Catholic nuns in US face scrutiny

Here’s a few articles from the New York Times on the recent investigations into the nuns of the US.

U.S. Nuns Facing Vatican Scrutiny
The Nuns’ Story
New Nuns and Priests Seen Opting for Tradition

While the nuns do much of the hands-on work for the Church, they have become increasingly suspected of drifting away from the Vatican’s priorities. The tenor of the criticism is captured in this statement attributed to Cardinal Levada, who replaced Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope) as the head of the the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Cardinal Levada sent a letter to the Leadership Conference saying an investigation was warranted because it appeared that the organization had done little since it was warned eight years ago that it had failed to “promote” the church’s teachings on three issues: the male-only priesthood, homosexuality and the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the means to salvation.

It’s stunning how ‘Christianity’ is absent from these tenets. Comparisons with recent developments in Thailand are, alas, inevitable.


9 thoughts on “Catholic nuns in US face scrutiny

  1. Speaking generally about Catholicism here, I have high regard for its contemplative tradition. I am thinking here of Thomas A Kempis and Meister Eckardt especially,( a mystic that Maurice Walsh, ex Sangha trust also translated ) and of the ‘modern’ thinkers, Thomas Merton, all of whom seem to me to teach much that is deeply relevant to the spiritual life. Also, the 3rd C Desert Fathers ( who heavily influenced contemplative traditions in Catholicism ) have much to say about the hermit/monastic/spiritual life, living in caves and deserts as they did, and learning about the spiritual life under those conditions in what some consider to be ‘Anarchist’ anti -state communities.

    However, the Catholic hierarchies that you highlight here Sujato, often seem to represent the opposite to the spiritual life, and in their concern with wealth,influence,male hierarchies, appearance, power, expensive, kitsch robes and worldly trappings seem quite similar to the higher echelons of the Buddhist world.

    As such, I’d say that any trend or drift within Buddhism towards those worldly power hierarchies should be discussed.

    I am glad you are doing so.


  2. Ajahn Sujato, Greg – the Roman Catholic church has long held, for me, a curious fascination. It is, in its long history, in a ying-yang sort of way, a composite of some of humanity’s most praiseworthy and venerable teachings on benevolence and human worth while also it has long been one of the greatest villains in the area of crimes against humanity. – Its curious claim to being “the one true religion” (as an ancient Latin teacher kept reminding us in public school) seems totally undermined by its own history. It has never had difficulty turning its idea of self on its own kind, either. Now this business with its nuns, women without whom the church would probably not have survived in the past two centuries.

    It consistently seems that what is more important than the fundamentals of the message it teaches is the materiality of its survival, the self-oriented clinging to what is imagined, something not that foreign to all other religions and organizations or, it seems, the false self of hierarchy from which the Thai Theravada seems to be suffering.

    I found this video ( on Piya Tan’s site. Most everyone here has no doubt watched it in, I presume, the utter fascination with which I watched it. Yet the inference keeps being drawn, despite not only the Buddha’s teachings, but Lancaster’s clarity and the clarity of so many other Buddhist teachers as well: we are profoundly not very good at seeing cause and effect and we need to work on this.

    Both the Roman Catholic and the Thai Theravada hierarchies are shooting themselves not just in the foot as their teachings appear to be turning away from the Founder towards their personal self-images of survival.

    There is nothing new here. This is the way humanity goes about the business of being humanity.


  3. Hi Sudarsha, thanks for your reply.

    I have the same ambivalent attitude to Catholicism. I reject its dogmas and hierarchies, ( but I infer, like you? ) , I have no problem at all with Catholic contemplative traditions. I respect them.

    On the subject of Catholic contemplatives, here’s a great Bede Griffiths video which may interest our boarders/those into Buddha Dhamma —

  4. Thanks for the video, Greg. I have a great deal of respect, as well, for the contemplative orders in the Catholic and Anglican churches. But, I think, the churches fail to be fully aware that contemplative orders exist for the fulfilment of contemplatives, FIRST, and for the benefit of the church and its congregants much farther down the scale. Yes, the institution as well as its adherents benefit and, in so many ways, cannot continue without the contemplatives.

    Buddhist “prosperity” is much the same. It cannot survive without the monastics but, in the way of the curse of humanity, hierarchy, that conceit called self continues to undermine the noblest of efforts. I think we have to look at how this worked in the Buddha’s own time. We need to ask ourselves just how this figment of the imagination, hierarchy, functioned then.

    Perhaps, like the El Niño that is currently giving our part of Canada a much warmer winter than we would otherwise have, all of these “forces” are somehow necessary for things to be the way they are. Change must come slowly. We have lamentably seen the pain and suffering of swift change in Haiti. And the pain and suffering of apparently heavy-handed decisions made in Thailand.

  5. Sudarsha :
    Perhaps, like the El Niño that is currently giving our part of Canada a much warmer winter than we would otherwise have, all of these “forces” are somehow necessary for things to be the way they are. Change must come slowly. We have lamentably seen the pain and suffering of swift change in Haiti. And the pain and suffering of apparently heavy-handed decisions made in Thailand.

    And perhaps when we each contribute to cultural bio-diversity of Buddhism by way of clear and open discussion of important issues, we each do our bit for the stability, harmony, health and robustness of Buddhism, present and future.

    The disproportionate reaction of the Walters to the Dhammasara bhikkhuni ordinations are like the allergic reactions of a child brought up too delicately, or the sudden breakdown of land too long subject to monocultural cultivation.


  6. Yes, Anagarika Jason, we have to do our part, as the El Niño does its. – We have come to an age in which monumental forces feared in the past are today no longer feared and often confronted. Gradually, as Buddhism spreads and the very contemporary nature of the Buddha’s ancient message seeps into society, we may eventually have a humanity quite different from the one we know share.

  7. Thank you Greg. Don Cupitt is a new name for me. His titles appear to be quite in line with my interests.

    Many years ago, I attended a lecture by Buckminster Fuller. What I remember most was that he drew our attention to the vastness of the universe and how, like the gears of some unimaginably huge machine, it intermeshed in ways far, far beyond the comprehension of our very short lives and relatively limited imagination. I think this applies here in this whole business of the almost schizophrenic nature of Christianity (social ethics *vs* doing what it takes to maintain the organization) and, quite possibly, the same sort of difficulty presently coming to light in Thai Theravada: we are living in times when things are getting worked out! We have, through historical record, been able to witness the power struggle of the Catholic church go from one extreme to another. Now, it seems to have internalized what was, once, its almost universal battle against what it perceived as its enemies.

    We are so close to the present moment (as we are supposed to be) that we are unable to actually witness the “big picture”. But I am not sure we should be spending our time on the BIG PICTURE. Yes, right here, right now (as Ram Das so poignantly advised) we need to focus on doing the best we can with that which is in our immediate domain of ability and action, according to the teachings we understand and the insight we have gained. Then, inevitable change will march on in accord with those intermeshing gears of the incomprehensible universe.

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