Don't Bite The Hands that Made You: Why Attack Nuns?
The Catholic Church's ahistorical attack on nuns
It's not surprising that religious orders attracted such women. For centuries, the convent was the only respectable place for girls who aspired to travel and make a difference.
Eventually, the women's-rights movement gave young women the chance to work in social justice outside the church. That's one reason the number of American nuns plummeted. But the lack of respect for nuns in an all-male church hierarchy also played a role.
In the early 1960s, Vatican II gave nuns wide latitude to go out into the world and perform good works. Some joined the civil rights movement. Others protested the Vietnam War.
But skittish men simultaneously reined them in. The archbishop of Los Angeles insisted on dictating nuns' bedtimes, prayer hours, and reading, leading to an infamous 1970 standoff that prompted more than 300 sisters to break with the church.
If the Vatican insists on punishing nuns — the recent reprimand accuses them of focusing too much on poverty and not enough on the church's teachings on homosexuality — we could see a similar showdown. Maybe the men of the Vatican prefer a smaller, "purer" church reminiscent of the Middle Ages. But what message does this send to everybody else?
Are we really supposed to believe that strong-willed nuns are more dangerous to Catholicism than child-molesting priests? That crusades against masturbation and gay marriage are more important than helping the poor? It's hard to imagine that Jesus would agree.
The Vatican has been on the wrong side of history before. Luckily, the church's vibrant community has a way of self-correcting with time. Two hundred years ago, Julie Billiart, the foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, was a persona non grata in France. Today, she is a saint.
Farah Stockman writes for the Boston Globe.