Showing posts with label Nuns on the Bus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nuns on the Bus. Show all posts

Thursday, September 6, 2012

I Am My Brother's Keeper

        Sr. Simone Campbell speaks at the Democratic National Convention, September 5, 2012

Sr. Simone Campbell spoke yesterday at the Democratic National Convention and she nearly brought down the house. At times, she could hardly continue because of the applause. Please make time to watch her brief  (6 minutes) and moving speech.

This is the best of Christian ideology. How did the Republican Party's faithful lose their way?

"I am my sister's keeper. I am my brother's keeper!"

"Paul Ryan says his budget is in keeping with the values of our shared faith. I disagree."

Transcript of Sister Simone's remarks. 

“Good evening, I’m Sister Simone Campbell, and I’m one of the ‘nuns on the bus.’ So, yes, we have nuns on the bus. And a nun on the podium!

Let me explain why I’m here. In June, I joined other Catholic sisters on a 2,700-mile bus journey through nine states to tell Americans about the budget Congressman Paul Ryan wrote and Governor Romney endorsed.

Paul Ryan claims his budget reflects the principles of our shared Catholic faith. But the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that the Ryan budget failed a basic moral test, because it would harm families living in poverty.

We agree with our bishops, and that’s why we went on the road: to stand with struggling families and to lift up our Catholic sisters who serve them. Their work to alleviate suffering would be seriously harmed by the Romney-Ryan budget, and that is wrong.

During our journey, I rediscovered a few truths. First, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are correct when they say that each individual should be responsible. But their budget goes astray in not acknowledging that we are responsible not only for ourselves and our immediate families. Rather, our faith strongly affirms that we are all responsible for one another.

I am my sister’s keeper. I am my brother’s keeper. While we were in Toledo, I met 10-year-old twins Matt and Mark, who had gotten into trouble at school for fighting. Sister Virginia and the staff at the Padua Center took them in when they were suspended and discovered on a home visit that these 10-year-olds were trying to care for their bedridden mother who has MS and diabetes.

They were her only caregivers. The sisters got her medical help and are giving the boys some stability. Now the boys are free to claim much of the childhood they were losing. Clearly, we all share responsibility for the Matts and Marks in our nation.
This is part of my pro-life stance
and the right thing to do...
We care for the 100%!

In Milwaukee, I met Billy and his wife and two boys at St. Benedict’s dining room. Billy’s work hours were cut back in the recession. Billy is taking responsibility for himself and his family, but right now without food stamps, he and his wife could not put food on their family table.

We all share responsibility for creating an economy where parents with jobs earn enough to take care of their families. In order to cut taxes for the very wealthy, the Romney-Ryan budget would make it even tougher for hard-working Americans like Billy to feed their families. Paul Ryan says this budget is in keeping with the values of our shared faith. I disagree.

In Cincinnati, I met Jini, who had just come from her sister’s memorial service. When Jini’s sister Margaret lost her job, she lost her health insurance. She developed cancer and had no access to diagnosis or treatment. She died unnecessarily. That is tragic. And it is wrong.

The Affordable Care Act will cover people like Margaret. We all share responsibility to ensure that this vital health care reform law is properly implemented and that all governors expand Medicaid coverage so no more Margarets die from lack of care. This is part of my pro-life stance and the right thing to do.

I have so many other stories but will only tell one more. In Hershey, Pennsylvania, a woman in her late thirties approached us. She asked for the names of some people she could talk to, because she felt alone and isolated. Her neighbors have been polarized by politics masquerading as values. She cares about the well-being of the people in her community.

She wishes they, and the rest of the nation, would listen to one another with kindness and compassion. Listen to one another rather than yell at each other. I told her then, and I tell her now, that she is not alone.

Looking out at you tonight, I feel your presence combined with that of the thousands of caring people we met on our journey. Together, we understand that an immoral budget that hurts already struggling families does not reflect our nation’s values. We are better than that.

So I urge you to join us on the bus. Join us as together we stand with Matt and Mark, Billy and his family, the woman in Hershey and the Margarets of our nation.

This is what we nuns on the bus are all about: We care for the 100 percent, and that will secure the blessings of liberty for our nation. So join us as we nuns and all of us drive for faith, family and fairness.”

Thursday, August 9, 2012

ThorsdayTonics - This Remarkable Thing

Yet another achingly beautiful video about the awesome possibilities in the universe by Philhellenes.  A dose of tonic for the human spirit on a Tuesday morning. Soak it in and be recharged!

Because I am still on family vacation, I'm going to link to several excellent blog posts and articles this morning. These writers have said what I have been thinking about this week, but generally much better!

First, it looks like the ironically-named Illinois Family Institute is targeting Hemant Mehta again for some of its weapons grade bigotry and stupidity. IFI's Laurie Higgins seems to have a particular agenda of hatred against Hemant which she made very personal and very political a couple of years ago when she tried to use her influence to get him fired from his job as a high school math teacher because he is an atheist. Now, Higgins and her execrable organization are back to their campaign of hateful bigotry, urging parents to attack school teachers directly if they attempt to make their classrooms safe places for GLBTQ kids, because individual teachers make a much softer target than state and federal laws.

IFI issues ridiculous back-to-school warnings. Friendly Atheist, August 7, 2012

IFI is upset that people are mocking them. Friendly Atheist, August 9, 2012.

Not to be outdone by a mere state "family" association, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer likens children to same-sex couples to slaves who ought to be kidnapped and removed from the protection of their families by "underground railroads" of Christian haters.  Seriously.

Bryan FIscher: Children of Same-Sex Couples Must Be Saved Through "Underground Railroad" Kidnapping Zack Ford, ThinkProgress, August 8, 2012.

This next story opens up the very real possibility that not only has Mitt Romney avoided paying his fair share of taxes for many years, but that he may also have participated in tax avoidance activities on a corporate level that could not only affect his candidacy, but could actually land him in legal hot water:

Did Romney Enable Company's Abusive Tax Shelter? Peter C. Canellos and Edward D. Kleinbard, CNN special report, August 8, 2012.

Follow up on the LCWR Nuns on the Bus post:  We're With You Sisters., August 9,2012.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

NPR Follows Up With American Nuns

LCWR's Sr Pat Farrell, President and Sr Janet Mock, Executive Director face the Inquisitors at the Vatican. 

NPR has followed up on their April story. This morning, Terry Gross interviewed Sr Pat Farrell on NPR's Fresh Air. The interview is enlightening and refreshing. Once again, the vast gulf between the socio-political ambitions of the church's powerful hierarchy and the social justice mission of U.S. women religious comes into focus.

The audio of the interview won't be up on NPR until much later tonight (after its evening rebroadcast in some areas), but from the written recap, here are some interesting quotes:

"The question is, 'Can you be Catholic and have a questioning mind?' That's what we're asking. ... I think one of our deepest hopes is that in the way we manage the balancing beam in the position we're in, if we can make any headways in helping to create a safe and respectful environment where Church leaders along with rank and file members can raise questions openly and search for truth freely, with very complex and swiftly changing issues in our day, that would be our hope. But the climate is not there."

Here, Sr. Pat mentions the dangers I referred to in my Sunday post:

"We're not talking about the risk of ex-communication or leaving the church. That's not our intent. We're talking about the Vatican's dealing with a national organization, not with specific religious congregations or individual religious."

The cost to these women, who have devoted their entire adult lives - 20, 30, 40, even 50 years - to this work may be enormous, and yet...

To the bus, sisters!
"The one and only underlying option for us is to respond with integrity with however we proceed. That is our absolute bottom line in this. Some of the options would be to just comply with the mandate that's been given to us. Or to say we can't comply with this and see what the Vatican does with that. Or to remove ourselves and form a separate organization."

Sr. Pat has taken a bold and courageous step. She has thrown down the gauntlet, stating the position of the LCWR with a stark honesty and absence of "spin" so rare in society today, especially coming from a religious group. She is saying that the LCWR is willing to step away from the Church, if they are forced to choose between their social conscience and church authority.

But perhaps that earnest honesty should not be so surprising. With grace and humility, Sr. Pat describes what she clearly cherishes as "our gift to the Church".

"We have been, in good faith, raising concerns about some of the church's teachings on sexuality. The problem being that the teaching and interpretation of the faith can't remain static and really needs to be reformulated, rethought in light of the world we live in. And new questions and new realities [need to be addressed] as they arise. And if those issues become points of conflict, it's because Women Religious stand in very close proximity to people at the margins, to people with very painful, difficult situations in their lives. That is our gift to the Church. Our gift to the Church is to be with those who have been made poorer, with those on the margins. Questions there are much less black and white because human realities are much less black and white. That's where we spend our days."

There is so little to admire about religion. The human suffering caused by religion, both directly and indirectly through their political power, is immense. Attacks on science and medical research, denial of global climate change, and oppression of women, LGBT people and minorities has come almost exclusively from the religiously dominated right wing of society. But these women religious have my admiration and my respect.

In their work and in their defiance of the coldly authoritarian hierarchy of the Church, I see a glimmer of the liberal social conscience that was so briefly lighted in the 1960's and I am profoundly moved. Like the liberal Episcopalians/Anglicans, Catholic women religious are discovering that their church is far more concerned with upholding an archaic, unjust and misogynistic conservative social order than with doing good in the world. Those who sincerely wish to follow the lead of the Christ figure in the gospels must fight the very institutions that pretend to represent him on earth. I hope that liberal Christians and closeted atheists are taking note of this irony. 

Seriously, this is something to think about.


An American Nun Responds to Vatican Condemnation, NPR, July 17, 2012.

Vatican describes talks with sisters as "open and cordial", Catholic News Agency, June 12, 2012.

Road Tripping Nuns Take On Ryan Budget, Erika Eichelberger, Mother Jones, June 25, 2012.


An American Nun Responds to Vatican Condemnation, NPR Fresh Air, July 17, 2012 (available after 5:00 PM ET).

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nuns On The Bus!

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about the The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, who had come under fire from the Vatican for doing the actual work that Jesus called on his followers to do.  After working on yesterday's post -  thinking about how difficult it was to leave the church I was born into, and how hard it must be for other closeted atheists who, like me, hoped to bring about change from within their churches rather than be forced to leave it because of irreconcilable moral and philosophical differences - I decided to follow up on the story.

And what a story it is turning out to be!

Women coming together to fight
social injustice.
Short recap: The Vatican, displeased with the social work of U.S. women religious, launched an inquisition into their leadership and activities. At the conclusion of the investigation, the Vatican issued a public reprimand of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and announced that its leadership would be assumed by a group of bishops, headed by Archbishop J.Peter Sartain of Seattle, who would be tasked with chastizing, reorganizing and "reforming" the orders of women religious who had been active in the social justice causes which had so disgusted Rome. Garry Wills recites a short list of the sisters' "misconduct": 

Now the Vatican says that nuns are too interested in “the social Gospel” (which is the Gospel), when they should be more interested in Gospel teachings about abortion and contraception (which do not exist). Nuns were quick to respond to the AIDS crisis, and to the spiritual needs of gay people—which earned them an earlier rebuke from Rome. They were active in the civil rights movement. They ran soup kitchens. -- Garry Wills, NYRB, April, 2012.

After a brief period of stunned silence, the LCWR responded:

“The presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was stunned by the conclusion of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. We were taken by surprise by the gravity of the mandate. This is a brief moment of great import for religious life in the wider Church. We ask your prayers as we meet with the LCWR national board within the coming month to review the mandate and prepare a response.”-- Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

LCWR supporters in Louisville, KY
Far from retreating into chastened silence after the Pope's reprimand, as was the expected response (certainly by the men of the cloth in Rome), the LCWR has refused to be silenced - gently and respectfully to be sure, but with steadfast determination. Moreover, encouraged by the quiet groundswell of support they have received from progressive Catholics and other moderate religious people who share their social conscience and support their work, they took the unprecedented step of challenging the Vatican assessment of them and their work.

The harsh reprimand from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith felt to the sisters like getting a "punch in the stomach". I suppose they should not have been so surprised. Previously known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition (also known as the Roman Inquisition or Holy Inquisition, names popularly used in reference to the brutal 16th century "tribunals" investigating alleged witchcraft and heresy), the VCDF has a long history of exactly this sort of activity. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

After a brief period of prayerful regrouping, the sisters embarked on something truly surprising and not a little inspiring. Signaling that they are standing by their principles and they intend to continue standing up for the most vulnerable people in society - even at the risk of losing everything - the LCWR has decided they are all in.  They have devoted their lives to fighting for social justice and they seem prepared to go on fighting. They painted a bus, planned a route and launched the Nuns on the Bus campaign to raise awareness of their mission to fight for social justice.
Sr. Mary Wendlen greets supporters near Chicago.

Jim Winkler, minister of the church, was the first to take the podium at the July 2 noontime press conference in sweltering 95-degree heat, just days after millions in the area had lost electric power during a brutal storm.
"They have been traveling across this nation to speak out for a faithful budget," said Winkler, "and they are here today as our rock stars!"
This was the final stop on the "Nuns on the Bus" tour, which started in Des Moines, Iowa, on June 17 and ended about two weeks later in Washington, D.C., with this press conference.
The tour's stated mission was to stir up outrage over what the nuns called the immorality of lowering taxes for the wealthy while attacking the poor through cutting food stamps and Medicaid, as outlined in the budget plan crafted by Paul Ryan, a Republican representing Wisconsin's 1st District in Congress.
But the tour, which took place in the aftermath of Vatican censure of the nuns' leadership group, was about more than the national budget.
It was also, intrinsically, a demonstration of how devoutly the nuns refused to be muffled.--Samantha Kimmey, WomensEnews, July 12, 2012. (emphasis mine).

I cannot stress strongly enough just how unusual and ground-breaking this is for women religious in the Catholic church. Historically, women have been relegated to silence and invisibility in the church.  Even after Vatican ll allowed for the expansion of their mission and increased self-direction, it was unthinkable for women religious to appear to defy the male church hierarchy. From the meanest Parish priest to the Congregation of the Faith in Rome, all it has ever taken was a look, a word or a secret reprimand to bring an individual nun or order of nuns back into line. 

Oh, those uppity radical feminists!
The defiance of these women religious will not be without great cost - they may endure further censure,  even excommunication and will almost certainly face the withdrawal of financial and pastoral support. In short, they may essentially be unilaterally "divorced" by the church and thrown out of their homes and livelihoods at one stroke of the papal pen. Yet, they are not backing down. 

"Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation or social standards never can bring about reform. Those who are really in earnest are willing to be anything or nothing in the world's estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathies with despised ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences."—Susan B. Anthony

Keep your eyes on these women religious, folks. I hope we will see much more of them in the coming months and years. They embody all that was hopeful and inspiring about the post-Vatican ll church. They restore one's faith in the inherent goodness of humanity, in spite of all its flaws, fragility and failures: they have shown the courage and the will to fight for what is right. How telling it is that, in order to do what is right, the sisters will have to fight the church.  

"Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead." —Louisa May Alcott

Read all about it!

Vatican Harangue Makes Stars of 'Nuns on the Bus', Samantha Kimmey, Women'sEnews, July 12, 2012.

Bullying the Nuns, Garry Wills, New York Review of Books Blog, April 24, 2012.

Nuns and the Vatican, A Clash Decades in the Making, Scott Neuman, NPR news, May 3, 2012.

The Vatican's Attack on America's Women Religious, StateOfBelief, May 9, 2012 (transcript of enlightening interview between Rev. Welton Gaddy and Sr. Simone Campbell).

U.S. nuns reject Vatican criticism and reform efforts, BBC news, June 2012 (links to several articles).

Help a Sister Out: Protesters Call for Vatican Support, Not Censure, of U.S. Nuns, Felipa Rodrigues, Mario Jacinto and Reshma Kirpalani, KUTnewsAustin, May 15, 2012.

Nuns Gone Wild, Catholicism in America,  The Economist, April 26, 2012.

LCWR, Leadership Council of Women Religious.

Network, A national Catholic social justice lobby.

A small group of thoughtful people could change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead

Monday, April 23, 2012

Vatican Reprimands Women Religious

The LCWR march to support preservation of the Louisiana wetlands

[This is the first post on this story. A very cool follow-up post can be found here.]

When the stories about Catholic women religious and clergy coming under fire from the Vatican for upholding true Christian values*  made the rounds of the news cycle last week, a lot of people were surprised to learn that any Catholic organizations might actually be working for social justice. But there are orders of women religious (aka nuns or sisters) who have been quietly providing real help for the poor and the marginalized in our society (and around the world) - no religious conversion or test required - and they have been doing so for years. Catholic orders of women religious have been working tirelessly for decades with the most disadvantaged people in society, and often in direct - if quiet - defiance of the official stance of the Church hierarchy

Public antipathy toward the Catholic Church as an institution has grown and is understandable given the heinous crimes and even more heinous denials and cover up that have rocked the church over the past few decades. Catholic politicians like Rick Santorum - whose Catholic fundamentalism is terrifying in its coldly relentless misogyny - has further entrenched the public perception of the Catholic Church as an authoritarian, ultra-conservative, misogynistic organization that seems to be completely forgetting its frequently stated mission to promote social justice.

Sadly, this characterization is undeniably true.  It is a reality that is obvious to objective observers, but which has gone largely unnoticed by parishioners who continue to participate in their traditional communities happily (willfully?) oblivious to the church's recently renewed rightward tilt. One of the things every Catholic knows is that one can visit a Catholic Church almost anywhere in the world and feel at home. The liturgy, the music, the incense - care has always been taken to ensure conformity around the world so that a Catholic community can transcend national borders and national loyalties. It is this conformity and continuity which has lulled many Catholics into a false sense that the Church that they grew up with in the 60's 70's and even the 80's - an emerging progressive and ecumenically-minded Church focused on social justice - has continued to progress. The soothing sameness of Catholic rituals and celebrations served to smooth over and conceal the rightward lurch of the church hierarchy from its rank and file members. People were fooled by the same old-same (wonderful) old appearance of the Church they grew up loving and admiring, while behind that mask, the progressive and socially conscious movement that had at long last been launched by Vatican ll was being dismantled and discarded.

I almost feel like thanking Rick Santorum for bringing the hard-right swerve of the church to the public's attention - and particularly to the attention of sleeping progressive Catholics. While still not quite mainstream Catholicism, this fundamentalist strain of Catholicism has been resurging under the radar for over four decades (the most conservative elements began pushing back even before the Vatican ll council was adjourned), until it has come to dominate the church in a way which is bewildering to many liberal Catholics, and frightening to secular Catholics and non-Catholics. Clearly, though, Catholics are waking up to this reality now and even more clearly, many of them are not happy about it.

On the heels of the contraception debacle, some Catholic clergy are now in hot water for defying the hierarchy and refusing to lobby their parishioners to oppose gay marriage. Polls showed that a whopping 90+% of Catholics use forms of birth control other than the approved "natural family planning" (aka the "rhythm method") and that the vast majority of Catholics support the coverage of contraception by employer insurance, defying the official church position against contraceptive coverage. Perhaps encouraged by the solidly progressive views of a majority of ordinary practicing Catholics, a few priests have begun to refuse to obey their archbishops on other issues where they cannot, in good conscience, agree with the Church.

In Seattle, WA, at least two Catholic priests have refused to gather signatures for a petition for a referendum to ban gay marriage, defying the explicit urging of their Archbishop, Peter Sartain. Among the dissenters were Rev. Michael Ryan of St James Cathedral and Rev. John Whitney, SJ.(Jesuit) of St. Joseph's.

Rev. Michael Ryan
"I have decided that we will not participate in the collecting of signatures in our parish. Doing so would, I believe, prove hurtful and seriously divisive in our community." Rev. Michael Ryan, St. James Cathedral, Seattle.

"The leadership of the church sometimes confronts the world as an enemy of the Spirit. The church needs greater humility and openness." Rev. John Whitney, SJ. St. Joseph Catholic Church, Seattle.

"I am particularly concerned about our youth who may be questioning their own sexual identity and need our support at this time in their lives." Pastoral life coordinator, St. Mary's Church, Seattle.

Rev. Ryan, in particular seems to have risked serious censure by defying the archbishop because he is the pastor at the archbishop's home parish, the archdiocese Cathedral of St. James. But Rev. Whitney, as a Jesuit, has also taken a bold and courageous step:  Jesuits take a specific vow of obedience to the Pope, over and above the usual clerical vows taken by other orders. So far, though, there has not been a reaction from the church like, for example, public censure of the priests.

Interestingly, however, there has been a seemingly out- of-nowhere attack by the Church hierarchy on women in the Church. During the same week that this open act of defiance from priests was occurring in Washington State, news broke that the the Vatican had issued a stunning reprimand of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (story from NPR) for their stance on social issues.  It may be a coincidence that the Vatican has assigned Archbishop Peter Sartain - yes, Archbishop Sartain of Seattle - to investigate and oversee an overhaul of the nun's association. In keeping with the Bible-based and historically deep-seated misogyny of the Catholic Church, it would appear that the Vatican's outrage over acts of defiance from within the clergy could only be adequately assuaged by chastising and humbling female servants of God. Quelle surprise!

What stance suddenly and so deeply enraged the Vatican, you might ask?  Why, that would be the sisters' long-standing (and publicly expressed) view that social justice should never become a political kickball.  It would be their stance that, as women religious, they have a duty and a right to follow their conscience when serving people in need. It would be their stand that when the requirements for social justice conflict with Catholic doctrine, that perhaps it is the doctrine which should be evaluated and not justice that should be sacrificed.  On the website for their social justice lobby, these sisters regularly expressed views which have only now landed them in a great deal of trouble with the men of cloth.

Check out these radical feminists!
The sisters' work and their opinions are not actually news to people who work with them, but as so often has been the case over the centuries, the Vatican largely ignored the women religious. Though these women have taken on the lion's share of the Church's work giving aid and comfort to the poor and suffering, they are rarely acknowledged and even more rarely praised by the male hierarchy for their efforts. Yet, in a time of social upheaval, when issues surrounding women's rights have come to the fore, the Vatican is suddenly focusing on the women they have branded "radical feminists" and punishing them for the sins of moral independence and following their social conscience led by their understanding of the teachings of Christ. They have been given notice that they will be taken in hand by Archbishop Sartain, and their entire cooperative of women religious may be completely overhauled to conform to new, stricter Vatican boundaries including - naturally - a male overseer.

The sisters are not taking this harsh censure with complete submission.  These are women who love God and love the Church, but they also believe in social justice and - though their spokeswoman stops just short of saying the Vatican is dead wrong - they have steadfastly defended their position, in spite of the painful sense of rejection and humiliation:

Sr. Simone Campbell
"And it's not about the giving up but it's about the fidelity to the call to be faithful to the Gospel and have that so unseen and to have this edict never mention the Gospel, never mention the responsibility to be God's arms and hands with people who are poor and suffering, the people at the fringes, people who suffer injustice, to have that not at all seen is extremely painful." Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of  Network.

Allowing that the edict was like "a sock in the stomach," Sr. Simone nevertheless was generous enough to offer an apologia for the Vatican's unexpected slap down:

"When you don't work every day with people who live on the margins of our society, it's much easier to make easy statements about who's right and who's wrong." Sister Simone Campbell.

Sr. Campbell is more generous - and more submissive to unearned male authority and privilege -  than the Vatican or the Pope deserve.  It should not be surprising that the pervasive misogyny in the Catholic Church which would happily see women everywhere subjugated as inferior, less than human beings, extends even to its servants inside the Church, but somehow it still is. The Church has shown its moral bankruptcy in so many ways throughout its history, but has generally had clever enough leadership to hold on to its position of "moral authority" in society, in spite of behavior which has shown it to be the complete opposite in every way.  The one thin beacon of light in the entire decrepit organization has been the outreach work of people like the women religious, and the Vatican seems determined to snuff it out.

Women helping women.
Retired nuns volunteer to tutor
women for GED

I am a little late getting this post off the writing desk. Started this post last week before, you know - crime - but I still wanted to write about it. There was a time in my life when I was determined to join one of the orders now under the umbrella of the LCWR - when I was fired up with enthusiasm to pursue the kind of "mission" that would be unrecognizable to anyone unfortunate enough to be the target of what opportunistic, proselytizing evangelical churches call "missions" today.  "Sisters" were models of strong womanhood; performing important, meaningful work, giving up comforts and conveniences to minister to the poor and sometimes risking their lives to bring nursing, education and other humanitarian aid to people in war-torn places. In an era when strong female role models (not to mention prospects for a life of adventure) were exceedingly rare for girls, these women exemplified one of the few pathways that a girl could embark upon to make a difference in the world outside of domesticity. 

The people who made the news last week for displeasing their Church masters represent the kind of Catholicism that almost was. The courageous work of Catholic women religious, and the recent willingness of some Catholic clergy in Washington to challenge the Church hierarchy represent the kind of loving and inclusive Christian stance that I once believed permeated the Catholic Church.  While I have rightly abandoned any romantic delusions of that kind over the past several years, it is a relief to know that my youthful belief that there were sincere people who devoted their lives to the social mission of the Church was not entirely without foundation.

*Not to be confused with the brutally hypocritical True Christian Values™ of the religious right.

More in touch with the rest of humanity than most religious people, sisters at Villa Maria by the Sea  host an annual surfing contest.