In this second part of their lengthy essay examining the hegemony being sought by a small remnant element in Catholicism Sr Charlene Ozanick and John Chuchman examine the endeavours of the JPII and BXVI-led Vatican to nobble what they see as the liberal elements in the Church and most especially American Catholic Religious Women. In this commentary we read how the present initiative to control the Leadership Conference of Women Religious fits into a much longer history to impose ecclesial totalitarianism on the Laity and, more especially, Religious Sisters.
"A smaller, purer church"
Dr. Christine Roussel, in an article about the beginning of Pope Benedict's pontificate, notes:
"having absolute power to set everything 'right' is a dream as old as humankind. It is an especially tempting dream to a devout, rigid, authoritarian, book-loving but temperamentally timid cleric who fears the world around him has gone mad. Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI is such a man." [SEE: www.catholica.com.au/gc2/cr/002_cr_150308.php]
Pope Benedict sees the greatest dangers to the church today as cultural relativism, modernism and for American Catholics — Americanism. According to John Allen, Ratzinger's biographer, there must always be critical distance to separate the church from the culture. Benedict believed that the best antidote to the relativism of the modern age was an ecclesial totalitarianism. In his quest for a 'smaller, purer church' — to correct it from the ideals of Vatican II — Ratzinger's ecclesial totalitarianism — includes re-evangelization (brainwashing?) and strict orthodoxy. In Benedict's plan, the Church will return to the simple, obedient, trusting body it always was. Theologians, intellectuals, those who subscribe to 'Americanism' and relativism, will conform — or else.
In implementing this Vatican hegemonism, theologians were silenced and no discussions were permitted. Bishops were appointed because of their loyalty to the Pope, not because of their pastoral skill and experience. Academic freedom in Catholic colleges/universities became more and more muted. The language of Vatican II was used to convey Vatican I concepts. Women's place in the Church and in society was defined by the papal view that a "woman's highest glory is motherhood" (without, of course, ever consulting any woman). If women because of their life experiences and education expressed their own definition of themselves, they were labeled as "feminist" by the Church. The liturgy was subjected to a revanchist translation of pre-Vatican II. The age of triumphalism returned with the concept that the church is basically the hierarchical church, and that the hierarchical church possesses the entire truth — and nobody else.
As the final years of John Paul's pontificate approached, the hierarchy could see that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would be elected the next pope. Conservative American cardinals and archbishops curried favor with Joseph Ratzinger. With the election of Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, the American prelates were quickly jockeyed into positions of authority. Pope Benedict swiftly appointed Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal) William Levada of San Francisco to be perfect of the CDF — Benedict's old post. Also in the Vatican and either holding positions or holding membership in various Curia offices was Raymond L. Burke, James F. Stafford, John P. Foley, and Bernard F. Law.
In addition to the arrangement of his bishops on the Vatican chessboard, Benedict also continued John Paul's practice of appointing conservative bishops to American dioceses. Bishop William Lori, who was appointed doctrinal chairman of the USCCB, became the cardinal of the prestigious Baltimore Archdiocese in March 2012. The players were almost all set to launch into a multi-prong attack. But with all the silenced groups and thinkers, who could cause the Church in general and the Church of America any problems? Who? None other than American religious women — the Nuns!
From Past History — Hierarchy Controlling Religious Women
For centuries, in fact through much of history, popes and bishops have tried to keep Catholic women, especially celibate religious women, under control. There was an early equity between male and female monastics in the desert, but the bishops began taking control of the women's monasteries in the eighth century, while simultaneously, the male monks were ordained to the priesthood for the first time. Even though the life-style of both men and women monastics was identical — the women were not included in the ordinations — of course. As dedicated Catholic women came together — whether as canonesses, Beguines, beatas, recluses — the hierarchy and theologians strove to keep them under tight control.
The hierarchy was so fearful of consecrated women that some 12th century bishops would not permit nuns to speak alone with their confessors. St. Clare of Assisi resisted the pressures of four popes to impose their rule on her nuns. Clare shared the daily life and duties with her nuns. She, herself, for years daily tended the sick sisters, feeding, cleaning and comforting them. She had written a rule of life for them, and when she receive permission to implement her version of St. Francis' Rule (on the day before she died), she had the nuns gather at her bedside, so that the permission could be shown to them. Clare had that permission buried with her — right in the pocket of her habit over her heart, because it meant more than any medal won by personal valor.
The 19th century saw the rise of many religious communities dedicated to the service of the poor and the sick. The Vatican responded with the new Code of Canon Law of 1917 that imposed the cloister on them along with rigid rules that hampered their ministries. In the early 20th century, thousands and thousands of immigrants poured into America. Both Popes Pius XI and Pius XII encouraged the Sisters to get the professional education that they needed in their ministries to gain proficiency and to be on equal standing with their secular counterparts. And in 1952, Pius XII called for the formation of the US Conference of Major Superiors of Women (which eventually became the now-maligned LCWR).
The Vatican Council and the Sisters
With the beginning of Vatican Council II, the laity, and especially women, were ready for the Council. It was the Belgium Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens, a personal friend of Pope John XXIII, who issued the invitation to women to be auditors at the Council. Suenens disturbed many cardinals and bishops with his explosive words at the first session of the Council. He stated, "women, too, should be invited as auditors: unless I am mistaken, they make up half the human race!" There were 23 extraordinary women, including Sisters, invited to be auditors for the third and fourth sessions of the Council.
The women were all well read. They had traveled widely, more widely than many bishops. The women carefully studied the texts of each document to be presented and paid attention to the discussions (unlike some bishops who snoozed through sessions). A number of the lay group had put in much time in preliminary meetings to contribute to the work of Vatican II (especially in areas that would pertain to the laity). All wanted a greater participation in Church that they loved.
While both Popes John XXIII and Paul VI were very gracious and welcomed the women auditors, a number of the cardinals and bishops were not. Sister Mary Luke Tobin, the Superior General of the Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross and the newly elected President of the US Conference of Major Superiors of Women commented on the situation. She stated that "there was none of the pedestal mentality. I would say there was something else — either we were ignored or trivialized." Tobin put the theologians, cardinals and bishops into three categories:
Catholic Laity and Sisters Embrace Teachings of Vatican II
Many of the American Catholic laity, encouraged by the thrust of Vatican II, began to prepare themselves for new and expanding ministries in the Church. They studied to become catechists and directors of religious education. They took courses both at their parishes and on a college-level in the areas of sacred scriptures, in theology and in spirituality. The Church in America (and in other countries) saw Catholic men and women become lectors, extraordinary minister of the Eucharist who served both during liturgies and in taking communion to the sick and shut-ins. New ministries such as bereavement education ministers, pastoral associates, youth and young adult ministers, marriage sponsor couples preparing engaged Catholics — began to develop in every diocese of America. And married men began to apply to their dioceses to become permanent deacons — all responded to the clarion call of Vatican II — that those moved by the Holy Spirit are to gladly and promptly accept their calling from God.
The American Sisters, urged by Vatican Council II (and seconded by Pope Paul VI), to renew their congregations, to return to the charisms of their founders, and to revise their constitutions, embraced the Vatican II renewal immediately and with all of their hearts. The Sisters read books like Cardinal Suenens' The Nun in the World and began to broaden their outlook in order to better serve the people in their ministries. The Sisters researched the original letters and papers of their founders to deepen their understanding of the origins of their orders/congregations. Several months were spent in analyzing constitutions, methods of governance and spirituality. And the Sisters poured over the constitutions and documents of Vatican Council II, to understand them better. The Sisters did this more so than any other group in the Church.
At Vatican II, the Church had called its members to respond to the signs of the times in order to recognize the universal call to holiness which embraced clergy, religious and the laity as equals. All desired to enter into the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of modern men and women — to completely announce Christ by their lives and by their witness. But when the "People of God" began to do this, the popes, the curia and the bishops realized with a shock what it actually meant, and they did not like it at all.
Post Vatican II Skirmishes
The laity experienced the Vatican's refusal to reverse its position on contraception in the 1960's. Pope Paul VI told the committee composed of 79 bishops and lay Catholic scholars to "find a way to change the Church's position on birth control without destroying papal authority". The committee worked hard and came up with a solution. They voted on proposing their solution to the Pope to change the Church's position on birth control (vote 69-10). However, Archbishop Karol Wojtyla presented the minority report, which stated that any changes to the condemnation of contraception would display papal infallibility as filled with error and destroy it. The teaching about papal infallibility had to be defended at all costs. Therefore, in 1968 Pope Paul VI issued "Humanae Vitae" condemning the use of artificial contraceptives. Paul IV overrode the recommendations of the birth control commission formed during Vatican II a commission that included married lay people. So much for the equality that came with the "universal call to holiness".
The American Sisters themselves began to experience the hierarchy's lust for their old, safe institutional Church. In 1967, after spending much time in studying, preparing, and carrying out their renewal chapter, the Immaculate Heart Sisters of the Los Angeles Archdiocese were ready to implement their changes. Some of these changes included modernizing their habit and educating the young sisters before sending them out to teach. However, Cardinal James McIntyre ordered the Sisters to get back into their habits and send all the available young Sisters into the classroom — BEFORE they completed their professional studies — or else get out of the archdiocese. Even though the Vatican had called for these changes in religious communities — the Vatican backed McIntyre. The IHM Sisters, in a majority vote, chose to abandon their status as Catholic Sisters under canon law.
This was the beginning of the mistrust that began building up between the LCWR and the CDF. When the LCWR attempted to address issues of women's ministerial equality, the CDF came out with its 'definitive' rejection of any possibility of ordination for women in its teaching "Inter insigniores". This
Sister M. Charlene Ozanick, CSSF
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