Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Wanted: Sound Leadership

Hilda of Whitby,
a match for any
bishop today
I was at a talk several weeks ago by Father John O’Malley SJ, a Georgetown professor who is a historian and who has written extensively about the Second Vatican Council.  Father O’Malley was asked about the role of women in the Church and he pointed out that until recently the Catholic Church has been seen as a champion of the cause of women.  He mentioned—as I always make a point in my classes—that sixty years ago the only women in the United States who were College Presidents or Hospital Administrators were Catholic nuns.  (Even the famous “Seven Sisters” women’s colleges had men presidents!)  Catholic sisters had broken any number of glass ceilings in the professional and academic world.  (Of course, this was an America in which few women worked outside the home.)  One can go further back in history and see the medical work done by Sisters on the battlefields of our Civil War as well as some of the horrible European wars.  Educational opportunities were open to Sisters that were not open to laywomen of any faith.  Catholic women like Mary Ward and her Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Angela Merici with the Ursulines, established schools for women in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when education was not available to women.  And of course in the Middle Ages the great Abbeys of nuns such as Barking, Gandersheim, Helfta, or the Paraclete were centers of learning for women that rivaled the great monastic schools of men.  There were remarkable women intellectuals such as Hildegard of Bingen, Roswitha of Gandersheim, Hilda of Whitby, Gertrude of Helfta, Heloise, Gertrude of Hakeborn.  In addition to these scholars there were the great women mystics of the medieval period—Hadewijch of Antwerp, Beatrice of Nazareth, Angela of Foligno, Catherine of Genoa, Julian of Norwich, Marguerite Porete, Catherine of Siena, Brigitte of Sweden and others who wrote books about their spiritual experiences that shaped the lives and spirituality of countless people. 
These women were not people who let others—even priests and bishops—think for them.  There were souls filled with grace and shaped by the faith of the Church but who had the courage and intellect to make up their own minds and be true to their own inner lights—or rather, to be true to the grace of the Holy Spirit within them.  And why do some people think that women—and men—should let the bishops and the priests think for them today? 
What we need are bishops and priests who themselves are intelligent, well-read, clear thinkers and articulate who can explain the principles of our faith in a intellectually convincing way. We don’t need fools like Bishop Daniel Jenky who use intelligence-free rhetoric or Bishop Thomas Olmstead who speaks without researching his subject.  We don’t need a Francis George who is brilliant but so tightly wrapped in his intellect that he inarticulate.  We don’t need a Donald Wuerl who with a second-class academic degree and no professorial experience thinks he can take on a far superior and more practiced intellect such as Elisabeth Johnson.  Hearing someone like Father O’Malley talk, I know there are people in the Church who know their stuff, see the connections between the historic faith of the Church and contemporary life, and can explain the faith at a level when people can make the connections for themselves and make rational and responsible decisions for themselves.  Is it too much to ask that bishops and Church leaders be selected from among the ranks of such men?  The day of a laity who will follow directions of a hierarchy and clergy are over.  People today need to be convinced and we need leaders in the Church who can make their case and not merely expect to impose their will. 

No comments:

Post a Comment