View from the Pew
Benedictine nun stands up for women
The timing is just so serendipitous.
Female disciples of Jesus were the ones who got to the empty tomb early in the morning and were the first to learn that he had risen from the dead. John's Gospel read in Catholic churches on Easter tells that it was a woman, Mary Magdalene, who first saw the risen Christ.
There are more than a few women who take special satisfaction in hearing that Gospel story, especially many in the male-dominated Catholic Church.
Two weeks after that story rang in the Easter season, one of the best-known commentators about the inequality of women in the Catholic Church 2,000 years after the Resurrection will speak in Honolulu.
Sister Joan Chittister will speak at Chaminade University next Saturday about "God, Women and the World: Telling the Story Another Way." According to the publicity blurb, she will explore "the premise that what people do or fail to do about ecology depends on what they think about themselves and their relationship to things around them."
The afternoon session of the all-day workshop/retreat will address "Women, Power and Peace." The publicity teaser says, "Women have been accused of being too emotional and therefore unfit for leadership. If emotionalism is the intelligence it takes to count the years of work and life lost to warfare, then let's try it for a while."
Those are typical of the themes that the internationally known Benedictine nun tackles in her lectures and writing. She is the author of 35 books and writes an online column, "From Where I Stand," for the National Catholic Reporter, which is not an official voice of the church.
She is active in organizations, and there are several, that advocate a greater role for women in the Catholic Church, particularly ordination of female priests. They're knocking on a closed door: Women in leadership is not a topic for discussion within the male hierarchy despite their dwindling numbers.
Chittister has been a nun for 50 years, which gives her solid street credibility to scrutinize the church. It's also a cause for disgruntlement in those Catholics who believe nuns should glide silently through cloisters.
She has never been censored by church authorities. The closest thing to it came when she was invited to speak at the first Women's Ordination Worldwide Conference in Ireland. The Vatican asked the leader of her religious order in Erie, Pa., to order her to stay home. In her response, signed by 134 other nuns, the prioress declined to do so, saying she did not agree that attendance at the conference would be scandalous.
"I think the faithful can be scandalized when honest attempts to discuss questions of import to the church are forbidden," wrote that other remarkable nun, Sister Christine Vladimiroff. She said the Benedictine order was formed not as part of the hierarchy, but to stand apart and "offer a different voice."
Chittister is not a Joanie One Note, and that's reflected in the free lecture she will give April 6 on "Spirituality and Culture." It's at 4 p.m. at the Chaminade University Mystical Rose Oratory.
Speaking of which, kudos to the Catholic university for bringing her here. One of the planners said "a university campus is the likely place for open debate." However, a shadow of the official frown can be seen in the deletion of a line from the first brochure. The five credit-hours in the Diocesan Certification Program that Catholic teachers would have earned for attending the workshop are no longer offered.
Chittister is also an advocate for peace and justice for the poor, and writes about fostering spirituality in the modern, materialistic world. She is the founding executive director of Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary spirituality based in Erie, Pa. She is co-chairwoman of the Global Peace Initiative of Women, a U.N.-sponsored organization of female faith leaders working for peace, especially in the Middle East.
Last year she spoke as a responder to the Dalai Lama's talk at the Emory University "Summit of Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding."
And the list goes on. An observer just can't help wondering to what height she might have risen if she were a man.