The Vatican's Grand Jury Report

The Vatican's summary report on the grueling investigation of U.S. nuns is just days away and my unsolicited and superfluous guess is that it will try to put the whole mess to rest by offering at least half an olive branch.

The ordeal has dragged on for five years at great expense especially to communities related to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, impugning their integrity and forcing them into a defensive position. Catholics of good will, including the preponderance of American lay people who support them, have been embarrassed again by their church's bullying and demeaning of nuns and, by association, all women.

Nobody has won anything by these implications of disloyalty and the clamps placed on the LCWR have caused no small degree of outrage and despair.

So in that sense, the damage has already been done and the Vatican can feel free to covertly declare "problem solved," heap a measure of disingenuous praise on nuns for the work their constituencies have stoutly rallied behind, and move on essentially with no change to the system of total male control. Add to that perhaps a means intended to allow sisters to save face. The status quo will probably remain intact, except that Rome has reasserted anew that it claims the right to monitor and intervene in sisters' affairs.

There may be long range effects of this episode for the future of woman's struggle for equal treatment in the church but nothing stands out. But in the area of unintended consequences, the sisters do seem to have benefited from the ham-handed censuring of their ways. It alerted the laity to the extraordinary contributions they have made to Catholic and American life and the lopsided power arrangements that continue to subordinate them.

The "how could they do this?" cry arose out of an atmosphere in which sisters'  plight had been largely forgotten. Suddenly sisters were in focus and showered with tributes and gratitude. With that backing, the sisters might have conducted a campaign of conscientious objection, even defiance, of their marching orders. The fact that they didn't relates to many factors, of course, including their unendingly good faith in the church's ultimate purposes and a desire to work the situation out in their own terms. Only the remote possibility that they might affect a cheerful response to a slightly disguised insult would be disappointing.  

Those terms will likely find a faint echo in the peace-pipe smoke that issues from the final report. It is a welcome end if it relieves stress among the many sisters who have anguished over this trumped-up trial. Healing the initial wounds is far less achievable.


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