William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

The Times Weighs In On The Side Of Wayward Nuns

LCWRNicholas D. Kristof is a good polemicist. In his 28 April 2011 piece “We Are All Nuns” he manages to hide and eventually evade the main argument against him via distraction, a technique every op-ed writer should master.

Here’s what happened—and stick with me, it will turn out to be of interest to you even if you are not (yet) Catholic. Recently the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—which sounds better in Latin, vide: Congregatio Pro Doctrina Fidei—wrote a letter to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious saying, in essence, “Whoa. Hold up there.”

Now before we go further, let’s make one thing clear. The Catholic church is a voluntary organization which has certain well known rules by which adherents must abide. Nobody forces anybody to join. Too, as one advances in the hierarchy of this group, one must pledge not to deviate from nor to agitate publicly against these rules. You promise that if you break the rules, you must accept the actions of the leadership which itself judges what response to your rule-breaking is best. Just like in any voluntary association.

The leadership of the Church had this to say of the LCWR’s activities:

  • “Addresses given during LCWR annual Assemblies manifest problematic statements and serious theological, even doctrinal errors.” Including some that spoke of “moving beyond the Church” and even moving beyond Jesus himself.
  • Their teachings are “not in agreement with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality.” I.e. all the usual progressive suspects.
  • The “prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” I.e. questioning the divinity of Jesus (a male) and the agitation for women priests.

Of course, if you are (yet) an atheist then none of this has any meaning to you (but see below), but I believe you would agree that if the Church teaches and is founded on the idea that Jesus is divine, that if an internal group says otherwise, it is at variance with the leadership and thus subject to correction. And don’t forget the nuns are free to quit if they feel strongly on this point.

Visit the LCWR’s website and you’ll understand the controversy. For example, the nuns lecture us on “Reducing and Offsetting Our Carbon Footprint“. Their (at this writing) Leading Resolution is that you should join the Occupy movement. One reason given in support of this plea is that “Hyatt hotel workers who have been organizing since 2006 asked to choose between annual cost of living raises and health care.” Which does not sound an especially hard road to hoe.

Indeed, the nuns at LCWR appear to have adopted the progressive tactic of using a statistical instead of an absolute measure of poverty. This move guarantees that the poor will always be with us. Say that to be poor is to fall under, e.g., the 30th percentile of income makes it impossible to eradicate poverty, makes it so Omnipotence itself cannot reduce the number of the poor. The struggle will be ever endless, which at least guarantees job security for progressive agitators. (And see this.)

The New York Times and Nicholas D. Kristof would have the Church change and become, well, become like any other NGO dedicated to progressive causes, only perhaps without all that “God talk.” Kristof in support of the LCWR says that nuns have been strong, courageous, faithful, daring, selfless, heroic, pious. Not the nuns of the LCWR, mind, but some nuns at certain times and places. He also says that some priests have failed to be all these things. Not the priests of the CDR, but some priests at certain times and places. He also looked into his bible and discovered that Jesus was all about “social justice” and, apparently, the statistical definition of poverty.

His conclusion? Support the nuns in charge of the LCWR and agitate against the Church. After all, “If you look at who has more closely emulated Jesus’s life, Pope Benedict or your average nun, it’s the nun hands down.” Yet Kristof, who earlier said the “Church should be turned upside down” for its “paleolithic” rules, never once acknowledges nor answers the main argument that the Church can and must decide for itself what it best. (And see this.)

So why is this important to you as a non-Catholic? Because it is the beginning of public debate which is expanding. Enter Congressman Paul Ryan who last Thursday “said that his recently released budget proposal was developed in accord with his understanding of Catholic social doctrine.” According to First Things, Ryan’s statement caused “the liberal Catholic establishment” to react “with outrage” (progressives know no other emotion).

Ryan said his budget was “a way to help all Americans gain a better life, free of government intrusion and overreach.” Progressives would increase government to be in charge of everything. Both sides are invoking the Church. Stay tuned.

11 Comments

  1. “Just like in any voluntary association.”
    “And don’t forget the nuns are free to quit if they feel strongly on this point.”

    These observations are disingenuous. Belonging to a religious community is not at all like “any voluntary association”. It’s unlikely – though not impossible – that your local chess club provides you with significant personal and emotional support; you would think little of a religious community that failed to do so. People who feel obliged to leave a religious community can suffer considerable distress. “Free to quit” may not be the same as “easy to quit”.

    That said, Christians who want to radically redefine Christianity to accommodate their personal inclinations mystify me. Why be a Christian at all?

  2. Because people belonging to any voluntary organization cannot ever disagree with some characteristics of it and try to have a debate to change it, right?

    And like Rich rightfully addresses, this “voluntarynessness” of catholicism is disingenuous. These people are deeply commited, not only with their lives, but their souls. This is not about choosing a chess club to have joyful evenings. But what can you possibly do when you try to combine a religious worldview with a “libertarian” one than admitting at the same time that every particular religion is both essential to human beings and not at all. since you can just pick them like pairs of shoes or hairstyles?

    It’s a very curious combination of sheer “liberalism”, with lots and lots of freedom to fight for, and sheer “status quo” where you can’t ever argue with the priests of the church, and in a more meta way, always bowing down to an absolutist point of view about truth, morality and reason. So, we are free to be a slave right? Got it ;).

  3. I have read through the bible several times. I seem to recall that when Jesus was asked about the poor he said the way to eradicate poverty was to petetion Cesare to take money from the rich people and give it to the poor people. That would eliminate poverty in a generation. LbJ used this technique in his wildly successful war on poverty.

    I’ll bet the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is now sorry they closed the office of the inquisition and no longer have the auto-de-fe. You just can’t make a horrible example out of heretics anymore.

  4. Ray,

    I think it is you who yearns to torture those you disagree with.

    There, see how easy it is to impugn ridiculous motives.

    PS — better read it again, Ray. Your interpretation is wanting.

    PPS — Luis, haven’t you quit the Church yet? Is your soul still in bondage? Or are you seeking converts to righteous apostasy? Who exactly do you serve these days?

  5. Ye Olde Statistician

    30 April 2012 at 9:27 pm

    you can’t ever argue with the priests of the church, and in a more meta way, always bowing down to an absolutist point of view about truth, morality and reason. So, we are free to be a slave right?

    Of course you can argue with the priests. You just can’t teach contrary to the considered dogmas. Cf. Nicene creed, decrees of Ecumenical Councils, etc.

    It is understandable that you might wish morality to be relative rather than absolute. It is rather frightening that you wish truth and reason to be relative.

  6. I have often wondered if some of the radicalism seen in some priests and nuns is not the result of group think gone wrong. (an interesting discussion of this concept is presently going on at Watts Up With That) The radicalism is not particularly new – Jesuits are notorious for being the gadflys of the Catholic church – but there does seem to be more extreme radicalism in this country since the 1960’s.

    I have a brother who is a Jesuit, and I have had many a discussion with him about his vows. Rich is correct that Catholic clerics are extremely devoted to their religion and group. And yes, it would cause emotional stress for them to leave their group. However, their vows also bind them tightly to the teachings of the Catholic Church, and if they come to deeply disagree with those teachings and profess that disagreement very publicly, then they are violating their vows, and in effect have already left their organization. As a lay person, should I violate my marriage vow and publicly proclaim it, in effect have I not already dissolved my marriage? It would certainly be my analysis if I did such an action. Therefore I would say Rich’s argument – against the idea that they are “free to leave” – is moot (as in “not worthy of discussion”). The nun/priest has already made the decision to violate his/her vows. If it should cause the person great emotional distress to leave (or be tossed out), it would only be because they did not consider the consequences of their actions. In which case, they have no one to blame but his/her self.

  7. Dear Uncle Mike,

    There is this concept called irony I heard about recently. Ray may have come across that somewhere. You should look it up.

    I am very pleased to announce that I am about to be baptized as a Catholic, and I can’t say often enough how very pleased I am to support the (cue ominous music!) Hierarchy and its teachings. I have this funny idea that it’s part of the deal, so to speak. The nuns and everyone else are free to get all Episcopalian if they like.

  8. Dear Robert,

    I am well aware that irony is the leitmotif of postmdernism. Unfortunately our culture has descended into post-postmodernism where rudeness is the neoleitmotif de rigueur. The propensity of the cultural dystopic class to shock with vulgarity and violence has wounded me to the point of kneejerk defensiveness. Of course Ray was pulling our leg. He is a decent guy and not a pop deviant. I reacted poorly. Mea culpa.

    The LCWR, unfortunately, are po-pomo as all get out. I recoil. All decent people do.

  9. Mike, I don’t think anybody needs to belong to an organization to voice a comment about its practices. This is one of those obvious truths that should not be needed to voice, but there yo go.

  10. Dear Luis,

    Of course not. In the free and easy ether-o-sphere, anybody can comment about any organization they don’t belong to. Happens all over all the time.

    But one does wonder about the motivations of non-Catholics who persist, religiously, in criticizing the Catholic Church.

    Something psychological there. I grant you a little Euro-bitterness at your ethnic political history, but isn’t it a bit more than just politics? Are we angry at God, Luis?

  11. But one does wonder about the motivations of non-Catholics who persist, religiously, in criticizing the Catholic Church.

    Well, perhaps because the Catholic Church intrudes in the same public space I live on.

    Or perhaps more illustratively, who do you think said the following?

    “Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a ‘reductive vision of the person and his destiny’ .”

    Well, following your suggestion, why does a man not only belonging, but actually leading an institution is so condemnative of those who don’t?

    The main archbishop of my country is famous for having said that atheism and agnosticism are the worst dangers humanity faces. Well I’m sorry mr Mike, I’m not the one obsessing over other people’s choices of metaphysics here.

    I grant you a little Euro-bitterness at your ethnic political history

    I’m not sure what you mean here. If you are referring to the historical fact that my country (Portugal) and many others do know very well how fascism and christianity melded together to create some of the worst dictatorships in western countries in the 20th century, then yes you’d have a point. However, there is little hardship where I live. Due to this past, there is little if no public debate around religious themes and religious people know to be discreet. Atheism in these countries is just business as usual way of life.

    Are we angry at God, Luis?

    No, but I do understand why believers think this way. I’m not even angry with religious people. Not even religion. I accept it as a very common trait of mankind. I just wished people could emancipate it, but there are other more important priorities on my list (end poverty, end resource scarcity, end wars, etc.).

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