While the health-care wars are dominating the mainstream press at the moment, I think it's interesting that the Vatican inquiry into the doctrinal standards of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is continuing to get quite a bit of ink. In fact, there's too much coverage -- click here for a sample -- to take it on all at once. Since we can't look at all of the coverage, let's look at one Associated Press report -- since that is the wire-service source that will reach most readers. This version of the story recently ran in USA Today. Here's the top of the piece, which focuses on the great "mystery" of why Rome things this investigation is needed:
An association of U.S. Roman Catholic sisters raised questions ... about why they are the target of, and who is paying for, a Vatican investigation that is shaping up to be a tough review of whether sisters have strayed from church teaching.
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, representing about 800 heads of religious orders, said there was a "lack of full disclosure about the motivation and funding sources" for the inquiry. ...
The investigation, announced earlier this year, will examine the practices of the roughly 59,000 Catholic sisters working in the United States. Some sisters have privately expressed anger over the assessment, which they say unfairly questions their commitment to church teaching. However, in public they have remained largely circumspect in their comments.
Later we read more about these mysterious questions, which seem, in fact, quite accusatory:
... (The) nature of some questions seems to validate concerns that they are suspected of being unfaithful to the church. Among the requested information are details of "the process for responding to sisters who dissent publicly or privately from the authoritative teaching of the Church."
Separately, the Vatican has opened a "doctrinal assessment" of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which is based in Silver Spring, Md. ... The Vatican ordered a similar investigation of U.S. Catholic seminaries in 2002, at the height of the clergy sex abuse crisis.
There are other elements of the story, including (naturally) a dismissive quotation from Father Thomas Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. However, what you will not find is a single sentence from conservative Catholics or neutral observers giving any factual material about activities by any individuals or religious orders that might inspire such an inquiry.
It's all a mystery, you see.
But this is one case in which journalists might want to actually read one of the most powerful voices on the Catholic left -- as in Frances "Sometimes abortion is the better choice" Kissling, the founding president of Catholics for Choice.
The always colorful Kissling recently wrote a Salon piece focusing on the fact that the leaders of some religious orders do not want to talk about their role in the sexual-abuse scandals that have rocked the church in recent decades. The headline was blunt:
Nuns on the run from the truth
Why won't the leadership of America's nuns meet with the survivors of sexual abuse by nuns, and hear their stories?
That is certainly an important topic. But I was struck by this passage in her piece:
Nuns, it seems, are no longer as obedient as the Vatican would like. One sister I know is a clinic escort at her local reproductive health clinic; others are active in gay and lesbian ministries and one, close to 90, has been a leader in the movement for sex worker rights. They fasted for the Equal Rights Amendment, spoke out in favor of women priests and choice, marched with Martin Luther King, and thought John Paul II was a disaster.
We -- feminists and progressive Catholics -- love them.
Now that's interesting. While many different kinds of Catholics, left and right, backed the Civil Rights Movement, I would imagine that Rome would take a different view of those actually involved movements that oppose Catholic teachings. A nun serving as an escort at an abortion clinic?
Anyway, it seems to me that it would not be hard to produce a fact paragraph or two to include in AP follow-up reports that is based on information of this kind, facts and anecdotes drawn from liberal and centrist Catholics as well as conservatives. Perhaps this would put the Vatican investigation in context and make it a bit less mysterious?