While the world rejoices in Pope Francis’ vow to return the Church to its mission of mercy for the poor and the weak, writer Mary Gordon points out he continues to keep American nuns in the critical spotlight for doing just that instead of taking a stand against abortion, homosexuality and other conservatives issues. (“Francis and the Nuns,” by Mary Gordon, Harper’s Magazine, August 2014, pgs. 46-52.) As Gordon observes, “If the new pope were serious about shifting the Church’s attention one sign might be his treatment of women… But Pope Francis is looking an awful lot like his predecessors.” (Ibid pg. 47.)
According to Gordon, religious women in the Catholic Church have faced similar persecutions throughout the ages and wonders that so many have continued to serve an institution which displays its sexism with a sense of pride. (Ibid pg. 52) Some nuns have answered that question. They stay because they are women. Sister Simone of the religious society of the Sisters of Social Service explains:
…living beside the poor I had my heart broken every day. I think that’s the problem with the bishops. They haven’t had their hearts broken. Most of them have had very little pastoral experience. They become bureaucrats very early on. (Ibid pg. 52)
If she’d have cared to, Gordon could have gone back further in time to trace the history of the Church’s persecution of women. Tertullian (160-220), one of the early Christian authors described females as being the gates of hell, creatures who should wear rags to acknowledge their shame, while St. John Chrysostom (347-407) thought woman were more harmful than any savage beast. In fact, the question of whether or not women were beasts or human was put to a vote in 584 during the council of Macon. The tally was 32 to 31 in favor of allowing women to remain human. (Man Made God by Barbara G. Walker, Stellar House publishing 2010, pg. 201) If the ballot had gone the other way, we females might be occupying corrals as beasts of the field. I suspect, some days, that’s exactly how the American nuns feel they are being treated.