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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Religious Subterfuge & Dissent Against Rome

Today the Huffington Post ran the headline, “Nuns Blast Catholic Church’s ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ That Justified Indigenous Oppression.” Eyebrows were raised. What the devil were the sisters talking about? These prudential views went out with the ancient notions concerning the divine right of kings. Do the sisters understand it is 2014 and not the 1600’s?

lcwr 3The challenge to the Vatican came from Sister Maureen Fieldler. This, in itself, was an immediate bad sign that something was up. She is a widely known radical feminist and dissenter on a number of issues, such as so-called abortion rights, liberation theology, women’s ordination, religious indifferentism, etc. Given that she is disobedient to the Vatican at every turn, it was the height of arrogance that she demanded renunciation of 15th-century documents.  The LCWR would have you think that they speak for the angels, but not all angels come from heaven.  The devil can also appear as an angel of light.

The Church has already spoken to abuses in the past and the late Pope John Paul II included the rights of indigenous persons in his famous apologias. This seems sufficient. Of course, the Church would not want to renounce the courageous missionary efforts of saints or the unique value of our saving Catholic faith. These modern sisters would be oddly less celebratory of this saving inheritance.  Like secular anthropologists, they would stress the retention of isolated New World pre-Christian cultural and religious associations from the unique value of the Gospel that came with explorers from the Old World. Along these lines, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has repeatedly compromised itself by engaging in pagan, New Age and various native spiritualties during its conferences and retreats. Indeed, along with their demand to the Pope, they are insisting that he participate in “a sacred ceremony of reconciliation.” You can bet all your donuts that these girls do not mean the Sacrament of Confession. Sorry, while they might pray to the four winds, true Catholics place their confidence in the Holy Spirit and the Church Jesus founded. Christ commanded that we take this faith to the entire world and to baptize in the name of the Trinity. We cannot and must not apologize for the command of Christ at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. It is true that colonization brought with it oppression and disease; but it also gave a new people the saving Gospel and Western civilization. We should not be so quick to idolize a multiculturalism that would utterly discount our rich history and the benefits of colonization. Would Sister Fieldler, her Loretto religious community and the LCWR have preferred that the saving faith were never proclaimed and that the missionaries had stayed at home? While the ancient Church decrees are summarized to sound like one had to convert or die, it was actually much more complex.  While Western countries sought new resources, the Church saw in civilization the opportunity to bring the true faith to the New World. While the soldiers and conquerors did not always abide by the Church’s admonitions to respect human dignity; the sword was also used to protect the colonists and those native peoples who were ordinarily endangered by more violent neighbors. In any case, the issues around this partnership of the Church and state have long been mute.

Vaguely analogous notions of intervention today are not the same as that which included the promulgation of the Gospel in days of old. Even American “Manifest Destiny'” had less to do with the Church and more about a non-denominational American sense of providence and the call to greatness.  The sisters are experts at the jargon that wins a secular modernity to its side. But when one scratches the surface, it becomes clear that there is a peculiar eccentricity to them. For instance, they would attach the anachronistic appeal to the Pope with the effort to strip the Washington football team from using the name Redskins. I suspect few reasonable people see any connection.  The Holy See has no lands of its own and no longer even makes reference to doctrines of discovery. By contrast, there are already plenty of papal declarations which speak to the rights and dignities of indigenous peoples. But the sisters are merely flexing their muscle. If they were serious, they would be reproaching secular governments and struggles in the present, as with the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine. Here at home they conveniently disguise the absurd ramifications of their stance. They want to get even with the Holy See, not a secular nation.  Remember, if one must apologize for the past then one must make restitution. Along these lines the proposal was made years ago that all whites should be taxed in the U.S. so that monetary reparations might be paid the descendants of slaves. The argument was rightly made that you cannot fault the living for the crimes of the dead. Would the United States give back all lands and territories that belonged to Native Americans, including Manhattan? Would we surrender Texas to the Mexicans? Would we hand over our territories and Hawaii to the native population as new sovereign countries? We bought Alaska from the Russians but they had essentially claimed it through colonization. Would we give it back to the Eskimos (along with the oil) and go home? And given that most of us are the sons and daughters of immigrants, where would home be? The repercussions would become rather silly. But silliness is not something new for the Loretto religious community or this organization of sisters.

Something is rotten about this business. This overture is not really about renouncing the oppression of indigenous peoples. It is payback for being put into their place by Rome. They want to show that they (the Leadership Conference of Women Religious) have the true moral high ground. This is all about politics and not at all about justice. Once we see the truth about it, the organization and its leadership are exposed as utterly pathetic and without contrition for their disobedience and heresies.

It is sick and twisted that the LCWR resolution targets the Pope. No organization has done more to make a positive difference in the lives of indigenous peoples than the Church. This effort is to take our attention away from their own shortcomings and sins. Indeed, by speaking of these ancient policies as doctrines, these dissenters can then point to the modern doctrinal debates and argue that the Church has the authority to evolve or change other teachings of faith… particularly in those doctrinal conflicts where the LCWR is on the other side. This is a measure to undermine the continuity and permanence of Catholic teachings.

The Vatican in 2012 was critical of the LCWR on a host of issues: particularly their silence on the right to life and their dissent on the nature of the family and human sexuality. These are not the sisters we fondly remember in nostalgia.  They largely refuse to wear their habits and veils, even though the late Pope John Paul II told them to do so.  They have watered down their traditionally prescribed prayer life and often do not live in community.  The feminist agenda has poisoned their hearts and minds.  Many demand that women be ordained priests and condemn what they call a patriarchal Church.  This past April, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller chastised them for failing to comply with Rome’s correctives. They even purposely honored Sister Elizabeth Johnson who was faulted by the U.S. bishops for her Christology and other teachings. [She heavily employs weak metaphors over analogies, compromising or revising the objective truth value of certain Catholic doctrines.  She was my professor at CUA and I recall that she got upset about our usage of JESUS and CHRIST.  She taught that the JESUS of history (minus miracles and messianic claims) was different from the CHRIST of faith (which is what the Church had fashioned him).  It seemed to me that this fell back into the old “two Sons” heresy.  Also, the impression was given that the human JESUS was real and that CHRIST was more symbolic of the Church’s kerygma.  We see many biblical exegetes who use similar language in their analysis of the Scriptures.]  Pope Francis backed the rebuke of the rebellious LCWR. Instead of obedience to Rome’s demands, they now seek to make demands of Rome.

The sisters of this sort are quickly dying out. The Church will probably be better off when they are gone. They will be replaced by a small but growing number of women who practice the traditional disciplines and know that humility and orthodoxy is how we approach the Magisterium and abide with the Church.  Pray for vocations… of the right kind.