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.



You’re five minutes late already.

Why Baby Boomers in the Church Need to Hand the Torch to the Gen Xers Already

I’ve long been a supporter of the movement to close the School of the Americas, a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. The SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. The school trained the assassins of the 6 Jesuits from the Central American University in El Salvador.

Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois has long been at the front of this movement with the support of his community. But recently, he got himself in trouble by participating in a woman’s ordination ceremony. Gary Stern at Lo Hud, a Westchester paper, has been following the story and they assumed that Fr Bourgeois had been excommunicated by the Vatican. Fr Bourgeois disagrees.

Bourgeois told me that he has not heard from the Vatican since the fall. Not a note, an e-mail, nothing. So he is continuing to celebrate Mass and baptize babies.

“I have not gotten anything saying I am defrocked,” he said. “I continue to be a Catholic priest in good standing.”

Hmmm. Two months ago, Maryknoll’s superior general, the Rev. Edward M. Dougherty, issued a statement saying that Bourgeois had been “automatically excommunicated” when he did not meet the Vatican’s deadline to recant.

I contacted Maryknoll this week, and they were taken aback that Bourgeois disagrees.

“We are surprised and are saddened that his actions may present an obstacle in the path toward his reconciliation with Church authorities,” a new statement said. “We are still hoping that he will reconsider his position and be reconciled with the Vatican, a hope that they also have expressed.”

Seeking clarification, I faxed a note to the Vatican press office. No response so far.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would not touch this one.

UPDATE: Bourgeois recently stated after the report that he no longer celebrates mass or administers sacraments out of respect for his superiors but he maintains that he is still a priest.

In December, the Catholic News Agency, a church-affiliated organization, reported that a Vatican official promised that Bourgeois would be excommunicated after the Vatican responds to letters on the case.

Things move slowly in Rome, but Bourgeois’ priestly days appear to be numbered. If he is excommunicated, he cannot administer the sacraments as a priest or receive them.

He is actually more adamant than ever about the need to ordain women as priests.

“The exclusion of women is a grave injustice and a sin,” the 70-year-old priest told me. “This is a movement whose time has come. It’s not going away.”

A friend and I had a recent discussion about some of the issues that strong willed baby boomers who seek reform in the Catholic Church really care about and how younger Gen-Xers in their 30s and 40s react to these things slightly differently, and even moreso, the younger millennials, who react an even different way.

While many men and women in these younger cohorts might believe that women should have an ordained role in the church, they don’t get as passionate about this issue in particular. This drives the baby boomers crazy and they then see the younger generations as apathetic or unwilling to fight for justice.

And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Younger people are certainly willing to fight for issues they believe in but they also know that this takes prudence and deft skill. It also means that you need to be wise enough to know what fights you can win and can’t win and how to work within a system for EFFECTIVE change.

I’ve often said that I think that the church should consider ordaining women at least to the diaconate…

But I don’t think we should simply start ordaining them on the corner of 42nd and 8th without Vatican approval. All that does is get people angry! It’s akin to saying “I think baseball should start playing with 2 outs in a half-inning instead of 3.” Which might be a fair idea and even good for the game, but I don’t think that the Pittsburgh Pirates should start playing the games on their home field that way without the agreement of the other teams in the Major Leagues.

A friend said to me, “I’d like to see women have a greater role in the church too, but I’m not going to get all bent out of shape over it and start leaving the church. I’m willing to pray and wait for things to change or not to change. I will work to give women more prominent roles that are currently sanctioned and will praise their work, when warranted, to highlight the good that women bring to the church in these more prominent roles.”

I agree that this is a better course of action. Only then will those in authority think about listening to the wisdom that might be present. The renegade option closes the door for good conversation and paints that group with a color that screams “bitter grudge holders.” And as long as people see you that way, they ignore you as the fringe element who are focused on the extreme.

Gen-Xers don’t have time to be considered a fringe element. They are willing to seek middle ground. They are willing to listen to the wisdom of the other point of view. They are willing to keep the conversation open.

Here are people that you probably have never heard of but who all play prominent roles in the church:

Salesian Sister Enrica Rosanna was named an undersecretary of the Vatican congregation that deals with religious orders. That’s No. 3 in the chain of command, and it made her the highest-ranking woman at the Vatican.

Section chief at a major Vatican agency was U.S. Sister Sharon Holland, a member of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who works at the congregation for religious.

And there are hundreds and thousands of unsung women who have changed the livelihood of the church for years without virtue of ordination ever stopping them.

As someone who grew up of very humble stock I would say that women in the church should be proud of themselves for all they have done. It has not been easy for any of them. That should make them even prouder. Priests and men of privilege have done much but their road to get there has been fairly easy for them with few applecarts needing to be overturned. The accomplishments of women have much to owe to a lot of blood, sweat and tears alongside a bunch of doors that they needed to kick open in order to serve the needs of many in the church.

For them, we are grateful and proud. We stand with them knowing their contribution was no less because they were not priests.

The bottom line: The solution to maintaining the spiritual life of Catholics is not to start ordaining everyone, nor is it to even ordain more single men. The issue is that the rest of us need to step up and start making as many contributions as we can within the establishment of the church.

And there is much that we all have to contribute and we don’t need to be ordained to do it. Gen Xers get that and their time is now.

Confession Compilations

Dr. Christine Whelan offers some thoughts on a priest who compiled the sins that people confessed and noticed a difference between what men and women confess. Turns out that women confess pride most often and men confess lust (no surprise there!).

But Dr. Whelan smartly points out a good point:

Are women actually more “proud” than men? So women confess pride more often. Might it just be that women are more likely to think that their feelings of pride are sinful, whereas men think their feelings of pride are well-deserved and normal? My previous research has shown that women often downplay their accomplishments, because they feel culturally compelled to present themselves as demure and “sweet” — not strong and successful. This kind of socialization effect will carry over from the classroom to the bar to the confessional; it’s the way we are taught to operate. So a woman who gets an “A” on a test and thinks she’s da bomb for doing so might feel a twinge of guilt about her excitement, whereas a man would not.

Are men confessing to lust because they are conditioned to do so? I give talks to college students about dating and marriage, and you might be surprised that in the Q&A sessions, it’s the guys who do most of the talking. The men are quick to talk about their desire for a late night booty call to be answered in the affirmative, and what a “hook-up” really means in their circle of friends. After one such talk, it occurred to me that many think they are cool, attractive and more masculine for “confessing” those thoughts. I’m not saying that men are more lustful than women; I wonder how much our social conditioning impacts what we think to confess.

An excellent point by the good doctor. But we should add another piece to this.

Were the specific instances mentioned in these confessions actually sins? The correct answer here is that we don’t know.

We should notice that the data indictates that men and women confess these sins but it does not say whether these admissions are actually sins. Some women may in fact confess pride but may simply be downplaying their accomplishments. A good confessor would be able to point out that her behavior in this instance may indeed not be sinful at all.

So while women may confess pride–they indeed may not be committing that sin at all. The same with male confessions of lust which may just be natural feelings of attraction at time that someone interprets too scrupulously. Hopefully, the priests doing the compiling (which is dangerously close to breaking the seal of confession in my opinion) were able to tell the difference.

For more on how to go to confession–especially if it’s been awhile…check out our confession videos:

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