To the Editor:
I write in response to Monday’s editorial by syndicated columnist Bill Press (“Nuns on the run—and on the bus”).
Please allow me to begin by saying that I have the utmost respect for the Catholic religious sisters and nuns of the United States. They were an essential component of my own educational experience from kindergarten all the way through post-graduate studies. I have also been blessed to serve with them in parish ministry and count a number among my most treasured friends. I know them, as a whole, to be women of deep faith, most generous with their gifts, and movingly compassionate. All Americans—and not just Catholics—owe a huge debt of gratitude to these courageous souls who educated the urban immigrant poor for generations, tended to bloody soldiers on the battlefields of Gettysburg, and marched at the front of the line in the civil rights movement. It would be very difficult to exaggerate their contributions to the overall good of our society.
But Mr. Press does manage to exaggerate a whole lot of things in his editorial—not to mention get many other things dead wrong.
Confusion abounds about the Vatican's recent announcement concerning the need for dialogue and intervention with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), a coordinating body that represents almost 80 percent of Catholic sisters in the U.S. Mr. Press’s words only serve to foster further misunderstanding. His comments about the lackluster work ethic of American Catholic priests and bishops, for example, are not only inaccurate based on my own experience, but exceedingly insulting. (I invite him to come and follow me around for a week and see if he might revise his opinion.) Personal attacks are a most cowardly—and ineffective—way to try and bolster one’s augment.
Bishop Leonard Blair of Stockton, California, was intimately involved in the doctrinal assessment of the LCWR that led to the recent announcement. The overwhelming amount of misinformation in both the Catholic and the secular press—and the manner in which it has been allowed to sway public opinion—led him to release a very helpful statement at the end of last week. It begins, “When you are in a position of leadership or authority, it is a great cross sometimes to know first hand the actual facts of the situation, and then have to listen to all the distortions and misrepresentation of the facts that are made in the public domain.” He goes on to share a side of the story with which Mr. Press—and many other reporters and commentators—seem to be completely unfamiliar. His full statement is available on YouTube; I encourage you to look for “Reality Check with Bishop Leonard P. Blair.”
The major thrust of Mr. Press’s critique seems to be that Catholic clergy are out of step with the mainline notions of American culture. To my understanding, that’s by-and-large right where we ought to be. After all, it’s not like Jesus was in lockstep with the prevailing customs and culture of his day—religious or otherwise. Why else would he have been crucified? Like Christ, the Church is called precisely to be countercultural: to challenge reigning assumptions; to propose another way of seeing; to encourage another, better way of living. If this flies in the face of societal norms (sexual matters seem to be Mr. Press’s hang up, much as he similarly impugns of the bishops), then it’s probably a sign that we’re on the right track.
The review of the policies and practices of the LCWR that the Vatican is now beginning is nothing new or unique. Several weeks ago, I spoke with a faculty member from an American seminary that had undergone a similar “investigation” just a few years back. This priest noted that there was much trepidation prior to the process, but that the end result was a seminary much stronger for having examined itself closely in ways with otherwise might have been avoided. He concluded that what had been at first feared turned out to be an overwhelmingly positive experience. I have spoken with sisters here in the North Country who are trying to see this current review of the LCWR in the very same light. I can only pray that such a wise and prudent perspective might prevail. No one is declaring “war” on anybody here, and creating an adversarial atmosphere only serves to make matters worse. The Church is at its best when in a constant state of reform. We can’t help make the world a better place if we’re not constantly striving to be better ourselves.
So if you run into a nun—and we’ve got some mighty fine ones right here in Malone—be sure to stop and thank her for her selfless work for the good of the Church and the good of the entire human family. Our society needs their faithful witness now as much as ever.
Rev. Joseph W. GirouxPastorMalone Catholic Parishes
Of course, in my twisted mind, the thought of going to war with nuns conjures up this sort of thing...