Sunday, March 21, 2010

Battling Nuns

          One group of Catholic sisters attracted a lot of media attention this week when they sent a letter to Congress affirming their support for the Senate's version of the health care bill. The letter, drafted by leaders of women's congregations with 59,000 members, was promptly denounced by the U.S. bishops and a different group of Catholic sisters. The pro-Senate nuns wrote about the women, children, and poor people who would be harmed if health care legislation failed. The bishops and anti-Senate nuns argued that the bill would increase abortion funding despite good evidence to the contrary. Catholic Representative Bart Stupak, who sponsored stricter anti-abortion funding legislation in the House, pledged to listen to the bishops.
          Maureen Dowd poked fun at this story in an op-ed called Eraser Duty for Bart?:
Dowd is obviously sympathetic to the nuns, noting that they have cleaned up after the priests' sexual abuse scandals while remaining publicly silent. More shocking is the news that the same pope and church that refused to pursue allegations of sexual abuse by priests around the world launched investigations of American women's religious orders for their alleged infidelity to church doctrine on homosexuality, women's ordination and interreligious dialogue.
          Like Dowd and unlike Stupak, I side with the liberal nuns instead of the bishops, priests or their nun-supporters on any internal church matter. Legislation, however, should not be based on any church dogma, liberal or conservative. All the nuns and bishops oppose both abortion rights and funding for abortion. They disagree only about the statutory language necessary to enforce the funding bans. The original ban on abortion funding, moreover, the Hyde Amendment, was sponsored by another Catholic legislator, Illinois' Rep. Henry Hyde, who also allowed his Catholic commitments to determine his legislative record.
          As the nuns' status indicates, the Roman Catholic Church opposes women's equality. Women's rights cannot be protected when patriarchal religion is the basis of legislation. It is time for the American people, including Catholic citizens, to battle the nuns, priests and bishops who impose their church dogma through force of law. The fate of health care reform or any other legislation should not rest in the hands of popes, bishops, priests or even nuns.

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