What Would Hildegard Do?
Some Thoughts on the Latest Attack from the Vatican, This on American Sisters
My first response on being invited to write an article on the Silencing of Sisters in the Roman Catholic Church was: “Why? They are fully capable of defending themselves.” Yet I also know, from my own personal experience in my years of being silenced and then expelled by then Cardinal Ratzinger from my religious order in which I was “in good standing” for 34 years (and then lied about), that solidarity matters. It matters not just to an individual in the midst of an ordeal but also to others who stand under the gun and wonder if their taking stands of conscience will isolate them or bring on support and solidarity. (Interestingly, feminist theologian Dorothy Soelle says solidarity is the opposite of servile obedience.) So I have squelched my inhibitions about letting the sisters go it alone to jump into the fray and offer whatever support I can to my sisters.
The same weekend that I was invited to write this article I met a woman in her sixties who told me she had been a Catholic sister for a number of years in the Order of Saint Joseph and her response to the attacks on Catholic sisters was this: “Now they will be called to stand up and be counted like so many of us over the years who had to make decisions of conscience on our own. Just like you and many theologians also had to do. No more denial.” It is not only sister orders who can no longer deny the darkness that has taken over the Catholic Church at this time in history. Lay people too who support and rely on the sisters whether in fields of education or pastoral ministry or as examplars of Christians trying to live out the values of Vatican II about justice and solidarity with the poor — all have to move beyond denial and stand up and be counted with the sisters now under siege from the Vatican. Meister Eckhart tells us: “God is the denial of denial.”
I have laid out the stakes of this struggle in the Catholic Church in my recent book,The Pope’s War: How Ratzinger’s Crusade has Imperiled the Church and What Can Be Saved. There I try to present the last forty years of Catholic Church history and make the case that the Vatican and its bureaucrats are in fact in schism since they have abandoned the values and principles of Vatican II across the board (from national bishops’ conferences, to lay leadership, to freedom of conscience, to openness with theologians, to deep ecumenism and more). This is schism, since in the church’s tradition a Council trumps popes and not the other way around. What this means practically is that all the cardinals, bishops and priests anointed in the past forty years are invalid and not to be believed or followed. The door is open for a LOT of creativity and work of the Holy Spirit to flow anew into Christian history.
The case for schism is not just about the abandonment of Vatican II and its saintly movements and individuals such as Oscar Romero, Bishop Casigalida, Bishop Arns, thousands of church workers tortured and killed in Brazil, Peru and more but also the 101 theologians silenced and often expelled from their teaching vocations. It is also about the perverse persons and ideologies embraced by the past two papacies include Fr Maciel, so close to Pope John Paul II that he accompanied him on plane rides to Latin America, who raised more money than anyone in church history but who also sexually abused over twenty of his seminarians and had two common law wives on the side by whom he fathered four children whom he also sexually abused (3 boys and a girl). This man and his order, eagerly supportive of the dictator Pinochet and other far-right movements, was protected and highlighted by the past two papacies (only under pressure did Pope Benedict XVI, having neglected to investigate him when it was his job to do so at the Congregation of Fatih, finally order a full investigation and call for an examination of his order). There is also the scary Opus Dei movement, given full support and ecclesial carte blanche under these two schismatic papacies who rushed the founder, fascist priest and admirer of Hitler, Fr. Escriva, into canonization on a fast track never before equalled. The greatest spy in American history who now sits in jail for getting more American spies murdered than any one before him, was a devout Opus Dei member who went undetected in his post at the FBI for over twenty years. How many members of today’s Supreme Court are Opus Dei? It is hard to know since they are nothing if not secretive but the general guess is 3 or 4. Citizens United decision correctly names their philosophy of marriage of government and corporations (Mussolini’s very definition of fascism).
This is all to lay out the context of the sisters’ condemnation. One must realize that we are suffering through the most corrupt papacies since the Borgias. To the sisters now under fire, I say “Congratulations! You are in good company. Welcome to the club of thinking and caring Catholics trying to apply the principles and values of our faith who have also been attacked for doing so by so-called leaders of the church.” When I was expelled by the Dominicans I received a letter from poet Bill Everson (former Dominican Brother Antoninus) that said: “Congratulations for this culmination of your vocation.” He was right to put the ordeal in the context of vocation. Vocation is our original calling, that which invited us to take a path less traveled. To have followed that path in spite of history’s detours is a noble act. To all the sisters affected by this Vatican attack, I say: “Congratulations! Your vocation is calling you still.”
Some questions I put to the sisters are these:
- What kind of support do you expect or can you expect from male religious orders? Will they have the courage to stand by you in solidarity? Or will they slink away in a fit of self-preservation to hide and not be heard from? Will they continue in their denial? Or will they finally stand up and be counted and stand by you?
- What options are you considering? Are you going to “let the dead bury the dead” and move on, continuing your works of service outside any technical connection with Rome? Will you join the Ecumenical Catholic Church? Have you hired good lawyers to help you with property issues?
- Do you think it is worth the trouble and bother and time and energy drain to fight to stay in the Roman Catholic Church as it is now constittued at the top and to try to get “permission” to continue your vocation from the sick and schismatic hierarchy of today?
- Do you think Hildegard of Bingen (scheduled to be declared a saint and doctor of the church in October) speaks for you when she writes to the pope of her day: “O man, the eye of your discernment weakens. You are becoming weary, too tired to restrain the arrogant boastfulness of people to whom you have entrusted your heart. Why do you not call these shipwrecked people back? You are neglecting Justice, the King’s daughter, the heavenly bride, the woman who was entrusted to you. Her crown and jeweled raiments are torn to pieces through the moral crudeness of men who bark like dogs and make stupid sounds like chickens which sometimes begin to cackle in the middle of the night. They are hypocrites. With their words they make a show of illusory peace, but within, in their hearts, they grind their teeth like a dog who wags its tail at a recognized friend but bites with its sharp teeth an experienced warrior who fights for the King’s house. Why do you tolerate the evil ways of people who, in the darkness of foolishness, draw everything harmful to themselves? They are like hens who make noise during the night and terrify themselves…. People who act like this aren’t rooted in goodness.” What a marvelous picture of the curia in the 21st century!
She goes on: “You should be doing battle with evil, but that is precisely what you aren’t doing, when you don’t dig out by the root that evil which suffocates the good. And why not? Because of your fear of the evil men who lay snares in nocturnal ambush and love the gold of death more than the beautiful King’s daughter, Justice.”
“O man, you who sit on the papal throne, you despise God when you don’t hurl from yourself the evil, but even worse, embrace it and kiss it by silently tolerating corrupt men. The whole earth is in confusion on account of the ever-recurring false teaching whereby human beings love what God has brought, to nothing. And you, O Rome, are like one in the throes of death.”
“You will be so shaken that the strength of your feet, the feet on which you now stand, will disappear. For you don’t love the King’s daughter, Justice….but as in delirium of sleep, so that you push her away from you. That is why she will flee from you, unless you call her back. And you, O man, who have been placed as a visible shepherd, rise up and hasten quickly to Justice, so that you will not be criticized by the great Doctor for not having cleansed your flock from dirt, for not having anointed them with oil.”
In a letter to Abbot Hellinger she writes: “Now listen and learn, so that you blush with shame when you taste in your soul what I now say. Sometimes you have the style of a bear, who often grumbles to itself in secret. Sometimes you have the style of an ass, for you aren’t solicitous in your duties but are glum and in many ways bungling as well.” He’s glum and bungling! “To such behavior the heavenly Father gives an answer: ‘Your heart grumbles over my Justice. You don’t seek the right answer in her, but you harbor in yourself a certain grumbling like that of the bear.’” [These citations are from her letters and found in Matthew Fox, ed., Hildegard of Bingen's Book of Divine Works with Letters and Songs, Bear & Co., 1987.]
- How is all this internal struggle strengthening your true vocation?
- How are you feeling about the Vatican at this time in history?
- Two proposals do come to my mind. Since it is not you who have been accused of pedophilia or of covering up pedophilia, are you considering undertaking your own investgation of hierarchy both in Rome and in the United States who have stood by while countencing priestly pedophilia? And who now are publicly attacking SNAP which exists to defend the victims of such childhood horrors and which is directed by former victims of priestly pedophilia?
- And while you are at it, why not demand that the Vatican define “radical feminism” since Cardinal Ratzinger has been getting away with such scurilous and sloppy language for decades (in fact, he accused me of the identical offense without defining his terms when he expelled me).
I would be happy to invite any Catholic sister who wishes to write me their answers to these questions—I promise COMPLETE anonymity—and I will try to publish them in a follow-up to this article.
Finally, I have just one sentence of advice: Wear this badge of honor, this joining the 101 theologians and church activists who have also been denounced by radical right wing groups who hide in the Vatican canonizing one another, with humility. I am sure you will. I offer you as a gift the following poem:
It is not enough that Opus Dei occupies three to four seats in the US Supreme Court,
It is not enough that one (or two) of its admirers ran for president on the Republican ticket,
It is not enough that one (Bishop Finn) engaged in sexual cover up of a priest after pledging not to,
It is not enough that one occupies the largest diocese in North America (Los Angeles),
It is not enough that denial of contraception and other proof of wars against women and their bodies is countenced by schismatic popes,
It is not enough that pedophile priests and bishops are covered up for by hierarchy,
It is not enough that GBLT persons are bullied by schismatic popes and their sycophant bishops,
It is not enough that ecumenism is dead in the water,
It is not enough that yoga is condemned and that Thich Naht Hahn has been declared an “anti-Christ” by the Vatican,
It is not enough that women are excluded from priesthood and from leadership in the church,
It is not enough that 101 theologians have been silenced, abused, expelled for doing their job in service of the People,
It is not enough that theology is dead in the water and the only teacher left is the “magisterium,” i.e. the bureaucrats in the Vatican,
It is not enough that fear grips all theologians and priests,
It is not enough that the Vatican is in bed with dictators and with CIA, FBI, Pentegon and more,
Now cometh the latest trumpet call from the guardians of stale orthodoxy and sinful papalolotry: An attack on American religious sisters, those who have lived and led with the values of Vatican II.
May you all be blessed and thanked for your work, your generosity and your faithfulness to Gospel values. May your consciences take the lead in the creative responses you are sure to be invoking.[br}
Gratefully and in the Spirit of Hildegard,
Matthew Fox, oops (Once of the Order of Preachers)