ROME, August 10, 2012 ( – So, the LCWR had their meeting in St. Louis last week and as we all know, the main item on the agenda was how they are going to respond to the Vatican’s “attack,” requiring them to submit to a mandated reform. We know this because the media coverage has been relentless, outrageously biased and unilateral, and ubiquitous.


The sisters’ main ally in their media blitz has been National Catholic Reporter, which has run virtually non-stop coverage since April.  NCR has brought with them the usual posse of journalistic southpaws riding shotgun: the US Jesuit magazine America, the Huffington Post and the New York Times, who have been happy to reproduce the sisters’ press releases more or less unchanged.

But this past week, one group of people that is normally an MSM favourite, is getting a bit of cold shoulder from reporters. SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, has been picketing the sisters’ meeting, demanding “dialogue” over their allegations that sisters sexually molested young people in their care, back in the days when they still ran schools and orphanages.

Steve Thiesen, SNAP’s Director in Iowa posted to the SNAP website a veritable litany of charges against LCWR, detailing, with dates, the number of times the sisters have refused to talk to the “nun survivors,” refused to allow them to attend meetings, refused to participate in the USCCB’s clean-up efforts, ignored requests for dialogue and attempted to cover up the allegations of abuse. When NCR did cover the protest, LCWR luminaries interviewed deftly deflected and minimized the allegations.

To understand why they mostly got the bum’s rush from the media, it must be made clear that SNAP is itself a left/liberal anti-Catholic organization that has used the media hype surrounding the revelations of clergy sex abuse to attack the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. As such, it has always garnered sympathetic attention from the media. But this time, their presence has created a leftie programming conflict, with too many victims spoiling the meme.

I’ve been reading lately about the theory of the trope as applied to journalism, the idea that to be appealing and memorable, to catch the public’s attention, “news” must be sold as a story. That is, it must follow the classical Aristotelian model of a protagonist and antagonist in conflict, with a beginning, middle and end: Good vs. Evil, the Hero against the Dark Lord, the Rebel Alliance vs. the Empire.

The media has spread far and wide the thrilling story of the little band of brave, selfless women and their battle with the sinister, patriarchal Illuminati in Rome who want to put them back into the nun-ghetto. These heroic souls have burnt out their lives feeding the poor, bandaging lepers, rescuing maidens from fates worse than death, and lately bundling onto a bus to stump for Obama.

The Vatican, whom we know so well from those Dan Brown documentaries, have had the effrontery to tell them that they have to pay more attention to issues like abortion and get on board with the opposition to “gay marriage”. Oh, and there was some sort of obscure rubbish about having to say they believe in all that linear-thinking, religious claptrap like the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ.

This story has produced good results for the sisters, who now have small armies of laity organizing “support the sisters” rallies and petitions. But throw SNAP into the mix and the whole thing comes apart. One of the most frequent themes has been to accuse the Vatican of trumping up this conflict with the nuns to deflect attention away from their own dismal record on clerical abuse. Comment threads invariably start with a line like, “Well, the Vatican needs to clean up its own act first before accusing these wonderful women of wrongdoing.” Ooopsie!

SNAP is introducing unwanted dramatic complications in what is supposed to be an easy-sell, black and white, action-packed summer blockbuster. The Evil Empire vs. the Heroic Little Nuns trope requires that the Good Guys remain spotless and the plot unambiguous. Best all ‘round just to keep it quiet.

This is the foundation of all our modern Identity Politics. Feminism started it by portraying all women as helpless victims who can do no wrong and all men as evil bullies. The Faultless Victim theory requires that the Top Victim be absolutely morally pristine. By definition, the Top Victim cannot be a victimizer. This creates Confusion. Hence the blackout, which is the favorite method of pretending something isn’t happening.

I note two other things with interest that the SNAP demonstration highlights. Ignoring requests for meetings seems to be a bit of a habit for the good sisters, who have also ignored or rebuffed the repeated attempts on the part of the Vatican’s appointed bishop, Peter Sartain of Seattle, to talk to them face-to-face about what ails them. Sartain was refused permission to attend last week’s meeting, all while the nuns complained to their friends at NCR that the bishops are refusing “to dialogue” with them.

The other point was brought up in an NCR article defending the nuns. Jamie L. Manson wrote that since the 1960s, “Women religious evolved so rapidly and radically, that most of us didn’t catch up with them until earlier this year,” when the Vatican issued its ultimatum.

This is very true. One of the things that comes clear is that the people sticking up for the nuns in this little drama haven’t actually seen or worked much with the sisters as they are now. They inevitably talk about the “good sisters” who ran the schools they attended or the hospitals they were born in.

It is clear that the sisters are using this iconic image, of the nun floating serenely down immaculate school and hospital hallways in an elegant habit, speaking gently to patients and spooning up soup for the inner-city poor. But that hasn’t been LCWR’s reality for 40 years, and the ones who really are down in the streets helping the poor and teaching children are also wearing habits and saying the rosary in front of abortion facilities.

This media frenzy, that the sisters themselves instigated, might end up backlashing on them. They have stuck their noses outside their sealed bubble of leftist ban-the-bomb rallies and widely unread left-wing liberal Catholic magazines. NCR has labeled their LCWR corner “Sisters Under Scrutiny,” and indeed, the whole world is now watching, a goodly portion of which knows the Trope is a lie. And their lack of serious response to SNAP’s accusations is cracking the image even for their biggest fans.

For the first time anyone can remember, NCR is being forced to address in the articles the multitude of readers coming into their commboxes from outside the bubble, calling them on the lie behind the Trope: that these women have long ago abandoned even the barest pretense of adhering to Catholic doctrine. (Their speaker for this year’s meeting in St. Louis was not only criticized by the Vatican, but has become the butt of jokes around the Catholic ‘sphere for her bizarre and incomprehensible New Age blitherings.)

The sisters perhaps failed to consider that the media coverage would happen online and would also expose the ugly reality that the leadership of LCWR are far from being hallowed icons of Christian self-sacrifice. It’s only too easy to discover the reality of the six-figure professionals, academics, administrators, CEOs and political activists who have spent their lives using their position in the Church to agitate for left-wing causes. 

What it boils down to for the Vatican is belief in Catholicism. And Catholicism is not an ethnicity, it is not a tribe, not a political party or a nationality. It is a religion that has clearly laid out tenets. If you don’t believe and profess these, you aren’t a Catholic. If you aren’t a Catholic, you can’t be a Catholic nun.

Lots of things Catholics are interested in are matters of “prudential judgment,” but some are deal-breakers. When year after year an organization or an individual claiming to be Catholic militantly opposes, ignores and denigrates fundamental matters of the Faith – the divinity of Christ, the Trinitarian nature of God, the sanctity of human life – the Vatican is not being a bully to ask for a clarification.


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