Archives For Nuns

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

David Chaim Smith, Blood of Space 2, 2009. Graphite/ink on digital print. 18x22” NFS.

David Chaim Smith, Blood of Space 2, 2009. Graphite/ink on digital print. 18x22” NFS.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

“I loved the Church for Christ made visible. Not for itself, because it was so often a scandal to me.”Dorothy Day, Catholic Worker

For years now there’s been a quiet effort to rein in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the Catholic Church’s largest association of American women’s religious orders. Back in 2008 it was announced that the Vatican was undertaking two large-scale investigations of American nuns who may “have opted for ways that take them outside” of Church teachings (meanwhile, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops instituted a ban on Reiki ). Many American nuns didn’t take kindly to this display of authority, did not participate in the investigations, and in some cases spoke out about what was happening.

LCWR National Board

LCWR National Board

“Where did the impetus for the visitation and investigation originate? During a visit to Rome last April, several officers of the Leadership Conference put this question to Cardinal Franc Rodé, head of CICLSAL, and were informed that the initiative had been suggested by American members of the curia, some U.S. bishops, and some members of religious communities. Cardinal Rodé told LCWR officers that “concerns” had been expressed on issues ranging from living arrangements to the lack of new vocations to the public positions some women religious take on topics such as women’s ordination, homosexuality, and abortion.”

In short, too many American nuns were openly questioning Catholic doctrine on hot-button issues. Now, the results of one of those investigations has been released, it states that the LCWR has “serious doctrinal problems” and the conference will be “reformed” by a Cardinal and two Bishops.

“The Vatican’s assessment, issued on Wednesday, said that members of the group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, had challenged church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” […] “I’m stunned,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby founded by sisters. Her group was also cited in the Vatican document, along with the Leadership Conference, for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping “silent” on abortion and same-sex marriage.”

While this decision may have shocked some American nuns, the writing was on the wall for some time that a crackdown on their autonomy and spiritual authority was coming. Last year, the US Conference of Bishops accused Catholic theologian and nun Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson of violating church doctrine in her 2007 book “Quest For the Living God,” issuing a 21-page critique and recommending the book not be taught in Catholic universities due in part to her suggestion of using female imagery for God.

“The passages drawing the harshest admonishment, however, concerned Sister Johnson’s proposal that feminine as well as masculine imagery be used in prayers referring to God, a recommendation that has been debated and rejected by the bishops before. Still, the book persisted, “all-male images of God are hierarchical images rooted in the unequal relation between women and men, and they function to maintain this arrangement.” Wrong, the bishops said: If the Gospels use masculine imagery, it is because divine revelation would have it that way. […] Dr. Tilley, the Fordham theology chairman, described that argument as “approaching the incoherent.”

So let us place the pieces together, shall we? Banning energy healing, banning a book that suggests female pronouns for the Christian God, banning gender-neutral formulations of baptism ceremonies, turning access to contraception (for women) into a national referendum on religious freedom, and now, accusing the largest conference of American nuns of promoting “radical feminist themes” and moving to bring them under control.  What do you get? In his book “The Ratzinger Report”, then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, made very clear his views as to what radical feminism was.

I am, in fact, convinced that what feminism promotes in its radical form is no longer the Christianity that we know; it is another religion.”

Another religion. That is what Catholic Women Religious in America are being accused of, practicing another religion. When nuns start advocating for the ordination of women, for making poverty and health care a priority over abortion and making sure gays can’t marry, they are no longer Catholic. They trigger an atavistic fear in the Catholic mind, the fear that women will start listening to a Goddess instead of a God.

“We will not listen to the things you’ve said to us in the name of YHWH. On the contrary, we will certainly do all that we’ve vowed. We will make offerings to the Queen of Heaven, and pour libations to her as we used to do – we and our ancestors, our kings and princes in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem – because then we had plenty of bread and we were satisfied, and suffered no misfortune. But since we ceased making offerings to the Queen of Heaven and pouring libations to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by sword and famine. And when we make offerings to the Queen of Heaven and pour libations to her, is it without our husbands’ approval that we make cakes in her likeness and pour libations to her?”Jeremiah 44:15-19, translation by Graham Harvey, from the Hebrew text of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, excerpted from “The Paganism Reader”.

The move against American nuns is just the latest effort to squash reform-minded thinking, just as the Franciscans in Assisi, Italy were smeared with accusations of allowing blood sacrifices at their altars when interfaith gatherings there became too popular and high-profile (the Pope, naturally, doesn’t meet with “pagans”). Like Cronus, the Catholic Church fears too much reform will act as an emitic, and all the pre-Christian elements, traditions, figures, and imagery it has swallowed over 2000 years will vomit forth and usurp the Church’s role as religious power-player on the world stage.

Pope Benedict XVI at the Assisi interfaith gathering. (Getty Images)

Pope Benedict XVI at the Assisi interfaith gathering. (Getty Images)

Think I’m perhaps overstating things? In 2007 Benedict asserted that indigenous populations in South America were“silently longing” for the Christian faith of the colonizersAt the recent Assisi gathering the Pope made clear that four token agnostics were invited “so that God, the true God, becomes accessible” to them. He has mocked and criticized “paganism” in any form one could imagine, describing pre-Christian gods as “questionable” and unable to provide hope, and engaged in a kind of Holocaust revisionism by saying that Nazi-ism was born of “neo-paganism.” During his Papacy the practice of exorcism has boomed once more, a practice that explicitly lists adherence to other faiths as a sign of demon possession. There are the words and actions of a man, of a church, who fears that as religion becomes female-dominated, it might also become “pagan.”

The question now is, will there be unintended repercussions from this move by the Vatican and the US Conference of Bishops? Will the nuns, pushed into a corner, and ordered to heel, simply leave? Can anyone imagine the chaos that a mass exodus by Women Religious would instigate? Perhaps this action will really amount to nothing more than a slap on the wrist, leaving the sleeping giant(s) in the Catholicism’s belly alone for awhile longer, but I think the more this quiet force is insulted and ordered the more the Church risks exactly what it fears: the rise of another religion.

Top Story: While not explicitly about Paganism, the Newspaper Death Watch blog pointed me to a fascinating new study entitled “New Entrepreneurs: New Perspectives on News” ( PDF version), that interviews fifty women news creators and consumers and transmits a reality that many of us involved in new-media already knew.

“New media creators seek to report on their communities by being actively involved in them. They engage in newsgathering and reporting that is informed by their own knowledge and sense of place. They seek to entice members of their community in robust conversations. They pay close attention to their readers and communities to figure out what is of interest …New media news creators deliberately employ more involved (participatory), less dispassionate points of view, while maintaining the distinction between news and opinion …The primary motivation of news creators in starting a community news site is to amplify a sense of community and connect its members in meaningful interactions … For news creators, the primary gap is a geographic one. They are seeking to fill a void that exists because traditional media never covered their communities or have abandoned coverage because of economic pressures.”

The above could read as a mission-statement for The Wild Hunt and hundreds of other blogs, podcasts, and new-media resources out there. I’m not “embedded” in the Pagan community, I’m a part of the Pagan community, and that intimacy and familiarity gives me a perspective and vitality that no mainstream journalist can hope to match. I do believe I can be passionate about a topic while distinguishing what is fact and what is merely my opinion.  Further, the study makes plain that media creators and consumers (an increasingly blurry distinction) are both frustrated by the current state of mainstream news reporting, pointing out how “old media” has been petty and hostile towards emerging new-media solutions and  outlets.

This new attitude/reality is certainly worrying for newspapers and other traditional news-outlets. As Newspaper Death Watch states: “reinvention doesn’t come without pain”, and that pain has yet to run its course. However, I believe in the long run this change in journalism and news-gathering will ultimately create more quality journalism, not less. Further, it will forever change the old paradigm of a select few deciding what is “newsworthy”. For many, what happens in the world of modern Paganism isn’t worth reporting, or only worth reporting during Halloween, but we are no longer limited by the page-count or the deadline. In the future, news will be initially generated by self-interested communities which will then “trickle-up” to larger journalism-creating entities as “big” stories emerge. News outlets that continue to ignore these changes will just become another statistic for the media “death-watchers”.

In Other News: Turning briefly to Catholicism, I’ve previously mentioned that American nuns are currently undergoing a “doctrinal assessment” to see if they are coloring inside the lines and not straying too far into feminism, practicing Reiki, or getting too cozy with Goddess-worshipers. Well it looks like many of the women religious aren’t going to go down quietly, by, well, being quiet.

“Most US women religious are failing to comply with a Vatican request to answer questions in a document from Apostolic Visitator, Mother Angela Millea. Leaders of congregations, instead, are leaving questions unanswered or sending in letters or copies of their communities’ constitutions, NCR Online reports. “There’s been almost universal resistance,” said one women religious familiar with the responses compiled by the congregation leaders. “We are saying ‘enough!’ In my 40 years in religious life I have never seen such unanimity.” The deadline for the questionnaires to be filled out and returned to the Vatican appointed apostolic visitator, Mother Mary Clare Millea, was November 20.”

So what happens when non-contemplative Catholic womens religious orders, the ones who are usually the most tied to and involved with their local communities (and hence, quite popular with the laity) put their foot down? Saying that they are through being “bullied”? We can’t be sure, but I doubt this is making Benedict XVI very happy. Something tells me this isn’t going to be the last instance of civil disobedience and non-compliance from American nuns.

The Religion Clause blog alerts me to an update on the South Carolina “I Believe” license plates story that I’ve covered here at The Wild Hunt in some depth. It seems the local Palmetto Family Council, instead of urging the state to issue unconstitutional endorsements of a single faith, is going to follow the law and sponsor the plates themselves.

“The plaintiffs who just won the lawsuit that killed the General Assembly-sanctioned “I Believe” license tag are saying they won’t protest Smith’s plan — as long as it’s a private group, and not state government, that is sponsoring the tag. “This would be a specialty license tag like all the other specialty tags,” said the Rev. Neal Jones, one of the four plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit over separation of church and state. “It would be an expression of freedom of speech by a private group, and we don’t have a problem with that.” Jones, pastor of the Universalist Unitarian Fellowship in Columbia, said he had discussed with the other three plaintiffs the possibility of a private group putting “I Believe” on a tag. “Everyone was fine with it,” he said.”

You know, if local Christian groups had just coughed up the $4000 dollars to sponsor the specialty plate in the first place we wouldn’t have had to have an expensive court battle. But I suppose that would rob local politicians of some quality Christian pandering for votes.

In another follow-up, the massive (and controversial) Nepalese ritual-animal-slaughter of the Gadhimai Mela is over and the AFP interviews some unrepentant participants in the killings.

“Munna Bahadur Khadgi, a professional butcher, said he had enjoyed the chance to give the goddess “something in return.” “Gadhimai has been kind enough for me to have a good life and I take this slaughter as a way of saying ‘thank you’,” said the 40-year-old, who said he had killed 200 buffalo this year. “I make money by killing animals normally but at the festival I do it for spiritual satisfaction. It is the least that I could do for the goddess and I didn’t want to miss this opportunity.” For 31-year-old Abhimanyu Rana, the slaughtering was in keeping with the family’s religious belief and practice. “When I was young I had seen my dad and grandpa slaughtering animals. I am proud that I am continuing the family history,” said Rana, who owns a local restaurant.”

But while many local Nepalese participants seemed pleased with the festivities, Utpal Parashar of the Hindustan Times seemed to have had a terrible time, saying the slaughter was “nauseating” and that he was pick-pocketed twice. Inside Nepal, a commentator for the Kathmandu Post, invoking Peter Singer, said the event was “the legitimization of violence in Nepal writ large”. The coalition lobbying to stop the mass-sacrifice points out that few safety and humane regulations were witnessed during the festival, and I can’t help but wonder if a reformation movement would have met with better success than a movement for a complete ban.

In a final note, now that Thanksgiving is over, people are turning toward Yuletide gift-giving and reporters are anxious to turn in their “pagan origins of Christmas” story before heading out for Black Friday deal-hunting. In an article about a festival of trees, the pre-Christian origins of hauling a tree indoors was cited, while a variety of letter-writers are quick to point out the pagan-ness of Christmas while considering church-state concerns. Meanwhile, SF Gate columnist Jon Carroll quotes a reader on the issue of Jews adapting and adopting Christmas for themselves.

“So can’t the Jews attempt something that the Christians did so successfully 200 or so years ago with a pagan celebration?”

Yes Virginia, Winter festivals do predate Christianity, and that religion did steal borrow many popular pagan traditions in the process. However, I’m not sold on the theory that Santa was a shaman. I’m more a “he exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist” kind of guy. I’m also a let everyone celebrate their Winter festivals in whatever way they want kind of guy, but I still think that Gap ad is stupid.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!