30 August 2014

Sister Simone for pope

What you may ask is a non-Catholic, indeed a non-Christian, doing recommending someone for pope. Well, it's partly tongue-in-cheek, of course, even if American Sister Simone Campbell might very well make a better pope than anyone else around, including Francis himself. I am quite aware that the Catholic Church, immersed in misogyny as it is, keeps women in their place and that place doesn't include running the outfit.

My inspiration to recommend Sister Simone regardless of Catholic dogma came from an article in the August issue of Harper's, "Francis and the Nuns" by Mary Gordon. Ms. Gordon outlines the current pope's treatment of nuns and finds him wanting. She lays out a sordid history of men religious dominating women religious in the oldest Christian faith, a domination that continues under Francis.

She gives as an example the reaction to an open letter to Congress written by Sister Simone, head of Network, a progressive Catholic lobbying group, and cosigned by dozens of Catholic sisters' groups, including the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The LCWR represents the leaders of 90 per cent of America's 59,000 nuns. The letter was in support of Obamacare. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had opposed the legislation on the grounds it would require Catholic employers to cover contraception and abortion, a claim the nuns' letter disputed.

In response, the Vatican initiated a 3-year investigation of the LCWR and ultimately censored the group. Further, the Vatican imposed an "apostolic visitation" that would examine in minute detail the works, prayer lives and finances of every nun in an apostolic community in the U.S. To put it bluntly, the nuns were to be harassed for their effrontery and masculine authority clearly established. Author Gordon provides a number of other examples of the male church flaunting its power to discipline uppity sisters.

But Sister Simone is not intimidated. Further to the Obamacare letter, she organized Nuns on the Bus, a cross-country tour to protest the cutbacks to social services proposed by Catholic Congressman Paul Ryan. And the good sister's work has not gone unnoticed. She has been a guest on The Colbert Report, spoken to the Democratic National Convention, and was invited by President Obama to the signing of the Affordable Care Act into law.

She is a highly intelligent woman of courage, she is charismatic and an excellent organizer. She has all the characteristics of a good leader. But why a leader of a church specifically? This is why. When asked where she got her courage, she answered, "It's not courage, not really. When your heart's been broken, nothing can stop you. And living beside the poor, I had my heart broken every day. ... When you are with the poor, you weep with them, you weep for the world. Weeping becomes part of your prayer."

I may be an atheist, a mere observer of the religious scene, but this sounds to me close to what the gentle Jesus was all about. It is something many bishops never seem to discover, but something a pope should have above all else. And Sister Simone has it.

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