Breaking Habit: Feminist nuns Go Up Against the VaticanAugust 10, 2012 @ 4:36 pm (Updated: 5:10 pm - 8/10/12 )
By Rachel Belle
Listen to Breaking Habit: Feminist Nuns Fight Against the Vatican
Having had no personal experience with nuns, when I think of the sisters, I think of what I've seen in movies: An older woman in full habit; perhaps a strict teacher at a Catholic school with very traditional values. But today's nuns are far more modern. Most have flung the impractical habit aside and not all of them work in a church.
"They are doctors, lawyers, hospital administrators, they are college presidents. Yes, they still teach, they still do nursing, prison ministry, they are journalists," says Gretchen Gundrum with the Seattle grassroots movement I Stand With The Sisters. "But their main mission is to provide justice for the marginalized. That's their calling."
As I learned today, nuns are basically feminists. Right now, 900 nuns from American Women Religious are gathered in St Louis, working on a response to a Vatican mandate that accuses of them of taking on radical feminist themes, wants to control who speaks at their events and...
"The Vatican says: We want you to speak out more against abortion. We want you to speak out more against contraception. We don't want you to be so outspoken in terms of supporting gays and lesbians. We don't like the idea that you think women should be ordained."
I Stand With The Sisters has planned a Seattle march, this Sunday, to stand in solidarity with American nuns.
"It felt like a heavy hand of censorship and it felt like it was treating adult woman disrespectfully. Not regarding their own intelligence and how they got to where they are. It feels particularly unfair to single out Women Religious who have been nothing but faithful and helpful. In fact, they're the people who have the best credibility in the church today."
Gundrum says the average age of a nun in America is 74 years old, so a lot of these woman have dedicated more than 50 years of service to the church and the people.
"To be told, at the end of your life, that you're bad and you're doing something wrong has had an enormously negative impact on morale, has caused a lot of self questioning. I think the best way to say it is that the sisters feel wounded by this."
As far as wanting the nuns to speak out against abortion and birth control.
"What they've said to the bishops is, we leave doctrinal teaching to you. We are providing service, we're doing outreach. You have the official teaching. It doesn't mean that they don't believe or they don't support the official teaching, that's just not how they're operating."
Today was the last day of the four day conference, and the sisters may or may not come up with a solution to present to a Seattle Archbishop, appointed by the Vatican to oversee this matter.
"On one extreme they could say, 'Yes, Your Excellence, we'll do whatever you say and submit to all these changes that you want us to do.' Or, the other extreme, they can say, 'We won't revise our statutes. We won't be canonical, we won't be under Rome anymore. We'll still be sisters, but we'll be separate.' More likely something in between will happen where they'll try to dialogue and maybe come to an understanding on both sides. I think there's a wide divide right now between how the hierarchy sees religious women and how they see themselves."
The Vatican's conservative view could be why there are so few women joining the sisterhood these days.
"There are many more options for service these days than there were. Frankly, the church is not a place of equal opportunity for women. If a woman is really talented and she had the gift, say, to be a priest or a bishop, there's no place for her to do that. So she might choose to work in the world and try and be authentic to those values."
If you want to stand with the sisters, and join them on their march this Sunday, click here to get details.
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