Sister Joan Chittister and the Ordination of Women

KW writes: “I recently attended an advent series on Social Justice. The presenter was a fan of Sister Joan Chittister. I did a little reading and see that she is anything but Catholic. Could you please add her to your list of new age topics so that we can stay informed?”

Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, is a feminist and unapologetic dissenter whose main grievance against the Church is in regard to the ordination of women.

According to Fr. Alphonse de Valk, C.S.B, writing for Catholic Insight, Sister Joan is a member and former prioress of Mount Saint Benedict priory in Erie, Pennsylvania and has been a nun  since the mid-fifties. She’s the author of dozens of books and writes a regular column for the nation’s premier dissident publication, the National Catholic Reporter.

“Already decades ago, Chittister began to call for constant questioning of the Church, implying wrongdoing and hardness of heart on the part of the hierarchy,” Fr. De Valk writes. ” In her 1983 book Women, Ministry and the Church, she charged that women were being ‘denied their full humanity and remain in an inferior and oppressed position.’

“In 1985, she rejected the Church’s strictures against the 23 nuns who in an advertisement in the New York Times, together with 5,000 other Catholics, had attacked the Church’s teaching against abortion, on the grounds that this was taking away their freedom. It was, she thought, a false use of authority, contrary to the ‘theology of tolerance’.”

Fr. De Valk goes on to say that “as time went by, she came to believe that authority in the Church is tied to ordination and that by not allowing women to be ordained, the Church in fact refuses to accept women as true human beings. ‘Equality in the literal sense is the hinge on which everything turns,’ she wrote in 1993.”

In spite of this rather horrendous track record, Sr. Chittister remains a sought after speaker, mostly on subjects relating to female ordination and the role of women in the Church. She sees nothing wrong with promoting positions that oppose the Magisterium. In an interview with Canada’s LifeSiteNews.com last year, this is how she explained her dissent: “It’s not an opposition position,” she said. “It is a position of query, of theological and scriptural commitment and search.”

She went on to complain that the Church treats woman as if they are “not fit matter to be ordained, as if Jesus came to earth to be male instead of flesh, but we don’t even see women as fit matter to have their feet washed in a church on Holy Thursday. . . . Now, we have a double standard, and we have had it for a long long time. It needs to be reviewed.” ( http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/archive/ldn/2010/feb/100215a )

In case you’re wondering why no one has silenced this nun, the Vatican has certainly tried, but unfortunately, her own order has refused to cooperate.

As Fr. De Valk explains in his article, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Institutes for Consecrated Life wrote to her superior, Sr. Christine Vladimiroff, in March of 2001, asking her not to allow Sr. Chittister to speak at a Women’s Ordination Conference in Dublin, Ireland because it would cause scandal to the faithful. Not only did Sr. Christine decline to do so, but she had her entire community sign a letter to the Vatican explaining why she refused to obey and was allowing Sr. Chittister to attend the conference.

“Sister Christine’s statement explaining her reasons for disobeying the Vatican is a most extraordinary document,” writes Fr. De Valk. “It was ‘out of the Benedictine tradition of obedience,’ she says, that she formed her decision. The Vatican notion of authority exerts power and control out of a false sense of unity inspired by fear. Benedictine obedience and authority, on the other hand, are achieved through dialogue between a community member and her prioress in a spirit of co-responsibility. Obedience has a higher meaning than merely following orders from a legitimate superior.”

She goes on to applaud Sr. Chittister’s 50 years of fidelity to the order, saying she must be allowed to “make her own decision based on her sense of Church, her monastic profession, and her own personal integrity. I cannot be used by the Vatican to deliver an order of silencing.”

Sr. Chittister attended the Dublin conference where she unabashedly claimed that the understanding of God “as Father” and the all-male priesthood have become obstacles to a healthy Catholicism.

She maintains an active speaking ministry that is occasionally interrupted by bishops who take a stand against her and refuse to allow her to speak in their diocese. This happened in 2007 in New Zealand when Bishop Barry Jones would not allow her to speak.

“The point is that silence generates the misunderstanding that this is all approved, when it’s not. I have made my position clear to the priests,” Bishop Jones said. “I don’t see how I, as a bishop, can advance the teachings of the Catholic Church by appearing to condone other views.”

In 2001, the dioceses of Pittsburgh and Peoria chose not to attend the National Catholic Education Association convocation because Sr. Chittister was a speaker at the event.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.

At the moment, it is not known how Sr. Chittister will fare after the Vatican concludes its unprecedented Visitation of U.S. religious. This process is in its final stage with a report on the findings being prepared for submission to the Vatican for review.

Needless to say, Sr. Chittister is in need of serious prayer. 

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