By Nancy Heise

December 9, 2009 ( – I recently received an email from a friend of mine who is a married Catholic ex-nun. She forwarded an article in the New York Times called “A Nun's Story” by columnist Maureen Dowd – a critical essay of Pope Benedict, the Catholic Church and its ongoing investigation of US women religious. Essentially, the article screams to readers, “Who do they think they are?” My friend echoed this sentiment and called the Vatican investigation a “witch hunt.”

“A witch hunt” – I was shocked to see anyone characterize the investigation this way. I thought the Vatican was just doing its job, sort of like what I used to do when I worked for Ernst & Young as an auditor.

Audits are meant to help businesses by weeding out corruption and waste while improving communication between levels of management and employees. I once audited a company whose top executives did not know its engineers were warning the division president of a serious flaw in their product. They were urgently asking for a recall and their cries were being ignored. It took an audit to mend this communication gap and help the division president do the right thing. To this division president, the audit was a “witch hunt” – to the customers who were stuck with the defective product, the audit was an answered prayer.

I consider myself a “customer” in this issue of the Vatican investigation. Let me explain.

Born and raised into a family that did not emphasize any religion, I became a member of the Episcopal Church when I asked to be baptized at age 13.  For much of my life thereafter, I used to shout “right on, Sister!” when I would occasionally read about a Catholic nun denigrating the pope and/or the Catholic Church for its multitude of stupid rules. (Sister Theresa Kane's televised public confrontation with Pope John Paul II is the first that comes to mind.) 

Famous U.S. sisters like Joan Chittister, Sandra Schneiders, Elizabeth Johnson and many others wrote a multitude of newspaper columns and/or books, gave speeches and generally bathed the US for decades with their ideology that is at odds with traditional Catholic teaching. I wondered, “Why doesn't the Church listen to these wise women?” I assumed the Catholic Church was headed by a bunch of old fashioned, chauvinistic curmudgeons.

Whenever a bishop would speak about some issue concerning morals or Church teaching, I would not treat his point of view with respect because of my prejudice, nursed for so long by my spiritual mothers – the U.S. “media” sisters. I found this attitude was widely held, especially in my non-Christian, somewhat atheistic, extended family – which affected my own personal life.

After I finished college, my cradle-Catholic boyfriend and I married in the Catholic Church in 1989.  He and I both felt the Church rules were stupid and we happily allowed ourselves to become “non-practicing.” This all changed several years later when I was reading the Life of Saint Teresa of Avila. I did not know this book was going to be about her spiritual life; I like biographies, it looked interesting on the bookstore shelf and I grabbed it to read over my summer vacation.

En route to our rented cabin in North Carolina with our three children, I came across a place in this book where the saint says, “I would rather die a thousand deaths than ever break a rule of the Church!”  I thought this was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard anyone say and I instantly looked up and said, “How can she say this?”  I was thinking of all the stupid rules of the Church – no birth control, no women priests, mandatory celibacy, etc.

A short time later, we reached our destination, unpacked and rested. I was sitting at the dining table watching my husband trying to light a fire in a wood stove that had a stack of old magazines beside it. All of sudden, I felt God turn my eyes to the magazine on top of this stack. It was an old Time magazine that had a picture of Pope John Paul II on the cover. God then said to me, “He's telling you the Truth.”

I was astonished, and after I went out on the back porch to pray I came back inside and asked my husband if he believed God talks to people. He said “yes.” I asked him if he believed God talks to the pope. He said “yes.” Later that summer, we took a closer look at some of the Catholic rules we were not living up to and decided we could become “practicing” Catholics. Two years later, our fourth child was born – Teresa. I often look at her and think: “She would never have been born if not for that amazing grace.” What a gift!

I am very grateful to those priests and bishops like Pope John Paul II and his right hand man, Pope Benedict, who gave their lives to tell me the Truth. I also appreciate the good work done by all those lay and religious women who have given their lives to work toward that common goal. Now I can understand that the Church is not being chauvinistic or anti-woman in adhering to its “stupid rules.”

God did not give men the ability to bear children. Neither did he grant women the ability to conceive without the man. It takes two. That is what the Church teaches about men and women being equal – different and complimentary both biologically and spiritually. If the wife is constantly beating the husband just for doing his job, everyone suffers, including the children. Thus, when I see our bishops persistently denigrated by the US “media” sisters, I think of all those souls who, like I was, are being turned away from the message of the bishops and the Church – the Truth.

For these reasons, I believe the Vatican investigation is warranted and I pray that the “audit” helps the United State's religious orders understand that they have a grave responsibility to the “customers” – in this case lay Catholics who are depending upon them to be witnesses to, and not rebels against, the Truth.