Tuesday, August 18, 2009

American Nuns, Fitting In, and Being Catholic in America

The Catholic Church simply isn't American.

There, I've said it.

Which isn't quite the same as saying that the Catholic Church is un-American, with connotations in American English that go back at least as far as the days when McCarthyism was in flower.

Thomas Nast, Cultural Catholics, and the Vatican

This is just my opinion, but I think that people like Maria Monk and Thomas Nast quite unintentionally did some cultural Catholics a favor by popularizing wild stories about Catholic orgies and plots.

Tales of secret tunnels between nunneries and rectories, clandestine burial sites hiding the corpses of babies conceived by priests and nuns, and all the rest of the anti-Catholic mythos became a part of America's cultural background noise.

It's the old 'boy who cries wolf' principle. With a couple centuries of crazy stories about Catholic debauchery - that many Americans didn't take seriously - coming from America, is it any wonder that it took the while for the Vatican to realize that a few priests really had been raping boys?

And, that it's taken the Vatican a long time (by American standards) to get around to taking a serious look at what presumably-Catholic organizations in America have actually been up to?

Catholics, America, Getting Along and Fitting In

I have it easy. I was born in America, and converted to Catholicism shortly after moving to a largely-Catholic community.

But, although I can't prove it, I didn't convert to 'fit in.' The conversion process had started many years ago, as I tried to make sense of the virulently anti-Catholic sentiments endemic to where I grew up.

Many Catholics who came to America found the same sort of 'Monk and Nast' attitude. They quite understandably wanted to be employable and, if possible, convince the (largely Protestant) Americans around them that they were 'real' Americans, too.

I think that may have contributed to many originally-Catholic families concentrating more on making sure that their children grew up to be 'real' Americans, and perhaps a bit less on seeing to it that Catholic beliefs were passed on as well.

There's more to it than that, of course.

America in the Spotlight

Maybe it was the 'pedophile priest' scandal, or maybe it was just the slow accumulation of evidence. But it looks like the Holy See, the Vatican, has finally started to pay closer attention to Catholic institutions in America.

I'm pretty sure that quite a few of the people in those institutions aren't going to like it.

The SNAFU with Notre Dame, where the leadership of that (allegedly Catholic) school told the bishops of this country that they were wrong about President Obama being honored and tacitly endorsed is, I think, among the first sign that there's change coming.

I think it's only a matter of time before a more serious effort to impose quality control on Catholic institutions gets into mainstream media.

Not All Nuns are Alike

Just as Catholics in general come in a wide range of abilities, interests, personalities and degrees of solidarity with the Catholic Church, there are all sorts of nuns.

A few, like Blessed Mother Teresa are famous. (She was beatified on October 19, 2003.)

Most live, work, and pray without getting much - if any - attention. Some are in cloistered orders; some, like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, get their jobs done in a more public setting.

And a few are definitely off the 50th percentile. Like a pair who were fingered by Maryland police last year as 'suspected terrorists.' Reading about the case in mainstream news, I didn't know what to think. America has never been a Catholic country, and these days there are secular zealots who seem to believe that America should be made safe from Christianity in general. Odd things have happened: like Bible studies getting banned for goofy reasons.

After a little digging, I discovered that someone in Maryland's police force had made a (stupid) mistake, and that it was being corrected. I also found out why the nuns had been suspected of being terrorists. They'd broken into a nuclear missile site in Colorado "and, in rather loud taste, painted crosses on the silo with their own blood...." (October 11, 2008)

They also seem to have a very 'relevant' view of America:
"...I doubt that they should have gone on a 'suspected terrorist' list, these Jonah House nuns were involved with an organization that says "...we believe that the US is the world's number one terrorist." On the home page of their website, above the fold...."
(October 11, 2008)
I'm no expert, but it does look like Jonah House has bought into Liberation Theology. And, although the Catholic Church isn't a running-dog lackey of the capitalistic oppressor, it isn't a hero of the people's revolution, either.

I've made the point before: The Catholic Church is the universal church. It's been around for almost two thousand years, so far, and barring orders from higher up I expect it will be around for another two millennia. By then, not many people are likely to have heard terms like populares and optimates, or liberal and conservative, unless they're students of history.

That means that what the Catholic Church teaches isn't "relevant" in the good old sixties meaning of the term. It doesn't conform to a contemporary ideological fashion.

American Nuns Object to Inquiry

This could get interesting:
"Leaders representing 59,000 women religious are questioning what they say is a lack of full disclosure about what is motivating the Vatican's apostolic visitation that will study the contemporary practices of U.S. women's religious orders.

"In an Aug. 17 press statement, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious also said the leaders 'object to the fact that their orders will not be permitted to see the investigative reports about them' when they are submitted in 2011 to the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and its prefect, Cardinal Franc Rode...."
(August 18, 2009)
The LCWR has what may be legitimate points, about where funding for the Vatican representatives will be handled.

I think there's a possibility that at least some of the objection comes from a realization that Americans who like to be Catholic their way have finally attracted the attention of the Holy See - and that the Catholic Church is not a democracy.

A final point: Jonah House appears to be an anything-but-conservative enclave in America. Not all Catholics who like to roll their own religion are liberal, a point I discussed in June

Related posts: In the news: Background:
A tip of the hat to DiscernMyCall, on Twitter, for the heads-up on today's CNS article.

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.