Wednesday, January 29, 2003

In the WaPost, Colman McCarthyreviews John Fialka’s book Sisters, and emerges with a most remarkable conclusion:

The pain of the sisters came, often enough, from local bishops or parish priests. Many were overlords and landlords who paid the women little or nothing, ignored living conditions in rundown convents and had no interest in providing pensions for aging sisters. In 1973, Fialka writes, "the bishops' department of education recommended that Catholic churches take a national collection to develop a retirement fund for sisters. The recommendation was ignored." Some nuns kept agitating. Now there is such a collection: "After decades of procrastination, confusion, benign neglect and worse, the Church fathers made sure that some checks are finally in the mail." A lay fundraising group -- SOAR! (Save Our Aging Religious!) -- is on the scene, as well as the church's National Religious Retirement Office.

A heavier cross than cheapskate bishops and priests has been the denial of leadership roles to sisters, a practice traceable to Pope John Paul II and his Vatican. In his concluding pages, Fialka is hopeful that power-sharing -- and not just women's ordination -- can renew the church and attract women to join religious orders. Maybe. Miracles do happen, but as the numbers slide and the pope's decrees harden, the odds keep growing.

So let me see if I've got this right: Religious sisters held roles of tremendous responsibility in the American Church, almost since the moment they started arriving. But...the numbers of sisters have declined because they've been ...denied leadership roles? And they fight with bishops?

This isn't even what Fialka himself says, so don't take McCarthy's agenda-skewed conclusion as a reason not to read the book.

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