Mother Millea's Attempt to Make the Best of It

by Ken Briggs

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Back to the visitation.

I'm sure Mother Millea is a charming and cultured woman though I've never met her.

Her political skills may be somewhat lacking, however. In the fresh interview with John Allen, she tries valiantly to attain credibility for the Vatican's inexorable march toward a pre-destined ending, but her attempt falls short.

Mother Millea is, unfortunately, in an untenable position, fronting for the Vatican's desire to push back renewal while reflecting a genuine affection for all American sisters including those whose lifestyles and beliefs may violate her own sense of tradition.

I feel a certain sympathy for her as she slogs her way through a process that has raised tension and conflict and fostered disarray. She soldiers on, in keeping with her commitment, in spite of signs of non-compliance and open opposition.

As she lays out the next phase, the close scrutiny of a select number of communities, she does her job by trying once again to assuage fears and convince wary sisters that the operation will not only be pain free but rewarding.

In the interview, she talks about how communities were chosen for a closer look and reject any suggestions that some might have been targeted for being either rebellious or unconventional. It's all on the up-and-up she says and nobody needs to fret.

Mother Millea almost makes it sound as if the lucky few communities are about to get a call from the Welcome Wagon made up of cheerful agents more like singing nuns than strict superiors. It'll be more like a carefree summer picnic. All they really want to do, she says, is to gather the inspiring stories of the exemplary sisters who live there.

What could be wrong with that?

Perhaps the protests against the investigation have actually shifted the procedure from a hard-nosed probe to an Oprah Winfrey exchange. In any case, stories of sisters' dedication and selfless ministry do deserve to be told.

The problem is that for all the value of the stories, they won't substitute for a candid discussion of the policies and theology that have caused this rift. Without exposing and debating those issues, the huge gulf between Rome and the majority of progressive sisters remains wide and deep.

But to lament that means to care whether the gulf can be bridged. At the start of this process, Cardinal Rode showed no inclination to want to mend fences with American progressives. He is looking for a way to stop what he sees as the excesses of Vatican II incentives. More recently he has decried the alleged worldliness of the progressive side. No interest whatever in seeing what their theology might have to offer, for that would be to grant it legitimacy.

Mother Millea said Rode would receive the stories and all the reports. But isn't Rode's mind already made up, as his recent lightning bolts have shown? She shouldn't be put on this spot, though she chose to be on this spot. She had to toe the party line by being non-committal?

Is this any way to run a universal church?

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