Hey, Maureen It’s None of Your Business

To hear the mainstream media tell it, the Vatican has viciously attacked poor, unsuspecting old nuns.

Carol Marin’s piece in the Chicago Sun-Times was headlined: “Vatican waging a war on nuns”.

Maureen Dowd, in her Sunday column in the New York Times asked, rhetorically, “Who thinks it’s cool to bully nuns?”

We Catholics might reasonably ask, “What’s going on here?”

In April 2012, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Religious Women. Click on the link and read it. You’d be doing more than Dowd, Marin, and the rest of the media did.

The thrust of the hysteria against the Vatican is based on a perception that the Vatican is commanding nuns to cease their efforts in regards to social justice and helping the poor, and to start promoting Catholic sexual teaching.

Marin says it boils down to this: “According to the Vatican, these nuns have been too focused on issues of poverty, war, health care and homosexuality. And not fixated enough on what the bishops think is most important — women’s wombs.”

Dowd chimes in: “How can the church hierarchy be more offended by the nuns’ impassioned advocacy for the poor than by priests’ sordid pedophilia?”

So, is the Vatican really trying to put the kibosh on American nuns working with the poor? Um . . . no.

Here’s what the report actually says:

The documentation reveals that, while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States. Further, issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.

Note that the Congregation does not say that nuns have been “too focused on issues of poverty” and the like. Note that in no way could this statement be construed as the Vatican being “offended by the nuns’ impassioned advocacy for the poor.” Note that nowhere does it say that the nuns’ actions are worse than, or a priority over, the priest abuse scandals.

Now, note that the report does question the total absence of the Church’s teaching on life, the family, and sexuality. Note also that, not only does the LCWR not promote these teachings, but it is often publicly opposed to them. Public opposition to Church teaching is heresy.

It’s worth noting here that this is not a report on “nuns” in general, as the media would have you believe, but a report on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which is “the association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States.” It has 1500 members across 80 percent of the various orders of sisters in the U.S. There are over 55,000 nuns in the United States.

Now, flip back to the beginning of the Assessment: “The Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contribution of women Religious to the Church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years.”

War on Nuns, indeed.

This is not an attack on nuns, and it is not an attempt by Vatican to “muzzle American nuns,” or even a “scorched reprimand,” as Dowd asserts.

After waxing shocked and stunned at the Vatican’s so-called “scathing rebuke,” Marin implores: “Surely, there are thoughtful bishops who recoil at what the Vatican is doing here.”  Perhaps now would be a good time to look at exactly “what the Vatican is doing here.” Here is the action that will be taken, in full:

1) To revise LCWR Statutes to ensure greater clarity about the scope of the mission and responsibilities of this conference of major superiors. The revised Statutes will be submitted to the Holy See for approval by the CICLSAL.

2) To review LCWR plans and programs, including General Assemblies and publications, to ensure that the scope of the LCWR’s mission is fulfilled in accord with Church teachings and discipline. In particular:  Systems Thinking Handbook will be withdrawn from circulation pending revision – LCWR programs for (future) Superiors and Formators will be reformed – Speakers/presenters at major programs will be subject to approval by Delegate.

3) To create new LCWR programs for member Congregations for the development of initial and ongoing formation material that provides a deepened understanding of the Church’s doctrine of the faith.

4) To review and offer guidance in the application of liturgical norms and texts. For example: -The Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours will have a place of priority in LCWR events and programs.

5) To review LCWR links with affiliated organizations, e.g. Network and Resource Center for Religious Life.

So the Vatican will “implement a process of review and conformity to the teachings and discipline of the Church.” The above steps are hardly an attack. These nuns are, after call, Catholic, right?

What could be so harrowing about a “deepened understanding of the Church’s doctrine of the faith”? Or what is so terribly offensive about giving the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours “a place of priority” in the daily operations of the LCWR? They are, after all, a religious organization within the Catholic Church.

No, this is not a war on women. Or a war on nuns. Or a war on the poor. This is a shepherd leading the flock. And it’s something that the secular world not only does not understand, but actively fights against.

The Church is not saying, “Stop helping the poor!” It’s saying, “Start following Catholic teaching.”

And therein lies the problem. The Church’s teaching on life, the family, and human sexuality is at odds with the secular world. It’s a threat to them. Such a threat that a letter to a group of 1500 Catholic women that says they need to follow Catholic teaching has been decried as “unpardonable scorn” by Marin.

That nuns are women is just a convenient fact that secularists like Dowd and Marin use to attack the Church. If the Vatican came out and told the Benedictines they needed to get in line, the media wouldn’t even notice.

Dowd, Marin, and the rest of the media are simply out of their depth here. This whole situation is a matter of Catholic doctrine. And a severe one at that. It’s unbecoming to highjack it for one’s own political hobbyhorse.

The media can have their opinion, of course, but to blatantly misrepresent (and misunderstand) the facts for so that it fits nicely into the liberal’s election year narrative is worse than irresponsible.

Nope, this isn’t a war on women. This is standard Catholic teaching. These are Catholic nuns. Women, yes, but also Catholics. And they’re subject to Catholic teaching just like the rest of us.

And, contrary to the way it’s being portrayed by Marin, Dowd, and the rest of the media, the Church has given the sisters what amounts to a gentle nudge, especially in light of some of their fairly massive transgressions. Such as this nifty passage from the LCWR’s main handbook: An Invitation to Systems Thinking (“Systems Thinking” by the way, is a convoluted philosophy of sorts that amounts to a direct rejection and alternative to traditional Western thought).

In a case study looking at a dispute as to why the Eucharist within the Mass was not being offered at an LCWR conference, the LCWR took the side of:

Those who view reality largely from an “Organic” model while adhering to liberationist and feminist theologies, [and who] cling to their understanding of Eucharist because they believe that as long as men control women’s lives, there will be no justice.

“Their understanding of the Eucharist,” incidentally, is that it has no place at an LCWR conference. This is a prime example of what the Vatican characterizes as “a diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of the religious consecration which leads, in turn, to a loss of a ‘constant and lively sense of the Church’ among some religious.” Furthermore, in public addresses and in conferences, there has been ample and repeated support within LCWR for “moving beyond the Church” and beyond Christ.

As far as the Church is concerned, this has nothing to do with women, or declaring war on them. It has everything to do with the fact that Catholics in positions of authority —regardless of their sex—are holding to teachings in blatant opposition to Church doctrine.

All of this amounts to heresy, really, and as such, the LCWR should actually be breathing a sigh of relief at the pastoral gentleness of the Vatican’s rebuke.

It’s certainly much more measured and caring than Dowd’s solution: “The pope needs what the rest of us got from nuns: a good rap across the knuckles.”


After a brief career restoring timber-framed barns, Christian Tappe worked as an editor for Regnery and ISI Books. He is currently Editor of Saint Benedict Press/TAN Books in Charlotte, NC.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    What Maureen Dowd and the liberals are upset about is that we are on to these nuns and what they have been up to and the Vatican is planning to do something about it.  The game is up. 

  • Richard A Imgrund

    I guess that rap across the knuckles MoDowd got wasn’t good enough.

  • And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matt:16:18)  
    If we are not subject to the head then we are separated from Christ Himself.  If, He didn’t want a head Christ wouldn’t have appointed Peter.  Many choose to undermine this truth, yet Peter’s role as head was affirmed by his disciples including St. Paul.There are several women Religious, ie The Sisters of Life and other orders in the U.S. and Canada who are faithful to Christ’s moral teachings.  Teachings which are affirmed in Scripture.  Although, many attempt to negate the meaning of the text or say it is relevant to a different time.  Jesus Christ and His Church are the same, Yesterday, Today and Forever.  Anyone who undermines the moral teachings of the church will answer to God at their Particular Judgement.  I am praying for their conversion.  Jesus Christ is the Head of the Catholic Church.  If we truly are His followers we will listen to the Shepherd he left in charge.

  • Jcsmitty1212

    The truth has never been important to liberals like Dowd, who have an agenda to discredit the Catholic Church at every opportunity and make the attack on religious liberty acceptable. Sooner or later, when the media wakes up, freedom of the press will be attacked–and it will be a different story.

    Dowd probably sees no problem with the nun in Chicago who served as an escort for Planned Parenthood, or any of the other scandals too long ignored by the hierarchy. What today’s Catholics need to remember is that the dissident nuns no longer embrace the teachings or works of their predecsssors who built up the church.

    I loved the nuns who taught me for 12 years from 1953 through 1965, but many of today’s nuns have embraced New Age beliefs, abortion, homosexuality and radical feminism. My old teachers would not even recognize today’s nuns as nuns.

    • Mark

      “..when the media wakes up, freedom of the press will be attacked–and it will be a different story”

      Yes, journalists are presently being killed at an “astonishing pace”


  • Ron Leifeste

    The goal of the Church, always, is to bring all human beings to the knowledge of the truth.That is why Jesus left us with shepherds to tend His flock. HOWEVER, when part of His flock are in positions of authority which is very public and make statements contrary to the faith, the Church does have a tool for those who refuse to repent and accept its teachings. Its called excommunication. When all else fails, it should be used!

    • John200

      In these nuns’ (perhaps Maureen Dowd’s as well) situation, excommunication may have already occurred. When the offense is serious enough, you put yourself out of communion when you commit the offense.

      In such cases the bishop doesn’t act to excommunicate, he merely announces and/or informs you that you have excommunicated yourself.

      • Ron Leifeste

         You are correct John. Since their sin is giving public scandal I would think it demands a public response. Otherwise it is private matter and remains “business as usual”.
        In the early Church a confession was public as was the penance. I believe a public response let’s everyone know the Church is holding them accountable.

  • SM

    Sir –
    Point of order… “Systems Thinking” in its traditional application is a problem-solving approach typically applied to business problems (project management, supply chain management, etc. to name a few functions).  While I have not read the publication on the LCWR website, I am inferring from my observations that the LCWR has attempted to apply systems thinking to their spiritual and doctrinal formation – a wholly inappropriate application if not in the context of Scripture and Catholic Tradition.
    I offer the example below to highlight how systems thinking may be applied properly in the Catholic context – Bishop Echevarria’s October newsletter on formation in preparation for the Year of Faith.  Simply put, we have at the top level a need for continued formation.  This may be decomposed into subordinate domains – human formation, spiritual formation, doctrinal-religious formation, apostolic formation, and professional formation.  Each of these may be decomposed further (again, in the context of Catholic Tradition as promulgated by the Magisterium).
    So, a systems thinking approach would look at this and design a formation strategy that seeks to form each of these different aspects of our lives in a manner that is synergistic and does not hinder or inhibit any of the other formational needs.  This is so that the overall strategy and approach would be systematic with the end goal being overall formation.  Simply put, it is a top-down/bottoms-up problem solving approach that is used extensively in the systems engineering and manufacturing domains.
    I hope my example is clear and does not confuse others.  I think what we have here is someone trying to apply systems thinking to the realm of the spiritual in an attempt to rationalize their mistaken understanding of ecumenism (or what they think it should be).


    • After reading the LCWR ‘workbook’, I would agree with you.  

      But the systems-thinking design promoted by Bishop Echevarria would be interpreted by the leadership of the LCWR as Western, dualist and dependent on a hierarchy.  They opt for the “organic” model that promotes a linear model of an organization, whereby all separate elements are co-equal (i.e., the Catholic Church, the community of Sisters, and the congregation).  Also, (I swear I am not making this up!) the chaos that results from implementation of this “organic” system is one of their stated goals! Chaos and disruption are positive products, in their teaching, to help the 3 elements of the organization reflect and reevaluate.IMO, the leadership of the LCWR wants to blow everything up and start over by sifting through the ashes and keeping what they feel is important.

  • Tony

    News flash: the LCWR has been waging a war on nuns for many years.  That war is now coming to an end.  The LCWR has done all in its power to destroy orders; some high-muckety-muck sisters have even claimed that the disintegration of the sisterhoods is a blessing from the Holy Spirit.  The leadership among liberal nuns has treated faithful nuns like pariahs, depriving them of the spiritual consolations they once thrived on — and has in a single generation devastated Catholic education from coast to coast.  THEY are the bloodsuckers here.

  • Liberty or

    I guess you get the face you deserve, Mo.   Her father was a good man.  She needs our prayers.

    • John200

      I think she looks ghastly, like something really bad is going on inside. More than simple aging.

      She complains that her love life is terrible. She made the choices, now she holds the last good job of her career. She could lose it the day the NYT notices its lopsided cost structure. No husband; no kids; trying to subsist on pretentious lefty intellectual fare; trying to stay ahead of the curve; I think I see the picture.

      What’s next — perhaps a book about whether it was worth it? Yes, I think that is my prediction.

      And prayers are in order here.

  • Oneill

    Note that Dowd belongs to that pernicious ethnic group called Irish Americans.  No one has done more damage to the Catholic Church in the last thirty years than this group. Just the names Kennedy, Biden, Dowd, Andrew Greeley et al are enough to show that the pattern of anti Catholic Irishness is alive and well.  Just look at Ireland where the Irish government is in open war against the Vatican and is pledging to drive this formerly Catholic country into the progressive secularist world.  Just to let you know I am one hundred percent Irish American; my parents immigrated to America; but they had a great love of the Church and the sacraments.  I noticed growing up how the Irish Americans seemed to be always looking to the political world in the American democrat party for salvation.  Big unions; big city machines; notre dame football all of these were the central focus of these Irish Americans.  I was so fortunate to have parents who had not become de facto Irish Americans but who maintained the old world devoutness of their parents.    Nea America delenda est.

    • johnny

      What is the ethnic stock of the main cabinet minister behind the anti-Catholic campaign?  Hint: 2,000 year old Christ Haters.

      • Liberty or

        Led by Jon Leibowitz Stewart on TV.

    • Liberty or

      Yeah,  th Irish-Americans (including my father) beat up most of the communists in NYC during the Depression, and their grandchildren became little communists!  The “personally opposed” position of these losers (including Dick Durbin and the Cuomos) must have been designed by Satan (D).  They need to have their degrees symbolically revoked by the “Catholic” colleges that had them for 4 or more years, and didn’t note their anti-Catholic mindset.

  • For the NY Times, truth is relative, i.e., relative to what end it is trying to achieve.  Obviously reading the NY Times is like reading the paper that wrapped the fish…it stinks!!

  • these ladies should see the reminder to stand by Church teaching on abortion as a call to further a vital social justice issue … what one might call ‘a glass half full’ approach

  • Liberty or

    Mo graduated from Catholic University of America.  They should revoke, or at least symbolically revoke, her degree.  C.U. is a pontifical university, subject to strict oversight by the Holy See.

  • Did you actually use the word ‘heresy’?

  • Pdans

    In all the reporting, I have not seen mention of the umbrella organiztion of orthodox Catholic orders , you know the ones with the habits and the ones whose vocations are skyrocketing.  It’s called the Council of Major Superiors of Women.

  • bobbylang

             Christian Tappe is absolutely correct in his article, and his conclusions.
             This is not about “women”,  it is about correcting the wayward “rudder” of Catholics in positions of authority!
             Both Maureen Dowd, and Carol Marin, are about as wrong as they are really Catholic!
             They both subscribe to the notion, that any proscription is not acceptable or valid, when directed to the female gender.
             This is as childish as they are, and should not even be given the time Tappe afforded them in his studied response

  • guest 2

    Exellent piece in every regard!  We need more Catholics like this Christian!

  • Brian Diehm

    What is saddest about all this is the place of those faithful nuns who have watched, in dismay, puzzlement, and ultimately despair, as their own orders have been paganized from beneath them. Some understand and mourn, some simply do not understand what has happened; why, for example, the old practices such as Mass, Stations, Rosaries, etc. are not followed. But to meet these women, often 60+ in now-heretical orders, and to listen to their stories, is to break ones heart. They have given their lives, only to suffer in their most fragile years.

    Those who have performed this transformation from authenticity, and those who are their apologists such as Dowd, have much to answer for.