The Vatican Should Exalt Catholic Nuns, Not Upbraid Them

Dressing nuns down in such a public and demeaning way not only adds insult to that injury, but damages the image of the church.

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Catholic nuns walk the walk. They minister to the poor, teach, and personify the social justice teachings of Jesus Christ.

Well, don't they have a hell of a lot of nerve. At least, that seems the be the view of the Vatican, which wants those uppity women to behave more in line with what the current church administration thinks is more important. Healthcare? Abatement of poverty? Nope. What the male church elders want the nuns to do is to get in line with what's more important to them: thwarting abortion, gay marriage, and contraception.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

The Vatican sent a stern message to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, ordering them to make changes to be more in line with the "teaching and discipline of the church." It also accused the sisters of promoting "radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith."

That's a particularly remarkable statement from males to women whose view of heaven is separated by a thick glass ceiling. Women, of course, cannot be priests, let alone be in line for the top job in Rome. Dressing them down in such a public and demeaning way not only adds insult to that injury, but damages the image of the church.

Modern mores have changed the behavior of people, including people who consider themselves Catholics. Some of them are gay. Some have had abortions. And many—the overwhelming majority of Catholic women—have used birth control. Doubling down on the sex rules isn't going to bring people in line. It's going to drive away young people who might desire and benefit from the spiritual guidance of the church, but might not want to be aligned with an institution that preaches against contraception and denies the reality of homosexuality.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Should Catholic and Other Religious Institutions Have to Cover Birth Control?]

The Catholic Church is a damaged brand at the moment. The rules on sex-related behavior are arguably out of date, but it is even more stunning to hear that message from an institution that protected pedophile priests.

The nuns backed the healthcare plan, believing the expansion of health insurance to be more important than denying women (even non-Catholic women) access to abortion and birth control. They focus on helping the needy and promoting social justice. The sisters are the best advertisement the church has right now. The elders should be putting the women out front, not silencing them.

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