What the heck is going on at the Vatican? I recall the reverence and awe with which I first took steps onto the cobblestone pavement leading to the Holy See, that remarkable edifice in the heart of Rome. I was brought up as a Catholic, taught by nuns in both grade school and my first two years of college. My parents were serious Catholics, daily communicants until they died (and they were global travelers so getting to a Mass in some of the remote places they frequented took major effort).
I believe they would be heartbroken to learn that the Vatican is under siege and--worst of all--the enemy seems to be mostly from within.
It was bad enough that the Church seemed increasingly to be out of touch on issues of divorce and birth control. There is no shortage of statistics revealing that practicing Catholics have for several decades been making up their own rules on matters they feel require them to follow their own conscience rather than the preaching of Catholic clerics who are unable to understand the challenges they face. The global scandal of priests as pedophiles made maters even worse.
And now there is Sister Farley. She is the intellectual nun who taught Christian Ethics at Yale Divinity School and is a prolific writer. Her latest book entitled Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, was published in 2010. It might have gone unnoticed but for the fact that the Vatican recently decided it needed to apply its censure to the book's teachings. So it has come out with its June 4, 2012 pronouncement that Sister Farley's book is bad, that it contradicts Catholic teachings, and is especially wrong on the views Sister Farley expresses regarding masturbation, homosexual acts, same-sex marriage, and the appropriateness of divorce and remarriage.
In reviewing the Vatican's pronouncements on this book as well as other recent matters including the scandal of secret Vatican documents having been leaked to outside sources (some say by the Pope's own trusted secretary, who is now in jail somewhere deep within the Vatican), I am struck by how insular the conversations at the Holy See must be. Do they only talk with one another? Such isolation has never been a good idea and has brought down empires. Could it be that the leadership of the Catholic Church could suffer the same fate?
I used to love my Catholic life; I was one of those people who loved the Latin Mass. But it all sounds long ago. Many conversations ago. Actually, I realize now that when I was wrestling with my commitment to my faith, I talked with a number of priests but had few conversations--at least the way I now describe conversations. They mostly consisted of my expressing my doubts and receiving a lecture in return.
Maybe things would have turned out differently if those dogmatic lectures had been more like conversations in which I had the impression someone was listening.
Many appear to be listening to what Sister Farley has to say but the Vatican is not among them. No conversation taking place. And I am sorry about that. I am in mourning for the institution that shaped much of my early life. The nuns I knew were strict, but excellent teachers and caring human beings. I somehow feel confident that if I were in a conversation with any of them today, they would sound a lot like Sister Farley.