Dissident Nun Sister Joan Chittister – The LifeSiteNews Interview
Editor’s note: The following is the full interview with Sister Joan Chittister who is to deliver a Lenten mission for the Canada’s National Catholic Broadcasting Council (NCBC), which airs the daily Mass on Vision TV. LifeSiteNews reported on the mission here.
LSN: It's been reported that you hold positions that are divergent from Catholic magisterial teaching. Would you say that's correct?
JC: Well, yes, I guess it is correct. It's not an opposition position. It is a position of query, of theological and scriptural commitment and search. I'm asking the question, for instance, how do we understand God if God made women inferior to men, incapable of functioning as full adults, full moral agents, in a society. What makes God a sexist? And if God is not a sexist, when are we going to discuss this question as a Church? The way we treat women is a result of our theology. What we keep them out of, what we allow them to do, what we respect in them. It emerged out of making a statement some years ago that I felt that the question of the role and place of women in the Church was a necessary discussion, and that it stood on strong theological concerns.
LSN: How do you see the Church being sexist, as you said. In what particular ways do you see that happening?
JC: Well, I think it's pretty obvious. It's not going to take a rocket scientist to figure it out. For instance, we have always had marital instructions for women that their role was submission to the husband. Now when we see that on television, and we see it in China, or Japan, or Islam, we think it's terrible. But it was our operational theology for years and years. And even now we claim that there's very strong separate roles for women. We argue that they are not – not only are they not fit matter to be ordained, as if Jesus came to earth to be male instead of flesh, but we don't even see women as fit matter to have their feet washed in a church on Holy Thursday. Now, we have a double standard, and we have had it for a long long time. It needs to be reviewed. We have a Church that is based, like the rest of society, admittedly, on a patriarchal system – men are at the top, men are the last word, men are the first authority in everything. The problem is - it seems to me, as a follower of Jesus, when I look at Jesus and the way Jesus dealt with men and women in his society and I look at the way the Church excludes women from the heart of the system, both in the Vatican, and in chanceries, and in dioceses, and in seminaries everywhere, that I have to wonder how it is that secular institutions are leading the development of women in society, rather than churches. I think that's shameful.
LSN: Would say that the Church's teaching on contraception would enter into this as well?
JC: Well, the Church teachings on anything that separates a woman as a moral agent, or keeps women out of the discussions, the theological discussions and decisions that determine those questions – I have never ever made a pronouncement on the answers, but I am steadfastly committed to the fact that in the light of the continuing development of science and the social status of women everywhere, that these questions, whatever they are, about women in the Church, have to have women in the Church as part of the participating seekers and answerers of those questions. In other words, it's a matter of saying, you know, everything written about us is written without us. If a woman is a full moral agent, then she should be part of the decision making process on those questions.
LSN: Okay. So you don't have a stand on contraception?
JC: Well, I'm a nun. And I, I mean, I believe that – in the first place, the Church is not opposed to birth control. The Church is great on arithmetic, they just have a problem with chemistry. That's a whole question about the manner in which a family is planned. But that there should be, can be, must be, will be family planning is a pretty, I think that's taken for granted. But, yes, we have questions there about how that's done, but I think they properly belong to people who are married.
LSN: Okay. Where do you stand on something like the woman's right to choose?
JC: I believe that that's – let's put it this way. I'm opposed to abortion. I have no problem with that whatsoever. I would never see abortion as a birth control method of choice. But having said that, I would never condemn a woman who finds herself in the position where she believes that, or her doctor believes that, abortion is the only answer for her at that moment. My problem lies in the fact that we make it an absolute. We say that we can never, under any circumstances whatsoever allow abortion, and yet we allow death – men, men can kill for a number of reasons. Men can kill to defend themselves, men can kill to defend the country, men can kill to punish the people that they believe should be killed. And we never call those deaths absolute. We allow men to sit down at a table and plan the destruction of the globe and we never ever say that that is totally, absolutely, gravely immoral and sinful. But in abortion, we allow no discussion whatsoever of possible times when it would not be a matter. That just seems to me to be anti-Catholic. In every other dimension of moral, of the moral life, we recognize grades and degrees of innocence and guilt. This is the one place where we say there are no grades or degrees of innocence. There's only total absolute evil and sin. I don't understand that. I'm raising the question. How do we explain that? Am I opposed to abortion? Get it straight. As a birth control method of choice, I certainly am. My major question is: why is this the one ... issue in which we never see any moment when it may not be as grave an issue as it might be under other circumstances?
LSN: Okay. So are you questioning whether there shouldn't be grey areas in terms of other kinds of deaths, or are you saying there should be grey areas in terms of abortion?
JC: I'm saying we should be theologically consistent. I'm just simply saying that these are questions. They're obviously questions, and I think they need to be treated by the Church as if they were questions.
LSN: Would you think with the positions that you are questioning Church teaching on, do you think that the fact that you are questioning Church teaching on these things, would that present a problem for you presenting on a Catholic program?
JC: Well, you see, I'm more concerned about your questions than I am about my presentation. Because you're obviously not – you aren't even interested in the program. What you're trying to do is to create some situation where a program on spiritual development in the 21st century is questionable. And I'm not happy about that at this moment. I consider it bad journalism in the first place, because you didn't call about the program. So I don't know how to answer you, Pat. I just think it's irresponsible. If I said to you, now you're a journalist ... The reason I want to know that is you’re a journalist, and can you really present those questions objectively if you're writing a story? Now, I think that would be unfair, and I think what you're doing is unfair. To say, do I believe that there are theological questions in this culture and this century that we haven't faced before that we need to face? I think that's fair game. But then to say to me, if you have questions, do you qualify to give a presentation in a Catholic Church? I mean, who are you representing? ... For whom do you work? ... I really think you ought to stick to the news at hand. I don't mean to be unhelpful, on the contrary. But I don't like being manipulated.
JC: Now we're into infallibility. We have two infallible teachings in the Church.
LSN: Okay. Which teachings are those?
JC: Well, I expect you to know because you're the one asking the question. And this doesn't fall in either of those.
LSN: Okay. Well that would be somewhere where we differ in our opinion.
JC: Is this infallible?
JC: I don't know. Whatever you're talking about. What are the infallible teachings in question?
LSN: Well, the question about women's “ordination”, contraception…
JC: Ordination is a question of infallibility?
JC: Oh, well then what happened to Peter and his mother-in-law?
LSN: What do you mean?
JC: Well, Peter had a mother-in-law.
JC: Well, was Peter allowed to be a priest? What are we doing here?
JC: We had married priests all the way to the 13th century. None of them were priests?
LSN: I'm not talking about married ordination. I'm talking about women's ordination.
JC: Ah. Women's ordination. I see. That's your problem. Women, right.
LSN: My problem isn't with women. My problem is with women's “ordination”.
JC: But women couldn't be ordained. But you do know that men could be ordained, right? So it's only women?
JC: Ah. And on what do you base that?
LSN: On the teaching of the Church and the will of Christ.
JC: No, no, no. What's it based on?
LSN: The idea that only men can be ordained?
LSN: It's based on the fact that that's the way Christ ordained it.
JC: Christ didn't ordain anybody, Patrick.
LSN: Christ decided that men were to be ordained.
JC: No, Christ didn't decide that men would be ordained. You have to have a little more theology before you begin to ask questions, Patrick. You can't overlay it with another whole theology that is your own. You're either asking questions because you're interested in the answers, which is a good journalistic question, or you're asking questions because you want to shape them one way or another. I really think – I'm happy to come to Canada. I think this is a great program that they're doing, allowing, they're enabling a wonder reflection on life for a Lenten season for the entire Church. I think it's phenomenal, and I think that to try to upset that in any way outside of or because of your own personal questions or in order to, somehow or other, mix those questions at this time, I think that's a journalistic disservice.