Garry Wills, the Pulitzer-winning historian who is one of the leading thinkers on Catholicism in America, has a few choice words for the Vatican on its recent rebuke of American nuns.
In a blog today for the New York Review of Books, Wills writes, under the heading "Bullying the Nuns":
"The Vatican has issued a harsh statement claiming that American nuns do not follow their bishops' thinking. That statement is profoundly true. Thank God, they don't."
I wrote about this controversy the other day and got a great deal of response from local readers, expressing a broad spectrum of opinion.
Some of the response came by email, with many readers providing memories of nuns who made a positive difference in their lives, and a few saying "You go!" to the Vatican.
Reader Bill Walsh praised his childhood teachers at St. Thomas Acquinas in South Buffalo (he is a 1960 graduate who went on to Canisius High School) and adds:
"I firmly believe that if one is not happy with the organization then one should find another one. It’s not enough to say 'I’m Catholic but I disagree with the Church’s position on abortion or the gender of priests or the teaching relative to out-of-wedlock sex.' These issues, particularly the first one, go to the core of what the Church stands for. "
The nuns who are drawing the Vatican's attention, Walsh says, are outliers: "They have an agenda, which is fine, but when it clashes with the teaching of the Church, there are consequences. In any event from what I have seen, it’s not like there has been some sort of draconian discipline administered here."
Patricia Farrell -- a senior vice president for Merill Lynch in New York City, educated in Buffalo by the Sisters of Mercy at St. Teresa's and Mount Mercy, whom she praises warmly -- represents the other side:
"Whenever I get fed up with the archaic actions of the Vatican and its backward sexist leadership I have to ask myself what causes me to remain a Catholic? Some days this answer does not come easily. The Vatican’s teachings against homosexuals, suppression of women, chastising the divorced, favoring the wealthy, prohibiting birth control among other atrocities make me wonder why I choose to be a member of such a closed, dark judgmental society. But then I remind myself, this dark, cryptic tomb is not my Church! My Church is not the rules, the fundamental teachings, the incense or the rote prayers. My Catholic Church is a spirit burning bright and warm and is welcoming , loving, cheerful and hopeful. It is not a building but a way of life. Who wouldn’t want to be a member of my Catholic Church?"
Some response came in online comments -- including critiques of "cafeteria Catholics" to tales of nuns who weren't so wonderful. Here is that initial post, where you can review the reader comments.
In addition, NPR's "Talk of the Nation" on Monday featured this story, "Vatican reprimand of U.S. nuns divides the faithful."
And the BBC interviewed Sister Simone Campbell, who heads the social justice lobby known as Network. She predicted that the plan to have the American bishops rein in the wayward nuns may not go all that well:
"It's totally a top-down process and I don't think the bishops have any idea what they're in for."
Meanwhile, News Religion Reporter Jay Tokasz is working on a piece on local Catholics and their reactions, so stay tuned.