I Dreamed a Dream
At last count, the YouTube video of Susan Boyle singing on the British television show “Britain’s Got Talent” has been seen by a jaw-dropping 60 million viewers. (That is probably up another few million by now.) Ms. Boyle, an unemployed, unmarried, unprepossessing woman from a remote village in Scotland, is a devout Catholic who spent the last few years quietly caring for her ailing mother, who recently died at 91. And when she strode on stage to sing “I Dreamed a Dream,” a poignant song from “Les Misérables,” the judges visibly smirked—until she opened her mouth. She silenced them with her glorious voice.
What accounts for the astonishing interest in Ms. Boyle? A cheer for an unlucky person given a lucky break? Perhaps. But there may be more. The way viewers are seeing Susan Boyle is like the way God sees us: worthwhile, special, talented, unique, beautiful. The world generally looks askance at people like Susan Boyle, if it sees them at all. Without classic good looks, without a job, without a spouse, living in a small town, people like her may not seem “important.” But God sees the real person and the value of each person’s gifts: rich or poor, young or old, single or married, matron or movie star, lucky or unlucky in life. God knows us. And loves us.
Susan Boyle’s story recalls Psalm 139. Every person, no matter what his or her talents, is “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Taking a Beating
Millions around the world looked on with horror last month as women in Pakistan and Afghanistan became subject to Sharia law, Taliban-style. A cellphone video of the flogging of a 17-year-old girl, encircled by male onlookers in Pakistan’s Swat valley, made a spectacle of the Wahhabist leaders’ disregard for women’s rights and highlighted the Pakistan government’s role in ceding control of the region.
The Afghanistan parliament also passed a law that was signed by President Hamid Karzai, but which, after international protest, is now being “reconsidered.” The law would prohibit any Shiite woman from working or attending school without her husband’s permission; it would also require her to make herself up and to have marital relations whenever her husband desires it. Critics say it legalizes “marital rape.” Shiites are a minority in Afghanistan (about 10 percent of the population). Hundreds of schools for girls have just been closed.
Remarkably, 300 mostly young and courageous Afghan women organized a public protest in Kabul, demanding that the law be repealed. The local police protected the women protesters from the much greater number of men who opposed them on the streets. What will become of those women? Will their number grow? Will they be made an example? Can the United States and the world community protect such women, especially during wartime? Until better tools are devised, the old ones must be used: monitoring women’s welfare, continued media coverage of their fate, urging lawmakers to keep equal rights in the constitution and legal system, extending safe harbor to imperiled individuals who seek it. Women and their human rights should not have to take a beating while the world looks on.
Quality of Life
Apostolic visitations are initiated by the Vatican in response to grave problems. The visitation of U.S. seminaries, completed this January, was in response to the sexual abuse crisis. The visitation of the Legion of Christ, announced in March, will investigate issues of “truth and transparency” linked to sexual abuse and financial malfeasance by the order’s founder. But what grave problems prompted two other recently announced visitations: one of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the other of all women's religious orders in the United States?
The L.C.W.R., which represents 95 percent of women's orders in the United States, is being investigated for theological reasons, mainly because of annual assemblies in which speakers addressed topics of priestly ordination, the universality of salvation and homosexuality. Yet the L.C.W.R. is a loose consortium of women's religious orders, not a governing body, much less a theological school. Some of the underlying impetus for the visitation may be gleaned from an address given last year at Stonehill College in Massachusetts by Cardinal Franc Rode, C.M., the Vatican's point person for religious life, in which he criticized the orders' "disastrous" decision after the Second Vatican Council, which he called "pseudo-aggiornamento" and said led to declining vocations.
It is hard not to feel sympathy toward the women religious being investigated for their "quality of life." Vatican II instructed women religious to revisit their original charisms, reinvigorate their work with the poor (as their foundresses had done) and update their way of life. They did so--in fidelity to the council documents. We hope that this fidelity, as well as the rest of their astonishing contributions to the church, will be acknowledged by Vatican investigators.