Temperatures in and around St. Louis have been beyond hot this summer. The temperature gauges augur what a world suffering from climate change will look like: Withered fields and plants, dry rivers and dusty roads and cloudless, empty days that lead to fires, such as those raking Oklahoma. In this stifling environment, representatives of the Catholic nuns of America begin meeting tomorrow by a shrinking Mississippi perhaps to fire back at the Vatican. The leaders of the organization that oversees 80 percent of all nuns are under assault from clueless bishops who are attacking the nuns as not being Catholic enough. The bishops have no idea that the public supports the nuns. The idea that the nuns will accept quietly the criticism that the Vatican leveled against them hopefully is not in the cards. From these kinds of critical moments, leaders can emerge.
When Rome attacked the nuns and their guiding organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Church might not have understood that Catholics throughout the world have basically had it with its bishops, whose authority has inflated into an arrogance that has caused so many Catholics to abandon ship. I, least of anyone, can cast the first stone at the bishops. But the nuns could if they desired. They are leading the kind of giving life few do, and so they are entitled to challenge an episcopate that history will adjudge as being so off the mark. The nuns’ leaders first tried to talk some sense to the male leadership of the Church — with predictable results.
In the nuns’ contest of wills with Rome, they have the public on their side. The ludicrous fight the bishops picked with the Obama Administration over birth control is so out of touch with reality that it does not take much time for Catholics to make up their minds about whose side to take. And, unfortunately, it is about taking sides these days. That is how the bishops have decided to operate these days.
Many of the faithful – and many of the unknowing who are not Catholic – put Pope John Paul II on a lofty pedestal – sainthood, even. Hispanics and Latinos are no exception, and that is all fine and good, except that he put the Church on its current path of self-destruction, appointing bishops who think they have already earned eternal salvation and then go about acting as if they are all infallible. And the current Pope is such an non-entity that, infallible or not, he is not even part of the conversation, except for the constant news reports that show the Vatican for what it is these days, as corrupt as bankers on Wall Street. When things get to the level that butlers are involved, you know something is not right.
Well, things have not been right for a long time, and the nuns’ struggle to remain the last authentic voice of Christian love and charity within an organization whose “leaders” purposefully limit the confines of God is going to be the last straw for many more Catholics because how the nuns win this fight is unclear. I wonder if we will look back at this period and see it as the day when a new Church was organized. It has been almost 500 years since Martin Luther and later England broke away from Rome. That breakaway was facilitated in the case of the Lutherans through the arrival of new technology. The printing press was for them what the internet is for so many today.
Were I Pope, I would fear the emergence of a female version of Luther. I would fear nuns with laptops. The newest laptops run cooler than the old ones.
That does not mean the nuns cannot pack some heat.