TIME Religion

The Great Nunquisition: Why the Vatican Is Cracking Down on Sisters

VATICAN-POPE-ANGELUS-WC-2014-FEATURE
Nuns pose with the jersey of Argentinian football star Lionel Messi and flags prior Pope Francis Sunday Angelus prayer at St. Peter's Square on July 13, 2014 at the Vatican. FILIPPO MONTEFORTE—AFP/Getty Images

Today's generation of nuns are progressive women, two things the Church isn't used to

Nuns are an endangered species. They are dying and not being replaced.

If you think the news is bad now, a world without nuns would be a far worse place. The nuns that I know are much too humble to tout their achievements and all of the good they contribute to society, but make no mistake, they are an integral part of the fabric that holds our civilization together.

In 2014 there were just 49,883 religious Catholic sisters in the United States, down 13% percent from 2010 according to figures from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. To put it in greater perspective, that is a 72% decline since 1965.

Because nuns don’t brag about all of the good that they do or hashtag how awesome they are on Facebook, many people have no idea about the things they accomplish on a daily basis.

You probably haven’t heard about Sister Joan Dawber. Sister Joan, a Sister of Charity of Halifax, runs a safe house in Queens for victims of human trafficking—former sex and labor slaves. She takes these women in when they have no one else to protect them and risks her life to help them rebuild theirs.

About 20 minutes away by car from Sister Joan’s safe house, Sister Tesa Fitzgerald works tirelessly to raise the children of mothers who are incarcerated. When those women get out of prison Sister Tesa helps them get clothes, jobs and an apartment. Those women credit Tesa with nothing less than saving their lives.

Most people don’t know about Sister Nora Nash, a Franciscan Sister who lives just outside of Philadelphia. As her order’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, Sister Nora wakes up every single morning determined to make corporations more responsible to the human race. Sister Nora and her assistant director, Tom McCaney have taken to task the grocery store chain Kroger over the rights of farm workers, Hershey’s chocolate company over child labor, McDonald’s over childhood obesity, Walmart on raising their minimum wage and Wells Fargo over predatory lending practices. Nash wakes up every single morning determined to make corporations more responsible to the human race. Then she follows through on it.

For more than four decades Sister Jeannine Gramick has been tireless in her fight for gay rights through her organization New Ways, despite coming under intense scrutiny from the Vatican.

Sister Dianna Ortiz made headlines in 1989 when she was abducted, tortured and raped while working as a teacher in Guatemala. After living through that horror, instead of allowing herself to sink into a terrible depression, she headed up an organization to help thousands of torture survivors around the globe find the will to keep living.

It’s a problem that you haven’t heard about these women. You would think that, during a time when the Church has suffered from great criticism and weathered very public scandals, it would be celebrating these incredible achievements. Think again.

The Vatican doesn’t celebrate these women. In fact, it has done the very opposite. Attacks on American nuns have been happening since 2008, when the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life initiated an “Apostolic Visitation,” a euphemism for investigation, of the nuns.

To put it in perspective, previous “visitations” conducted by the Church were designed to investigate things like the priest sex abuse scandal.

The nuns nicknamed it the Great Nunquisition and in the past eight years they’ve come under scrutiny from the church patriarchy.

A 2012 Vatican document highlighted the Church’s problem with the Leadership Council of Women Religious, the largest group of nuns in the United States. The document claimed that the LCWR was “silent on the right to life from conception to natural death” and that Roman Catholic views on the family and human sexuality “are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes church teachings.”

Today’s nuns are simply too progressive for the Vatican. The Vatican chooses not to celebrate nuns and it chooses not to empower them.

Pope Francis has been hailed as a progressive icon. Yet on the subject of women in the Church, he remains loyal to a long-held and antiquated stance: he doesn’t think women should become priests.

Nuns are dying out because their population is aging and young women are not joining their ranks in the numbers they once did.

The young women who could be the nuns of tomorrow share a lot of the same values as the nuns of today. They are fiercely dedicated to the concept of social justice and doing good in the world. Seven in 10 millennials consider themselves social activists, and 72% of them are eager to participate in a nonprofit young professional group.

They want to be of service.

I recently spoke to a young woman who was discerning to be a Catholic sister, but changed her mind before she took perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

I asked her why and the answer was very simple and yet disheartening.

“I want to work for an employer that values what I do.”

She plans to work for an NGO. She wanted to be of service to the world, but she also wanted to feel empowered in her job.

Why would a generation of young women raised to believe that they can be anything join an institution that tells them there is something they absolutely cannot be, that there is a certain level they will never reach? Many of the women who are nuns today joined the vocation because it was a way to become highly educated, travel the world and dedicate themselves to a higher good without being beholden to a husband or children.

Young women today can do that with a passport and a Kickstarter account.

I am constantly reminded of something Sister Maureen Fiedler, a feminist and the host of the public radio program Interfaith Voices told me when I interviewed her for my book: the fact that Jesus was, and is, an “equal-opportunity employer.” He loved everyone the same.

If Catholic nuns are to survive in this country, something has to give. The Vatican needs to treat the nuns with more respect. The rules will have to evolve. Women will need to be given more power and leadership roles in the church.

Speaking at the annual LCWR assembly earlier this month, Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio described exactly what it means to be a nun today: “We are about drawing in the poor, the lonely, the marginalized, all those seeking to be part of a whole,” she said. “This is nothing more and nothing less than the most awesome vocation.

It is awesome. The nuns are awesome. But if the Vatican doesn’t start treating them as such, there is no incentive for more young women to aspire to join their ranks.

Jo Piazza is the author of the new book, If Nuns Ruled the World, which shatters the stereotypes of American Catholic nuns and profiles 10 daring sisters. A veteran journalist whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Slate, the Daily Beast and Yahoo, Piazza holds a masters degree in Religious Studies from New York University.

TIME Religion

Pope Francis Visits ‘Cemetery For Abortion Victims’ in South Korea

It's a strong anti-abortion gesture

+ READ ARTICLE

Pope Francis visited a symbolic “cemetery for abortion victims” Saturday during his visit to South Korea, a gesture that strongly reaffirms the Church’s stance against abortion, after suspicion by some that the pontiff might hold tepid anti-abortion views.

The abortion memorial, located at the Kkottongnae home for the sick about 120 miles from Seoul, is a field dotted with white crosses and statues of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus as a child. Francis paused briefly at the site, bowed his head and folded his hand in prayer, the Boston Globe reports.

Jung Kwang-ryul of the Kkottongnae community, described the site as a “one-of-a-kind memorial,” saying the pope’s stop is “a clear testimony of his defense of life.”

South Korea is believed to have one of the highest abortion rates in the world, despite it being illegal except in the case of rape or incest.

During the early days of his papacy, some within the Church questioned Francis’ commitment to opposing abortion. In early interviews, Francis complained that the Church is “obsessed” with moral debates. “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” Francis said in one interview.

But since then, Francis has strengthened his anti-abortion credentials with starker statements. “It is necessary to reiterate the strongest opposition to any direct attack on life, especially innocent and defenseless, and her unborn child in the womb is the innocent par excellence,” the pope said in April.

[Boston Globe]

TIME Religion

Pope Francis Sacks Entire Board of Vatican’s Financial Watchdog

The pontiff has replaced the all-Italian board of the Financial Information Authority with an international group of new members — including Juan C. Zarate, a Harvard professor and former Bush Administration official

Pope Francis replaced the entire, all-Italian board of the Vatican’s internal financial watchdog Thursday amid clashes over the pace of reform, the Boston Globe reports.

The Financial Information Authority was created in 2010 to combat money laundering and bring the Vatican into compliance with international standards, and Pope Francis has brought a renewed focus on the agency since he was elected over a year ago and made financial reform a priority.

But the board has faced infighting since Swiss anti-money-laundering expert Rene Bruelhart became its director in 2012, capped by Italian Cardinal Attilio Nicora’s resignation as its head in January.

Pope Francis and Bruelhart have pushed for a more international board, with new members hailing from Italy, Singapore, Switzerland and the U.S., including Juan C. Zarate, a Harvard professor and a former official in the George W. Bush administration.

[Boston Globe]

TIME The Vatican

Pope’s Private Conversations Aren’t Church Policy

Pope Francis Visits The Church of St. Ignatius
Pope Francis on April 24, 2014 in Rome, Italy. Franco Origlia—Getty Images

The Vatican denies that the pope wants to change the rule on whether divorcees and their new spouses can take the sacrament, after he reportedly told an Argentine woman whose first marriage had ended in divorce that she could take communion

The Vatican assured Catholics Thursday that Pope Francis’ private conversations will not become church policy after a phone conversation of his stirred controversy.

Pope Francis reportedly spoke on the phone to an Argentine woman who had written him for guidance. She said that her priest had not allowed her to take communion because her current husband’s previous marriage was never annulled. After the conversation, her husband, Julio Sabetta, claimed that the head of the Catholic Church told the woman she was free of sin.

“He said that she has been freed of all sin, that he blessed the whole family, that she’s free to take communion from here on out, and he asked that we pray for him,” Sabetta said, adding that after they hung up, the whole family hugged and wept together. “It was something amazing,” he said.

The account, which Sabetta posted on Facebook on April 21, led to speculation that the Pope wanted to changeVatican policy that currently prevent those who have remarried after getting divorced from access to the sacraments. This possibility was fueled by the fact that the pope has called a synod in October to discuss family issues, including contraception and divorce. The Vatican even sent out a questionnaire to all the world’s bishops asking for their input before the meeting.

But Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi denied that there would be a change in policy, according to the Associated Press: “consequences related to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred” from the pope’s private conversations.

“Several telephone calls have taken place in the context of Pope Francis’ personal pastoral relationships. Since they do not in any way form part of the Pope’s public activities, no information or comments are to be expected from the Holy See Press Office.”

[AP]

TIME Religion

Pope Francis Prays for Peace on Easter Sunday

Pope Francis
Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica where he delivered the Urbi et Orbi (Latin for to the city and to the world) at the end of the Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square at the the Vatican, April 20, 2014. L'Osservatore Romano/AP

In his Easter address to more than 150,000 at St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Francis called for an end to the recent conflicts in Syria, Nigeria and Ukraine and advised Catholics to help "those crushed by life’s troubles"

Pope Francis prayed for peace in Ukraine during his Easter mass in Vatican City on Sunday.

“We ask [God] to enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine, so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence,” Francis said in front of a crowd of more than 150,000 visitors at St. Peter’s Basilica.

This year, the Catholic church’s celebration of Easter coincides with Easter in the Orthodox churches, which have a sizable presence in Ukraine.

The Pontiff also prayed for peace in Syria and the Middle East at large, an end to the recent Nigerian terrorist attacks that have targeted Christians and an end to the deadly Ebola outbreak in parts of Africa, the Associated Press reports.

Pope Francis said the hopeful spirit of Easter means “leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast.”

[AP]

TIME The Vatican

Pope Francis Washes Feet of Elderly and Disabled for Pre-Easter Ritual

Pope Francis performs the traditional washing of the feet at the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation in Rome, on April 17, 2014.
Pope Francis performs the traditional washing of the feet at the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation in Rome, on April 17, 2014. Osservatore Romano/EPA

Francis continues to break with tradition by performing the pre-Easter ritual on non-Catholics. “Jesus made a gesture, a job, the service of a slave, a servant ... We need to be servants to one another,” the pontiff said

Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 elderly and disabled people during a Holy Thursday ritual in Rome on Thursday, the Associated Press reports.

Francis also performed the pre-Easter ritual last year on female and Muslim inmates at a juvenile detention center in Rome. That represented a major break with papal tradition, as typically only Catholic men are included in the practice.

The Vatican has not yet released the religious backgrounds of all the participants of this year’s ceremony, but Vatican officials said the participants came from various religious backgrounds. The Pope told the gathered crowd that he performs the ritual in order to remind himself of Jesus’ call to help others.

“Jesus made a gesture, a job, the service of a slave, a servant,” Franics said. “And he leaves this inheritance to us: We need to be servants to one another.”

[AP]

TIME Pope Francis

Pope Francis Takes Selfies With Crowd After Palm Sunday Homily

In his Palm Sunday Homily, the pope spoke entirely off-the-cuff, ignoring his prepared homily and calling on people to look into their own hearts to see how they're living their lives. Later, he posed for selfies with some young people

+ READ ARTICLE

Pope Francis proved Sunday that the selfie craze is here to stay when he posed for them with young eager photographers after his Palm Sunday Homily.

The pope spoke entirely off-the-cuff during his Palm Sunday address, ignoring his prepared homily and calling on people to look into their own hearts to see how they’re living their lives. He cited Judas and Pontius Pilate as warning examples during his homily, the Associated Press reports.

After the address, Pope Francis boarded his specially-designed popemobile, and riding through a dense crowd, noticed a group of Polish youths clamoring for a selfie with the religious leader. Pope Francis, who has sought to reconnect the Church with everyday and marginalized people, hopped off his open-topped vehicle and obliged the request.

Francis made waves with his first selfie last summer, and has taken several more since then.

[AP]

 

TIME The Vatican

President Obama Prepares to Meet the People’s Pope

President Barack Obama and Pope Francis exchange gifts during a private audience on March 27, 2014 at the Vatican.
President Barack Obama and Pope Francis exchange gifts during a private audience on March 27, 2014 at the Vatican. Gabriel Bouys—AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama meets with Pope Francis in Vatican City and, with his poll numbers, probably hopes some of the pontiff's popularity will rub off on him before he leaves. "I'm a great admirer," Obama tells Francis

The focus of the conversation when President Barack Obama meets Pope Francis on Thursday is expected to be the gap between the rich and the poor. Obama has called income inequality “the defining challenge of our time,” and Pope Francis has made the plight of the poor the centerpiece of his papacy. “One of the things that the Pope has done globally is put the issue of poverty back on the list,” says Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington.

For Obama, whose job-approval rating slipped to a lowly 41% earlier this month, the meeting is a rare chance to share a common platform — both physically and in terms of policy — with a Pontiff who enjoys the popularity of a media superstar. “It would be terrific for any politician on the planet to have his picture taken next to Pope Francis right now,” says Schneck, who served during the last election as national co-chair of Catholics for Obama. “Here in the United States, politicians like Paul Ryan are talking about poverty almost every day, and I think we have to credit the Pope with that.”

In the first year of his papacy, Francis has shifted the Catholic conversation toward Obama’s side of the court, lowering the heat on culture-war battles like gay marriage in favor of an emphasis on the least fortunate. But the two men may find that they also have plenty on which to disagree. The meeting comes two days after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature accomplishment, on grounds that it violated religious freedom by requiring for-profit corporations to provide insurance coverage for contraception. It’s an issue repeatedly stressed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and which Francis is likely to raise.

The visit will be the second Obama has made to the Vatican, and his previous appearance, along with a meeting in January between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterpart Pietro Parolin, offer hints of what the President can expect. In 2009, Obama met with Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. The two talked for a little less than half an hour, nearly double the 15 minutes that had been allotted. In a conversation that seemed to be a search for common ground, the two discussed immigration, the global economic crisis and the peace process in the Middle East. Benedict raised the issue of abortion, and Obama pledged to do everything in his power to reduce their numbers.

During Kerry’s visit, emphasis was on the Middle East, with special attention paid to Syria, according to a statement released by the Vatican after the meeting. The focus of the encounter had been announced ahead of time to be on international affairs, but Parolin also took the opportunity to raise his concern for the requirement that contraception be covered under the Affordable Care Act. “There’s a little bit of a precedent for getting into unforeseen issues,” says John Wauck, a priest of the Opus Dei and a professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.

Indeed, Francis has not shied away from confrontation. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he clashed repeatedly with Argentine President Christina Kirchner over gay marriage, abortion and contraception. And during discussions in 2013 over whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria, Francis’ was one of the loudest voices in opposition to a proposed bombing campaign. “This Pope is coming from a southern-hemisphere perspective,” says Schneck. “American exceptionalism in international affairs isn’t something that’s automatically going to be accepted.”

Other issues that could come up during the meeting include climate change, workers’ rights and immigration. While Obama favors immigration reform, his Administration has been unyielding when it comes to deportations. Francis, by contrast, has emphasized the plight of migrants. In July, he visited the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa to call attention to those who have died crossing the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe. At the end of this month, a group of U.S. bishops is planning to follow the Pope’s example and perform a mass on the U.S.-Mexico border to draw attention to the immigration debate. “The Pope is full of surprises,” says Wauck. “All bets are off about what he might want to talk about to the President of the United States. He’s broken with convention so often in the past.”

TIME The Vatican

The Pope’s Valentine’s Day Message: Get Married

Pope Francis takes part in his inaugural mass in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 19, 2013.
Pope Francis takes part in his inaugural mass in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 19, 2013. Paul Hanna—Reuters

It will 'bring you happiness'

Twitter-savvy Pope Francis has a Valentine’s Day message for all of his young followers: It’s time to put a ring on it.

“Dear young people, don’t be afraid to marry,” the Pope wrote on Twitter on Friday. “A faithful and fruitful marriage will bring you happiness.”

According to the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, men and women are currently getting married three and four years later, respectively, than they were in 1990. They’re getting married seven years later than they were in 1960.

TIME The Vatican

Pope Francis Comic Books Now On Your iPhone

Pope Francis comic books are now in app form.
Pope Francis comic books are now in app form. Master New Media S.r.I.

A new app spreads the Pope's word to kids

Who needs apostles when you can have app-postles?

The people who introduced Pope Francis comic books to Italy last November released an app version of the product on Sunday. Now, young Catholics across the world can read comic books featuring Pope Francis’ most famous words and interactions and even color the scenes in themselves.

Both the original comic books and the app are designed to spread the Christian lessons of the Pope to kids in a fun and engaging way. But you’ll have to shell out $2.99 to color in the Pope’s cross on your iPad.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46,534 other followers