Vatican showdown the latest chapter in Sister Pat Farrell’s dramatic life

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(RNS) Sister Pat Farrell is at the center of one of the biggest crises in the Catholic Church, representing the majority of U.S. nuns in their looming showdown with the Vatican. But this is hardly the most difficult or dramatic episode in her life. By David Gibson.

  • Francis Xavier

    To say that this is one of the “biggest crises of the day” is a gross over-exaggeration and displays an ignorance of some of the major issues in the broader universal Church. While it is an issue, this displays the American-centric mentality that is all too pervasive. The Church exists outside how it affects Americans.

  • David Gibson

    Francis X: I’m not sure it’s a “gross exaggeration,” or even an exaggeration. By saying “one of the” one covers a lot of territory. But I would defend my characterization for a few reasons.

    One, the story has gotten a lot of play, and not just here.

    Two, and more substantively, the issues at stake seem to be really existential questions for the church — about the role of authority, about the role of pastoral work and its primacy — or not, about experience as evangelization, about the importance of orthodoxy to undergirding evangelization, and about dialogue and polarization in the church, and of course about the place for raising questions and debates.

    Those are all pretty fundamental issues it seems to me, and they go well beyond the borders of the U.S. Indeed, I think the American church can be blinkered about its own issues. But there are many overarching issues at stake here, I’d say.

  • Teresita Scully

    Thank you, Dave for this excellent article and for exposing the beauty and heroism of the woman you wrote about. Oh, yes, these issues go right to the heart of what the Church is in American or anywhere.

  • Paul Chaffee

    Adding to David Gibson’s points, Sister Pat Farrell’s story needs to be held in the context of Catholic news these days: coming down on Girl Scouts; financial shenanigans at the Vatican (along with some nasty power struggles among the hierarchs); rebellious priests and dictatorial bishops in Europe; civil judgments for predatory behavior all over the world, year after year, followed now by a criminal judgment re mandated reporting; blowing an opportunity to support medical care for the poorest in the U.S. because of a theological position most of its own members don’t take seriously; complaining that ‘Catholic’ definitions of religious liberty aren’t sacrosanct; continuing homophobic and anti-feminist campaigns, but conciliation with Opus Dei … In the midst of these dispiriting, tragic stories, Sister Farrell stands out heroically, a beacon of hope and spiritual authenticity. A great good news story, David Gibson. Thank you for sharing the details of her remarkable record. I hope it gets lots of attention.

  • jz

    Anytime an author writes about this issue and says that the Vatican claims the LCWR focuses too much on social justice causes is either being disingenuous or hasn’t bothered to read what the Vatican has actually written. The Vatican never said that! In fact the Vatican praised the sister’s social justice work. Saying that the sisters need to spend more time on various moral issues does not mean they spend too much time on social justice as if the two are somehow in opposition to one another, or it’s some kind of zero sum game.

  • Magdalene

    I cannot help but think that Jesus was more real and present 5 days a month in that tin shack in Latin America than any day of the year in the brocade curtained, servant ridden Vatican. More’s the pity.

  • Fr. John Mudd

    Thank you, David Gibson, for sharing the story of this good women. May God continue to give her the courage that she needs to lead the LCWR through these difficult times.

  • lczaplys

    I fail to see anything in this article that proves “Spirituality and the work for justice are entirely inseparable …” The articlce describes a person who acts on her beliefs but doesn’t provide any reason why those beliefs are in any way exceptional, or why they should they should be held up as a model. What am I missing?

  • Brian Carroll

    Now knowing something of the career of Sr. Farrell, and having a passing knowledge of that of Bp. Blair, that the latter should criticize the former makes me want to retch.

  • BB

    This whole discussion is actually absurd. The communities that are represented by the LCWR are dying communities. They have had virtually no vocations in the last two decades. The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious represents those communities of women religious that are growing and are faithful to the teaching of the Church. They represent the future of Religious Life for women in the USA. The LCWR represents the dying past. It is sad to say but it is true.

  • Scott

    David, stop repeating the canard that the Vatican is saying that the sisters concentrate “too much” on social justice. The problem is that their definition of social justice is often not Catholic and instead is modeled on leftist politics. Remember the Dominican sister who was an abortion clinic escort? No amount of puff-pieces about sisters that gloss over their dissent from basic Catholic teaching is going to change matters.

  • James

    Good to know where all the rabblerousing American ‘religious’ ended up after they finished turning over the furniture in Latin America: at the Vatican, throwing tantrums.

    I’m sure Jennifer Harbury and ‘Sister’ Diana Ortiz are also in this picture.

  • Deacon W. Holcombe Pryor

    The article was very enlightening. I have known sisters, religious brothers and priests who have had similiar experiences and they are a gift to humanity and the Church. In this present conflict let us pray that both sides will make their valid points and come to some agreements (which will probablly call for change) and we can all profit from the outcome.

  • Gene Palumbo

    Please explain why, in referring to Sister Dianna Ortiz, you put quotation marks around the word “Sister.” She’s a member in good standing of her Ursuline community.

  • Rosemary

    It seems that the nuns are all too happy to question the Vatican but are not at all happy when it is they who are being questioned.
    Also, Rome is not seeking to take control of the nuns. They are “licensed”, if you will, by the Vatican, and there are certain requirements that go along with getting the imprimatur of Rome. Otherwise, anyone could say they are nuns.

    Would Sr. Farrell like it if a group of lay women started calling themselves religious nuns, particularly Franciscan nuns without having anything to do with St. Francis? I doubt it.
    Please be more objective, David, or you’ll lose your cred.

  • Paul Jeffrey

    I was recently in the Philippines and other parts of Asia, and I can assure you that Catholic religious women there are following the showdown with the LCWR very closely, and rooting for their U.S. sisters. This story is much bigger than something strictly “America-centric.”

  • David Gibson

    lczaplys: You wrote: “The articlce describes a person who acts on her beliefs but doesn’t provide any reason why those beliefs are in any way exceptional, or why they should they should be held up as a model. What am I missing?”

    Sr. Pat was very eloquent about how her foundational beliefs in Christ’s death and resurrection informed her work, and spoke repeatedly about what she saw of in Latin America as an example of the Paschal mystery. I wish I included more of that, but I hope it was self-evident that she acts out of her Catholic beliefs and a very Franciscan spirituality.

    James, I would also like to know how you could disparage a sister like Dianna Ortiz. Here is something about her and the torture she went through in Guatemala:

    If she espouses a position you disagree with, state your case. But an ad hominem attack is always unwelcome here, and especially against someone who has suffered as she has and coming from someone who I suspect has not. But I am willing to be enlightened.

  • Rev. Sue

    I agree that it is not just an American-centric situation. It is a concern for all Christians – as politics and special interest groups have entered into it all over the past decades and literally “muddied the waters.” The result is a present and dangerous polarization within the US Catholic Church (a situation that has also entered into other denominations). Ironically – if anyone noticed – the Epistle we all hopefully read and heard for Sat-Sunday in most Christian denominations – was about the need for Christian unity in the world. Just as the RCC does not still officially belong to the World Council of Churches headquartered in Geneva – we all as Christians need to stop being so polarized and learn to understand each other first within parishes and dioceses and then overall within our denominations and with each other as Christian denominations. The world is not just watching the US Catholics of late on this situation – it is watching all Christians as to how we behave and “live/act out” the Commandments – especially the first two.

  • Christine

    Believing that the Church teaching about the sanctity of life and the right ordering of our sexual and other desires are somehow in conflict with feeding the poor and tending the sick does not make sense to me. The Church manages to help so many on so many levels because of its organization, not in spite of it. Obedience has always been strongly connected to humility. If the nuns think they know better, and want to go it on their own, that is what they should do. Perhaps they could join the Episcopal Church which is losing membership at a drastic rate. Then everyone can exist happily and peacefully.

  • Gene

    Christine, your comment sums up my thoughts perfectly. I will add this, the sisters have done a lot of good here and around the world and that is seen by so many, Catholic and non Catholic alike. I was the latter until the late 90’s. As a convert to the Catholic Church I thought all priest, nuns, sisters, were genuine in their obedience to Rome. Was I mistaken. When those mentioned are defiante that makes for a very serious problem for the church internally and externally. They are the real problem and what the outside world sees is division. Sinners we are, yes, but when it is committed in the name of the church then nothing good will come of it.

  • Tim Fogarty

    I think and feel that the controversy is largely about gender. These and many male cleric hierarchs are not about to cede discretionary action to church women. Never were and never will, unless they, the clerics and their sexist allies, experience a gender consciousness metanoia. The other conflicts are presenting issues. God blesses Pat Ferrell and other women who see their pastoral responsibilities as emanating from a Higher Power.

  • Mary Pearlman

    I pray that the Holy Father and the magisterium and the women of L.C.W.R. will find a way to negotiate a peaceful end to this ungodly fight – a fight that I wish the Vatican hadn’t started. This was so predictable – it happened in 1968 to the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Los Angeles. There was no winner then, there won’t be now, only losers.