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U.S. nuns locked in battle with conservative Vatican leadership August 19, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Women.
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Roger’s note: it may be because of my own long discarded religious background that I bother to post an article about the Roman Catholic Church, which is today a bastion of misogynist patriarchal tyranny.  I often wonder why good people remain involved in and institution that is so fundamentally corrupt, but I suppose that I have no right to be judgmental, especially where good works are being done.  The nuns who are the subject of this article would do better, in my opinion, to be working outside their dinosaur of a Church; but then again, they have invested their lives within that organization, and it may not be fair to expect them to abandon it without a fight.  As the article suggests, excommunication could very well be the outcome for these socially progressive and feminist nuns.  Today’s incarnation of the Inquisition, known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is at the center of power within the RC Church, the current Pope Ratzinger being its former head and today’s champion.  This startling statistic tells the story about the out of touch nature of the male patriarchical hierarchy of the Church: “… more than two-thirds of Catholic women have practised officially prohibited contraception, and according to Gallup, 82 per cent find birth control morally acceptable.”



Published on Sunday August 19, 2012


Farrell Deacon

Seth Perlman/ASSOCIATED PRESS Pat Farrell, left, outgoing president of The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, left, stands with president-elect Sister Florence Deacon, at St. Louis vigil Aug. 9.


Peter Sartain

Erika Schultz/ASSOCIATED PRESS Seattle Roman Catholic Archbishop J. Peter Sartain praised the nuns’ good works and promised to deal with their differences “in an atmosphere of prayer and respectful dialogue.”


By Olivia WardForeign Affairs Reporter, Toronto Star
ST. LOUIS, MO.—In the packed ballroom of the Millennium Hotel, a serene-looking 65-year-old woman strides toward the podium. Alongside her, like disciples in an archaic temple, other women waft strips of flame-coloured gauze through the humid air, while a heavenly chorus floats above the crowd.

It’s no New Age drama revival, but a crisis meeting of more than 900 Catholic sisters of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, who represent some 80 per cent of America’s 57,000 nuns, a group attacked by the Vatican for harbouring “radical feminist ideas:” putting too much energy into social justice and too little into fighting abortion, contraception, gay rights and other traditional Catholic anathemas.

They have also dared to discuss women’s ordination, priestly marriage and hot-button political issues such as U.S. President Barack Obama’s health-care plan, to which the church is fiercely opposed.

When Pat Farrell, the group’s outgoing president, reaches the microphone, her message is loud and clear. Church criticism should not be met by “violence,” she tells the rapt female audience. But neither should it be accepted “with the passivity of the victim. It entails resisting rather than colluding with abusive power.”

Heads nod and smiles flash across tight-lipped faces in the crowd. “I believe the philosophical underpinnings of the way we’ve organized reality no longer hold,” Farrell continues, gaining momentum. “The human family is not served by individualism, patriarchy or competition . . . Breaking through in their place are equality, communion, collaboration, expansiveness . . . intuitive knowing and love.”

The words are like a splash of cold water in the face of the conservative church fathers. But the Aug. 7-10 gathering itself, with its free-form ceremonies and freethinking speakers, is also part of the problem, in the view of the Vatican’s watchdog Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In April, it issued a damning report, ordering the nuns’ leadership to correct its “serious doctrinal problems,” and submit to an overhaul under the direction of Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain. He is known, most recently, for opposing Washington state’s Marriage Equality Bill, on the grounds that same-sex couples, being “different” from male-female couples, do not deserve equal treatment in law.

Earlier this week, Sartain met with the nuns’ national board after praising their good works in “social, pastoral and spiritual ministries,” and promising to deal with their differences “in an atmosphere of prayer and respectful dialogue.” The sisters pledged the same. But the simmering anger beneath the nuns’ outwardly tranquil demeanour and the outpouring of support for them from Catholics across the country point to a confrontation that could rock the church for decades to come.

It’s a struggle that the Vatican may find hard to win.

While some American Catholics uphold the traditional views of the church and its ecclesiastical mission on earth, millions of others find its teachings less relevant and are privately going their own way.

Most tellingly, studies show that more than two-thirds of Catholic women have practised officially prohibited contraception, and according to Gallup, 82 per cent find birth control morally acceptable.

A recent University of Michigan survey said that by 2000, only 6 per cent of Catholics believed that divorce was never permissible, and 19 per cent that homosexuality was never justifiable. The book Just Love, on modern Catholic sexual ethics, became a runaway U.S. bestseller when the church campaigned against it.

As the ordination of women grows in other religions, the Vatican looks increasingly like King Canute trying to hold back the tide. Sexual abuse scandals have thrown the celibacy requirement for priests under a harsh spotlight, and allegations of Byzantine power struggles and corruption swirled after recent leaks of papal documents and arrest of the pope’s butler on theft charges. Some within the church say that 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI is out of touch and “isolated.”

Though the winds of change have raised scarcely a breeze behind Vatican walls, they have struck American nuns with cyclone force.

When 17-year-old Mary Ann Nestel left her middle-class home in Kansas City and entered a convent back in the 1950s, she took her parents’ names, draped herself in a standard-issue habit and became Sister Robert Catherine.

But with the meeting of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, convened by Pope John XXIII to review and renew the church, and inherited by his successor Pope Paul VI, the focus shifted from doctrine and tradition to community outreach. Priests and nuns were urged to stop setting themselves apart from contemporary life, and to wear clothing “suited to the circumstances of time and place” in which they worked.

“It was in the 1960s that I stopped wearing a habit,” recalls the ginger-haired, 72-year-old Nestel, sporting a scoop-necked t-shirt and comfortable flared skirt in the breathless summer heat. “At first we dressed very conservatively in navy or black. But our (leader) said we should look like the people of the day.”

Moving with the times was an act of obedience then, she says. But in the more reactionary era where nuns find themselves today, modernity has become defiance. It is this tension between an evolutionary church, and one that believes its teachings are immutable and eternal, that is at the heart of the sisters’ struggle.

“I think that the fundamental faith of the Catholic Church is that there are objective truths and teachings. . . that really do come from revelation and are interpreted authentically through the teaching of the church. . . and are expected to be believed with the obedience of faith,” said Bishop Leonard Blair, who took part in the doctrinal assessment of the sisters. “Those are things that are non-negotiable,” he told National Public Radio.

But to the greying generation who took “Vatican II” to heart, as well as younger progressive Catholics, it’s the church fathers who are on the wrong side of history.

A visit to the south St. Louis suburb of Carondelet is telling.

Here, Nestel is a local hero, sharing the struggles of the community and offering hands-on help.

She is executive director of the Community Betterment Foundation and Carondelet’s housing corporation. The former supplements the meager budgets of the working poor with a storehouse of food and children’s clothing, a free health clinic, seniors’ centre and literacy program. The latter has partnered with the city to change the character of the place, from a dilapidated, drug-ridden marginal community to one that is bringing back working- and middle-class people to affordable renovated homes, safe playgrounds and attractive and accessible shopping and recreational sites.

Over the desk of Nestel’s spotless, sparsely furnished office, a cross-shaped graphic rather than a traditional crucifix is on display. It reads: “We the People + The Body of Christ.” It was taken from Network, the group of Washington-based activist nuns who recently made a national bus tour to drum up opposition to legislation that would dramatically cut spending on social services.

Nestel takes the people-centred message seriously. When the food pantry was almost empty last week, she phoned the media and declared an emergency. Now she smiles broadly as she walks through the narrow basement shelves, replenished with tins, packages and boxes of food. People from every walk of life responded to the call, she says, and a local bar offered free beer to donors.

Nestel’s work goes beyond charitable services. A few blocks away, she congratulates a crew of renovators who drip with sweat as they put the finishing touches on a trim, brick three-bedroom house that was reclaimed from a drug gang and rebuilt by the housing corporation. It will be marketed for $160,000, (U.S.) sweetened by a 10-year tax holiday for the new owners.

On a nearby street, bright, artist-designed murals decorate walls that were once eyesores, another urban renewal project. Blooming gardens and a fenced playground might have sprung from the film Meet Me in St. Louis. People on the street may not recognize a visiting bishop, but they know Nestel on sight.

The corridors of the conference hotel are a poor woman’s tour of the world. They are lined with tables and posters advocating for social justice in Guatemala, in Africa, in South Sudan — and for causes closer to home. Many of the sisters present here have done service in the world’s roughest neighbourhoods, ministering to the hungry, homeless and oppressed.

Farrell, the leadership conference’s retiring president, worked with the non-violent resistance movement in Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, and on the front lines of El Salvador’s bloody civil war, where four female Catholic missionaries were tortured, raped and murdered. Others have worked in U.S. inner cities where the lines between war and peace are blurred.

But harsh conditions are nothing new to North American nuns, nor is the heavy hand of the male-dominated church.

“In the 19th century, Catholic nuns literally built the church in the American West,” wrote Utah State University historian Anne Butler in the New York Times. They braved “hardship and grueling circumstances to establish missions, set up classrooms and lead lives of calm in a chaotic world marked by corruption, criminality and illness. Their determination in the face of a male hierarchy that then, as now, frequently exploited and disdained them, was a demonstration of their resilient faith in a church struggling to adapt itself to change.”

Since the early 18th century, more than 200,000 Catholic sisters have pioneered the country. But now their numbers have shrunk to less than 60,000, and threaten to dwindle by thousands more in the next decade as the older ones die or retire from duty.

That makes the struggle between the nuns and the Vatican all the more urgent, as fewer young women are interested in enrolling in what they see as an institution that imposes archaic rules. Many serving today fear that if they cannot move with the times, the times will eventually pass them by and their orders become extinct.

“Today individuals have the right to decide how to live their lives and craft their own morality,” says Jamie Manson, a lay minister and graduate of Yale Divinity School. “They are not hard-wired to live in community.” But, she says, many young Catholic lay workers are still hungering for spiritual mentorship. Allowing them to live in religious communities that are devoted to public service, along with their partners, might rejuvenate dedicated religious life.

It’s one more challenge for the nuns as they continue their mano a mano confrontation with the bishops charged with bringing them into line.

At best, the church may drag out the talks to prevent a perilous split, although the Vatican’s current conservative leadership seems to make that less likely. But officials can also see warning signs of strains within the church: the powerful Conference of Catholic Bishops has joined the sisters in speaking out against government budget cuts that would slash food and nutrition programs for the poor. Meanwhile, highly vocal Catholic social conservatives back widening state crackdowns on abortion and defunding of contraception.

At worst, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and its members may find so little common ground with their critics that they opt to defy the church’s authority and form their own organization. Some have pondered the ultimate threat of excommunication.

Can those who have lived at the sharp end of the world’s harsh realities retreat to an obedient quiet?

“Many of the foundresses and founders of our congregations struggled long for canonical approval of our institutes,” Farrell tells the sisters. “Some were even silenced or excommunicated.” And she adds with a fleeting smile, “a few of them . . . were later canonized.”


Arms treaty supporters hope to see stalled pact move ahead after U.S. election July 29, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in War.
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Roger’s note: “The power of the U.S. gun lobby was evident in President Barack Obama’s sudden reversal of his earlier co-operation, which had helped to close arms transfer loopholes that would have been impossible to plug without the agreement of the world’s largest arms exporter.”

“War is Peace!” says Nobel Peace Laureate Barak “Orwell” Obama.

Published on Saturday July 28, 2012



Alex Brandon/AP  Global trade in conventional weapons is estimated at $60 billion a year. The huge profits for arms manufacturers are cited as a major hurdle in negotiating an Arms Treaty Pact, which was stalled on Friday after the U.S. asked for a postponement.


By Ward, OliviaForeign Affairs Reporter
 Supporters of a global Arms Trade Treaty are vowing to revive it after negotiations came to a halt Friday, a casualty of America’s election-year political wars.

“(We are) determined to secure an Arms Trade Treaty as soon as possible, one that will bring about a safer world for the sake of all humanity,” said Mexico, speaking for a group of 90 countries.

The treaty, aimed at regulating the $60-billion trade in conventional arms, which are estimated to kill more than 700,000 people a year, had appeared to be headed for a successful finish by the Friday deadline after more than three weeks of debating in New York by national arms control teams.

But at the last moment the U.S. told delegates to the 193-country UN conference that it needed more time to consult on the pact. Treaty skeptics Russia and China also asked for a postponement.

Control Arms, a coalition of several dozen international advocacy groups, among them Amnesty International and Oxfam, said the treaty should go speedily to the UN General Assembly “to improve the text and establish a process for its agreement.”

However, there is little hope it could be adopted before next year, after this fall’s U.S. election. There are also fears that it could unravel if some countries demand that negotiations start over again.

The power of the U.S. gun lobby was evident in President Barack Obama’s sudden reversal of his earlier co-operation, which had helped to close arms transfer loopholes that would have been impossible to plug without the agreement of the world’s largest arms exporter.

The National Rifle Association has been campaigning to convince American lawmakers that the treaty would be a disguised “gun grab” that would deny lawful U.S. owners their constitutional right to bear arms. The group is credited with unseating U.S. politicians who take a positive stand on gun control.

As the treaty neared completion Thursday, a bipartisan group of 51 senators wrote to Obama threatening to oppose it if it fell short of what they consider a constitutional guarantee of U.S. gun ownership rights. Each country’s lawmakers must ratify the treaty after it is signed.

Obama’s about-face drew outrage from those who have been striving for such a treaty for nearly 10 years. In 2006, the UN General Assembly voted to begin work on it but lacked the support of the U.S. In 2009 Obama ended America’s opposition and agreed to join the negotiations.

The pact, which covers a wide range of weapons including tanks, armoured vehicles, combat aircraft and helicopters, rockets, warships, and portable weapons, is one of the most contentious the UN has negotiated because it would affect huge profits for highly competitive exporters worldwide.

Under the treaty, exporting countries would be forced to halt transfers of weapons if they judged that these weapons would be used to violate international human rights. Countries would also have to prevent weapons from going to terrorists or organized crime rings, such as Mexico’s drug cartels.

Senior ministers from Britain, France, Germany and Sweden, which backed the treaty, said that “coupled with a growth in the illicit trafficking of arms, we are facing a growing threat to humanity.

“Every year millions of people suffer from direct and indirect effects of the poorly regulated arms trade and illicit trafficking of arms. Hundreds of thousands are killed or injured. Many are raped or forced to abandon their homes. Others live under a constant threat of violence,” they wrote in the Guardian earlier this month.

But Kim Holmes of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank which opposes the treaty, called it “contradictory and unenforceable,” saying it “would bind law-abiding nations while letting tyrants off the hook.”

The treaty’s definition of human rights and acceptable arms transfers “could be used to protect their arms exporters from U.S. competition,” Holmes wrote in the Washington Times.


U.S. apologizes to Guatemala for infecting prisoners with syphilis October 2, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Guatemala, Health, Human Rights, Latin America.
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(Roger’s note: an apology without compensation, SOP for the US.  I beg to differ with the article’s conclusion.  To the Obama government, nor any of its predecessors, it really does not matter how they treat other countries except when it suits their geopolitical interests.  By their own admission dozens of experimental abuses were carried on during this period.  Imagine the pain and suffering to indefensible innocents.  Today’s experimental abuses involve, among other things, using unmanned missiles to terrorize civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Interesting to note that the abuses were easier to carry off in Guatemala because of the control that the United Fruit Company had over the local government (and when that government was democratically replaced by a popular one, the CIA overthrew it).  Again, SOP for US foreign policy vis-à-vis Latin America, the intimate relationship between corporate needs and government policy.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the author of the hollow apology towards Guatemala, is the same one who, along with her husband gave aid and comfort to the illegal coup in Honduras and couldn’t wait to embrace the illegitimate de facto government of Porfirio Lobo.  Americans whine: why do they hate us?  I ask you what is the real difference between the grotesque and barbaric experiments the US government carried out in Alabama, Guatemala and dozens of other places and those carried out oin the name of science by the Nazis in Germany.)

Toronto Star, October 2, 2010

By Olivia Ward Foreign Affairs Reporter

It was a reality that mimicked a horror film: Guatemalan prisoners coerced to have sex with prostitutes who were infected with syphilis. Prostitutes who were healthy smeared with the bacteria. Mentally ill inmates inoculated with syphilis.

It was not a deadly biowar experiment, but an American-backed attempt to test whether newly discovered penicillin could prevent the sexually transmitted disease. And it took place in deeply impoverished Guatemala between 1946 and 1948 without the consent of the experiment’s 696 victims.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a startling apology to Guatemala, saying that “although these events occurred more than 64 years ago, we are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health.”

In another chilling admission, Dr. Francis Collins, who heads the National Institutes for Health, told reporters that the Guatemalan experiments were among dozens of abuses by Washington over years of loose standards.

The government “could identify more than 40 other studies where intentional infection was carried out with what we would now consider completely inadequate consent, in the United States,” he said.

The Guatemala experiment — in which subjects were treated with penicillin after attempts to infect them — was uncovered by Wellesley College medical historian Susan Reverby, whose earlier research on an infamous experiment on 500 poor African-American men near Tuskegee, Ala. won a public apology from President Bill Clinton.

The same U.S. Public Health Service researcher, Dr. John Cutler, took part in both experiments.

In Alabama the men were already suffering from syphilis, but scientists merely studied them under the pretence of treating them for “bad blood,” even after penicillin was a known cure. During the 40-year study, beginning in 1932, many of the men died, their wives became infected and children were born with congenital syphilis.

Leaked reports brought the experiment to a halt, and sparked higher standards and closer monitoring of human medical research.

On Friday, Clinton and Sibelius said that the government was launching two investigations into the Guatemala case, including a review by a high-level presidential commission to ensure current medical research met “rigorous ethical standards.”

The hundreds of Guatemalans used in the U.S. study are either very elderly or dead by now, though their photos in research files are silent testimony to their participation. The question of compensation for their relatives is still unanswered. And, Reverby said, the experiments brought no apparent advances in medical science.

Her research in the study’s records found that in spite of penicillin treatment, “not everyone was probably cured” of syphilis after they had been infected. And she said, “what’s interesting about it is (the scientists) knew the study had an unethical edge.”

In fact, the experiment was moved to the small Central American country because the American team could work there with greater freedom, with the co-operation of a government that was promised badly needed medical aid in return. It was not clear whether senior American politicians were aware of the experiments.

Guatemala was an easy target for unbridled research, Reverby said, because the American-owned United Fruit Company controlled much of the country. Washington later helped to overthrow Guatemala’s elected government, and backed the brutal dictatorships that replaced it.

Now, said Reverby, the Obama government has shown it wants to draw a line under that dark history.

“It believes that how we treat other countries does matter.”