Pondering the US heatwave 2012, a good friend in Michigan just sent me a frightening article about climate change, written by Mark Bittman, an opinion columnist for the New York Times.

“The climate has changed,” Bittman writes, “and the only remaining questions may well be: a) how bad will things get, and b) how long will it be before we wake up to it.”

While thinking about people “waking up to how bad things really are,” another email popped on my screen. This one about Sister Pat Farrell, President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Vice President of the Sisters of St. Francis in Dubuque, Iowa. Sister Pat had been interviewed by Terry Gross on her NPR program “Fresh Air.”

A few months ago, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as you recall, said Sister Pat’s LCWR was undermining Roman Catholic teachings on homosexuality and birth control and promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” It also reprimanded the sisters for hosting speakers who “often contradict or ignore” church teachings and for making public statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.”

In April, the Vatican announced that three American bishops (one archbishop and two bishops) would be sent to oversee the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (now representing 80 percent of Catholic sisters in the United States) to get the sisters to shape up and conform. Or else…

Climate change in the Catholic Church. How bad will things have to get before people wake up?

Sister Pat: “The question is, ‘Can you be Catholic and have a questioning mind?’ That’s what we’re asking. … I think one of our deepest hopes is that in the way we manage the balancing beam in the position we’re in, if we can make any headways in helping to create a safe and respectful environment where church leaders along with rank-and-file members can raise questions openly and search for truth freely, with very complex and swiftly changing issues in our day, that would be our hope. But the climate is not there. And this mandate coming from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith putting us in a position of being under the control of certain bishops, that is not a dialogue. If anything, it appears to be shutting down dialogue.”

Doing my own version of multi-tasking, I jumped back to Mark Bittman’s article while listening to Sister Pat.

Mark Bittman: “Some people respond well to ‘Big trouble is coming and we must do something immediately,’ but others are overwhelmed and just turn off….But feelings of helplessness are practically un-American: we have the opportunity to demand principled and independent leadership, if we will only try.”

Then I heard Sister Pat ever more clearly…

“As I read that document, the concern is the issues we tend to be more silent about, when the bishops are speaking out very clearly about some things. There are issues about which we think there’s a need for a genuine dialogue, and there doesn’t seem to be a climate of that in the church right now.”

And she continues, with observations about sexuality: “We have been, in good faith, raising concerns about some of the church’s teachings on sexuality. The problem being that the teaching and interpretation of the faith can’t remain static and really needs to be reformulated, rethought in light of the world we live in.

“And new questions and new realities [need to be addressed] as they arise. And if those issues become points of conflict, it’s because Women Religious stand in very close proximity to people at the margins, to people with very painful, difficult situations in their lives. That is our gift to the church. Our gift to the church is to be with those who have been made poorer, with those on the margins. Questions there are much less black and white because human realities are much less black and white. That’s where we spend our days.”

“A bishop, for instance, can’t be on the street working with the homeless. He has other tasks. But we can be. So if there is a climate of open and trusting and adequate dialogue among us, we can bring together some of those conversations, and that’s what I hope we can help develop in a deeper way.”

Catholic Climate change and heated issues?

Sister Pat on right-to-life: “I think the criticism of what we’re not talking about seems to me to be unfair. Because [Women] Religious have clearly given our lives to supporting life, to supporting the dignity of human persons. Our works are very much pro-life. We would question, however, any policy that is more pro-fetus than actually pro-life. If the rights of the unborn trump all of the rights of all of those who are already born, that is a distortion, too — if there’s such an emphasis on that. However, we have sisters who work in right-to-life issues. We also have many, many ministries that support life….

And the Vatican concern about LCWR’s “radical feminism”?

Sister Pat Farrell again: “Sincerely, what I hear in the phrasing … is fear — a fear of women’s positions in the church. Now, that’s just my interpretation. I have no idea what was in the mind of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, when they wrote that.

“But women theologians around the world have been seriously looking at the question of: How have the church’s interpretations of how we talk about God, interpret Scripture, organize life in the church — how have they been tainted by a culture that minimizes the value and the place of women?”

In his article, Mark Bittman warns: “We may look back upon this year as the one in which climate change began to wreak serious havoc, yet we hear almost no conversation about changing policy or behavior.”

John Greenleaf commented: “All serious conversation — and action — about changing
policy and behavior begins with you and me!”


And here is a picture of Sister Pat, whom the CDF so greatly fears……..


2 thoughts on “Frightening Climate Change

  1. Her question was disturbing, “can you be a catholic and have an inquiring mind?”. Your blending of the concepts in this blog post is insightful and disturbing. But will the “serious conversation”, if it happens, go any place? Some of the palazzi have very thick walls and have withstood sieges before?

    1. Well my friend I think this is what it comes down to…. Can you be a Catholic with an enquiring mind? What kind of Catholic Church do we want? What kind of Catholic Church do contemporary Catholics want?

      I am 70…..I may make it to 80 or 90. (My dad made 88 and my mom 90 but my grandparents went over 100!) I probably don’t exercise enough and drink more wine than any of them but my doctor says I am basically healthy…… My concern is for my son and the next generation. I have greatly valued my Catholic background and formation…..but I am hardly naive about the institutional church’s ability to be sinful and wicked. I am also a very patriotic American but cringe when I think of som things my country’s government has done domestically and internationally…….yes as well to an enquiring American mind.

      So……..we move on. But tomorrow is a question mark. One of my students…a fine young fellow…was just ordained. I like him. He came to visit me a week ago…….dressed in a new cassock with a black cope over his shoulders! I asked what had happened and why? all the old threads………he said he was giving witness in a secularized society.!!!

      Well……sometimes I feel more at home with my secularized students who are genuine and alive but I still ache for a contemporary community of faith…….

      Jack – John Greenleaf

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