There is a serious struggle underway in the Catholic Church, or so it seems to me.
The way I understand it, the Vatican has decided that there is enough evidence of secular feminism creeping into the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an organization umbrella-ing most of the nuns in the United States, that it has put a bishop (necessarily a man) in charge of the group to teach it the error of its ways.
For what appears to be a decent overview,look here:
I recently listened to some of this Fresh Air episode (the one where the Bishop was the host)and it inspired this post:
It was amazing to me how uncompromising the Bishop was in his opinion of his own position. He sounded strikingly similar to any government official (and I submit myself as an expert on government-speak based on my experience as an immigration attorney). Which reminded me how useful it can be to look at an organized church from the perspective of looking at a government. There can be many similarities in the way the two creatures have a jurisdiction over which they claim jurisdiction. They often both have a “law” to impose on those within their jurisdiction. And most relevantly, in close questions they can both get stuck in arguments over what the law “is.”
Although fights over the meaning of the law are almost certainly long and messy, civil governments can usually set up a prime adjudicator to say what the law is. Even with an idea of universal human rights in the background, it is essentially simple to say, “the supreme court will be the final arbiter of the law of this government.”
I believe the leader of the LCWR, Sister Pat Ferrell, makes a very interesting argument for the doctrine of obedience, and explains that the LCWR is simply defending the idea that this doctrine means that all of the nuns should be permitted to follow their understanding of God’s message and even of His law.
The lesson I am currently taking from the controversy is to me a warning to any organized church. It seems to me it should be obvious that if you respond to this kind of thing with an answer that devalues the spiritual lives of your members, then you have to be headed down a destructive path. It seems to me you cannot both value your member’s spiritual lives AND say “this body of people will be the final arbiter of the law of God.”
Is this an indictment of all organized churches? Is it an indictment of an episcopal system? And how do we balance this against the other idea that the Lord needs people to protect the purity of his Word and doctrines? I don’t have the answers, but any time I see this dilemma the libertarian in me wants to tear down the Cathedral, so to speak, and stand up for the individual’s relationship with God. Then I have to remind myself that libertarianism is a political theory, not a theology.