Why are women still treated as second-class citizens within the Catholic Church?
There has been a lot in the news lately about the transgressions of certain American Catholic nuns. The offenses perpetrated by the nuns reach so high that the Vatican itself has issued a scathing public denouncement and sent a bishop to the U.S. to “reign in” the ladies.
So who are these nuns and what did they do that was so heinous?
They are the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns in the U.S. Their crime is that they expressed their opinions—opinions on health care, homosexuality, and the role of women in the Church that happen to “…disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.”
So far, I’m not impressed.
There are plenty of institutions and interests that seek to silence diversity of voice and thought, and they range from corporations to political circles to private families. We’ve all experienced this in one way or another. In that regard, there is nothing surprising about an established religious institution trying to keep its official representatives from singing their own individual songs. Uniformity of opinion and consistency of doctrine (or policy) have always been at the top of the agenda for any organization that seeks to exercise a certain degree of power and control over its members. It’s easier to control a group of people who think and speak alike.
But there are certain concepts we honor and revere in our society, including free will and free speech. On top of that, if one’s relationship with God is indeed a most sacred and private matter, why could a nun—or a bishop—not voice her opinion about the positions that the official “keepers” of her faith take on certain matters if she disagrees? After all, we are all made equal in the eyes of the Lord, are we not?
Second, if the male priests and bishops are the only authentic teachers of faith and morals of the Roman Catholic religion, then all of the pedophiles currently registered in police databases across the country should be given their own ivory towers in Rome. Unless and until the Vatican and its “authentic teachers” finally come clean about the child molestation scandals that have exploded over the past several years, and bring the perpetrators within their ranks to justice, they have no business erecting pedestals of righteousness in their own name.
Certainly, the swiftness of the Vatican's reaction to the nuns’ actions, which are but statements and discourse, becomes laughable in comparison to the lack of their response to the matter of child molestation within the Church.
Third, if after all the struggles we have had to go through in the past hundred years to secure for women the right to vote, the right to work, the right to own property, and the right to determine the care for their own bodies, if after all of this religious women are not allowed to speak their mind and engage in philosophical discourse, then what century are we living in, really?
Are the nuns being slammed because they’re women, or because their writings and statements threaten the control the Church has exercised over its flocks for centuries?
We don’t need an ivory ceiling on top of the glass one we already have.
In my short story “Confession,” the primary dialogue takes place between a businessman and a priest. Two men. There is a woman, the businessman’s wife, who remains mostly silent throughout the story as she listens to the pope’s Easter Mass. But in the end, who do you think turns out to be the most level-headed of them all?