Jewish Journal

Vatican to launch inquisition?

by Brad A. Greenberg

July 2, 2009 | 8:19 pm

I’ve heard several complaints today about a story from The New York Times about a new “inquisition” into U.S. nuns. Not The Inquisition, but an inquisition.

Written by the excellent Laurie Goodstein—really, she’s one of the best religion reporters out there—the article opens:

The Vatican is quietly conducting two sweeping investigations of American nuns, a development that has startled and dismayed nuns who fear they are the targets of a doctrinal inquisition.


Some sisters surmise that the Vatican and even some American bishops are trying to shift them back into living in convents, wearing habits or at least identifiable religious garb, ordering their schedules around daily prayers and working primarily in Roman Catholic institutions, like schools and hospitals.

“They think of us as an ecclesiastical work force,” said Sister Sandra M. Schneiders, professor emerita of New Testament and spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, in California. “Whereas we are religious, we’re living the life of total dedication to Christ, and out of that flows a profound concern for the good of all humanity. So our vision of our lives, and their vision of us as a work force, are just not on the same planet.”

Out of character for Goodstein, this story comes off as one-sided and skeptical, at best, of the Vatican’s intentions. Which is where the story gets interesting. See, there are plenty of people who think the Vatican has been delinquent in its oversight of its stateside sisters.

For a great analysis of the story behind the story, read Rod Dreher’s blog. He writes:

How hard would it have been to have contacted well-informed orthodox Catholic sources to explain what many heterodox nuns have been up to for decades, without eliciting so much as a peep from Rome? Why was there no mention of Sr. Laurie Brink’s 2007 keynote address at the Leadership Conference for Women Religious confab? Excerpt from the address:

The dynamic option for Religious Life, which I am calling, Sojourning, is much more difficult to discuss, since it involves moving beyond the Church, even beyond Jesus. A sojourning congregation is no longer ecclesiastical. It has grown beyond the bounds of institutional religion. Its search for the Holy may have begun rooted in Jesus as the Christ, but deep reflection, study and prayer have opened it up to the spirit of the Holy in all of creation. Religious titles, institutional limitations, ecclesiastical authorities no longer fit this congregation, which in most respects is Post-Christian.

Sr. Brink praises Catholic nuns’ orders that have made this “courageous” choice. Gee, you think that this sort of thing being said as the keynote speech at the convention of the major US nuns’ organization might cause the Vatican to wonder what in the hell was going on with American nuns?

Don’t be fooled: This is a big brewing story. Whether you agree with Sister Brink or not, there is nothing Catholic (big “C”) about her call to move “beyond Jesus.”

The rest of Dreher’s commentary is here. My new colleague at GetReligion, tmatt, also touched on these developments back in April.

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