Taking steps to calm down the sisters

by Ken Briggs

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The "pain" and "hurt" words are being used again, this time by Archbishop Joseph Tobin, to distract attention away from the real problems.

This time the language of empathy is aimed at American sisters, assuring them that Rome feels their anger and resentment over the investigation of their beliefs and lifestyles. As if "identifying" changes anything substantial.

Archbishop Tobin was brought into the Vatican to be the "good cop" in the face of a wholesale effort to root out Vatican II based practices that reflect too much feminism to suit the hierarchy. That probe stirred anger by many sisters and their communities. Rome was widely seen as a bully. So Archbishop Tobin, known as a friend of sisters, was summoned to do damage control.

But his admission that Rome must respond to the obvious protest has nothing to do with the motives that prompted the investigation nor the anti-renewal purposes it serves. The aim is to calm hurt feelings and to passify sisters who have raised fundamental objections to the exercise of church authority.

Sisters generally applaud Archbishop Tobin as a good guy. But his job, as indicated in the interview for NCR, is to conform to whatever the investigation team decides while making it more palatable to sisters who don't want to substitute "feeling good" for enlightened policy. This looks suspiciously like another attempt to appease women in a way that patronizes them by "hearing" what they say without any intention of translating their cititicisms into concrete change, except on a superficial basis.

Listening to angry sisters without including them as serious partners in formulating policies and procedures is a sham by any other name. I don't expect astute sisters whose lives are committed to a vision deeply rooted in Vatican II renewal will be fooled for a moment.

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