Nicholas 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.