Thursday, June 3, 2010

Be/Leave it or not

This week's report from the National Partnership for Women and Families makes note of Lisa Miller's Newsweek opinion piece on The Catholic Church's Attack on American Nuns. At a time when abortion rights are increasingly under attack, the Catholic Church has excommunicated Sister Margaret McBride for her part in approving a first-trimester abortion at a Phoenix hospital for a woman who was critically ill and needed the procedure to save her life. Says Miller:
This decisive action against one nun in one ethically murky case comes as an “apostolic visitation,” or investigation, of all of America’s 60,000 religious sisters is underway. Its purpose is unclear, though the man who ordered it, Cardinal Franc Rode, is well known for his views about “irregularities” in post–Vatican II religious life. “You could say,” he told a radio interviewer last year, that the investigation “involves a certain secular mentality that has spread in these religious families, and perhaps also a certain feminist spirit.” Anxious observers and commentators worry that, as a result of the inquiry, nuns will be forced to take steps backward—into the head coverings and habits, for example, that were made optional after the Second Vatican Council in 1965. They worry further that sisters who have worked more or less independently for decades will have their independence curtailed: the church has been known to remove teachers from their posts, for example, for teaching an insufficiently orthodox theology. With dioceses still hurting for cash due to settlements from the sex-abuse crisis, they worry that with the number of sisters dwindling in the West, real estate that has belonged to a religious community for generations will be sold or reappropriated by the diocese. At a time when the male leadership can be blamed for leading the church to a state of crisis—a time when the voices of women are needed more than ever—even the modest roles accorded to female clerics have come under attack. The specific reasons for the investigation are unclear (or, more probably, not public), but the suspicion, clearly, can be put in the crassest terms: too many American nuns have gone off the reservation.
How could this not remind me of radical feminist philosopher Mary Daly? She first worked within the Catholic Church to reform its patriarchal ideology, and was nearly fired from her teaching job at Boston University as a result. This experience, and her exposure to currents of radical feminism, inspired her to reject the Catholic Church, and all forms of patriarchal religion.

Sarah Nicholson, in a tribute to Daly published shortly after Daly's death at the beginning of this year, describes this strategy:
The Journey has been described as a “central axis” of Daly’s philosophy (Campbell 2000, 174). In ‘Women’s Be-Dazzling Journey’ the call is for women to awaken from their stuckness in patriarchal space. It is the patriarchal threshold of gender roles and rules that she must cross and her journey is an ongoing process of questioning this conventional cultural space in which she finds herself (Campbell 2000, 166). This enquiry and her bold response enables her ‘Be/Leaving’, her increasing realisation and her ‘Be-coming’; all of which deepens her ability to participate in “ever Unfolding Be-ing” (Daly 1992, 3).
Carol J. Adams describes Daly's brief-but-cogent analysis of the specific issue of abortion:
Mary knew the art of discourse. She would begin an article with a statement like “I don’t need to tell you that one hundred percent of the priests and bishops who oppose abortion are men and one hundred percent of the people getting abortions are women.” And so she did tell us, and we still need to be reminded of that.
I agree with Lisa Miller that the Catholic Church is stupid to try to subject its nuns to stricter control at a time when the credibility of its all-male hierarchy is increasingly under attack. But I hope this may prove the occasion for many, many sisters to Be/Leave.

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