To the Editor:
Ms. Butler gives us a chilling history of nuns bullied and abused by a
dictatorial Catholic Church leadership in the settling of the American
West. Sadly, religious communities of women all across the country and
the world can trump those tales with worse narratives of negligent,
insensitive, unjust and inappropriate use of authority by the church
The greatest strength of the church in this country has been the witness
and achievements of nuns. Ironically, it is the rare priest who does
not trace his vocation to the inspired ministry of the sisters.
Rightly or wrongly, the bishops are perceived by the American Catholic
faithful as complacent in the disrespect and disregard of American nuns
shown in the disproportionate response of Rome to complaints against the
leadership of the congregations of these great women.
What is at stake here is the moral voice of the church, which is
squandered by the expanding list of failures of the bishops to be
effective teachers. Those failures include the horrendous disregard for
the safety of our children in too many instances without any
accountability; carelessness in public statements on highly complex
pastoral issues; poor process and failures of common courtesy in
disagreements with people of good will inside or outside the church; and
now silence as the sisters are dragged under a cloud.
I know so many bishops to be men of great faith, compassion and good
will. That is why I grieve at the ineffectiveness of the body of bishops
as teachers and at the loss of their moral voice.
Teaching is never effective through force or bullying. It never works if
those being taught feel disrespected or devalued, and it is no longer
teaching if it descends into a mere exercise of control.
The sisters have been the church’s great teachers, using the witness of
their lives and works to teach. American Catholics and the broader
country will hear the moral voice of the bishops when they are
experienced as teachers standing among their people as ones who serve.
STEPHEN J. SWEENY
New Rochelle, N.Y., May 16, 2012
The writer is president emeritus of the College of New Rochelle, a Catholic college.