The New York Times carried a story yesterday under the headline: “U.S. Nuns Facing Vatican Scrutiny, by LAURIE GOODSTEIN. The Vatican is quietly conducting two sweeping investigations of American nuns, leaving some fearful that they are the targets of a doctrinal inquisition.” It was quite a negative report but I suppose it would be too much to expect any real understanding of the role of the Magisterium in the New York Times. However, I decided to post a comment which I hoped might offer an alternative perspective on the issue. What was a bit shocking about it all was the flood of ultra-liberal and anti-catholic comments the piece attracted from other readers.
Here is my own effort:
Is it not a little ironic that committed Roman Catholics – nuns or others – should have difficulty accepting the authority of the See of Peter at the end of a whole year dedicated in the Roman Church to reflection and study of the life and teaching of St. Paul? St. Paul’s letters to the Christian communities scattered through the Roman Empire in his time very clearly took members of those communities to task on a number of issues in which he saw them straying from the principles which he had given them in the exercise of the authority vested in him by Christ and the other Apostles. Of course such “visitations” as these nuns are complaining make no sense if one rejects the source of Paul’s mandate and replaces it with a self determining authority. To do so, however, is a rejection of the defined nature of the Church as the authoritative institution it was founded as and has successfully persisted as though two millennia. I think St. Paul’s response to these self-regarding people would have been a good deal more robust than the gentle – but hopefully firm – response they are getting from the Holy See today.
On June 28, the Holy Father, Benedict XVI went to the Basilica of Saint Paul to preside First Vespers of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul to close the Year of St Paul.
The Holy Father spoke of St. Paul’s efforts to get the young Christian communities to change their old ways of thinking, “saying that we become new if we change our manner of thinking…our manner of reasoning must become new… … our manner of looking at the world, of understanding reality– our whole way of thinking must change from the roots … we must learn to understand the will of God, allowing it to shape our will, until we desire what God’s desires, because we realise that God wants only what is good and beautiful”.
“In chapter four of the Letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle tells us that with Christ we must reach adult age, mature humanity … Paul wishes Christians to have faith which is ‘responsible’, ‘adult’ ” not be mistaken for “the attitude of those who have stopped listening to the Church and the Bishops, and who autonomously choose what to believe and what not to believe”. Benedict XVI then indicated as examples of adult faith, commitment to promote respect for the “inviolability of human life from the first moment” and “acknowledging matrimony between and man and a woman for life, as the order of the Creator, restored by Christ ”, and he underlined, “adult faith does not let itself be carried here and there by different currents. It withstands the winds of fashion. It knows that these winds do not blow from the Holy Spirit”.
Given those words it is not hard to understand – but nonetheless regrettable – that some will not want to accept an authority which speaks so clearly.