Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Habit? I don't need no stinking habit!

You know, I’m a big traditionalist. I think nuns should wear habits. Peggy Noonan once wrote something along the lines that the more traditional the habit, the better the nun. Nuns that run around in pant suits with butch hair cuts on their head are usually not thinking about the glory of God, but how they can be illicitly ordained by a crack-pot out on Lake Michigan. So naturally, I wasn’t pleased to see this little tidbit in the California Catholic Daily about a conference coming up where a disobedient prioress was asked to attend.

Disobedient nuns being invited to a conference in California? Say it ain’t so.

It’s so. Read on, true believers:

In April, the Immaculate Heart Community in Los Angeles will host a lecture by a woman religious who, seven years ago, publicly ignored a Vatican disciplinary order.

Sister Christine Vladimiroff, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania, will deliver an Anita Caspary Lecture in Los Angeles on April 13, reported the March 19 “Justice and Peace Newsblast” of the Los Angeles archdiocese’s Office of Justice and Peace.

In 2004, the Tidings, the archdiocese’s newspaper, reported in an article about a talk by Vladimiroff that the prioress had come into prominence in 2001 “for opposing a Vatican directive that one of its members, Sister Joan Chittister, not participate in a conference on women’s ordination.”

In an interview with the Tidings, Vladimiroff explained her take on the tension between being “prophetic” and obedient. “Prophetic,” she said, “means taking a risk and hopefully trying to turn that risk into perceiving the will of God in a particular instance. There’s tension between doing the politically correct thing or being so outside an institution you’re no longer relevant to it.”

In a 2001 letter to the Holy See, Vladimiroff noted that the Vatican saw Sister Joan Chittester’s attendance at the Women’s Ordination Worldwide Conference “to be in opposition to its decree (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis) that priestly ordination will never be conferred on women in the Roman Catholic Church and must therefore not be discussed.” Vladimiroff said that “after much deliberation and prayer” she decided to “decline the request of the Vatican” to forbid Sister Joan to attend. She did so “out of the Benedictine, or monastic, tradition of obedience.”

A “fundamental difference” exists “in the understanding of obedience in the monastic tradition and that which is being used by the Vatican to exert power and control and prompt a false sense of unity inspired by fear,” wrote Vladimiroff.

Vladimiroff said she did not see Sister Joan’s participation in the conference “as a ‘source of scandal to the faithful’ as the Vatican alleges. I think the faithful can be scandalized when honest attempts to discuss questions of import to the church are forbidden.” Vladimiroff said she could not be “used by the Vatican to deliver an order of silencing.” Indeed, according to Vladimiroff, “Benedictine communities of men and women were never intended to be part of the hierarchical or clerical status of the Church, but to stand apart from this structure and offer a different voice.”

All but one of the 135 Erie Benedictine sisters signed Vladimiroff’s response to the Holy See. Chittester spoke at the women’s ordination conference, and the Vatican disciplined neither her nor Vladimiroff.

The Erie Benedictines make decisions by “consensus,” said a 2002 Women’s E News article – which also noted that “the order prays not to the ‘Father, Son and the Holy Spirit,’ but to ‘Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.’"

That the Immaculate Heart Community would host Vladimiroff is not surprising. It is an order of sisters (now including lay men and women) that broke with the Los Angeles archdiocese in 1970 because Cardinal James McIntyre would not tolerate their version of Vatican II “renewal.”

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