While the Catholic Church clergy makes shameful but overdue headlines on the receiving end of a criminal investigation, the professed religious of the Church are doing their best to actually do ministry. You may have heard of the Nuns on the Bus; they're the visible, nationwide-traveling-arm of the lobbying group NETWORK. And now NETWORK is under fire from the Church.
The Daily Show: July 26, 2012
More after the divider.
A quick refresher on the church for all those of us who live in the former British Empire: the Catholic Church is the dominant face of Christianity almost everywhere in the world. It is estimated that it has over one billion adherents. Jaded observers may see a gilded and gaudy, corrupt church concerned only with its own power and protection. However, that is not the Catholic Church that hundreds of millions of people around the world see. It's not even the Catholic Church that was always seen in the United States.
Back in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Catholic Church was one of the biggest sources of support for the working poor. Though they always rejected socialism and Marxism, churches were intricately tied with the labor movement; Pope Leo XIII issued an open letter called "Rerum Novarum: Rights and Duties of Capital and Labour." This is the side of the church that gave it its uniquely charming and heroic image in the film industry well into the 50s, after the fight seemed to have been won. And it is this other side to the church, seen in Latin America in the mid-20th century, that became the birthplace of Liberation Theology.
What is Liberation Theology? Kind of an unwieldy name. It could be called, "put your money where Jesus' mouth was," Christianity. It's been called Christianized Marxism. Glenn Beck hates it, so it's probably good for us. Seriously speaking, Liberation Theology focuses on Jesus' attitude towards helping the poor, downtrodden, and the weak. The belief that grace flows to those who need it most, and not those who are most fortunate in life.
Not pictured: Jesus being down with rich people. Because he wasn't.
Its single most influential and noble face was in the Archbishop of San Salvador, Óscar Romero. Archbishop Romero was originally a conservative priest, but became galvanized to progressiveness after a Jesuit Friar was murdered for his work with the poor. In a short order of three years, the Archbishop made a lot of waves calling on other nations - including the United States - to stop giving military aid to the vicious government in control of El Salvador, and speaking out against suppression of the poor and social injustices. He was assassinated for the trouble he caused the ruling Junta.
Romero's brief time as the head of the movement was nonetheless impressive; the Anglican Church, of which he was never a member, has delivered many accolades upon him. By comparison, the Vatican was slow to begin the process of canonization - ten year delay for a man who had a funeral attended by a quarter of a million people, while Mother Teresa began the process immediately - and has yet to declare him a martyr of the church. Even under the relatively progressive John Paul II, Liberation Theology was viewed as suspect.
And it's gotten worse. Prior to the election of Pope Benedict XVI, he was Cardinal Ratzinger. In 1985, Cardinal Ratzinger released a scathing criticism of Liberation Theology, which can be summarized unkindly but accurately as-so: there's nothing wrong with the ideas that it's trying to push, but it has this ker-azy notion that one of the best ways to help the oppressed is through politics, and that just ain't kosher. It's just halal.
Bad experiences with Halal 9000. "I can't let you do that, Friar Dave."
A less dramatic form of liberation theology has started to take hold in the United States - a return to the progressive tradition of the Catholic Church from a century ago. Enabled by the reforms of Vatican II way back in the 60s and catalyzed by the radical conservatism that's choking our nation, the most visible non-clerical arm of the American Catholic Church has sprung into action. The nuns - specifically, the Nuns on the Bus, a protest tour sponsored of NETWORK, a political activist and lobbying group of consecrated sisters.
These are not the nuns you saw in Sister Act; look, for example, at their Executive Director:
Before JERICHO, Simone served as the general director of her religious community, the Sisters of Social Service. She was the leader of her Sisters in the United States, Mexico, Taiwan and the Philippines. In this capacity, she negotiated with government and religious leaders in each of these countries. In 1978, Simone founded and served for 18 years as the lead attorney for the Community Law Center in Oakland, California. She served the family law and probate needs of the working poor of her county.These are the people who led the charge against the Ryan budget; yes, the bishops also got involved in it, but they were Johnnie-come-latelys, practically. If this was a World War, the bishops were America - a vital but tardy asset - and the sisters were everyone else, as far as the Catholic involvement was concerned. They helped push the ACA through. They urge diplomatic resolutions to the United States' foreign policy issues. They even have ecology as a top concern. As theologian Kristin Heyer noted, "NETWORK views itself as uniquely representing those at the bottom of the economic ladder (women in particular, because they comprise 70 percent of the world’s poor; immigrants; or those who fall between the cracks) as well as the middle class or those concerned about justice issues."
NETWORK is a critical part of the full spectrum of pushback against the conservative crazies who are assaulting our nation, our government, and our people. So of course, Pope Benedict XVI is right out in front of it, trying to do everything he can to tear it down.
Darth Benedict finds your lack of conformity... disturbing.
You may have noticed looking at their issues page that NETWORK is quiet on the issue of contraception and abortion. Completely silent. That might have something to do with the fact that there's precious little on the matter in the Bible discussing either, and a lot of long-standing Catholic policy against these two. Similarly, you won't find any language there discussing civil rights for GLBT. They have kept themselves to issues which could be easily supported within the Bible.
And it doesn't matter. Since 2008, an inquisition has been going against the nuns of the Catholic Church in America, despite their best efforts to avoid critical notice. The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith has criticized NETWORK and allied professed religious groups for promoting "radical feminist themes," by the sin of omission. By not speaking out against issues that the church isn't fond of - including abortion and same-sex marriage - they are accused of supporting those issues. Nevermind that there's plenty of dogs in that fight already.
To bring these wayward sisters into line, an Archbishop has been appointed to "implement a process of review and conformity to the teachings and discipline of the church," to the group of professed religious behind NETWORK, the LCWR. While the nuns are expected to attend the meetings in which they will be forcibly reshaped, they don't appear to have any say or control mechanism over it. Presumably, Pope Benedict will not be satisfied until he has wrung out every bit of Liberation Theology from these uppity peoples' minds.
Many of my professors were also religious leaders in their own right, and I remember seeing and hearing a common refrain among them: "My job is to comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable." It's a dedication that I'm not certain the Pope shares, since he seems to be more concerned with harassing those who help the weak, than helping the weak.
Charity? We'll have nun of that from this Catholic Church, I suppose.
Help us, Obinun Kenunbi.
This diary relied heavily on information from feminismandreligion.com with regards to the current persecution of NETWORK and LCWR. I recommend reading this article by Cynthie Garrity-Bond.