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Nicholas P. CafardiJune 18, 2012

In our church, it pays more to rebel than to faithfully question. The Vatican, under Benedict XVI, is doing somersaults to get the excommunicated, anti-semitic Lefebvrists back into the church’s tent. First the Vatican said that the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) had to agree to accept the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, which they reject as heretical, before any deal could be made. But then (flip!) maybe not. The SSPX leader, the illicitly ordained bishop, and recently un-excommunicated Bernard Fellay, has been telling the press that Rome no longer makes total acceptance of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council a pre-requisite for SSPX’s full reconciliation with the  church.

But what parts of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council will SSPX get to pick and choose? I bet some of those teachings they want to get rid of are those crazy Vatican II decrees on the priesthood of the laity (Lumen Gentium), on the rights of Christ’s faithful (Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes), and certainly those nutty things the Council said about the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), about religious liberty (Dignitatis Humanae) and the unacceptability of ant-semitism (Nostra Aetate). Fellay has been quoted as saying, "Some claim that in order to work safely in the  church, she must first be cleansed of all error. This is what [our members] say when they declare that Rome must convert before any agreement, or that its errors must first be suppressed so that we can work.” So now it is SSPX (flip!) that gets to tell the pope what he needs to believe?

And what is even more troubling in this bizarre roundelay is that it is the Vatican that is pursuing the Lefebvrists, and not the other way around (flip!). It is incontrovertibly true that the Vatican took the first steps here. Why is the true  church pursuing these schismatic heretics and making deals with them about what church teachings they need to or don’t need to accept? The Vatican’s most recently-floated idea is that it would be willing to grant the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) the canonical status of a personal prelature, similar to Opus Dei (flip!). Like I said, somersaults. But only for the rebels, not for the faithful questioners.

Compare this jilted lover’s pursuit of SSPX with the Vatican’s treatment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an organization established with Vatican approval. The Vatican has come down hard on them for supposedly being radical feminists and not being concerned enough about fighting abortion and contraception. As I said when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s assessment was first issued, that description did not match my experience with women religious in the United States. I don’t know any group who is more concerned with Christ’s poor than LCWR. And as for holiness, well, I have seen a lot more holiness in the convents than I have in the chanceries. But according to the Vatican, the goodsisters are too much concerned about the poor and the marginalized and not enough about crucial  church teachings against abortion and contraception. But helping the poor is the best way of fighting abortions, since the vast majority of abortions are economic ones. And as for fighting contraception, well, we all know what the church teaches, and we can judge for ourselves the acceptance of that teaching by Christ’s faithful. The nuns have absolutely nothing to do with that. (They take vows of chastity, you know, and by all accounts have a much better track record than the ordained for living up to them.)

True to the ideals of the Gospels, the sisters have not gone into schism. They have not espoused heretical positions. They have remained faithful to our increasingly patriarchal church, although some might wonder why, given the utter lack of appreciation that patriarchal  church has shown them. And I don’t mean the appreciation of effusive praise. There is, truth to tell, a fair amount of praise for the goodsisters in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s doctrinal assessment of LCWR. True appreciation would be to allow women religious to exercise a meaningful ministry within the  church’s sacramental and governance functions.

So what is the lesson of all this? Let me make a modest proposal, offered in a purely Swiftian spirit. To get the Vatican to begin pursuing instead of persecuting them, the goodsisters need to go into schism. They need to find a bishop or two with apostolic succession to get them started. Citing the findings of the Pontifical Biblical Commission that there is no scriptural basis for the prohibition on female priests, they could declare John Paul II’s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be heretical, much as SSPX has declared the teachings of the Vatican Council to be heretical. (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is the 1994 Apostolic Letter to which the CDF under Cardinal Ratzinger attempted, after the fact, to apply a previously undisclosed veneer of “infallibility”, that said that the church had no warrant from Christ to ordain women as priests.) Then ordain some priests, maybe the odd bishop or four. Go back to the liturgy of Vatican II that the recent top-down changes from Rome took away. Preach about the Gospels and social justice and not about politics. I bet those churches would be full. And then all the good sisters would have to do is sit and wait because, eventually, the Vatican will ring their schismatic door-bell.

Nicholas P. Cafardi


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John Hayes
11 years 3 months ago
In today's letters column, The Catholic League explains that the Vatican is just reeling in some "wayward sisters:"
"In her June 12 op-ed column “Sisters of strength,” Farah Stockman attributes the decline of American nuns to “the lack of respect” by the church hierarchy. This is patently false. The Catholic Church has long held the yeoman’s work of religious sisters in high esteem. What the Vatican has done recently is to put in motion a way to help reel in the wayward sisters who have mistaken their vows as one of social work. To deem this as a war on nuns is to misrepresent the issue.

If such a war is being conducted, how is it that there is no end to the sisters who welcome the Vatican’s statement as a way to help their fellow sisters? How is it that the more conservative orders are overwhelmingly receiving the lion’s share of new vocations? Indeed, there is no war against nuns in the Catholic Church, but this doesn’t stop those whose agenda blinds them."

Jeff Field
Director of communications
Catholic League
New York

A letter from another writer points out the problem:

"In the article “O’Malley laments discord on nuns” (Page A1, June 14), Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, responding to controversy over the Vatican’s rebuke of a US nuns’ group, springs to the defense of the nuns, saying, “I think we have nothing but affection for them.”

There you have it. Affection is nice, but not exactly what women want to hear. I would think that what women want is to be treated with respect. I hope that one day the nuns will have that respect and a more equal role in the hierarchy of the church."
Sandy Hoyt
La Yantsos
11 years 3 months ago
The SSPX as well as the pope are following the precedent  set of the Jesuits.  Clement XIV permanently  suppressed the Jesuits in 1792 for amongst other reasons for teaching immorality and against the orthodox faith. .  He told them that those who were not ordained could not be ordained, and those that were ordained, had to submit themselves to the bishops where they lived, and if the bishops  didn't want them, they had to go home.  They could not use the name Jesuit anymore. They could not live in community.   The pope further said in this bull that his order would last forever and could not be changed by anyone.  The Jesuits disobeyed  the the pope and defied his papal bull and  went into  Germany and Russia, where they were also subject to the universal jurisdiction of the pope (after all, papal infallibililty was their idea), and in such defiance  continued to live in community and elect their Superiors (their Superior at the time of the permanent suppression was put in jail), etc.    This defiance was later astonishingly rewarded by Pius VII, who in 1814  said that Europe needed teachers, which was a bit ironic because Clement XIV said that the Jesuits taught immorality and against the orthodox faith in his bull, so what kind of teachers Pius VII thought Europe needed is anyone's guess.  Anyway, they were rewarded for their bad, disobedient and schismatic behavior by Pius VII, who had himself defied and trampled upon the permanent bull of suppression of Clement XIV to bring the Jesuits back into the Church.    As a matter of fact, Pius VII did more to trample on the dignity and authority of the papacy  than a large battalion of Protestants, and he did all this for his favorite men, the defiant, disobedient and schismatic Jesuits!  So, if you wonder who set the precedent for this very bizarre behavior between  a  pope and the SSPX, well, I say, look  at your own history to find the seminal case!  However, there is one thing that distinguishes the two cases.  The Jesuits bought the election of Pius VII, so, unlike the SSPX, it wasn't  wholly infatuation that created the courtship between Pius VII and the Jesuits after all..
John Hayes
11 years 3 months ago
The letters are from today's Boston Globe


Claire Bangasser
11 years 3 months ago
Ah, frankly, I think many old men in Rome would be ecstatic if all these women went away and never came back. The young men in long black robe from SSPX are so infinitely charming and more to their religious taste...
Benedict has shown himself has a minimalist, to me at least, since his visit to New York. Better just a few of you - all like me - than a lot of us whom I cannot control. In Benedict's eyes, heaven is a small small place, like Moustique island in the Caribbean. Reserved to very very few souls.

I have no idea how all this will turn out. I just keep praying for the Sisters - and the bishops too (as a PS), and keep my eyes on Jesus. 
David Pasinski
11 years 3 months ago
Thanks, Professor Cafardi, for the Swiftian  suggestion.
 The position of the  LCWR and CHA vis a vis the hierarchy and the Vatican are intersting positions right now since although ostensibly differnt issues, there are some of the same players, I assume.And how the "fornight" plays out with - and largely without - relgious participation will be an other chapter worth comment. And then there's Philadelphia and whenever that decsion comes in. I'll welcome your commnetary on that. Could be a comment-ful summer!
David Pasinski
11 years 3 months ago
On an entiely different topic but one in which Profesor Cafardi has expertis. What's with the Lynn trial? No decision yet?
Wouldn't they have someting by now if they wee agreed? Hung jury...? That's my uneducated guess.
I don't expect an answer on this thread, but would love some thoughts or guesses.
ed gleason
11 years 3 months ago
It's understandable that some Vatican intriguers want to make amends with the  SSPX anti-Semites. Think WWII
What is completely NOT understandable is the cowardly silence of the 300 odd USA bishops on the persecution/prosecution  of LCRW. Almost all of these US bishops were educated by these sisters who were paid a pittance by the parishes these bishops were educated in. Too much concern about social justice and not enough about contraception????
Will a Dante scholar tell me/us in what level in hell are the un-grateful cast?  
Robert Killoren
11 years 3 months ago
Pope Clement was a pawn of the rich and powerful monarchs of Europe and the greedy speculators making incredible riches in the New World. Giving the boot to the Jesuits satisfied the monarchs and let speculators in the Americas take over vast plantations that the Jesuits had set up to protect native populations from the exploitation of the rich. So perhaps the Vatican is taking a page from the past. Protect their interests in the riches of the SSPX by condemning the poor sisters who are watching out for the poor. So thanks for sharing that insight though I suspect that wasn't the conclusion you were expecting.
Michael Casey
11 years 3 months ago
I read somewhere that the Vatican's weird thrall to SSPX is rooted in a genuine fear that SSPX, which is in full schism, will continue to grow and pose a genuine Luther-esque challenge to Rome. SSPX is large and getting larger, with many seminaries and lots of money.  Word is that Rome may offer them a prelature a la Opus Dei as a way of keeping them close, not letting a schismatic group with barrels of money and fervent support to grow independent of Rome.
     Politics, especially big church politics, is ALL about fear and money.  Why attack nuns while kow-towing obsequiesly to a crew of angry anti-semites? The same reason the playground bully picks on the kid who won't fight back, not the scary one lurking in the corner with hate in his eyes. Easy prey makes Rome look tough and confident so maybe the scary kid in the corner will judge them cool (or cruel) enough to join forces with.
Tim O'Leary
11 years 3 months ago
It is amusing and a little sad to see so much fear and anger expressed at the possible reconciliation of conservative Vatican II deniers from the liberal Vatican II deniers. Look in the mirrors. There was never anything in any Vatican II document that invented a new theology on women priests, divorce or homosexuality, so there has been rejection of VCII on both sides. 

There cannot be reconciliation with the SSPX dissenters until they fully accept the Magisterium's understanding of VCII, so don't worry about that. Now, if we could get the liberal dissenters to accept VCII correctly, we would really be making progress. 
Jack Barry
11 years 3 months ago
Cdl. O'Malley demonstrated recently what ''nothing but affection'' for nuns means. A year ago, the Boston Globe reported ''Nuns take O’Malley to court over pensions''. Religious women's financial assets have drawn little attention this year, but it would be surprising if they don't come up during the reforming of the LCWR. O'Malley's long-running conflict will be a cautionary example on control of nuns' assets. That Boston contention was settled last May.
Flor San Roman
11 years 3 months ago
This may come off as trite and a shallow reaction, but this sort of twinning of reactions makes the Vatican look like it has an easier time cozing up to groups led by men than groups of women.

Even your suggestion has the LCWR find a man (an extant bishop) to lead/front for them.

Less extreme/more realistic suggestions have the American bishops backing the LCWR.

I agree, it will take men supporting the women, vocally and in the face of the men from the Vatican before it might ever become acceptible for the LCWR to carry on its mission in directions beyond those explicitly laid down by the Vatican.  It's unfortunate, in my opinion. 
Winifred Holloway
11 years 3 months ago
The women who were ordained to the priesthood several years ago (on the Danube if I remember correctly) were said to be ordained by a validly consecrated bishop or bishops.  And said bishop(s) name(s) will not be released until they depart this vale of tears, according to reports at the time.   This situation appears to put them in the same category as the SSPX priests in terms of apostolic succession.  What does anyone think the response will be from the Vatican when the name (s) of these bishops are announced?  Will they be excommunicated after death, making the ordinations of these women invalid?
Tim Huegerich
11 years 3 months ago
I'm saddened by this expression of resentment and self-righteousness. Give me MSW's magnanimity for the SSPX instead: http://ncronline.org/blogs/distinctly-catholic/welcome-back-lefebvrists

The tired claim that the Vatican has criticized the LCWR for being "too much concerned about the poor and the marginalized" is simply false. Can anyone provide a quote from the doctrinal assessment or any other bishops' statement that backs it up?

Moreover, the post makes a false parallel between the situations of the LCWR and the SSPX. To see the distortion, consider what the LCWR would get if it did follow this modest proposal and end up where the SSPX may shortly be. That portion of their membership willing to formally affirm current teachings on women's ordination and contraception would be officially recognized as in full communion with Rome and perhaps be able to participate in masses with better translations and fully gender-neutral language.

Compare that to their current situation in which excommunication is (rightfully) not even a part of the discussion. It is openly discussed that the LCWR could simply withdraw from its canonical status and continue to function as is. What is in question is whether an organization conceived as an official representative of the Church is undermining official Church teachings, not the legitimacy of individual members' faithful questioning. But you would never know that from sensationalized commentary like this that continues to be produced ad nauseum to the detriment of unity and understanding in the Church.

I am generally on the "side" of the LCWR politically, and I am very open to constructive critique of the Vatican's process for ensuring authentic Catholic teaching. But divisive commentary like this (frankly, preaching to the choir) only serves to deepen dangerous cultural divisions in the Church rather than reconcile them.

One concrete suggestion I would make is to begin your own criticism with an expression of praise and appreciation for the difficult work of the CDF, just as they did (however inadequately) for the LCWR. (In that spirit, I acknowledge that the limitations of space and brevity may make that impractical as a general rule - and that simplification is inevitable in writing. Thank you for your efforts as a Catholic journalist.)
david power
11 years 3 months ago

Michael Sean Winters was by far the best writer here on America.He was able to write with passion and heart and one felt that he was not playing to the crowds.
The job definition of a nun is what is at stake.
Bride Of Christ is the one that is most mocked.Faithful to Jesus.The Vatican seems to want them to be fox news with habits.
The Nuns themselves seem more at home on the View with loose fitting jeans.
I went to the Mass by the SSPX mass a couple of times in Rome.I even confessed there.Priest was excellent.
They regularly call Ratzinger and Wojtyla Heretics which makes me laugh for the sheer Chutzpah.
In fact if anybody makes a great argument against the current vatican it is not lame liberals but these kooks over at traditioninaction.
In the midst of all this we are dealing with a "the band played on" scene from the Titanic.The church speaks to no-one now.Not even Fr Trendy is capable of inducing anything but  snicker.Yesterday morning I saw a Priest arrive on the platform of the Paris metro.Next to him was a gay couple holding hands.Nobody was looking at them .People just stared at the Priest.All in black with the white collar.My heart went out to him.This is not seen from the Apostolic Palaces. 
Ray Littell-Herrick
11 years 3 months ago
They could beatify John XXIII and name themselves the Society of St. John XXIII.
John Wotherspoon
11 years 3 months ago
Thank you Nicholas, for brilliant Swiftian article - will be linked on June 20 menu of www.v2catholic.com

Same site has a number of original articles re SSPX soap opera:


A friend in Rome recently put in an email
"The Church, especially at the Vatican centre, is in a bit of patch, to put it mildly. When the pope lets the SSPX back in - or, rather, when he moves the rest of Church back to them - I'm afraid there may be some major breaks from Rome or condemnations of Rome"
Dennnis MacDonald
11 years 3 months ago
Great piece. Thanks America.
''There is, truth to tell, a fair amount of praise for the good sisters...'', right. I am convinced that the problem is not with the good works, nor ''truth to tell'', with the positions they take, but with the ''ontological'' status of their doing them. The Vatican, Pope Benedict on down, cannot tolerate women religious ''being'', thinking and acting in a state of human equality and autonomy with men but only as subservient to their direction. 

It is an historical and (recently updated and reaffirmed) contemporary theological position of the Church that women are ''ontologically'' subservient to men. To tolerate actions, writings, words which emanate from women ''as if'' they were fully equal to men and to act autonomously - especially from within the ''bosom'', so to speak, of churchdom is anathema.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger doctrinal kaiser, with the blessing of Pope John Paul II, issued a ''Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World'' May 31,2004. This document, meant to counter and destroy ''radical feminism'' allows that women and men are equal as ''persons'', but (to paraphrase Ratzinger/Benedict) that equality is defined by God's definitive direction to ''the woman'' after the first sin that women are to satisfy the will and direction of the husband - ''He shall rule over you''. The collaboration is subservient collaboration - ''in the church AND in the world''.

Ratzinger employs the beautiful biblical poetry of the ''bride'' and ''groom''; analogically, though literally, to the Church and Christ, laity to priesthood, but foundationally to ''the woman'' to ''the man'' -  If ''consecrated'' women are not subservient to men in the intimacy of the church the whole sexual domination metaphor-elevated-to-theological-truth falls. This uniquely defined ''collaboration'' of subservience, by virtue of intent and enshrined in the title applies ''...in the Church and in the World''.

If the women religious succumb they do not simply recant even speculation about ordination, contraception, acceptance of gay reality, and ''being Jesus'' but they admit to and ebrace a theological, religious, social, political subservience of women to men.
James Barrens
11 years 3 months ago
Ah, but good Professor Cafardi neglects one crucial fact: the LCRW is made up of WOMEN. The lowerarchy in Rome pursues the SSPX because they are MEN. The lowerarchy understands how MEN operate (wink, wink) but hasn't a clue about what to do with recalcitrant WOMEN (tsk,tsk.) If the LCRW were to become schismatic they could wait until hell froze over before Rome would ever knock on their door.
Bill Freeman
11 years 3 months ago
I don't thnk it would be an overstatement to say that the current Magisterium is heretical and has broken from the "true Church."  As St. Benedict would remind us, let us listen with the ear of our hearts so that we might live.
Jeanne Linconnue
11 years 3 months ago
Claire (#14), you wrote: ''many old men in Rome would be ecstatic if all these women went away and never came back.'' You are absolutely right. Few of those who support the men in Rome want to face up to the underlying patriarchy and misogny - but it's all too real. Sinfully real.

Dennis (#15) - outstanding post that neatly sums up the reality of church teaching - which many refuse to look at and prefer to obfuscate with a distorted definition of ''complementarity''. Thank you for posting.

As far as the evidence of fear on the part of the establishment goes, it is obvious in how far they are going now to try to silence all those who refuse to remain silent about the church's treatment of women.  They are silencing men. The pope wasted no time at all getting rid of a bishop who merely suggested reopening the possibility of ordaining women. The very same pope who rewarded bishops and cardinals who protected pedophile priests rather than remove any of them. How many Catholics look away from this? Do they look away because looking at the truth is too hard? The truth that the Pope REWARDS those who enabled  child molestation by protecting the pedophile priests? He rewarded Cardinal Law. He did not remove or discipline in any way a single bishop who permitted priests to molest children. Not one. He rewarded Levada. He rewarded many others who now head up dioceses in the United States. I'm sure he did the same in other countries. Enabling child molestation is rewarded. Even suggesting that women might be ordained is cause for removal. WHY do so many Catholics look away from what this says about the hierarchy of the church?

 Recently Rome has silenced several priests in Ireland and elsewhere who have suggested the same thing as Bishop Morris. They silence those who point out that the Vatican's own Pontifical Biblical Commission's report in the 1970s concluded that there is nothing in scripture that supports denying ordination to women. The men in Rome do not look for truth when setting up these commissions - they look for validation of their pre-conceived conclusions. So this report, just like that of the birth control commission, was ignored. Both were of great importance to women. No women were consulted when Rome decided to ignore them.

 But, they can't silence the Spirit. So people didn't stop talking about it, in spite of John Paul II's efforts to silence even discussion, to silence thought itself, to silence conscience.  Benedict has escalated these efforts to silence, to suppress. Now they are condemning women theologians, and are trying to hide the women religious behind walls again, to be totally subservient to male clergy, and even going after the Girl Scouts. The more desparate the measures, the more they show their fear that too many Catholic women are no longer willing to be second-class anymore. More and more women are no longer listening to these old men and saying ''Yes, Father.''  They sense they are losing power, in spite of all their efforts to hang on to it and make it even tighter, and it makes them fearful. People who are afraid lash out. These men are lashing out at any female who refuses subservience to them and also lashing out at the few men willing to stand with the women in the face of the sins of the church against them. However, more and more men in the religious orders seem to be willing to risk Rome's wrath in order to support truth. Pray that more men gain enough courage to stand up and speak out.

Women who are content with being defined by men in Rome as second-class and who are  willing to suspend their own intelligence and consciences in order to be ''obedient'' and subservient to the males who claim to be their superiors, ontologically, will stay in the church.  But many women, knowing that patriarchy and misogny are sins, and not God's will, may have to find another christian community to call home. Or even join that much maligned group called ''spiritual but not religious''.  They don't want to enable the dysfunction. They don't want to enable the sinfulness of misogny. So they may have to leave for a while.

There is no mystery as to why SBNR is the fastest growing group in America, nor any mystery as to why ''former Catholic'' is the second-largest ''denomination'' in the country. According to all the latest polls, the numbers of people moving towards both groups (SBNR and ''former Catholic) are accelerating, not slowing.  And in the Catholic church, it is younger women who are leaving in the greatest numbers.
Tim O'Leary
11 years 3 months ago
Jeanne #22
I think SBNR really means Sexual But Not Reproducing. I agree this group is gaining today but it is also losing the future. It can only survive by seducing other people's children.

As regards your use of "silencing" about 10 times. I think you misunderstand the Church's role. It is to keep the faith and the faithful, not to keep the people by losing the faith. God wishes all to come to Him, but demands a metanoia, a change of heart, and acceptance of the Truth and the Good. The Church's first obligation is to follow Him, not the fashion, by teaching the Truth and the Good, in season and out.

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