California Bishops Announce Public Support for Women Religious–UPDATED

As the Vatican continues their investigation into the religious communities of women, the Bishops of California decided to write the nuns a letter of support. Cardinal Roger Mahoney made that letter public and the National Catholic Reporter printed it recently:

“Dear Sisters, We are all aware of the special anxieties which surround our women religious these days,” wrote Mahony, “and I am writing to offer you my prayers of gratitude and my support for all of your members. The bishops of California met last week and passed a statement of support for all of you, and I am pleased to send a copy of that statement to you.”

He praises “the historical presence” of women religious in California beginning back in the 1800s. “I can honestly state that there would not exist our Catholic schools, hospitals, and social service outreach apostolates without you.”

The cardinal goes on to write that women religious in Los Angeles “opened the first hospital, established the first schools, and provided the first social services to those most in need.” He added that our “church’s history of outreach after the example of Jesus Christ and the Gospels would not exist today without your initiatives and creativity.”

He ended his letter reassuring women religious “of my continuing prayers and support.”

The Vatican announced its investigation, officially callend an apostolic visitation, of U.S. women religious last January, saying the intention is to find out why the numbers of women religious have decreased during the past 40 years, and to look at “the quality of life” in the communities.

Nicely done. And right on the mark. Women’s religious have, simply put been the “operations directors” for our church–meaning they have organized and got the work done on the ground level, in the trenches. Without them we’d all be the worse for wear.

However, their numbers have indeed rapidly declined. Why is that? Some would cite a visibility issue–nuns don’t wear formal habits anymore for the most part (and those that do report an uptick in their numbers) so they are harder to spot in a crowd of people doing social justice work or running parishes or whatever.

But I think the reason goes far beyond a simple visibility issue. Women’s rights have given women more opportunities since the days of the blossoming numbers in women’s religious communities. Years ago these communities provided opportunities for women that did not always exist in secular life. What woman would be able to run a hospital if she were not a nun in the 1950s? Sister wielded great power in both the emergency rooms of hospitals and parish schools. If you messed up, Sister was going to hear about it and then you were in deep trouble.

Those positions of power are now readily available for women in the corporate board room as well as in all walks of life.

A second reason for this decline is the opposite effect. Despite the fact that women do indeed much of the work of the church–they don’t get the accolades for it and are not known to really be in positions of power in the Catholic Church and that has to be unattractive to most women today who can indeed rise ahead of men in other vocations in life. Women will never be Pope or Cardinal or even pastor (at least canonically).

So the Vatican indeed should do a hefty investigation and I support their work here. Why? Because they need to see the work that women have contributed to the church and understand the importance of it. They are indeed beacons on a hill that cannot be hidden. It is my prayer today that this investigation will result in further support for women’s roles in the church and will not further limit or return them to a more “humble station” in life.

And just for the record, the following religious women need a brief shout out from me:

1) Sr Caroline, who taught CCD to me as a 2nd grader and who always supported me as an altar server (I remember her saying to be “You’re getting really good at serving mass now when I was 9!).

2) Sr Manuela Tino, my 8th grade teacher who was strict, but loving.

3) Sr Julie, who played guitar in our parish and who always had a kind word (she was the cool young nun!)

4) Sr Anne Walsh, who ran liturgies at Campus Ministry at Fordham and whose Irish lit is always a joy to hear.

5) Sr Jeanne Hamilton, OSU, who stayed up too many late nights with me at Fordham convincing me of my worth and simply being a great friend.

6) Sr Christine Wilcox, OP who is simply awesome and who makes me more sensitive to others and who makes my work better.

7) Sr Bernadette Reis, who gives the Daughters of St Paul a great gift of understanding young people and is a woman of deep prayer.

8) Sr Francesca Thompson, who has been a voice for black women for years.

9) Sister Maura Clarke, M.M, Sister Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U., Sister Ita Ford, M.M., and lay missioner Jean Donovan — who were killed in El Salvador on Dec. 2, 1980.

and finally, Sr Jeremy Midura, who runs our parish here in Buffalo (sorry Fr jack, but she does!) like a Swiss Watch….

To all of you….Thank You. Thank You. Thank you.. for inspiring a young man all of his life to be a better person and to simply be a witness to Jesus working through you, to change the lives of all those you touch.

And lastly let’s not forget that the person who Catholics cite most often as the person who has been the face of Catholicism for the last 50 years or so is a simple little nun who served the poor in streets of Calcutta. And she soon will be a saint. Blessed Teresa indeed had given all women religious much respect from the general public. And so we place a picture of her religious community here today on this blog.

And by the way…if there’s a Sister in your life that you’d like to thank–you should go to and do so today.



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Sad Time for Legionaries of Christ

The Legionaries of Christ are having themselves a week they’d soon like to forget. It has long been rumored that their founder Marcial Maciel was in fact accused of several accusations including the following with a hat tip to the Life after Regnum Christi blog:

* Maciel fathered a child who is now in her early 20’s;

* Maciel offered some money illicitly to his own family;

* The current head, Alvaro Corcuera, entertaining his own suspicions, demanded that the case be reopened several years ago;

* Maciel had numerous accusations against him for paedophilia, beginning with his earliest recruits (none of whome were ever ordained);

* Early companions of Maciel recount several affairs with women with details reaching back to the 1950’s;

* Maciel has been accused of extensive drug problems;

* The rank and file were recruited for their connexions, money, and sincere zeal for souls.

In short, oh brother. Amy Welborn who is always fair in her judgments of such matters has an excellent take on most of the proceedings.

Serious problems have surfaced in relationship to the group, both present and past. Financial questions. Questions of formation. There is much, much to be concerned about, concerns voiced by many observers and several bishops, most notably Archbishop O’Brien of Baltimore, who stepped in and requested complete transparency from LC and RC regarding their apostolates in his see last year.

We should note, in retelling this story, that the charges against Maciel apparently had no traction at the Vatican, for whatever reason, until Benedict XVI became Pope. In May, 2006, Maciel was ordered to retire to a life of prayer and penance. Here is the text of the communique, which was intermidably parsed here and other places, but whose meaning is hard to escape.

There are, indeed, good people associated with LC and RC – many of us reading this blog know them. They need our prayers and great strength – the strength that any and all of us need when we have been deceived in the name of God.

That said, the book on this affair will be long and complex. Torturous, in fact. There will undoubtedly need to be several volumes.

The news coming out now is sketchy and incomplete. The word is that the leadership is admitting that Maciel fathered at least one child, perhaps two. Some sources are saying that the leadership is admitting the veracity of the previous accusations, as well, but that is fuzzy to me at this point. Over the past few days, various parties and groups have been informed of this. After the question of the accusations against Maciel himself, the huge question waiting to be unraveled, but extraordinarily difficult to do because of the group’s obsession with secrecy, is the awareness of the LC leadership of all of this over the years.

The third question is that if the leadership is admitting the truth of the bulk of the many accusations against Maciel…will the victims, long vilified by the movement and its defenders…receive an apology?

Indeed that is my question as well. If the founder is guilty –and it looks like he obviously is–then what does that mean not only to his legacy but to the future of the order? As Welborn also notes above this is a blight on the Papacy of John Paul II as well as it seems that he or at the very least, his senior aides, didn’t believe that the accusations could be true.

Much was made of the Legion’s “secrecy pledge” that they required of faculty at Atlanta’s Donnellan School which led to many staff firings and resignations. Coercion and outright hostility towards perceived enemies seemingly has followed the Legion wherever it goes.

However, Welborn makes a good point when she says:

What is the appeal of Regnum Christi and its apostolates in the United States? The appeal may be negative in some ways, but those I have met who have been drawn to it are thirsting for solid faith content. They know that their children live in a challenging world and have no confidence in what passes for catechesis in the parish or even in many Catholic schools to equip them for that world. They do not see these programs or liturgies seriously oriented toward bringing those participating into a deep, committed relationship with Christ.

So something substantive appears…it appeals.

But this problem is also systemic in its very nature. We leave religious education in most parishes in the hands of willing volunteeers, without much (or any) proper training or assurance that they know even the basic tenets of the faith at all. (My 5th grade CCD teacher didn’t know how to look up a bible verse!). We also give parents little training in passing along the faith and with Generation X parents we need to give them a remedial Catechetical course so that they have some sense of a tradition to pass on because in many cases nothing was transmitted to them in terms of faith information at all.

But what of the more traditional orders who teach the basics well but perhaps act somewhat judgmental towards others, cover up their own sins to make them seem above the fray and often simply seem to be unstable or unhealthy? And what of the other extreme? Where almost nothing in tradition is transmitted, everyone’s sins are often minimized and while care for the poor is often espoused as a central element of the faith not much connection to Jesus, much less Catholicism is often coupled to it?

It strikes me that a more centrist view is needed. Community AND contemplation, a vertical relationship between us and God needs to be joined with a horizontal relationship with the community. Traditional devotions like the rosary and eucharistic adoration need to be coupled with discernment so as to ask greater questions:

What do these devotions empower you to do? What does your knowledge of Catholic tradition mean for you in your everyday life? How will you live now knowing Jesus more intimately?

It seems to me that this is what the good men and women who have dedicated their lives in religious profession do well. They come from all walks of life. There are great members of the Legion but also great Jesuits, Paulists and Redemptorists. Great women exist in Opus Dei who bring others to Christ and great women in the Sisters of St. Joseph. Diocesan officials who have healed marriages and educated children well and other officials who have let marriages fail and children go uneducated too. All have different approaches to be sure, but in all these various “faith journeys” individuals have cared for souls in great ways.

Unfortunately, we have the best and worst in all our traditions–just like everywhere else. It is up to our own judgments to seek the best of our tradition and to associate ourselves with what seems healthy, true and Christ-like.

We’ve all had good and bad math teachers, co-workers and Presidents. Why should our religion be any different.

Prayers today for all good religious educators, The Legion and the victims of abuse who have suffered for so long. And for all of us who try to bring people closer to God.