Hot Flashes in Vatican City

One year later, that Arab Springs has come to Vatican City. The Swiss Guards have been instructed to be on the lookout for anyone dressed up in a habit carrying a gas can.

In the Islamic revolution in Iran, the shah at the time had the fifth largest army in the world, as well as the largest air force in the Middle East in 1980. With a political vision for pan-Islamic, Ayatollah Khomeni had more power than the shah ever had.

In Sept 1978, Khomeni was expelled from Iraq and lived in exile in Paris, with his appeal directed at the peasants and uneducated. Living previously in exile, Khomeni under Iraq’s protection?

Before the religious purge. Taking names and ending the lives of those in religious opposition. Then getting involved in politics, like in the history of the Roman Empire. Trying to get involved with secular power. Like now William Levada? Like over the question of who loves God the best? Or who knows God best?

William J. Byron writes: “It is no secret that increasing numbers of baptized Catholics in the United States never or rarely attend Sunday Mass. In the late fall of 2011, we asked some of them a simple question: Why?”

“At the request of Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., of Trenton, N.J., (the former president of Catholic University of America) we surveyed” the registered parishioners who are no longer showing up. The responses indicate that relatively few indicated that they simply “drifted away.”

“Diocesan officials are,” William J. Byron writes, “taking notice of topics that call for better explanation. As they do, we hope that they will bear in mind the comment cited by one man, who said that ‘every time you ask a question, you get a rule.’”

From where I come from there was an evangelism by blood — to celebrate holidays with religious meaning – which gave meaning and purpose to human life. When love and sex and blood has always been the manner of passing on shared belief. And in the age of divorce there were new challenges in this evangelism by blood. For those who believed that God is Love, and that God could be found in the torture of love.

When things come back. Boomerangs and your sins. In your progeny. The size of the crimes. The slow and deliberate challenge in the forgiveness to children from their parents. The stress in the stories. Of capitalism, of communism – bigger, stronger, faster. Of religious wars — The Great Crusades — taking the Lord thy God’s name in vain. For only myself. Again and again, religious war. And the fear of the non-believers in the story. With a missing forgiveness involved in the mystery of Love.

In these too well-educated times. Artificial intelligence. The printing press. In the switch from oral education to one centered on reading, there was the de-leveraging going on, with this accompanying privatization. Like after the Soviet Union fell. And now the challenge trying to pray in the digital age.

When you have lost touch. When you lost your balance. When you have lost your sensation. As you got old. About measuring the quality of institutions of modern women religious. When the numbers showed that modern women drifted into the thoughts of the modern world. When some men tried to measure the reasons why registered parishioners were no longer showing up. And others tried to impose their will on those who did.

And so the response – going through the motions, which began about forty months ago, after the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life had issued a decree that they would conduct a comprehensive study to look into the quality of institutes of women religious in the United States and the life of the members of these religious institutes. Because no one was becoming a nun any more. (No comprehensive study as to why no one was joining the nunneries of Europe. No comprehensive study was announced concerning why the fall-off in men joining the priesthood.) This was an American problem? Or an American plot?

Separate from this Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life inquiry was a “doctrinal assessment” of the Leadership Conference of Women religious by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed up by the American cardinal William Levada. This was just an updated version of a purge by the same body of the church which had conducted the Inquisition about the time Columbus set off to discover America. When in those days a lot of Europeans felt the need to get out of Europe.

About human pride. Being the best. Being the smartest. Being the strongest. Over who loves and cares the best? In sharing a past, whose ritual was the strongest? On issues of sacrifice? In the need for ritual, whose interpretation was the strongest? When eventually blood got involved in the competition. Over the kids. In the vanity argument of what had worked for the longest, and what was not now working? For the next generation?

Facing banishment. Old nuns, because of simple ministry rather than proselytizing. Actions stronger than words. Care-givers. When the sisters were beyond the reach of the U S Conference of Bishops – because of the Code of Canon law – and these bishops wanted to look into the habits of the nunneries. With only non-binding guidelines to offer the nuns, the bishop of Toledo went plotting to go to someone who had power over the nunneries on “matters of theological orthodoxy.” Benedict XVI has written in the past that he prefers a leaner, smaller, purer church, and here seemingly was the path to put his own beliefs into practice.

And so the decision last week by Cardinal William Levada who, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, lived in an apartment which was 524 square metres — roughly 5,640 square feet. William Levada’s decisions was that the Vatican would be taking control of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Levada has been since November 2000 a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was in 2001 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had asked the nuns to promote “Ordinatio sacerdotalis,” a 1994 Apostolic Letter which represented Church teaching on the sacramental priesthood and restate the church’s position that ordination of women was not gonna happen. So the announced purge is consistent with the pope’s thinking, before he was pope. (In the way of fact finding, the duty of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to promote and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals .)

Forty months later, the Vatican is now taking control, with hope that in five years to put the Leadership Conference of Women Religious on a different track. Consistent with the theology of Benedict espoused before he became pope that the Roman Catholic Church was in need of pruning. And so the spring pruning of American nuns whose perspective he seemed not to share. Based upon their vow of obedience, either comply with the order or face ouster as a Vatican-recognized representative of sisters in the United States. Extinguish the charism.

Notice the missing leadership in the Pontiff in allowing these American bishops to get involved in power issues, not ones of significant doctrine. Letting your colleague, like Cardinal Levada, decide since it was his nation, even if he never really returned much to his home land. Because when you were eighty-five, you would just rather pray. And so the pope had left the decision in the hand of the now seventy-five year old American who has been the prefect running the goings-on at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Because this pope — Cardinal Levada had come to learn after his long association — who prefers a leaner, smaller, purer church, would now just rather pray. And Cardinal Levada was seemingly on a path to put the beliefs of this pope into practice.

The palpable sadness in the story – in pruning back part of the story – was when you have lost touch with women. When you consider only your own view of the world. When you actually took the Lord thy God’s name in vain – only for myself, or with only those who shared my perspective of this God. The bad guy in all of this was Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo who manipulated his friendship with William Levada. Blair has been a a member of Committee on Doctrine of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops , the bad institution in all of this. The U S Conferences of Bishops was the organization of bishops and archbishops which had for years left the aging nuns with their own financial deficits. And now they were leading the nuns up on Mount Moriah, like Abraham once had taken Isaac.

As the nuns face mostly end of life issues. On the issue of support. Based upon their financial need, with the vows of poverty, facing over the next ten years more than $20 billion in unfunded retirement liabilities, including medical costs, in a nation with more nuns over the age 90 than under age 60, per the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. With no kids of their own to turn to, based upon their vow of celibacy (with mostly missing claims of sexual abuse), now losing their spiritual life? When somehow you had made enemies and arch-enemies. Like Jesus. Based upon the demographics available through the Retirement Fund for Religious, in 2010 the total cost to care for women and men religious past age 70 exceeded $1 billion. Of 572 religious communities submitting data to the National Religious Retirement Office in 2010, 171 are adequately funded for retirement, with 148 communities less than 20 percent funded. It is worth noting ninety-five percent of the nation’s 63,032 nuns belonged to the Leadership Conference of Women religious. From a total nun population of 135,00 in 1975 in the United States, with a lot less working nuns. It sounds like the Social Security crisis.

In extinguishing the charism, the decision letting Levada decide what to do, in safeguarding the doctrine on morals, would seem to cast doubt in the “extraordinary power” of nuns. Theologically, this was announced in the Easter season, almost 40 days before the celebration of Penecost. When this was just a conflict over issues of job descriptions? When Levada’s job included a duty to promote and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals, and the nuns had never submitted their job descriptions, or passed out the keychains? Or the American bishops like Leonard Blair of Toledo, who knew ninety-five percent of the nation’s 63,032 nuns belonged to the Leadership Conference of Women religious, saw a way to get out of a financial obligation to women who had contributed to the faith their entire lives.

With your personal theology on display. In his book Defying Hitler, Sebastion Haffner cited Bismarck’s remark about the German people: the scarcity of moral courage among Germans – and the complete lack of it among Germans who put on vestments and/or uniforms. Bismarck thought this characteristic made Germany unsuitable for democratic government.

Long before he became pope, I was not a fan of Joseph Ratzinger. And I wonder about a colllege of cardinals that can elect a candidate on record of discussing a need to prune back, when the mission statement was always about salvation. I am not sure Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger caught, during the era of his youth, the need for a wider peprspective on issues of superiority and authority.

And so the alienation of affection. Not just of my affection but the younger generation for the distortion of the concept of the Roman Catholic God, pursued with the air of infallibitlity. Caught up on the cause of religious freedom as a basic human right, this pope was oppressing a certain wing of his own church with his pruner.

When you theology was on display. In choosing a God. In choosing a lifestyle. In the manner you choose to love. Blind to the difference between choosing and being chosen. And then all of the vanity about being right.

Satan, with his role in human pride. Being the smartest. The strongest. Who best serves. When the first commandment involved KNOWING God. It was not to be a contest over who knew God the best — which was a sin of pride and vanity.

With your life of humility, losing your facilities. Perhaps you have forgotten the embarrassment to be poor; the strong responses in the embarrassment to be powerless, to those without power. Perhaps you have forgotten the strong human feelings – anger, fear, apathy – but with spiritual direction which led to religious life, to the dedication of lives in response to the poor, to the disenfranchised. Perhaps you have forgotten the charism. Or perhaps you have forgotten just one commandment – like Thou shall not take the Lord thy God in vain. Or in modern parlance, “Thou shall not prune.”

Perhaps those who believe not only in the message of the Gospel but in the financial support of local institutions – those men and women who in their own marriages lived with change – might, instead of joining a Facebook protest, begin to send checks to the order of nuns in their own community, instead of the parish priest. In Solidarity with the nuns. To the one who once had educated them, instead of the local parishes that the archbishop claimed dominion over – with the rights to close and consolidate parishes. Perhaps checks to the like of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet, or Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, or the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinnawa. Or the ones in your American community, serving without regard to race, color, or creed. Until someone in Rome reined in Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo , in purging the opposition, like in Iran or in Syria where there was no real religious liberty. And you somehow thought you were allowed to consume your own flesh and blood.

Discipline. Suppression. Banishment. So this was how the Jesuit Suppression of the eighteen century happened? As kings collaborated with popes, starting when the aged Pope Benedict XIV collaborating with the King of Portugal. This Jesuit Suppression spread throughout the world, lasting until 1814. How fast the world could change. But good things come back, in stories of boomerangs, care-givers, and nuns. And Jesuits.

To the hymn Salve Regina.

To thee we cry, poor sons of Eve, O Maria! (The Church of Rome’s English translation)
To thee we sigh, we mourn, we grieve, O Maria!

Triumph, all ye cherubim, Sing with us, ye seraphim,
Heaven and earth resound the hymn:
Salve, salve, salve Regina!


The Retirement Fund for Religious is the annual appeal sponsored by the National Religious Retirement Office, under the auspices of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Concerning the US Conference of Catholic Bishops — with their $39 million annual budget to operate an office in Washington, I have personally known five or six with miters who, with true lives of humility, were really good guys – mostly serving in a part of the country where they grew up. That model has been smashed when the pope from Poland went to Rome. Because when in Rome, everyone had to do like the Polish do. And you seldom ever heard a priest ever dare quote anyone except a living pope, thereafter.

When the woman you married did not seem the same. When I was not the same. When even God seemed to change so much over a lifetime, in papal standard mean time. If you ever were deeply invested in a relationship of love.

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1 comment so far

  1. paperlessworld on

    The Old Boys’ Network:

    Ordained a priest of the Detroit archdiocese June 26, 1976, Leonard Blair was ordained an auxiliary bishop of that archdiocese Aug. 24, 1999, and named bishop of Toledo in 2003. Born April 12, 1949, in Detroit, Blair attended Detroit’s Sacred Heart Seminary and the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He earned a licentiate in sacred theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, in 1978 and a doctorate in sacred theology in 1997 at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas, known as the Angelicum, in Rome. He chairs the U.S. bishops’ catechism subcommittee and is a member of their doctrinal committee and the evangelization and catechesis committee.


    Pope praises American nuns
    May. 18, 2012

    By Alessandro Speciale,

    VATICAN CITY (Religion News Service)– Pope Benedict XVI on Friday (May 18) expressed his “deep gratitude” to American nuns for their “fidelity and self-sacrifice,” and he praised the U.S. bishops for their efforts to welcome immigrants.

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