Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

Media and nuns colluding in deception, says expert: Vatican’s reform no David and Goliath battle

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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ROME, April 25, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Despite few in the western world having seen any in the last four decades, the image of the nun as the sweet, selfless and courageous “bride of Christ” is remarkably enduring. And according to U.S. Catholic author, researcher and expert on Catholic religious life in the U.S. Donna Steichen, this “classic” and noble image is now being used knowingly by the LCWR sisters and their supporters as a means of generating public sympathy in their fight with the Vatican.

Last week the media and the “progressive” end of the Catholic Church reacted with outrage to the announcement by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is to be reformed after a doctrinal investigation found that their focus had turned more towards radical feminist politics than their Catholic religious foundations.

The picture being manufactured by sympathetic media, including the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Independent, closely following the lead of the National Catholic Reporter and America, the two main organs of the extreme Catholic left in the U.S., is that of an epic struggle between a tyrannical, overbearing, “out of touch,” Vatican, and a group of plucky, underdog sisters, fighting a guerilla battle for intellectual and moral liberty: a theme one Catholic blogging wag has described as an endless recap of the plot to Star Wars.

That this shopworn theme is a deliberate falsehood, Steichen says, is what Catholics should first understand when reading either the secular mainstream coverage of the affair or the sisters’ own comments.

“This spin,” she said, “is omnipresent, always interesting, and often unintentionally comic. But however maliciously intended, I think it contains an element of nostalgia. It proves the irresistible attraction of goodness. Not even the liberal mainstream media can fail to see its beauty.”

Dressed in a flowing habit and devoting her life to educating children and building hospitals, or gliding serenely down spotless convent hallways and singing Gregorian chant in Latin: the classic image of the nun is less stereotype than it is archetype, a cultural icon of everything good and holy and true, and it is as much beloved by media as it is by Catholics.

Steichen told LSN that the only trouble with this picture is that the “good sisters” made in the image of this archetype are mostly an artifact of U.S. history and are now nearly extinct. LCWR represents about 80 percent of the 57,000 religious sisters in the U.S., with an average age of 74 and climbing. With the exception of a handful of young, deliberately faithful, countercultural, and largely recently-founded communities, the LCWR nuns and sisters have abandoned not only the habit that symbolized their devotion, but the faith that defined it, she said.

Donna Steichen spent 10 years researching feminism in the Catholic Church, and particularly in the Catholic religious life since the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. The result was what many consider the definitive book on the political and philosophical origins of the collapse of the U.S. religious life, entitled Ungodly rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminisim,” published by Ignatius Press in 1991.

The religious core of Catholic sisterhoods was replaced decades ago, she told LSN, by an extreme left political ideology manifested in a feminism that has grown increasingly radical and bizarre, and in recent years, infused with New Age and occult practices that have nothing to do with Catholicism.

Starting in the 1960s and ‘70s the sisters leaped on the bandwagon of the broader social and sexual revolution, attending workshops in the Human Potential Movement and “alternative” spirituality, taking classes in Marxist theory, abandoning their customs as well as the habit, and taking up the mantras of the Esalen Institute and, most significantly, of academic feminism.

Even worse, the sisters then took these ideologies and practices and started feeding them through the conduits of their educational institutions to infect the mainstream of Catholic Church in the U.S. The result, Steichen said, has been “the suffering of innocent people, in injustice, lost faith, and collapsed institutions.”

The Vatican’s attempt at reform is 40 years overdue, but unlikely to rescue either LCWR or the communities it represents from impending extinction, she said. The good news is what sounds like bad news: “It is evident to all observers that the feminist contingent of women religious is indeed dying out, what with that mean age of 74.”

But just what is so bad about feminism? One lady commenting on last week’s LSN story about the Vatican’s doctrinal assessment accused Cardinal Levada of outright lies: “HOW could a nun be an extreme liberal feminist? It doesn’t seem likely.”

“The misunderstanding arises from failure to define the term ‘feminism,’” Steichen said. “Feminists themselves avoid clearly defining it, so the general public accepts the rosy impression cultivated by advocates in media and academia; that the term simply means recognition that women are full and equal members of the human race who can do anything men can do.”

But this is a bit of public relations sleight of hand, she said. “Feminism is an ideology, and it is designed to destroy the family as the basic unit of society.” That ideology, she said, encompasses an entire universal outlook that, once adopted by an individual, ultimately totally eclipses any religious notions about the nature of human life, sexuality, family, the purpose of the state and finally, the nature of God.

Anyone interested, Steichen said, in investigating the origins of academic and radical feminism have to look no further than the social writings of Freidrich Engels, colleague of Karl Marx, who wrote that ultimately, the communist view of the family as a sub-unit of the state, would overrule the traditional Judeo-Christian view. Its ugliest fruit, she said, is abortion, which the ideology regards as an absolute necessity to separate womanhood from motherhood.

Feminism, Steichen said, is “detestable” because it is “so demeaning of women.”

“It denies the value of their natural role, urging them to trade it for the shabby substitutes of paid participation in the work force.

“Religious feminism is worst of all, because it further demands that women cease to recognize God’s eternal order. Like [Planned Parenthood founder] Margaret Sanger, it commands women to serve ‘no Gods, no masters’. Which somehow comes to mean ‘except feminist ideology’.”

Steichen suggests that those who are outraged at the Vatican examine some of the speeches made by speakers at LCWR’s annual conferences, many of which are available on their website. These speakers were specifically cited in the CDF’s document as problematic. One, Sr. Laurie Brink, was particularly noted as flagrantly denying the Divinity of Christ when she gave the LCWR keynote address in 2007, telling the sisters that to maintain their “prophetic” place in society they needed to “go beyond” the Church and even “go beyond Jesus.”

The CDF, Steichen said, is echoing the long-deferred feelings of many U.S. Catholics when it noted that these types of statements, endorsed many times by LCWR, “is a challenge not only to core Catholic beliefs; such a rejection of faith is also a serious source of scandal and is incompatible with religious life.”

Set to offer the keynote address at this year’s assembly in August is Barbara Marx Hubbard, a New Age guru, who is scheduled to speak on the theme, “Mystery Unfolding: Leading in the Evolutionary Now”.

A sample of Marx Hubbard’s writing gives a flavour of what the LCWR is looking for in a speaker:

Although we may never know what really happened, we do know that the story told in the Gospels is that Jesus’ resurrection was a first demonstration of what I call the post-human universal person. We are told that he did not die. He made his transition, released his animal body, and reappeared in a new body at the next level of physicality to tell all of us that we would do what he did. The new person that he became had continuity of consciousness with his life as Jesus of Nazareth, an earthly life in which he had become fully human and fully divine. Jesus’ life stands as a model of the transition from Homo sapiens to Homo universalis.

Despite the evidence being available at the click of a mouse, Steichen said, a great many Catholics still refuse to believe that the nuns have gone so far off the deep end.

Asked whether the Vatican’s reform plans will have the desired effect, Steichen remains dubious. “Will this process ‘work’? As a matter of fact, I do not expect mass repentance and re-conversion. In my experience, repentance is rare among ideologues of religious feminism.

“And I would be more hopeful about the prospect of institutional reform if the implementation were to be directed from the Vatican, or if the bishops assigned to head the USCCB ‘reform’ were men with sterner reputations. We need to pray for everyone concerned.”

She noted, however, that the mere fact that the attempt is being made at last “serves important purposes.”

“After decades of leniency toward them, it puts the Church officially on record as condemning the errors of radical feminism, New Age monism, and general doctrinal defiance. It must succeed in warning Catholic educational and professional institutions and organizations to enforce doctrinal orthodoxy even from women in positions of power.

“If the attempt fails, their continued defiance will be so salient as to force the Vatican into further disciplinary action. In either case, it is another signal that the era of post-concilar upheaval is over.”

As for the prediction, made by the UK’s Independent, that Rome is facing a “PR disaster” with the reform attempt, Steichen said, “Hostile voices in media will do their best to make it so, but among faithful Catholics, it is more likely to be a PR triumph.

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Vatican’s doctrine chief: ‘Absolutely anti-Catholic’ to let bishops conferences decide doctrine or discipline

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By John-Henry Westen

VATICAN, March 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has rejected outright the idea floated by Germany’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx that various bishops’ conferences around the world would decide for themselves on points of discipline or doctrine. 

“This is an absolutely anti-Catholic idea that does not respect the catholicity of the Church,” Cardinal Müller told France’s Famille Chrétienne in an interview published today

The question was raised because Cardinal Marx, the head of the German Catholic bishops’ conference and a member of Pope Francis’ advisory Council of Nine, told reporters that the German bishops would chart their own course on the question of allowing Communion for those in “irregular” sexual unions.

“We are not a subsidiary of Rome,” he said in February. “The Synod cannot prescribe in detail what we should do in Germany.”

Vatican Cardinal Müller remarked that while episcopal conferences may have authority over certain issues they are not a parallel magisterium apart from the pope or outside communion with the bishops united to him.

Asked specifically about Cardinal Marx saying that the Church in Germany is “not a subsidiary of Rome,” the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said pointedly “the president of an Episcopal Conference is nothing more than a technical moderator, and as such has no special teaching authority.”  He added moreover, that the dioceses in a particular country “are not subsidiaries of the secretariat of an Episcopal conference or diocese whose Bishop presides over the Episcopal Conference.”

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The CDF head warned that “this attitude makes the risk of waking some polarization between the local churches and the universal Church.” He did not however believe that there was the will for Episcopal conferences to separate from Rome.

The important interview also saw Cardinal Müller contest the notion that the pastoral practice or discipline could change while retaining the same doctrine. “We can not affirm the doctrine and initiate a practice that is contrary to the doctrine,” he said.

He added that not even the papal Magisterium is free to change doctrine. “Every word of God is entrusted to the Church, but it is not superior to the Word,” he said. “The Magisterium is not superior to the word of God. The reverse is true.”

Cardinal Müller rejected the notion that we would have to modify Christ’s unflinching words totally forbidding divorce and remarriage.  We cannot “say that our ministry should be more cautious than Jesus Christ Himself!”  Nor could we, he added, say that Christ’s teaching is out of date or that “we need to correct or refine Jesus Christ because He lived in an idealistic world.” 

Rather, the cardinal said, bishops must be ready for martyrdom.  Quoting Jesus he said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and if we speak all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

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‘Groundbreaking’: Kansas may become first state to ban dismemberment abortions

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By Ben Johnson

TOPEKA, KS, March 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Kansas will become the first state in the country to ban a procedure in which unborn children are dismembered in the womb, if Gov. Sam Brownback signs a bill that recently passed the state legislature.

The state House passed a ban on dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortions, called dismemberment abortions in common parlance, by 98-26 on Wednesday.

The Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, which had already passed the state Senate in February 31-9, now heads to Gov. Brownback's desk.

Brownback, a staunch defender of life, is expected to sign the act into law.

"Because of the Kansas legislature's strong pro-life convictions, unborn children in the state will be protected from brutal dismemberment abortions," said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, which has made banning dismemberment abortions a national legislative focus.

The procedure, in which an abortionist separates the unborn child's limbs from his body one at a time, accounts for 600 abortions statewide every year.

Nationally, it is “the most prevalent method of second-trimester pregnancy termination in the USA, accounting for 96 percent of all second trimester abortions,” according to the National Abortion Federation Abortion Training Textbook.

“It’s just unconscionable that something happens to children that we wouldn’t tolerate being done to pets,” Katie Ostrowski, the legislative director of Kansans for Life, told The Wichita Eagle.

Leading pro-life advocacy groups have made shifting the debate to dismemberment a national priority, with similar legislation being considered in Missouri and Oklahoma. Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D., who is NRLC's director of state legislation, called the bill's passage in Topeka “groundbreaking.”

"When the national debate focuses only on the mother, it is forgetting someone," she said.

The abortion lobby has made clear that it is uncomfortable engaging in a public relations tussle on this ground.

Elizabeth Nash, the senior state issues associate of the Guttmacher Institute, said that dismemberment is “not medical language, so it’s a little bit difficult to figure out what the language would do.”

On the state Senate floor, Democrats tried to alter the bill's language on the floor by replacing the term “unborn child” with fetus. “I know some of you don’t believe in science. But it’s not an unborn child, it’s called a fetus,” said state Senator David Haley, D-Kansas City.

If the bill becomes law, the abortion industry has vowed to fight on.

Julie Burkhart, a former associate of late-term abortionist George Tiller, said the motion's only intention is “to intimidate, threaten and criminalize doctors.”

“Policymakers should be ashamed,” she said, adding, “if passed, we will challenge it in court.”

Gov. Brownback has previously signed conscience rights protections and sweeping pro-life protections into law.

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How NOT to move beyond the abortion wars

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By Anne Hendershott

March 26, 2015 (CrisisMagazine.com) -- A few years ago, when an undergraduate student research assistant of mine—a recent convert to Catholicism—told me that he was planning to meet with a well-known dissenting Catholic theology professor who was then ensconced in an endowed chair at a major metropolitan Catholic university, I told him: “Be careful, you might end up liking him too much.” I jokingly told my student not to make eye contact with the theologian because he might begin to find himself agreeing with him that Catholic teachings “really allow” for women’s ordination and full reproductive rights—including access to abortion.

I was reminded of that conversation this week when I began reading a new book by yet another engaging Catholic theology professor at a major metropolitan university who also claims (pg 6) that the argument he puts forward in his book, Beyond the Abortion Wars, is “consistent with defined Catholic doctrine.” Written by Charles Camosy, associate professor of theology at Fordham University, the new book purports to be in line with Catholic teachings and promises “a way forward for a new generation.” But, Camosy delivers yet another argument for a woman’s right to choose abortion when confronted with an unborn child that he has described—in the past—as an “innocent aggressor.”

Indeed, Camosy has spent much of his career trying to convince us that he knows Catholic teachings better than the bishops. Criticizing Bishop Olmsted for his intervention and excommunication of a hospital administrator for her role in the direct abortion at a Phoenix Catholic hospital, Camosy suggested in 2013 that “the infamous Phoenix abortion case set us back in this regard.” Implying that Bishop Olmsted was not smart enough to understand the moral theology involved in the case, Camosy claimed that “The moral theology in the case was complex—which makes the decision to declare publicly that Sr. McBride had excommunicated herself even more inexplicable. The Church can do better.” For Camosy, “Catholics must be ready to help shape our new discussion on abortion. And we must do so in a way that draws people into the conversation—not only with respectful listening, but speaking in a way that is both coherent and sensitive.”

This new book is likely Camosy’s attempt to “draw people into the conversation.” But, there is little in his book that is either coherent or sensitive. Claiming to want to move “beyond” the abortion wars, Camosy creates an argument that seems designed to offend the pro-life side, while giving great respect to those who want to make sure abortion remains legal.

Especially offensive for pro-life readers will be Camosy’s description of the abortifacient, RU-486 as a form of “indirect abortion.” The reality is that RU-486, commonly known as the “abortion pill,” effectively ends an early pregnancy (up to 8 weeks) by turning off the pregnancy hormone (progesterone). Progesterone is necessary to maintain the pregnancy and when it is made inoperative, the fetus is aborted. For Camosy, who claims that his book is “consistent with settled Catholic doctrine,” this is not a “direct” abortion. To illustrate this, Camosy enlists philosopher Judith Jarvis Thompson’s 1971 “Defense of Abortion”—the hypothetical story of the young woman who is kidnapped and wakes up in a hospital bed to find that her healthy circulatory system has been hooked up to a famous unconscious violinist who has a fatal kidney ailment. The woman’s body is being used to keep the violinist alive until a “cure” for the violinist can be found. Camosy makes the case—as hundreds of thousands of pro-choice proponents have made in the past four decades—that one cannot be guilty of directly killing the violinist if one simply disconnects oneself from him. Likewise, for Camosy, simply taking the drug RU 486 is not “directly” killing the fetus. He writes:

The drugs present in RU 486 do not by their very nature appear to attack the fetus. Instead, the drug cuts off the pregnancy hormone and the fetus is detached from the woman’s body…. Using RU 486 is like removing yourself from [Judith Jarvis Thompson’s] violinist once you are attached. You don’t aim at his death, but instead remove yourself because you don’t think you have the duty to support his life with your body…. Some abortions are indirect and better understood as refusals to aid (pp 82-83).

Perhaps there are some readers who will find Camosy’s argument convincing, but I am not sure that many faithful Catholic readers will agree that it is consistent with settled Catholic doctrine.

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As one who is hardly a bystander in the abortion wars, I wanted to like this book. As an incrementalist who celebrates every small step in creating policy to protect the unborn, I had high hopes that this book would at last begin to bridge the divide. A decade ago, in my own book, The Politics of Abortion, I joined the argument begun by writers like Marvin Olasky in his Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America, that it is more effective to attempt to change the hearts and minds of people than to create divisive public policy at the federal level. I share Charles Camosy’s desire to end the abortion wars—but this war cannot end until the real war on the unborn ends. This does not mean that the two sides cannot work together—battling it out at the state level—where there is the opportunity for the greatest success. But, complex philosophical arguments on whether RU 486 is a direct or indirect form of abortion are not helpful to these conversations.

Camosy must know that we can never really “end” the abortion wars as long as unborn children are still viewed as “aggressors” or “invaders” and can still be legally aborted. Faithful Catholics know that there is no middle ground on this—the pro-life side has to prevail in any war on the unborn. It can be done incrementally but ground has to be gained—not ceded—for the pro-life side. Besides, Camosy seems a bit late to the battlefield to begin with. In many ways, he seems to have missed the fact that the pro-life side is already winning many of the battles through waiting periods, ultrasound and parental notification requirements, and restrictions on late term abortion at the state level. More than 300 policies to protect the unborn have been passed at the state level just in the past few years. The number of abortions each year has fallen to pre-Roe era levels—the lowest in more than four decade.   Much of these gains are due to the selfless efforts of the pro-life community and their religious leaders. Yet, just as victory appears possible in many more states, Camosy seems to want to surrender by resurrecting the tired rhetoric—and the unconscious violinists—of forty years ago.

While it is disappointing, it is not unexpected considering Camosy’s last book lauded the contributions of Princeton’s most notorious professor, Peter Singer—the proponent of abortion, euthanasia and infanticide. Claiming that Singer is “motivated by an admirable desire to respond to the suffering of human and non-human animals,” Camosy’s 2012 book, Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization, argues that, “Though Singer is pro-choice for infanticide, on all the numerous and complicated issues related to abortion but one, Singer sounds an awful lot like Pope John Paul II.”  In a post at New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a progressive organization led by Rev. Richard Cizik (a former lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals who was removed from his position because of his public support for same sex unions, and his softening stance on abortion) Camosy wrote that he found Singer to be “friendly and compassionate.”  Camosy currently serves on the Advisory Board of Cizik’s New Evangelical Partnership—where he has posted Peter Singer-like articles including: “Why Christians Should Support Rationing Health Care.”

One cannot know the motivations of another—we can never know what is in another’s heart so it is difficult to know why Charles Camosy wrote this book. It must be difficult to be a pro-life professor at Fordham University—a school known for dissenting theologians like Elizabeth Johnson. But, if one truly wants to advance a culture of life in which all children are welcomed into the world, it would seem that inviting Peter Singer to be an honored speaker to students at Fordham in 2012 is not the way to do it, nor would claiming that RU-486 “may not aim at death by intention.” Perhaps it is unwise to continue to critically review Camosy’s work from a Catholic perspective because it gives such statements credibility—and notoriety. But, as long as Camosy continues to claim that his writings and policy suggestions—including his newly proposed “Mother and Prenatal Child Protection Act”—are “consistent with defined Catholic doctrine,” faithful Catholics will have to continue to denounce them.

Reprinted with permission from Crisis Magazine. 

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