Religion

Activist Nuns Voice Support for 'Man of the Year'

Friday, December 27, 2013

A year ago many nuns were under Vatican censure for emphasizing social justice and not doing more to oppose abortion and homosexuality. Today, they say Pope Francis is steering a better course and some express hope he will move the Church toward female ordination.

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Pope Francis
The inauguration mass for Pope Francis.

 

Credit: © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk, Catholic Church (England and Wales) on Flickr, under Creative Commons

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(WOMENSENEWS)--In the nine months since the white smoke went up at the Vatican, many of the same nuns who were running afoul of their leadership in Rome are happy about the Vatican's election of Pope Francis, Time magazine's person of the year.

"I think the Pope is showing all of us that each of us has this same capacity for compassionate openness – this largesse of soul – that is so needed in our world," said Sister Mary Beth Hamm, social justice coordinator of Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chestnut Hill in Brookline, Mass.

Bridget Mary Meehan, a bishop at the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, says Pope Francis is "doing terrifically well" and that he is "moving on toward the justice of the oppressed."

But she also hopes he will move the Church toward female ordination. "It is all about equality and justice," Meehan said in a phone interview. "Ordained women in the Catholic Church is the issue because women are half, more than half, of the population in the world. The Pope needs to recognize that global and gender equality and justice are essential."

The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests is a group, based in Florida, of ordained women who live and minister in the United States and South America. They prepare and ordain qualified women to serve the people as priests.

Two years ago in April, the Vatican concluded an investigation of the Leadership Council of Women Religious, an organization that represents 80 percent of the nuns in the United States, and criticized their "radical feminist themes" and focus on social services at the expense of other issues, especially their silence on same-sex relationships and abortion, Women's eNews reported.

Nuns on the Bus

In response, nuns such as Sister Hamm lent support to leaders of the council who travelled around the United States in a bus to defend themselves against the accusations and to press the government for a "faithful budget" that would do more to help those in the United States who were suffering financial need.

"Pope Francis has said so many times and in so many ways, he wants a Church that is poor – a Church that is for people who are poor," Hamm said. "Since women comprise 70 percent of the world's poor people, this vision of Pope Francis is very good news for women. My hope is that we can embrace this vision of the Church and commit our energies to bringing it to birth."

Meehan says she is hopeful that will happen. "I have great hope for the future of the Church and for God's people everywhere."

In September, barely six months after taking his seat at the head of the Church, Pope Francis seemed to join sides with the nuns when he famously said the Church had grown "obsessed" with abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception, and that he had chosen not to talk about those issues despite recriminations from critics, the New York Times reported.

Janice Sevre-Duszynska is a priest at the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. "Gays and lesbians have suffered enough," she said in a phone interview. "It was profound that he came out about the harshness of Catholicism."

Call for Female Priests

Sevre-Duszynska also hopes the Pope will call for the ordination of female priests. "We need a feminine image of God. There needs to be a connection between the oppression of women with their own religion and violence against women in the world," she said. "I hope that he comes out and says, 'it is required to open priesthood to both males and females, celibate or not celibate, gay, lesbian or heterosexual.'"

She added that she thinks the world is too capitalistic and needs to become more human-oriented.

"Too much money is going into weapons; meanwhile, the rights of the citizen are being taken away," Sevre-Duszynska said.

Sister Carol Zinn, based in Philadelphia and president Leadership Council of Women Religious, said Pope Francis is projecting a new vision of the ministry of the Church in the world as well as his own ministry as bishop of Rome.

"This change is clear in his manner of reaching out, personally, to so many people, in his clarity of message about the Church's role in the world as that of offering mercy, compassion, forgiveness, joy, hope and love to all people," Sister Zinn said.

She added that when it comes to gender issues, "I would expect Pope Francis to continue to speak of a Church of inclusivity, respect and diversity in contrast to a Church of exclusivity, judgment and uniformity, as he has already done."

Time Managing Editor Nancy Gibbs said the Pope "has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time, about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power," Huffington Post reported.

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