NEWS: August 31, 2001
Bird’s Eye View of the News
Atila Sinke Guimarães
MUCH THUNDER AND NO RAIN – On June 29/July 1 an international conference on the ordination of women took place in Dublin. The event was promoted by the European organization Women’s Ordination Worldwide, the American organization Women’s Ordination Conference, and the international movement We Are Church, among others. Around 350 people – some 90 of them nuns – attended the meetings. It should not be difficult for the reader to guess the intention of the conference – to ordain women priests.
Knowing that many nuns would attend the talks, the Vatican, through the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life, began a thunder storm of threats. It sent letters to superiors of orders forbidding the attendance of nuns invited to participate in the Irish conference. It seems that some of these superiors, fearful of the consequences, asked their subordinates not to attend. However, many did not follow the directive, as we can see by the 90 sisters who were present.
Let me film in slow motion one particular case characteristic of the efficiency of the Vatican threats. Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister was invited to give a talk at the Dublin conference. On March 20, the Vatican addressed a letter to Sr. Christine Vladimiroff, prioress of Chittister’s community, the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA.. In the letter was a formal order of obedience forbidding Chittister to either attend or participate in the conference. The letter threatened unspecified “just penalties.”
On April 16 Vladimiroff responded to the Congregation with a request for a meeting in Rome. On May 9, she received a letter granting the appointment. On May 28, Vladimiroff and canonical advisors met with members of the Roman Congregation and discussed the adequacy of the canons upon which the order and threatened penalties were based. The prioress was instructed to “encourage” Chittister not to go to the conference; if Chittister would not agree, she should issue the precept of obedience. Vladimiroff was also told to report to the Congregation the results of the conversation.
Chittister told Vladimiroff that, “for the good of the Church” the discussion on women’s ordination should not be suppressed. Therefore, she would attend the conference. The prioress reported the conversation to Rome June 16. The explanation was rejected by the Congregation. On June 19, a recourse to “administrative procedure,” requesting clarification under Canon Law, was attempted by Vladimiroff and was immediately rejected. The Congregation said the appeal was given due consideration, but that it had not revoked the order for Vladimiroff to issue a formal precept of obedience. Nonetheless, Vladimiroff did not deliver it to Chittister. The letter in which the prioress explained to the Vatican her reasons to not punish Chittister included the signatures of 127 of the 128 sisters directed by Vladimiroff. All of them “blessed” Chittister’s decision. Further, 35 of the younger nuns signed a statement asking that any punishment meted out by the Vatican to Chittister be given to them as well.
Subsequently, Chittister attended the conference and gave her talk. In it, she said that to preach a theology of equality “and at the same time maintain …. a spirituality of domination that bars half of the human race on the basis of gender from full participation and [that] in the name of God says that women have no place in the dominion of the Church and the development of doctrine, is to live a lie.” After the conference, the Vatican said Chittister and other participants in the conference would not be punished (National Catholic Reporter, July 13 and 17, 2001).
Why so much thunder and no rain? What happened to the threatened chastisements? They were not applied. Why not? I don’t know. I can only gauge my conclusions on the concrete facts at hand. In the end, the Vatican’s authority was demoralized, since it did not carry through with the penalties it promised. As for the religious superiors who took seriously the Vatican’s threats and did not permit their nuns to attend the conference, one can only wonder if next time they will be so quick to obey. And the disobedient superiors and nuns? The facts show a victory for them and an indirect encouragement of their position on women’s ordination.
BLESSING TO MARRIED PRIESTS? – Two years ago the Armenian Catholic Church’s Synod of Bishops decided to reinstate the Eastern-rite practice of ordaining married men to the priesthood. The argument presented was to ease the shortage of clergy following decades of Communist domination. Currently, two Armenian-born deacons, each with a wife and three children, are in line for the priesthood. In September 2001 Pope John Paul II will visit Armenia. Would he preside over the ordination of these two priests? Asked about this possibility, Fr. Mikael Mouradian, head of Caritas Armenia, responded with an enigmatic: “Perhaps” (Our Sunday Visitor, August 12, 2001). Should this be the case, it could present an important step toward the ordination of married men in the West. It is a matter to be followed with attention.
PLAY ON A "GAY" CHRIST PERMITTED – Denying a request from opponents who said a public facility was being used to attack religion, an Indiana judge, William C. Lee, has ruled that the controversial play “Corpus Christi” can be performed at a state university, The play, scheduled to be performed at Indiana University/ Purdue University in Fort Wayne, features a gay Christ-like figure and portrays the Last Supper as a food fight. (National Catholic Reporter, August 10, 2001). No comment.
GOOD POINT – Addressing a meeting of lay movements, John Paul II stated that priests are naturally attracted by the charisms and vigor of new lay movements, and should help the participants to “mature in a fervent Christian life and especially in a true sensus Ecclesiae [sense of the Church].” However, he warned, “it would be a grave loss if we were to move toward a ‘clericalization’ of movements.” He explained that the lay initiatives should retain their own distinctive characters, guided by a lay mentality, rather than be swallowed up in the clerical culture (The Catholic World Report, August/September 2001). Independent of the orientation of the movements present at the meeting, which I don’t know, I can only offer emphatic agreement with these words of the Pontiff, since they faithfully repeat the perennial teaching of the Church on the topic.
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