on the run

Don’t look now, but the pope and his posse of bishops are on the warpath. The Vatican and American bishops are out to squash those they consider the greatest threat to the authority of the almighty Catholic Church.

And who is their target? Not Catholic Republicans in Congress who thumb their noses at the Gospels by systematically trying to destroy every government program to help the poor. Not Catholic politicians of both parties who gleefully carry out the death penalty while marching us to war. Not all those priests who molested little boys, nor the bishops who merely covered up their crimes.

No, like Republicans in Congress who’ve declared war on women, the pope and his bishops have declared war — on nuns. They’re upset because some nuns don’t seem to know the rules: Their job is to do the grunt work of the church. Only priests and bishops are allowed to think.

In April, the Vatican cracked down on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents over 80 percent of American nuns. They accused the organization of daring to make policy statements not approved ahead of time by bishops — who are, Rome decrees, “the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” Again, only priests and bishops are allowed to think.

According to the Vatican, the LCWR erred by endorsing President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which bishops opposed, and by accepting the administration’s compromise of making birth control accessible to all women, without requiring Catholic institutions to pay for it. Most seriously, huffed the Vatican, American nuns were paying too much attention to poverty and economic justice, while remaining “silent” on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Note: The bishops are upset at nuns for focusing on poverty and economic justice, which Jesus does talk about in the Gospels, instead of same-sex marriage and abortion, which Jesus does not talk about. But, of course, nuns don’t have the same obsession with sex that sex-starved, celibate men do. 

Next victim: This week, the Vatican condemned Sister Margaret Farley for her new book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. Farley, who taught ethics at Yale Divinity School and is past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, dares suggest a possible theological basis for same-sex relationships, masturbation and remarriage after divorce. Masturbation especially, for reasons you can imagine, drives bishops crazy. In its edict, the Vatican insists that “the deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” How medieval.

The good news is that, far from bowing to Vatican pressure, nuns are fighting back. One group of nuns, organized by the Network, a social justice lobby, is planning a June bus trip across nine states to help build opposition to the Ryan budget adopted by House Republicans. Aren’t they afraid of upsetting the bishops even more? I asked one nun recently. No, she assured me: “The boys are just nuts.”

Press is host of the nationally syndicated “Bill Press Show.”