic" as a reference point within the community. Those responsible for the Catholic Church have taken time to evaluate how well what they say and do, aligns with the teachings of the Catholic Church. I think it is completely reasonable to do so. There are those here - who become nearly hysterical at the concept of a Catholic group being challenged or corrected - who see any review as yet another dastardly plot by "the Vatican" to harshly rule over us. I'm very disapointed in Fr Hamilton writing such an emotive and unbalanced piece about this event. Though not at all surprised. This is a big news story for a lot of Catholics and I think deserves a far more investigative and balanced analysis.

Micah | 25 April 2012  

Thank you Padre Andrew for your timely monograph. Dear Sisters in the USA: be steadfast, be courageous! People like you would (I know) be ashamed of themselves if they did not attract the condemnation of people like H.E.Card.Levada

George Rummery | 25 April 2012  

Sealed - the clay is cast.

john | 25 April 2012  

I think it was 'Gavan' who asked "what were these nuns doing"? Reasonable question? Could they have been ministering to the ill and depressed; caring for the disabled, the poor, the mentally disturbed? Might they have been assisting with education and care of aboriginal children in remote and overseas areas? The only charge which I've heard so far is that they "showed radical feminism" and this was in the SMH on 24.4.12. Will we ever be given more information?

Mary Maraz | 25 April 2012  

Having been silenced[not suspended],put in virtual 'house arrest twice,refused residence, vilified, exiled,[all for being a rotten little papist]. Further, trendoid ecclesiastical bureaucracies,in utter desperation sent me o/s to be 'reformed' at a liberal reprogramming institute to return a born-again neo modernist mouthing right cliches for promised promotion,but I returned even more papist[thousands of dollars wasted] I therefore really find it extremely hard to shed a tear let alone weep for LCWR probs.

Father John Michael George | 25 April 2012  

I will comment about American Nuns bucked by Papal Bulls.The title is evocative and the article takes me back to the years when I lived in Boston, USA. While I was there I was visited by my sister, Jacqui Costigan, a professional, academic, psychologist nurse. She is now dead but was known to some of your readers. She met a group of American nuns whom I was leading in a retreat. She was swept off her feet by the great personalities and abilities of these women who were chief executives of large institutions and were gaining Ph.Ds at places like Harvard -- even in scripture and theology. With their qualifications and achievements, these women posed a threat to Many Diocesan priests and bishops.

Gerry Costigan | 25 April 2012  

Thank you Andrew for your article. If we didn't have brave and intelligent commentary like yours the Church in this country would be so much the poorer. Years ago we had the Melbourne Advocate which performed this function, now we have Eureka Street here and the Tablet in the UK. We need them to stay sane and hang on to our faith. I did like the comment "Bob Brown for Pope"!

Christine Wood | 25 April 2012  

Re: Mary Maraz request for more information. During the debate over the health care overhaul in 2010, American bishops came out in opposition to the health plan, but dozens of sisters, many of whom belong to the Leadership Conference, signed a statement supporting it — support that provided crucial cover for the Obama administration in the battle over health care.

Myra | 25 April 2012  

Is it still not clear as to why the Bishops in America came out in opposition to the health plan, whilst dozens of nun's from the USLCWR signed a statement supporting it ? Perhaps you may remember reading the following, and come to understand the words and actions of a "Truly Beloved nun" Mother Teresa's Letter to the US Supreme Court on Roe v. Wade This amicus brief was filed before the U.S. Supreme Court in the cases of Loce v. New Jersey and Krail et al. v. New Jersey in February 1994, by Mother Teresa. I hope you will count it no presumption that I seek your leave to address you on behalf of the unborn child. Like that child I can be considered an outsider. I am not an American citizen. My parents were Albanian. I was born before the First World War in a part of what was not yet, and is no longer, Yugoslavia. In many senses I know what it is like to be without a country. I also know what is like to feel an adopted citizen of other lands. When I was still a young girl I travelled to India. I found my work among the poor and the sick of that nation, and I have lived there ever since. Since 1950 I have worked with my many sisters from around the world as one of the Missionaries of Charity. Our congregation now has over four hundred foundations in more that one hundred countries, including the United States of America. We have almost five thousand sisters. We care for those who are often treated as outsiders in their own communities by their own neighbors—the starving, the crippled, the impoverished, and the diseased, from the old woman with a brain tumor in Calcutta to the young man with AIDS in New York City. A special focus of our care are mothers and their children. This includes mothers who feel pressured to sacrifice their unborn children by want, neglect, despair, and philosophies and government policies that promote the dehumanization of inconvenient human life. And it includes the children themselves, innocent and utterly defenseless, who are at the mercy of those who would deny their humanity. So, in a sense, my sisters and those we serve are all outsiders together. At the same time, we are supremely conscious of the common bonds of humanity that unite us and transcend national boundaries. In another sense, no one in the world who prizes liberty and human rights can feel anything but a strong kinship with America. Yours is the one great nation in all of history that was founded on the precept of equal rights and respect for all humankind, for the poorest and weakest of us as well as the richest and strongest. As your Declaration of Independence put it, in words that have never lost their power to stir the heart: “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” A nation founded on these principles holds a sacred trust: to stand as an example to the rest of the world, to climb ever higher in its practical realization of the ideals of human dignity, brotherhood, and mutual respect. Your constant efforts in fulfillment of that mission, far more that your size or your wealth or your military might, have made America an inspiration to all mankind. It must be recognized that your model was never one of realized perfection, but of ceaseless aspiration. From the outset, for example, America denied the African slave his freedom and human dignity. But in time you righted that wrong, albeit at an incalculable cost in human suffering and loss of life. Your impetus has almost always been toward a fuller, more all embracing conception and assurance of the rights that your founding fathers recognised as inherent and God-given. Yours has ever been an inclusive, not an exclusive, society. And your steps, though they may have paused or faltered now and then, have been pointed in the right direction and have trod the right path. The task has not always been an easy one, and each new generation has faced its own challenges and temptations. But in a uniquely courageous and inspiring way, America has kept faith. Yet there has been one infinitely tragic and destructive departure from those American ideals in recent memory. It was this Court's own decision in Roe v. Wade (1973) to exclude the unborn child from the human family. You ruled that a mother, in consultation with her doctor, has broad discretion, guaranteed against infringement by the United States Constitution, to choose to destroy her unborn child. Your opinion stated that you did not need to “resolve the difficult question of when life begins.” That question is inescapable. If the right to life in an inherent and inalienable right, it must surely exist wherever life exists. No one can deny that the unborn child is a distinct being, that it is human, and that it is alive. It is unjust, therefore, to deprive the unborn child of its fundamental right to life on the basis of its age, size, or condition of dependency. It was a sad infidelity to America's highest ideals when this Court said that it did not matter, or could not be determined, when the inalienable right to life began for a child in its mother's womb. America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father's role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts—a child—as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered domination over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters. And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners. Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being's entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign. The Constitutional Court of the Federal Republic of Germany recently ruled that “the unborn child is entitled to its rights to life independently of acceptance by its mother; this is an elementary and inalienable right that emanates from the dignity of the human being.” Americans may feel justly proud that Germany in 1993 was able to recognize the sanctity of human life. You must weep that your own government, at present, seems blind to this truth. I have no new teaching for America. I seek only to recall you to faithfulness to what you once taught the world. Your nation was founded on the proposition—very old as a moral precept, but startling and innovative as a political insight—that human life is a gift of immeasurable worth, and that it deserves, always and everywhere, to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect. I urge the Court to take the opportunity presented by the petitions in these cases to consider the fundamental question of when human life begins and to declare without equivocation the inalienable rights which it possesses.

Myra | 27 April 2012  

Thanks, Myra - what a wonderful speech of Blessed Teresa. Says it all. (Thanks, too, to E.S. for allowing this long post.)

HH | 27 April 2012  

I have to agree with those who point out, that if the Vatican acted with the same zeal and timely manner with the child abuse scsndal, as it has with these nuns, we would be in a much better place.

Chris P | 30 April 2012  

Well if the whole issue is about abortion, why wasn't that stated from the beginning instead of waffling on about church politics?

AURELIUS | 30 April 2012  

This is why we had the reformation! It is still needed.

Bruce Ball | 30 April 2012  

...More over, the strength of any society is apparent in the way it protects the weak.
- Mark Raper SJ, Refugees Morality and Public Policy-2002.

Myra | 30 April 2012  

Seeing what's happenning in the US and Ireland with silencing of priests deeply saddens me.

Eureka is a well chosen name. just hope the Vatican gets the stockade history and the message. Attempts to silence can backfire.

I know for one I have widdened my reading with every attempt Vatican 11 opened the doors and now the worldwide cobweb is unstoppable. I have had many Eureka - I have found it moments.

john | 30 April 2012  

Re your final comment in 'Nuns bucked by papal bulls', "And the mistrust of the Catholic Church among Western women from a Catholic background will grow." Does this reflect a 'Catholic Church equals the Vatican' mentality? Surely to a very great extent women from a Catholic background are the Catholic Church and to a very great extent they do not distrust their own discernment of what a life lived with and for Christ entails. Michaelangelo's Pieta in Florence poignantly reminds us that the first casualty of such confrontations is Christ's gentle modelling of right relationship, crushed so that power can be maintained. And so soon after Easter! If this is evolutionary spirituality we have a long way to go!

Scilla | 30 April 2012  

What standards does the USLCWR have? Sr Joan Chittister, darling of the USLCWR, has written in her column in National Catholic Reporter (NCR) about the clerical sex abuse issue. She deplores it - rightly. However, Sr Joan has written at other times in that same column in NCR praising "The Vagina Monologues" and denigrating "morality cops" who seek to have it banned from university campuses, including Catholic universities such as Notre Dame, Indiana, and of the "hysteria" of these censorship attempts. [see "The reports of feminism's death have been greatly exaggerated." NCR, Nov. 8, 2004] She called the play "a profoundly tragic, disturbingly funny, revealing play about what it is to be a woman." Really? In one of the Vagina Monologues, a woman character recalls in glowing terms how as a minor, she was given alcohol by an adult woman, who then performed sexual acts with her. [Note: In earlier versions of the play, she was 13 at the time of the abuse. This was revised after complaints, and in later versions she is 16 - still a minor. In the earlier versions the character reminisces wistfully: "If it was rape, it was good rape." This has been omitted - again after complaints.] How can someone deplore clerical sexual abuse, yet in the same breath approve the celebration in drama of the alcohol-assisted rape of a 16-year-old by an adult, and denigrate as "morality cops" those who have concerns about this? And what is the USLCWR's response on this whole episode, wherein their champion endorses as "profoundly tragic, disturbingly funny" a play approving of alcohol-assisted sexual advances on a 16 year old? Nothing. Not a peep. Shame on them. Thank you, Vatican, but, if you please, a bit tardy.

HH | 30 April 2012  

Hey only 3% of 60000 USA nuns actually belong to LCWR. [The convent dogtail is wagging the media].

Father John Michael George | 01 May 2012  

Yes-Aurelius, WHY indeed? The following is an extract from an article published on line, a few days prior the one now being commented. Vatican Orders Crackdown On US Nun . The Vatican orthodoxy watchdog announced Wednesday a full-scale overhaul of the largest umbrella group for nuns in the United States. ... [Church officials] said the reform would include a review of ties between the [Leadership Conference of Women Religious] and NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby. NETWORK played a key role in supporting the Obama administration's health care overhaul despite the bishops' objections that the bill would provide government funding for abortion The Leadership Conference disagreed with the bishops' analysis of the law and also supported President Barack Obama's plan.

Myra | 01 May 2012  

Father Mick - According to Vatican II and Comments by the Blessed John Henry Newman, the nuns must first obey their conscience and then the Pope. I have now read dozens of articles and like many Catholics, I am fully behind the nuns and admire their courage. There are now so many issues in the Church, and the Bishops simply do not take notice! A sad state of affairs.

Peter M | 02 May 2012  

Prayer and support for the women religious and interest as the saga unfolds.

rita hayes rsm | 02 May 2012  

The Church hierarachy seem to me to be very out-of-step with the mind of the wider Church. I think we urgently need a Third Vatican Council, where all the stake-holders have fair representation. The small herd of Bulls in Rome needs to start listening to the large herd of Bulls outside Rome, as well as to the large herds of Cows, Heifers and Bull-calves.

Grant Allen | 02 May 2012  

couldn't agree more. But what does it all mean? Interesting times. We're sort of in a 100 yr (300 yr?) interim period - between the Enlightenment / Reformation / Vatican 11 and the next stage of ecclesial life - and indeed, how the Church interacts with the world that is clamoring for meaning with no fixed point of reference. Mind you, a world beyond religious fundamentalism (Catholic, Moslem, etc) could be an interesting / scary place too! Interesting times.

Rod Thomson fms | 02 May 2012  

Re Rod Thomas FMS comment ..."From the moment of conception, the life of every human being is to be respected in an absolute way because man is the only creature on earth that God has 'wished for himself,' and the spiritual soul of each man is 'immediately created by God'; his whole being bears the image of the Creator. Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the 'creative action of God,' and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of Life from its beginning until its end; no one can, in any circumstance, claim for himself the right directly to destroy( His Temple) an innocent human being."No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart ( our fixed point of reference ) knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church." -...Is not abortion therefore the "The True Erasure of an Aboriginal Temple"?

Myra | 03 May 2012  

Regarding Peter M's allusion to Blessed John Newman on conscience and PM's application to USA nuns' rebellion]. The latter needs hermeneutic context. The Blessed would be appalled at nuns' rebelliousness. He in fact stated in the alluded context: "If I had to bring religion into an after-dinner speech, I would drink to the Pope, if you wish - but I would drink to conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards?" The Blessed used those words in his "Open Letter to the Duke of Norfolk," dated Dec. 27, 1874. He was replying to Gladstone's charge that, after the definition of Papal Infallibility in 1870, Catholics were reduced to mental and moral slavery under a foreign power, and could not be trusted as loyal subjects of the realm. Newman realised, of course, that Gladstone was making an unwarranted transition from the sphere of strictly religious matters to that of our civic duties and the obligation of allegiance to our country in its lawful requirements of us; and he stressed the Catholic doctrine of the supremacy of Conscience in this strictly secular issue. Elsewhere he underlines in strictly religious difficulties vis a vis the pope,that the pope is 'in possession'. Furthermore the Blessed carefully crafted 5 rules to counteract a conscience that is deluded by self will while refusing to submit to the pope on practical theological issues

Father John Michael George | 05 May 2012  

Chris P, on the contrary,if the Vatican acted with the same zeal and timely manner with the LCWR (not with all US nuns as you and others imply) as it has with the child abuse scsndal, we would be in a much better place. Far from the fierce and immediate bullying absurdly portrayed here, it has taken 40 years for Rome to do anything at all about the LCWR, and even now instead of the necessry harsh criticism Rome bends over backwards to be polite and diplomatic Romanita style, for example the LCWR has not merely "failed to proclaim" essential Catholic dogmas as the report says, it has actively and vocally contradicted them for 40 years.

Sharon | 11 May 2012  

As a non-roman Catholic I am appalled and amazed at the audacity of Rome

graham patison | 19 May 2012  

Graham Patison is understandably appalled by Vatican action re LCWR[Patison being a non catholic] after all the LCWR looks favourably upon non catholic teachings!

Father John Michael George | 20 May 2012  

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