Mercy Sister Who Publicly Confronted Pope John Paul II Hasn’t Changed Her Tune
Mercy Sister Theresa Kane, now an associate professor at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York, may have been one of the most famous nuns in the world in the 1980s.
In her capacity as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious—the object of a recent Vatican investigation and attempts to reform—in 1979 Sister Kane made headlines around the world when she publicly confronted Pope John Paul II over the issue of women’s ordination at a prayer service at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
Speaking to the National Catholic Reporter, the associate professor shared her perspective on the Vatican’s recent efforts to reform some groups of women religious in the U.S., including addressing doctrinal problems, and reminisced about her glory days.
Sister Kane is quoted saying that she was “shocked” by the Vatican’s intervention. Sister Kane apparently regards Rome’s action as stemming from a “gender” issue:
I also think that my big concern is that there is great hostility toward the LCWR. I think it’s probably woven among the American bishops as well as the men in the Vatican, and I don’t know how we get through that kind of a blockage.
It just seems to be a real blockage. It’s almost as if they really do not like us. And don’t appreciate what we’ve done. And don’t see the value and the wisdom to what sisters have been doing all these years.
It’s very, very frustrating. I really think it is a gender issue here. It is a matter of the men in the Vatican still thinking they can control the women, especially control the women religious because we are pontifical and we are canonical.
And they don’t realize that we have moved to another whole point of tremendous equality and mutuality. And that we have much to say about our future and what’s going on.
We’re calling for full participation of women in the church. That means that women have to fully participate and have an equal voice. I don’t see that reflected in this whole direction. I do think that’s a very serious problem.
Sister Kane has no regrets about publicly confronting the late Holy Father:
I would not change it, no. And, if anything I guess I’ve realized after I had said it that it was probably much more urgent than I realized at the time. It was a very urgent message for our times.
I think what happened in some aspects of the Catholic community is that we became defensive about it. Even among sisters — we are still hesitant to talk about ordination. We don’t want to upset the priests or bishops too much because we’ve worked very closely with them for so long. And we have a nice, comfortable relationship.
As for the idea, bruited about in some quarters, that nuns who don’t want to obey the Vatican should seek noncanonical status, which would remove it from Rome’s authority, Sister Kane seems to see the whole issue as a matter of power. ‘’t’s almost like you’re saying that if you go noncanonical, you remove yourself as the thorn in the Vatican’s side,” says the interviewer. The nun replies:
That’s correct. That’s absolutely right. And I think that we do give up the power that we’ve had.