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A powerful message from Sr. Joan Chittister, National Catholic Reporter, March 6

Read the entire post here:
NCRonline.org/blogs/where-i-stand.]

“To a vast population of the world, the papacy of the Roman Catholic church is some kind of meaningless monarchy, colorful, intriguing and irrelevant. It is a fantasy game played by Catholics. How seriously is something like that to be taken when the issues to be dealt with are so contemporary, so important, not only to Catholics and their idea of church and faith and the spiritual life but to the world at large? How can we believe that the answers arrived at in a medieval setting have anything to do with the real world?

And so, when the pope waved goodbye from the balcony at Castel Gandolfo, I felt a twinge of sadness — for him, for us and for the world at large. Because of his presence of mind, because of his willingness to step out of a position that has been surrounded by fairy-tale expectations, the church has been brought to a new point in its own conversion and development. And those points are not easy for anyone. In fact, women religious have themselves known them in a very special way.

For that reason, women religious may have something to teach the church about the process of conversion and development at this very important moment.

Religious life, too, had been encased in another world. Women religious lived separately from the world around them, they dressed in clothes that had been designed centuries before, they gave up a sense of personal or individual identity. As a result, they got further away from the people they served by the day, further away from their needs, further away from their feelings.

The renewal process of religious life required three major changes before they could possibly pursue anything else of a particular nature, like future planning or ministry decisions. Renewal, they discovered, was a matter of demystification, integration and relevance.

Religious life had its own kind of monarchies to be deconstructed before anything creative could possibly happen or the gifts of its members be released for the sake of the world at large.

The first step was to take the Second Vatican Council’s direction about collegiality and subsidiarity, the concepts of shared responsibility and personal decision-making. That meant that the kind of absolute authority that had built up around religious superiors had to be relinquished. Major decisions began to be shared with the community at large. Personal decisions began to be entrusted to the sisters themselves, all adult and educated women who had been deprived of the minutest decision-making: for example, the hour at which they would go to bed; the right to make a doctor’s appointment; the structure of their lives between prayer times. Major superiors began to be expected — and allowed — to be Jesus-figures in the community, spiritual leaders not lawgivers, not monitors, not queen bees.

In the second place, religious had to learn to integrate themselves into the society they were attempting to serve. That did not necessarily mean eliminating a kind of symbolic dress, but it did mean updating it in a way designed to simplify rather than to separate. Most women religious chose, like Jesus, to set out to be the sign rather than do it the easy way and wear the sign.

Grave and sober voices everywhere warned women religious that to do something like that would eliminate generations of respect from the people around them. I can only speak personally for my own community, of course, but I can promise you that separated from the people, locked away from the world like specters from another planet, and dressed to prove how special we were in relationship to everyone else around us generated nowhere near the mutual respect the community feels now from those who come to the community to seek spiritual support, to search out individual sisters for compassion and guidance, and to take their rightful places with us in ministry and spiritual reflection.

Finally, addressing the questions of the time that plague the world — peace, justice, women’s issues, sustainability — and admitting the questions undermining the current credibility of the church, as well — clericalism, sexism, sexuality, the implications of interfaith societies — make sisters honest and caring members of a pilgrim church.

From where I stand, the church hierarchy itself could well take the opportunity, the crossroad, that Benedict provides us now and themselves do a little demystifying, a large bit of collegiality and a serious amount of communal discernment with the people of God on the great issues of the time.”

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Yesterday, two US organisations, SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and religious) and The Center for Constitutional Rights (a New York-based nonprofit legal group) appeared at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, to request that the Pope and three Cardinals of the Catholic Church be investigated for crimes against humanity. To put this in perspective, the ICC is currently hearing cases of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur, particularly against civilians.

Should the officials of the Church be held responsible for the spiritual genocide of thousands of children perpetrated by “officers” of their organisation, who used their “uniform” and authority to elicit dread obedience from children ranging in age from kindergarten through high school for the purpose of sexual gratification?  Perhaps not, you think? After all, the criminals were each responsible for their own crimes.

But…

Should the officials of the Church be held responsible for creating and/or enforcing of directives that established protocols for a response to victims that relied on threat, intimidation, and the enforcement of oaths of secrecy?

Should the officials of the Church be held responsible for creating and/or enforcing directives that established protocols of mis-representation and re-assignment in the treatment of accused and/or admitted pedophiles and ephebophiles in the priesthood?

Should the officials of the Church be held responsible for ignoring or undermining the directives established by the USCCB and other national Catholic bodies for the protection of children from the criminal behavior of sexually predatory Catholic priests and religious?

Without a doubt!

Will bringing this case solve the problem? No.  Will it make a difference? Simply by the enormity of the public scandal, yes.

Washington Post,  November 8

Pope Benedict XVI has summoned cardinals from around the world to a day-long summit in Rome next week on the clerical sex abuse scandal and other issues facing the Catholic Church, the Vatican said Monday.

The Vatican called the session “a day of reflection and prayer” that also will include discussions on threats to religious freedom, relations with other religions and procedures for disaffected Anglicans to join the Catholic Church. Five Church of England bishops announced Monday they were converting to Catholicism following Benedict’s invitation to disaffected Anglicans.

Really? Sex abuse, religious freedom, ecumenism, and Anglican ministers joining the church … all in one day? Is this just a publicity gesture? Certainly, prayerful reflection is an important tool for Catholic leaders to utilise — would that more of them had used it in the past.  But what is the point of identifying so many issues as the focus for a single day? Nothing substantial can possibly be achieved in one day, except the eliciting of agreement on already formed papal opinion. Is that what the church needs right now — more yes men?  We can’t even get a decent English translation of the New Missal. How can we expect any real growth on the issue of abuse unless the pope is willing to actually address it with meaningful investigation, prayerful reflection and input from professionals in such fields as medicine, law enforcement, psychology, psychiatry and criminal law.  And by “willing to address it” I mean a month or a couple of weeks not a couple of hours, however prayerful.

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