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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.

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9 years 9 months ago
"Taking a Beating" is championing women's rights in Afganistan. How about women's rights in the USA re "Quality of Life"? You have hit a nerve here! Can we be concerned in one country and not in our own church? Do we sit back and say "oh well", when women are not allowed to be deacons in the Catholic Church? There are women deacons in the New Testament! Where is our openness to the teachings of Christ? Are the hierarchy of the RC Church afraid of what an open dialog on Ordination of women might produce?
9 years 9 months ago
"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" I think we should have a Catholic University award Karzai an honorary degree so that we can engage him in dialogue.
9 years 9 months ago
I agree that the two visitations on bodies of women religious appear suspect. The purported reason for the visitation of women's orders seems especially transparant: to assess why vocations have fallen among women religius. One would think the Vatican has plenty to do assessing the decline in the priesthood. As women religious have always been second class citizens of the Church, if the question is truly only about declining vocations and not about doctrinal fidelity, one has to wonder why, basically, the Vatican cares that much. I have never considered myself a "woman's libber" but I have recently begun fanatasizing a one week strike of women, lay and religious, who work in any aspect of the Church based on Gandhi's work strike in India, just to see if an "ah ha" moment would be experienced by loads of men who really have no idea how the work really gets accomplished.
9 years 9 months ago
Dialogue and discernment of the Spirit's presence and movements in our midst have been characteristic of the way congregations of women religious in the United States have been faithful to God and the charism they are in the church. Theologically, spiritually, and missiologically, women religious have been giving expression to what the Spirit has been doing in their lives and in their institutes. Dialogue and opennes to the Spirit's work is required on both sides of the conversation between the Vatican and US women religious so that we can all ore fully appreciate what God has been doing with and through US women religious for the sake of the world and the church.
9 years 9 months ago
Religious women are coming to terms with these investigations. At first folks are in the various stages described by Kübler-Ross. In moving to deepest acceptance, hope emerges. Those whose lives shaped contemporary religious life these past 40 some years, will be more articulate about the energy which sustained them. Those who work and live with them will continue the ministries they shared with them. Those who benefited from this ministry will live lives of grace and strength for having been surrounded by care during times of vulnerability. While no groups look to be investigated, we will know God's grace more clearly even here.
Matthew Kenney
9 years 9 months ago
I once met a nun who claimed that she and others could consecrate communion since Jesus said that whenever two or more were gathered in his name, there he would be. Since she had said this in private and wasn't trumpeting it to the masses, I did not "turn her in." However, the church does have certain concepts that are not to be trifled with, and communion - who gets to make it - is one of them. I do hope the Vatican only punishes the egregious errors and lets the little stuff slide.
9 years 9 months ago
There is a “course correction” happening within the US Roman Catholic church. Not necessarily back to pre-Vatican II, Roman Rite kind of Theology, but maybe something that may be considered new. It is a fact that the only growth in women religious orders has come in the Traditional, habit wearing orders and the priesthood is growing in places where conservative Bishops are in control. Young persons, who want to follow Jesus as part of the Body of Christ, no longer want to follow an ideology that promotes the individual over the whole, self-dependence over congregation, self promotion over humble servitude. Why would people want to be a religious if there is No difference between non-religious people in appearance or attitude toward superiors. The liberalization of church doctrine and progressivism of the corporate, once considered hip and sheik is now dying out and being replaced by the traditional. And I for one am happy to see it coming. For a truer sense of where women religious will be in a few years I suggest checking out the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious Everything old becomes new again.


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