US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Morning spit-take: Bishop Sartain has "toughest assignment" in cracking down on sisters

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

I had a hard time holding down my breakfast as I read the intro to John Allen's interview with Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain, who is the U.S. bishops' point-man in the Vatican takedown of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious: "Archbishop James Peter Sartain of Seattle has what it is arguably the toughest assignment facing any American bishop at the moment, given both the intense public interest and the complexity of the issues involved."

The ensuing interview included this howler of a softball from Allen to Sartain: "It seems this is your approach – rather than laying out things yourself, to try to defer to the sisters and allow them to set the pace. Is that right?" Yes, yes, John, that's it... Deferring to the sisters.

I suppose being the Vatican's handpicked hierarchical hatchet man against what is arguably the most revered group of Roman Catholics in this country is a difficult position to be in. Poor Peter. And he sounds so reasonable, too: "That’s really my goal in all this, to establish from the very beginning a good working relationship so that we can proceed in that context."

I'm sure I'll be clubbed for sarcasm, but the thing is so positively Orwellian that it's hard not to be. Sartain is hardly a disinterested party here--his sister is a member of the Nashville Dominicans, which belong to LCWR's rival Conference of Major Superiors of Women, the Vatican's preferred replacement for LCWR.

One of Sartain's co-workers in this "revewal," Toledo, Ohio's Bishop Leonard Blair, released yesterday an 11-minute "reality check" YouTube video lining up the same nonsense about why LCWR is doctrinally problematic. The other member of the Vatican triumvirate, Springfield, Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki, asserted that the Vatican wasn't investigating American sisters, of course, just their leadership conference (which the sisters fund and support). Get it? Nothing to see here.

I know a set-up when I see one, and this one has been a long time coming. As Cardinal Levada made clear in another Allen piece, Rome has no interest in conversing with the sisters--the CDF's Cardinal Levada warned of a "dialogue of the deaf," an insult to deaf people everywhere--and is not beneath bald-faced threats, as NCR's Ken Briggs correctly judges the situation.

There is time for conciliatory talk, and there is time for truthfulness. Bullying is bullying whether it happens in Rome's gilded halls or on the playground, and this is bullying, especially in a church in which men hold all the institutional power and women next to none. The best response to bullying is generally shame, but the bishops seem impervious to it. But we shouldn't be a party to this kind of behavior, much less enabling it by not being completely honest about what is going on here.