The Sisters In Our Midst by Natalie Weaver

Natalie Weaver

On September 28, 2013, Ursuline College hosted a symposium entitled The Impact of Vatican II on Women Religious in the United States.  The symposium featured five speakers.  Sister Karen Kennelly, CJS. gave the keynote address entitled “Women Religious in the U.S.: From the Vatican Council to the Present.”  Four other speakers gave breakout talks.  Sr. Mary Frances Taymans, SND, spoke on education.  Sr. Kathleen Feely, SND, spoke on social services.  Sr. Patricia Talone, RSM, spoke on health care, and Sr. Loretta Harriman, MM, spoke on foreign missions.  The symposium began with a Friday evening event featuring a lecture called “Progress and Promise: Local Conversations,” which surveyed the history of women’s religious communities in Northeast Ohio (FAR blogger Michele Stopera Freyhauf worked on this project with our team as well!).  In addition to the talks, the Northeast Ohio component of the national Women & Spirit exhibit (now retired), which was produced by the Leadership Council of Women Religious and which toured throughout the country from 2009-2012, was on display.

Having been a collaborator in the organization and management of the symposium, I had several months to reflect on the intentions, purpose, and hoped-for outcomes of the event.  As our conference committee reflected on an appropriate theme for a conference commemorating the 50th year anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, we wanted to focus on women religious, a group often conspicuously overlooked and generally under-represented in Vatican II anniversary conferences. Continue reading “The Sisters In Our Midst by Natalie Weaver”

Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Take First Round of Geshema Exams by Karen Nelson Villanueva

Karen Nelson Villanueva has recently successfully defended her doctoral dissertation, “Invoking the Blessings of the Tibetan Buddhist Goddess Tara Through Chanting Her Mantra to Overcome Fear,”When I signed up to support a nun through the Tibetan Nun’s Project, I was pleased to be paired with someone who reminded me of me. Phunsok Dolma is a woman in her 50’s, trying to better her life and educate herself without a spouse. My first letter from her contained a photograph of a tanned woman appearing strong, hearty, and accustomed to agricultural work. I responded with my photo to establish sisterhood and solidarity. Through her determination, Phunsok chose to live in a monastic community and practice her faith.

With my meager income as a doctoral student, I chose to assist another human being to repay the kindness of the Dharma in my life. In terms of Western culture, I am struggling, but this struggle is minor compared to the lives of many nuns. My annual budget for a Venti cup of coffee at Starbuck’s equals the basic survival for a nun for over two years. One hundred percent of my sponsorship money of $30 per month provides a nun with food, clothing, medical care, and educational opportunities. I am fortunate to have food, housing, and the ability to pursue the study of my heart’s desire. In other words, I am in a position to help someone else.

All efforts make a difference. By supporting a nun through the Tibetan Nun’s Project, I can repay the kindness of what I have received from many Dharma teachers; I can help support my sisters as they struggle to thrive in another part of the world. Recently, I learned with pride that 27 of the nuns sponsored by the Tibetan Nun’s Project sat for the Geshe examination to become teachers of the Dharma to the world. This act affirms my conviction to support these women as I struggle to support myself. Continue reading “Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Take First Round of Geshema Exams by Karen Nelson Villanueva”

5 Interesting Facts about Women and Religion by Kile Jones

Kile Jones, atheistPart of my research is focused on how the social sciences relate to “religion” and religious studies.  More specifically, I spend time examining the sociology of religion.  I look at stats, demographics, and polls.  I look at rates of attendance, frequency of prayer, levels of “religiosity,” apostates (or the less religiously-loaded term “exiters”), and political outlooks.  I also look at how bias this area of study is in favor of religion.  One facet of this work that has always interested me, is the differences in “gender” and “sex” as they relate to religious beliefs and observances.  Accepting the fact that there are spectrums of sex, gender, and identity, and the presence of difficult philosophical questions surrounding self-identification and the limits of labels, some really interesting facts and statistics crop up time and time again.  In what follows I will lay out a couple of these interesting facts, along with some thoughts on them: Continue reading “5 Interesting Facts about Women and Religion by Kile Jones”

Imagine a Catholic Church that Loved as only a “Woman” Loves by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

Freyhauf, Feminism, Religion, Catholic Church I came across an abhorrent display of ignorance Saturday when reading an article quoting the Pope’s theologian, Dominican priest Wojciech Giertych, on why women cannot be ordained.  This man is in charge of reviewing speeches and texts submitted to the Pope to ensure that they are free of doctrinal error.  Once you read this, I am sure that many of you will have the same thoughts that I do ranging from – that explains a lot — to —  we are in serious trouble!

Giertych touted the common arguments made against ordaining women – Jesus was a man, Jesus chose only male disciples, etc.  However, then he put forth statements about, (1) the theologian’s task, (2) why maleness is essential to the priesthood, and (3) what the vocation of women is and is not.

What is the Theologian’s Task?

According to Giertych, the theologian’s task in determining the definition of priesthood:

 “In theology, we base ourselves not on human expectations, but we base ourselves on the revealed word of God” without the freedom “to invent the priesthood according to our own customs, according to our own expectations.”

According to CTSA (Catholic Theological Society of America), the theological task is described as follows:

Theologians throughout history have promulgated the riches of the Catholic tradition by venturing new ways to imagine and express the mystery of God and the economy of salvation revealed in Scripture and Tradition. This is a Catholic style of theological reflection that very many Catholic theologians continue to practice today. The teaching of the Second Vatican Council in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) is especially eloquent on this responsibility” (See Gaudium et Spes #44).

Continue reading “Imagine a Catholic Church that Loved as only a “Woman” Loves by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

The Impact of Excommunication in the 21st Century (Part I) – Spiritual Redemption or Hegemonic Power by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

The Lord loves everyone and died for everyone, and He wants all to be saved…the best lesson that can be learned from everything that has happened is that one finds happiness, joy and satisfaction in obedience to the Church.”Bishop Bruskewitz

One of the most misunderstood concepts in the Catholic Church is excommunication.  Many believe that excommunication is a complete termination or separation from the Catholic Church.  To say this another way, if excommunicated, you are no longer Catholic or part (a member) of the Catholic Church.  None of these statements are true.  By baptism, you are a member of the Catholic Church and no one can take that away.

Much of the misunderstanding stems from the way excommunication was used in the Middle Ages; a means of coercion to control kings and other high ranking officials.  Obedience to the Church meant that you will spend eternal life in heaven.  Disobedience to the Church meant a complete separation from the Church; a ban against  receiving Eucharist, a banishment of your soul to the eternal flames of hell.  Excommunication was the highest form of punishment and the most meaningful (and effective) tools of control.  When a person was excommunicated, there was even a public ceremony –  a bell tolled for the excommunicant, as a bell that would chime for the dead, the Gospels were closed, and a (baptismal) candle would be extinguished.  This ceremony signified eternal darkness and death. Continue reading “The Impact of Excommunication in the 21st Century (Part I) – Spiritual Redemption or Hegemonic Power by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

Through Body and Space: A Glimpse into Women Worshippers of Aadhi Parashakthi by Amy Levin

Once what happened was after people started believing someone around also started believing in this temple and one person kept a statue on their steps. Her Aunty she believed and she is very much interested in small things. So she started decorating it up. And what happened was the statue starting getting bleeding, like monthly monthly. And the dress which the statue wore during those periods was stained with red bleeding. So they asked Guruji about what is this and he said that the shakti has come into the statue. So if you keep this in the home it will turn into a temple so go and leave it outside. This was followed by entry of snakes, king cobras, so what they did was they went and left it in the sea, after which her grandmother had a dream that you have left me in the water but still I am with you. I am the temple opposite here,  put a lamp everyday at that place. So they started putting it out there, and now there is an earthen Kali which as come up in that place by nature.  –Interview with Premila, March 18, 2008 Continue reading “Through Body and Space: A Glimpse into Women Worshippers of Aadhi Parashakthi by Amy Levin”

Abuse of Power in the Catholic Church Part II – WE are the Church! By Michele Stopera Freyhauf

Spiritual Power is arguably the most dangerous power of all.  In the wrong hands, it gives the power to make judgments even about the eternal fate of another person.  It needs a sign on it at all times saying, ‘Handle with extreme care.’  The greater the power a person exercises, the more need there is for checks and balances before it is used and accountability after it is used.” – – Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

 May 6th, I addressed the issue of abuse of power in the Catholic Church and how we seem to be unraveling any kind of progress made since Vatican II.  Since writing that article, the Leadership of the LCWR met with Vatican Officials and expressed their concerns openly.  A dialogue occurred and left no resolution, just information that the leadership will discuss with the community at their August meeting.  That meeting will reveal their next step in this controversy – concede and follow the conditions and rules sets forth by the CDF or disband and form a new religious community or maybe there will be another option revealed.

I have to ask though – Was this a meaningful meeting or was it meant to pacify the Sisters and their supporters? Will the Vatican change its stance? Certainly, the U. S. Catholic Sisters have not been

reposted from

pacified, nor have their supporters.  For example, there is a “Nuns on the Bus” tour traveling around the United States,  prayer services for the Sisters, #nunjustice and #whatthesistersmeantome campaigns on Twitter.  Even the Women’s Ordination Conference delivered a petition containing over 57,000 signatures to the Vatican in support of the Sisters.  Certainly, the support for the sisters and their mission is not dwindling, but growing stronger every day.

As for the Vatican, a change in their position is doubtful, but we can continue to pray.  I am, however, very discouraged by a statement attributed to Pope Benedict that indicates a desire to have a smaller more faithful Church of Catholics then a large Church of people who do not adhere to Church Teaching – seeking out a small, strong, holy community.

Obviously, it is my hope that this statement was taken out of context, but I have to be honest and say

Women’s Ordination Conference delivering Petition
Picture reprinted from WOC’s page on Facebook

that my hope is filled with doubt.  This is not the first time I have heard clergy make this statement. Priests have made this statement in my presence – wanting a more faithful flock and dismissing those that do not adhere to their interpretation of Church teaching. This stance does not bear fruit, but is rather a power play – a play that can be called many things – misogynist, arrogant, non-pastoral, cold-hearted, and frankly un-Christian.  It also plays with a person’s spiritual fate and in many cases their soul.   The psychological impact of something like this is dangerous for some. Some ordained will go so far as to withhold sacraments or even compromise the person’s  status in the Church, including their role in ministry, for the sole purpose of  inducing compliance – a tactic that dates to the medieval period.

Continue reading “Abuse of Power in the Catholic Church Part II – WE are the Church! By Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

“Vaginas are Everywhere!”: The Power of the Female Reproductive System by John Erickson

Nice girls don’t say the word vagina.

I have a beautiful picture of vagina hanging on my wall.  However, for the longest time it was in the back of my closet, with a plastic bag covering it.  I wasn’t ashamed of it but my ex-boyfriend, like most gay men, refused to have it on the wall where he could see it.  He is now long gone; the vagina is now out and proud.

I bid on the picture one fall during a showing of the Vagina Monologues at Claremont School of Theology.  One of my best friends was in the show and I had always loved its powerful message.  I walked out of the theatre, waiting for my friend, and there it was: the picture of the vagina.  I found myself caught up in its beauty.  Its gaze had mesmerized me.  The outlying layers of red, the contours of its shape, they all began to mold into a figure before my eyes.  While I have never thought of myself as a religious person, I realized that at that moment I was no longer looking the old photo but rather I was staring at the outline of the Virgin Mary.  At that moment, I realized that I had to have the picture.

My ex boyfriend was ashamed of the photo.  I let him shame me into putting it in the back of my closet and cast it away like it was nothing.  Like the experience, call it religious or not, had never happened.  When we ended our relationship, I found myself inconsolable and pacing up and down my stairs in a never-ending cycle of sadness and downheartedness.   As I was pilfering through our items, I came about the picture.  I saw it and for a split second, I was no longer sad. Continue reading ““Vaginas are Everywhere!”: The Power of the Female Reproductive System by John Erickson”

The Crime of Being a Girl Scout: The Sin of Raising Strong Female Leaders by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

Cradle Catholic and Woman

Educated by the U. S. Vowed Religious

Support the U. S. Catholic Sisters

Support, Minister, and Live the Social Gospel

Theologian, Feminist, and Critical Thinker

Former Girl Scout Leader of Three Troops

Former Girl Scout

I am all of these things and more.  By the recent attacks by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, I am beginning to think I am the problem.  I seem to stand for everything the Vatican and USCCB seek to silence.  Is it because of my organizational ties with the U. S. Vowed Religious and Girl Scouts, or my writings as a Feminist and Theologian?  Maybe the answer is simply – because I am a woman.

According to the criticisms launched by the USCCB and the Vatican, I seem to be part of the problem rather than the solution.  Why is this so?  It was not until I started my journey in ministry that my idealistic “Catholic” bubble popped – not so much by me, but by those in ministry and leadership, by those that did not like laity to pose questions and think critically about their faith beliefs, and by  those that do not like people who do not fit within the preconceived mold of what a “good Catholic” should be.  This ideological construct is difficult enough when you are part of a Church community, but when you begin to embrace leadership as a woman, question teachings, exercise your canonical rights, your peers and even people you thought were your friends, no longer talk or associate with you. The betrayal is vicious and runs deep – it is behavior not becoming of a minister or one who professes the Catholic faith.

If the attack on you is not enough, these same people victimize your children through their words and behavior.  It is a difficult position for anyone to survive spiritually.  For children of the Church who bear witness to this hypocritical behavior, a journey begins – they search for meaning within the spiritual realm and become disgruntled with anything that resembles organized religion.  A place where one seeks community and spiritual nourishment becomes a place of oppression and starvation.  If attacking family is not enough, let’s start attacking groups that promote community – groups like the Girl Scouts of America.

So, what is the USCCB’s problem with the Girl Scouts of America?  Basically, this organization is under fire for suspected deviant thinking and positions that stand opposed to Church teaching. Continue reading “The Crime of Being a Girl Scout: The Sin of Raising Strong Female Leaders by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

Hoy, Canto de Mujer Que Se Libera – Un Canto de Ada María Isasi-Díaz, By Michele Stopera Freyhauf

“Yo soy mujer en busca de igualdad, no aguantar abuso ni maldad. Yo soy mujer y tengo dignidad, y pronto la justicia serd una realidad.  Mujer, tù eres mujer, porque supiste ver, la realidad de tu poder. Hoy canto al Dios del Pueblo en mi guitarra, un canto de mujer que se libera” – From “Mujeristas: A Name of Our Own!” – Ada María Isasi-Díaz [i]

Translation:  I am woman searching for equality; I will not put up with abuse and wickedness.  I am a woman and I have dignity, and justice will soon be a reality.  Woman, you are woman, because you have known how to recognize the fact that you are powerful.  Today I sing to the God of my people with my guitar, I sing a song of a woman who liberates herself.

Labels, names, and categories can evoke prejudice and oppression.  Ada Maria Isasi-Díaz, the founder of Mujerista Theology, wrote:

To be able to name oneself is one of the most powerful abilities a person can have.  A name is not just a word by which one is identified.  A name provides the conceptual framework and the mental constructs that are used in thinking, understanding and relating to a person. [ii]

These words relate to U. S. Hispanic women, who, according to Isasi-Díaz, struggle against ethnic prejudice, sexism, and in many cases classism [and who] have been at a loss as to what they should be called.[iii]  In finding that common name, lyrics from three different songs inspired Isasi-Díaz who developed the term “Mujerista Theology,” replacing Hispanic women’s liberation theology:

“Yo soy mujer en busca de igualdad, no aguantar abuso ni maldad. Yo soy mujer y tengo dignidad, y pronto la justicia serd una realidad.  Mujer, tù eres mujer, porque supiste ver, la realidad de tu poder. Hoy canto al Dios del Pueblo en mi guitarra, un canto de mujer que se libera” [iv]

For Isasi-Díaz, mujerista unifies Hispanic women and embodies strength.  Mujeristas are those:

Ada Maria Isasi-Díaz
Picture From Drew University’s website
  • Who desire a society and a world where there is no oppression.
  • Who struggle for a society in which differences and diversity are valued.
  • Who know that our world has limits and that we have to live simply so others can simply live.
  • Who understand that material richness is not a limitless right but it carries a “social mortgage” that we have to pay to the poor of the world.
  • Who savor the struggle for justice, which, after all, is one of the main reasons for living.
  • Who try no matter what to know, maintain, and promote our Latina culture.
  • Who know that a “glorified” self-abnegation is many times the source of our oppression.
  • Who know women are made in the image of God and, as such, value ourselves.
  • Who know we are called to birth new women and men, a strong Latino people.
  • Who recognize that we have to be source of hope and of a reconciling love.
  • Who love ourselves so we can love God and our neighbor.[v] 

For Isasi-Díaz, Mujerista Theology is defined as:

“a process of enablement for Latina Women, insisting on the development of a strong sense of moral agency, and clarifying the importance and value of who they are, what they think, and what they do….mujerista theology [also] seems to impact mainline theologies, the theologies which support what is normative in church, and, to a large degree, in society.”[vi]

Continue reading “Hoy, Canto de Mujer Que Se Libera – Un Canto de Ada María Isasi-Díaz, By Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

Abuse of Power in the Catholic Church: Undoing Almost Fifty Years of Progress – Part I, by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

“Now the Vatican says that nuns are too interested in “the social Gospel” (which is the Gospel), when they should be more interested in Gospel teachings about abortion and contraception (which do not exist).  Nuns were quick to respond to the AIDS crisis, and to the spiritual needs of gay people—which earned them an earlier rebuke from Rome. They were active in the civil rights movement.  They ran soup kitchens.” —  Roman Catholic Women Priests (via Facebook)

I once had a conversation with my New Testament Professor about the issue of women ordination.  He was optimistic and thought there might be a possibility that change was in the air – that was six years ago.  The basis for his statement had to do with language.  Of the journals and articles read, he felt the language used was more inclusive and that once people adjust to this discrete change in gender inclusive language, change for women in the Church can come.

He was right about change coming.  The result was not equality and ordination for women, but an attempt to silence and force these women back into their habits and cloisters. Continue reading “Abuse of Power in the Catholic Church: Undoing Almost Fifty Years of Progress – Part I, by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

The Inquisition of Today and U.S. Women Religious by Ivone Gebara

Statement from Ivone Gebara, writer, philosopher and theologian from Brazil on the Vatican action against U.S. religious women. 

Translated from Portuguese. Reprinted with permission. 

Once again, we watch dumbfounded as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith directs a “doctrinal assessment of” or a “calling attention to” or the “punishment of” those who, according to the CDF, break away from the proper observance of Catholic doctrine. Only this time, the CDF is not pointing an accusatory finger at a person, but rather at an institution that brings together and represents more than 55,000 women religious in the United States- namely, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, known by its acronym LCWR.

Throughout their long history, these women religious developed and continue to develop a broad educational mission which advances the dignity of many people and groups both within and beyond the United States. Most of these women belong to diverse national and international congregations.

In addition to their Christian and humanistic formation, they are intellectuals and professionals in various fields of knowledge. They are writers, philosophers, biologists, sociologists, lawyers and theologians. They have broad backgrounds and their expertise is recognized nationally and internationally. They also are educators, catechists and human rights activists. In many situations, they set their lives at the service of those affected by injustice or set themselves in opposition to the grave actions taken by the government of the United States. Continue reading “The Inquisition of Today and U.S. Women Religious by Ivone Gebara”

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