This morning Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, president of the Leadership Conference for Women Religious, appeared on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air," with Terry Gross. The full audio will be posted later in the day, but some excerpts of this wide-ranging interview have already been posted on the NPR site.
On questioning doctrine within the Catholic Church
"The question is, 'Can you be Catholic and have a questioning mind?' That's what we're asking. ... I think one of our deepest hopes is that in the way we manage the balancing beam in the position we're in, if we can make any headways in helping to create a safe and respectful environment where Church leaders along with rank and file members can raise questions openly and search for truth freely, with very complex and swiftly changing issues in our day, that would be our hope. But the climate is not there. And this mandate coming from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith putting us in a position of being under the control of certain Bishops, that is not a dialogue. If anything, it appears to be shutting down dialogue."
On their options
"We're not talking about the risk of ex-communication or leaving the church. That's not our intent. We're talking about the Vatican's dealing with a national organization, not with specific religious congregations or individual religious. The one and only underlying option for us is to respond with integrity with however we proceed. That is our absolute bottom line in this. Some of the options would be to just comply with the mandate that's been given to us. Or to say we can't comply with this and see what the Vatican does with that. Or to remove ourselves and form a separate organization."
On women's ordination
"The position we took in favor of women's ordination in 1977 was before there was a Vatican letter saying that there is a definitive church position against the ordination of women. So it's interesting to me that the document [just released by the Church] goes back 30 years to talk about our position on the ordination of women. There has, in fact, been an official opinion from the Church that that topic should not be discussed. When that declaration came out, the response of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was to call for a nationwide time of prayer and fasting for all Women Religious in response to that. Because our deep desire for places of leadership of women in the church be open. It remains a desire. Since then, the Leadership Conference has not spoken publically about the ordination of women. Imposing a silence doesn't necessarily change people's thinking but we are in a position to continue to be very concerned that the position of women in the church be recognized."
On the phrase 'radical feminist themes'
"Sincerely what I hear in the phrasing that was is fear — a fear of women's positions in the Church. Now that's just my interpretation. I have no idea what was in the mind of the congregation, of the doctrine of the faith, when they wrote that. But women theologians around the world have been seriously looking at the question of: How have the Church's interpretations of how we talk about God, interpret Scripture, organize life in the Church — how have they been tainted by a culture that minimizes the value and the place of women?"
"I think the criticism of what we're not talking about seems to me to be unfair. Because religious have clearly given our lives to supporting life, to supporting the dignity of human persons. Our works are very much pro-life. We would question, however, any policy that is more pro-fetus than actually pro-life. If the rights of the unborn trump all of the rights of all of those who are already born, that is a distortion too — if there's such an emphasis on that. However, we have sisters who work in right-to-life issues. We also have many, many ministries that support life. We dedicate to our lives to those on the margins of society, many of whom are considered throw-away people: the impaired, the chronically mentally ill, the elderly, the incarcerated, to the people on death row. We have strongly spoken out against the death penalty, against war, hunger. All of those are right to life issues. There's so much being said about abortion that is often phrased in such extreme and such polarizing terms that to choose not to enter into a debate that is so widely covered by other sectors of the Catholic Church — and we have been giving voice to other issues that are less covered but are equally as important."
"Our concern is that right to life issues be seen across a whole spectrum and are not narrowly defined. ... To single out one right to life issue and to say that that's the only issue that defines Catholic identity, I think is really a distortion."