The nuns are headed on a bus tour of seven states as I write this – a tour that will take them to the many programs and institutions which they as Catholic religious women, sisters, started and have supported over the years. Programs that feed the hungry, care for the homeless and the abused woman and child, provide health care for those without insurance, and schools that offer excellent education to many children caught in a web of poverty.
They are headed out on a bus as one response to the attacks of the Catholic hierarchy’s attempt to take over and control the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) which the Vatican claims is not properly applying Catholic theology and teachings. A delegation of the leadership from LCWR is headed to Rome on June 12 for a meeting with the upper echelon to ask for transparency on the clamp down of their organization.
These same men are also condemning a book called Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics written by Sr. Margaret Farley, the first nun to teach at Yale Divinity School and a highly renowned scholar. Apparently, Sr. Farley did not toe the doctrinal line close enough. (You can read a comment on this from one of her former students, UCC minister Rev. Marie Fortune, on her blog.)
I hope hundreds of people come out to cheer on the nuns in an enthusiastic show of ecumenical and interfaith solidarity. Thousands of lay members of Catholic parishes have expressed their outrage over the harassment of LCWR, angry that the ministries of these good sisters are being criticized as “not Catholic enough.” Feed the poor, care for the widow and orphan, love the children – nuns have always followed the gospel call and have often gone where others feared to tread to meet basic human needs.
The backdrop of these most recent actions toward the sisters is a more pervasive “war on women,” as some have called it. Provisions of the Affordable Care Act which guaranteed that health insurance policies would carry prescription contraception coverage without co-pay have come under attack by - you guessed it - the US Council of Catholic Bishops and others on the ground that this would violate their freedom of religion. Other conservative religious voices have weighed in on this. The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act has been hung up in the House because the Senate-passed version provides increased protection for immigrant women who are victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse. Those opposing the measure say that such women will use it just to gain legal status in the US. State after state has passed increasingly restrictive laws on access to abortion health care – unprecedented since the passage of Roe v. Wade. A bill to address gender pay disparities died in the House.
You might say this is politics as usual in an election year. Yes, this is true to some extent but I am deeply disturbed that the well-being of women – our health, our mental and physical safety, our ability to support our families – is front and center as bargaining chips. Do we really think, as the Romney campaign recently put out, that contraception and pay disparities are “shiny objects” to deflect voters from what really matters – jobs and the economy? Does he not know that when women’s lives are stable, free from violence or threat of violence, and when they can control when and how many children to bear that the whole society is lifted up?
So go out and cheer for the nuns as their bus comes by your community. And go out and ask of every candidate running for office this fall – what are you doing to support women? How are you going to do this?
Maybe, just maybe, the rest of us need to get on busses and join the sisters.