This Interloper Wonders Why Sisters Play the Game

After being tongue lashed by the Vatican top cop, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious said that their good-faith efforts to settle conflicts with Rome had only produced "deeper misunderstanding." Further, they lamented that "communication had broken down and as a result, mistrust has developed."

But as day follows night, they saw a bright glimmer of hope. At least Cardinal Mueller had been "frank," they emphasized, and that boded well for .... you could see it coming, further "dialog."

In the face of accusations that have impugned their loyalty to the church's teachings, and a wholesale takeover by the Vatican, the sisters have insisted that discussions could ameliorate the snags. Nothing of the sort has appeared to have happened and the latest flash point underscores the failure. Yet the LCWR appears to believe in more of the same, expecting different results, as the popular catchphrase has it.

The flaw is that genuine dialog requires that the partners enter into it with something like equal standing. Ordained male judges by nature do not accord such status to women or to those they have judged. How the process could evolve into valid negotiation and compromise is beyond me. From Mueller's latest rebuff it's hard to imagine the doctrinal unit would be satisfied with anything less than total capitulation to its demands.

Those demands are based on real matters of dispute, despite the roguish, macho tactics by which they have been prosecuted. Generally speaking, the LCWR is on the progressive side of issues such as women's rights in the church (I'll whisper "ordination" here) and as advocates for a wider circle of women as they seek to protect policies related to their sexuality and civic justice. In pursuing dialog, sisters have rightly pointed to the militant and callous treatment by the hierarchy. But the actual dissent over these teachings has been papered over, at least so far as the public is concerned.

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Instead of being pressured to change their ways, what if the sisters openly declared their doubts about certain Catholic doctrine without apology? Why try to broker a deal without putting their disagreements on the table? They wouldn't be alone -- solid, sometimes overwhelming majorities of their fellow lay Catholics agree with them and would be available for support? Is the official seal of approval from Rome important enough to have to conceal a truer nature of a group that has earned its right to speak about such matters by serious and thoughtful involvement with those for whom these teachings are most relevant?

There may be factors behind the scenes or within the counsels of sisters' leadership that justify keeping on with keeping on. But from this distance and without knowing everything, it looks like a losing strategy.


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