"Question Authority" Says Nun
by Mary Ann Kreitzer
The National Catholic Education Association [NCEA] closed its convention
April 20th with a keynote speech by one of the most controversial
feminist nuns in the country, Sr. Joan Chittister, O.S.B. A long-time
dissenter from core Church teachings and a staunch advocate of women’s
ordination, Chittister presented an impassioned address (reminiscent of
Star Trek) titled, "Leading the Way: To Go Where There is No Road
and Leave a Path."
The National Catholic Education Association [NCEA] closed its convention April 20th with a keynote speech by one of the most controversial feminist nuns in the country, Sr. Joan Chittister, O.S.B. A long-time dissenter from core Church teachings and a staunch advocate of women’s ordination, Chittister presented an impassioned address (reminiscent of Star Trek) titled, "Leading the Way: To Go Where There is No Road and Leave a Path."
Like a teenager in a T-shirt reading "Question Authority," Chittister urged her audience to throw out "old maps" and teach their students to question everything, following in the footsteps of a Jesus who, she said, "assessed his own reality and...envisioned...the responsibility to question, question, question authority after authority."
Underlying assumptions of her talk appeared to be: 1) the authoritarian Church doesn’t care about moral issues, 2) the United States exploits third world countries and doesn’t care about the poor within its own boundaries, and 3) more government intrusion (and money), globalism, and feminism are the solutions to pollution, poverty, homelessness, immigration, AIDS, violence, etc., etc. "Lead [your students] to scrutinize our own centers of power," she urged, "in a world where few of the privileged, the comfortable, or the powerful cry out for those 30 million Americans without enough to eat, for those 3 million without shelter, for those whose schools are rotting, and for those millions everywhere whose breathing is threatened by smog and pollution while we roll back clean air legislation and renege on global environmental treaties and cut child-care funds."
Without directly challenging the Church’s teaching on contraception, Chittister’s remarks on population implied that there are too many people for sustainable development, a popular position in the circles she travels, but one that fails to withstand examination. "While forests were coming down in behalf of western economic interests and farmlands were drying up under a punctured ozone layer, global population increased from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 6 billion in 1999," Chittister lamented. "Now those people are swarming across the borders of the world, following the garbage cans of the world looking for water, food, and work."
Chittister never used the phrase "women’s ordination," but she hammered the message home nevertheless. "All the women of the world wait today...to hear a word of theology that ennobles them...Teach them to ask what kind of God it is that would give women a mind, a soul, a baptism, and a call and then forbid them to answer it when a sacramental church is in danger of losing the sacraments."
In an insulting swipe at those who believe and accept Church doctrine without question, she said, "Pity the Church that does not think and its teachers who are not thinkers themselves. Pity the children who are taught to recite the past." Take that, you stupid teachers who instruct your students in the catechism! She included the obligatory liberal slur against the Crusades and warned, "without you it is only one short thought back to the dangers of the cold war and intellectual boundaries of Vatican I." [Vatican I, of course, is most famous for its solemn definition of papal infallibility and for promulgating Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus condemning many trends of the times, a theme repeated by Pope Pius X fifty years later. Is it any wonder that a modernist dissenter wants to move beyond the "boundaries" of Vatican I?]
Perhaps because of the controversy over her presence at the convention (Five dioceses either boycotted the entire event or warned teachers not to attend Chittister’s talk.), she made a brief allusion to abortion, but only in the politically correct context of promoting the welfare state.
In summary, Chittister’s address was a propaganda piece for advancing liberalism through forming the teachers who form the children. "What you are, you see, your students will be," she said. "What you have the courage to question they will learn to question too." And it was clear that the "questioning" to which Chittister referred was challenging the authority of the Church and her doctrines.
Unfortunately, there seemed to be little questioning from the audience who, according to press reports, greeted Chittister with a standing ovation and gave her another at the end of her talk. Dr. Claire Helm, vice president for operations for the NCEA, told the National Catholic Reporter, "We’ve received a steady stream of letters and e-mails from people...expressing a hope that she would remain on the program." Helm found objections to Chittister "troubling" and avowed that the NCEA "would never invite someone to speak who we felt was not faithful to church teaching." Helm described the nun as "well-thought of in the area of spirituality."
But what does spirituality mean for Chittister? radical feminism reforming a "patriarchal church." In a 1997 keynote address to the CTA [Call to Action] convention in Detroit, Chittister said, "Patriarchy denies men feeling and substitutes heart attacks and alcoholism Hiroshima and the Holocaust instead...Little boys are taught not to cry, ever, for anything; that being able to kill, maim and destroy without flinching marks their passage to manliness...We are...a culture based on male supremacy. Patriarchy...allows the people on top to rape nature, to nuke the world, to colonize peoples, and to rape, beat and marginalize women, however benignly. These are the touchstones of the patriarchal world view." Yikes! Is that what we’ve been teaching our sons? Has this woman ever been to dinner with a real family?
This tirade against patriarchy was contrasted to feminism, which, according to Chittister is always benevolent. "To the feminist everyone and everything has rights." Feminism defends the poor from the rich, women from exploitation, animals, the globe, the rain forests, and even men from corporate exploitation. One is tempted to say, "Tell that to the 35 million unborn children sacrificed on the bloody altar of feminism," a cause championed by her CTA audience.
Chittister has connections to some of the most radical groups in the country, including Interfaith Alliance an adjunct of Norman Lear’s People for the American Way and a bastion of liberalism. She’s a past president of the LCWR, [Leadership Conference of Women Religious], a group so controversial another body was formed to represent the real nuns in the Church. She reports for the dissenters’
house organ, the National Catholic Reporter, and attended the 1995 UN conference in Beijing in that capacity. Her roots go deep into the soil of feminist rebellion. Donna Steichen, in her book Ungodly Rage, described Chittister’s keynote address to the 1986 Time Consultant’s infamous conference on Women in the Church. "She deplored patriarchy in all its forms. In her opinion, Jesus intended a non-sexist, androgynous Church, but his disciples were unable or unwilling to effect it." [Ignatius Press, 1992, page 127]
A frequent speaker at CTA conventions, Chittister will keynote three regional meetings this summer and fall in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Joining her on the agenda will be many dissenters who have made careers of attacking Church teachings. Among them are Charlie Curran who denies Church doctrine on sexuality and orchestrated the dissent to Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical proscribing contraception; Edwina Gateley, so-called bible scholar, who "concelebrates" Mass wearing a stole, the symbol of priesthood; Sr. Jeannine Gramick whom the Vatican banned from ministry to homosexuals and silenced (unsuccessfully) for her advocacy of the gay lifestyle; Sr. Christine Schenk, CSJ, coordinator of Future Church which agitates for female ordination, optional celibacy, and inclusive language; Rosemary Ruether, a new-age eco-feminist who promotes goddess worship; and a pastoral team originally from Corpus Christi parish in Rochester who started their own church after being excommunicated for blessing same-sex unions, distributing Communion to non-Catholics, and having women serve at the altar.
These are Chittister’s companions on the spiritual journey. Where they are ultimately headed is unclear, but it is certainly not in the company of Jesus who said, "If you love me, keep my commandments." That NCEA’s Helm could call Chittister "faithful to the Church" shows either an astounding ignorance or deliberate disingenuousness. What’s particularly disturbing is that only five dioceses objected to the NCEA mainstreaming her radical views. And for all her pontificating about the poor, Chittister’s lifestyle as a globe-trotting professional speaker and agitator moving from convention to convention spouting her feminist ideas ought to raise an eyebrow or two. Like St. John admonishes, "Let us love in deed and in truth and not merely talk about it."
Chittister lists problems that deserve serious consideration. But she seems less interested in finding solutions than in building a platform from which to attack the "patriarchal" Church and promote socialism. Do her accusations stand up under scrutiny? Only if one ignores history to buy in to her distorted vision. Just a few examples suffice. It was the Church that from its earliest days forbade exposure of female infants and still defends little girls being murdered in China and women being subjected to such brutality as female castration. Pagan women converted to the early Church precisely because they saw Christian men treating the women in their lives with love and respect.
"Empowered" women people the pages of Church history: St. Margaret of Scotland who gentled a husband and a country, Blanche, the mother of King Louis of France, Queen Isabella of Spain who financed Columbus, St. Catherine of Siena advisor of popes, St. Joan of Arc who led an army, and the great abbesses of the middle ages who often ruled over double monasteries of both men and women. In modern times we have Mother Cabrini,
Elizabeth Seton, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, and Mother Angelica women who founded hospitals, orphanages, schools, shelters for the poor, as well as a multi-million dollar television network. We have philosopher-martyr Edith Stein and authors Sigrid Undset and Alice von Hildebrand. There’s lawyer Mary Ann Glendon who represents the Vatican at UN conferences and academic, Janet Smith, who so articulately defends Church teaching on human sexuality. Mary Kay Clark, founder of Seton Home School, Nellie Gray of March for Life, Judie Brown of American Life League, Mercedes Wilson of Family of the Americas, and Phyllis Schlafly who spearheaded the defeat of the ERA [Equal Right Amendment] are all examples of strong, orthodox Catholic women, none of whom, I wager, consider themselves oppressed by the Church.
But my favorite examples are the unsung millions of dedicated mothers who have rejected the siren song of the Joan Chittisters among us to rock the cradle and renew the Catholic world. There are few "jobs" in life that have cosmic influence but a mother touches not only her own children, but every person those children ever touch with a ripple effect spreading down the generations.
My own mother, adopted daughter of a Cleveland lawyer and his multi-talented wife, spent two years in law school at
the top of her class at Case Western Reserve University. She
"dropped out" in 1941 to fly to San Diego and marry her high school sweetheart, a young ensign headed for Pearl Harbor. By the grace of God, Daddy’s cruiser, the Detroit, survived the battle unscathed while Mom watched and prayed from Oahu, not knowing whether he was dead or alive. My parents went on to rear 10 children who gave them 36 grandchildren and 29 great grandchildren (so far). The sanctity of human life, love of children, and commitment to service are the bedrock of the family.
Mom promoted the education of her six daughters because, "an educated man is an educated man, but an educated woman is an educated family." Ultimately strong Catholic families who know the faith and are devoted to the Eucharist, the Mother of God, and the Church will doom to oblivion the radical feminist nonsense of Sr. Joan Chittister and her allies. It can’t come too soon for most of us.
Happy belated Mother’s Day, Mom. And thank-you for the gift of life and the gift of the faith.