Here's what I think underlies this Vatican attack on the LCWR sisters. Vatican II happens. (I remember it well.) The nuns, as called to do, open their convent doors, put on some ordinary clothes, and go out into the world to see what the needs might be. Out there, they found a world of hurt. Pondering what they saw and felt - in the light of the Gospels - they set out to be the Heart and Hands of JESUS in a hurting world.
They likely found that, disguised as ordinary people, they had to let go of all the exaggerated obeisance nuns in religious garb had been receiving. But at the same time they found the letting go of that opened doors. Into people's hearts and minds. Into the dark corners of society, where the hurt was deepest.
Along comes the sexual abuse crisis. The nuns respond to that too! Because, after all, WWJD?
Oops!!!! Somewhere in the Vatican a fissure began to emerge methinks. All the centuries of covering up, all the cardinals and bishops, vowed to go along to get along. All the priests currying favor in order to move up the career track. All these folks could SEE that the sisters were following a different drummer. A drummer that counted victims and women and gay people as, well PEOPLE!! People who deserved the attention of Jesus, which is exactly what the sisters believed they were called to SEE and minister to.
So we have these two very different roads that were being followed.
The Vatican CAREER TRACK. Open only to men. Men in special clothing - reminiscent of women. A track which seems to have veered further and further from Vatican II - due to the absolute terror, it would seem, of people (like the good nuns) simply following the Gospels wherever they led. I can imagine these "career" hierarchs feeling like they were in a canoe which was headed for rapids and there was NO WAY they were going on that perilous journey! Fear. It all comes down to fear, I think. And the failure to listen to Jesus, who told the scared disciples: "Fear not."
Meanwhile, the nuns continue on their journey... Into the unknown. Holy Mystery. A journey which the hierarchs have mostly abandoned; instead the Vatican (and its minions) begin reversing course. Looking backward. Assuming that the path "forward" is to paddle back upstream as fast as they can. They enlist others to their cause. Allying with the Opus. Etc. (You know the story...)
So now we have two journeys going on. And any metaphors you find better than mine, I'm open to. But it amounts to people following the Spirit's call, as Abraham did, to leave the "known" and journey into the "unknown" - scary as that might feel. It's the journey each of us is called to. Individually. And corporately. You can read it in Genesis and Exodus. That's one journey. And the second is unlike it. It amounts to turning back. As if Abraham had turned back. Or Moses had listened to the grumbling people, rather than to God, and he had gone back to Egypt. (Again, I'm open to other metaphors.)
But basically, the journey backwards, going upstream, against the current, requires a lot more "manpower" (or could be woman-power) than the one downstream. Downstream, even if the stream is in flood and it looks very scary, you're in the River of Life - you're in touch with all of humanity. Which indeed is what Jesus was doing. Immersing himself in the humanity of his times. (While the priestly cast - and its adherents - were carefully avoiding the dregs and the dirt and whatever they viewed as "impure" and doctrinally unkosher.)
So... it seems to me that what we see right now is an effort on the part of the Vatican hierarchs to gather more "manpower" and "womanpower" for their misguided, backwards, upstream path. They want the laity in there rowing and paddling for them, along with the good sisters! And God forbid any of them pay attention to the dregs of society on the way upstream: victimized individuals, including those of predatory priests; women leaders (no, no, no... women should never, never, never take a leadership position!); gay individuals; prostitutes etc. No.... to take these in the boat is to upset the canoe!
This is a church going in two directions at once. With one direction, the downstream one, willing to take ALL into the boat along with them! And another, the upstream-bent, preferring a smaller, purer group.... well, except for pressing into service, like a modern-day chain-gang, the good nuns! And the pew potatoes.
Sorry for the long story.... but I suspect it's the correct analysis. I think the support for victims of predatory priests (rather than the Vatican-required HIDING of the crimes) is what undid things here. The empathy for victims - rather than siding with the cover-up of crimes.
Fare forward! Downstream! Toward the unknown. Holy Mystery. In search of us.
One sister's experience, as told to an oral historian:
We enter into the pain of people, and I guess for me it’s become more the pain of the world. It’s so deep. There are so many trouble spots and there are so many people who don’t get a share at the table. I hope my prayers are deeper. I hope my walking on this earth is gentler and more caring and more compassionate. I also feel that I have met the people and they’ve told me their story. So what is now my responsibility?That, it would seem, is the way forward.
And another sister makes the point explicitly:
You can't just forget the common good and the people who are suffering right now. The more you are with those in pain, the more radical you become to overcome that pain. I don't think it is possible to go backwards.
I really feel that Jesus would want us to go forward and to be out there where the people are in pain. I believe that about Jesus. I always say, Jesus never said worship me, he said follow me, so that is what I am trying to do.And so should we all.