ITC appointee Sr. Prudence Allen on Network sisters

by Thomas Reese

View Author Profile

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts to Letters to the Editor. Learn more

Five women have been appointed to the International Theological Commission, including Sr. Prudence Allen, a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich. Formerly chair of the philosophy department at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, she is now a member of the chaplaincy team at Lancaster University, England.

In an April 30, 2010, interview with the National Review, "Nun Sense: Women in the Catholic Church," Sister Allen was asked what she thought of the Network sisters who supported passage of the Affordable Care Act at a time when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops were opposing it.

"Were they representative of the Catholic Church?" asked Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor-at-large of National Review Online.

Her response:

By comparing the statements of the Network religious sisters on health care with the statements of Cardinal George and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on health care, it is clear that there are fundamental contradictions between them. Thus, the Network religious sisters have separated themselves from the head, and therefore cannot be included in the meaning of “catholic.” Therefore, they are not representative of the Catholic Church.

She also questioned the claim in Network's letter that "we represent 59,000 sisters in the United States." Network added a footnote to its letter on the Web explaining the number. 

But when it came to Network’s assertion that its position in favor of the health-care bill “is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholic are all for it,” she leaves it to "Catholic physicians and health-care personnel to determine the truth of its claims."

She also objects to calling the Network sisters "nuns," because "The official meaning of 'nun' is a religious woman who makes solemn vows and who lives in an enclosed convent, referred to as a papal cloister."

In response to other questions she described the apostolic visitation of religious communities by the Vatican. "This has been a wonderful process of self-review for us," she said. "It is improper to consider it a 'crackdown.'” 

In response to a question about patriarchy, she described the church as

communio of three paradigm and complementary vocations, and others derived from them. If we consider the spousal mystery, then the ordained priestly vocation represents the place of the bridegroom, the lay married vocation represents the love between the bride and the bridegroom, and the religious vocation, the response of the bride to the love of the bridegroom. These are spiritual realities that permeate our faith from beginning to end.

She opposes the traditional view of men being superior to women, as well as the view that there are no significant differences between men and women. Rather she holds the complementary position, which argues "for the simultaneous fundamental equality and worth of women and men and their significant differentiation."

She distinguishes between a "fractional" and "integral" complementarity. 

Some complementary positions can be called “fractional,” because they claim that a man and a woman each provide some fraction of a characteristic, which when added up make one single person. Others — and this is the one that I defend — can be called “integral,” because they claim that a man or a woman is an integral or whole human person, and when together, they generate something more than two.

When asked about having women involved as priests and in the hierarchy, she responded, "this question is wrongly framed within a political model of power struggles."  Rather, she continued, "the Church is a communion in which all the baptized are called to holiness through complementary vocations."

[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]

Editor's note: We can send you an email alert every time Thomas Reese's column, Faith and Justice, is posted. Go to this page and follow directions: Email alert sign-up.



Latest News


1x per dayDaily Newsletters
1x per weekWeekly Newsletters
2x WeeklyBiweekly Newsletters