WaPo Writer Calls Vatican Disciplinary Action a ‘Crackdown on Nuns’




Don’t you hate it when the Catholic Church gets all, you know, Catholic? Washington Post “She the People” columnist Melinda Henneberger does. In her April 19 column, “The instructive timing of the Vatican’s crackdown on nuns,” she twisted the Catholic Church’s critical doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) into a story of a power-hungry male Catholic hierarchy attempting to crush the more sophisticated Christian consciences of poor, defenseless nuns.  

Henneberg huffed, “After a lengthy investigation by the office formerly known as the Inquisition, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle has been signed up to oversee a forced reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of the 57,000 Catholic nuns in this country.” Henneberger quoted one of her Catholic friends: “Only do what Jesus told us to do,” in their hospitals, schools, and orphanages, “so no wonder they’re in trouble.”

Taking care of the poor, of course, is not all that the LCWR has done, as a cursory examination of the LCWR website proves. One of their “featured resources” includes a paper, “We are the 99%,” which at one point declares: “The Occupy Movement is a direct answer to the last years of profit over people and earth.” And Henneberger herself mentioned that the Leadership Conference of Women’s Religious supported Obama’s Affordable Care Act – popularly known as Obamacare.

The assessment itself mentions several instances of grave dissent at the LCWR from Church teaching, citing protests of Catholic teaching on women’s ordination and Sister Laurie Brink’s 2007 Keynote Address, which included: “The Benedictine Women of Madison are the most current example I can name. Their commitment to ecumenism lead [sic] them beyond the exclusivity of the Catholic Church into a new inclusivity, where all manner of seeking God is welcomed. They are certainly religious women, but they are no longer women religious as it is defined by the Roman Catholic Church. They choose as a congregation to step outside the Church in order to step into a greater sense of holiness. Theirs was a choice of integrity, insight and courage.”

But that did not matter to Henneberger, who loaded her column with jabs at the Church. “[T]hey dare to indict the sisters for silence on abortion. (If memory serves, the Vatican itself has now and again been accused of keeping quiet when it shouldn’t have been.)” That’s either twisting the knife of the sex abuse scandals or taking a stab at the definitively debunked slander that Pope Pius XII ignored the plight of Europe’s Jews during WWII – or both. Now, Henneberger wrote, the Catholic hierarchy was engaged in a “common garden power play by a bunch of guys whose control is slipping, their authority undermined by their own failures.” She declared: “The Vatican, of course, knows a lot about scandal – to the point that the nuns are the only morally uncompromised leaders poor Holy Mother Church has left.

“Keep right on like this, your excellencies, and before you know it even more Catholics will be “moving beyond the Church.’”

Henneberger has it precisely backwards. The rapid decline in vocations in the Church since Vatican II was the result of members of the hierarchy rebelling against the teachings of the Church in the first place, causing massive confusion in the Church. And there are strong signs that the traditional Church is making a comeback, as an April 12 Wall Street Journal editorial, “Traditional Catholicism is Winning,” points out.

The doctrinal assessment, of course, is much less hysterical than the ravings of Henneberger might lead one to believe, declaring: “The overarching concern of the doctrinal Assessment is, therefore, to assist the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States in implementing an ecclesiology of communion founded on faith in Jesus Christ and the Church as the essential foundation for its important service to religious Communities and to all those in consecrated life. 

But such subtleties were lost on Henneberger, who closed her column with a typical feminist rant/apologia: “American sisters do outnumber the priests, and it’s the women who have the troops, too – at schools and hospitals the bishops couldn’t close if they wanted to. The nuns no longer only empty the bed pans, you see, but now also own the institutions where they work. And you have to wonder whether that’s the real problem.”

Feminists like Henneberger ignore the Church’s worldview, that men and women are complementary beings with different roles. Instead, she and her ilk constantly seek to pit men and women against each other to enforce a version of sexual egalitarianism – a common trait of “religious” liberals, who consistently place religion at the service of ideology.