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Sister Brigid McDonald calls Vatican's reprimand of U.S. nuns group a 'misuse of power'

Sister Brigid McDonald

MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley

Sister Brigid McDonald on Pope Benedict XVI: "I can't even begin to imagine what he could say or do that would change religious women's beliefs."

As a rule, Sister Brigid McDonald tries not to pay too much attention to papal pronouncements, but Pope Benedict XVI’s recent decision to rein in American nuns, found by a Vatican investigation to harbor “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith,” caught her attention.

Last month, Benedict announced that a four-year Vatican investigation had found the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has challenged church teaching on homosexuality, the ordination of women and the 2010 health-care reform popularly dubbed Obamacare. Nuns, the investigation also concluded, spend too much energy on poverty and economic injustice and not enough on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Leaders of the group, which represents some 80 percent of U.S. nuns, including McDonald's order, are not yet ready to speak publicly about the Vatican’s decision to appoint a bishop to oversee five years of reform, screen every speaker at its public programs and replace its handbook for talking about matters the Vatican said should be settled doctrine.

At 79¾ years old, McDonald is not about to stop calling things like she sees them. One of three biological sisters who are all members of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, where she devotes her time to the peace movement, she doesn’t seem to fear Rome’s displeasure. All of which must make her precisely the kind of radical the Vatican hopes to whip into doctrinal shape.

McDonald recently shared her personal reaction to the news with MinnPost. What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation.

MinnPost: What are you hearing in your community about the decision?

Sister Brigid McDonald: Well, some are shocked that he would go that far, you know, to start using his power. To me, it is a misuse of power, a misuse of authority where he can step into religious communities and dictate how they should speak about these issues.

MP: When you say “he,” you are talking about Benedict?

SBM: Yes. I still call him Ratzinger. That fits him better. But that is just a personal bias.

I think they are overstepping their jurisdiction to expect that nuns are going to think as they tell us to think. To me those issues are not spiritual issues; many of them are political issues and some, of course, are social justice issues. I think that our personal spiritual life, it is another matter and that is our private belief.

I can't even begin to imagine what he could say or do that would change religious women's beliefs. I don't know how he plans to change that. That is of concern. That could be scary — what will he do to change our beliefs. You know, that scares me.

MP: Can you speak a little bit more about that, the difference between changing your belief and silencing you, and where that line gets murky?

SBM: You are right, those are two different issues. If he wants us just to shut up about how we believe and don't put it out in public,  that is one issue. Or if he is really trying to get us to make statements that are opposite of our beliefs, I don't know what his motivation is for this. Other than control, I don't know what his motivation is.

I think it is pretty impossible for us to all change our beliefs on these issues to coincide with his beliefs. That sounds impossible.

MP: Can you stay silent about a belief that you hold in good faith?

SBM: I personally would never choose to. But I don't write and speak publicly for the community. I sometimes give talks about the peace movement, because I am in the peace movement quite heavily. Sometimes those things overlap, you know, the social justice issues and the peace and justice issues.

When I am speaking, I am not giving an official stance of The Sisters of St. Joseph. I wouldn't. Mine always is my personal reaction of what he is doing. Nobody is going to speak for the whole community. It is too hard to speak for hundreds of women. They aren't all going to talk alike anyhow.

MP: Can you tell me what you are hearing? Are people afraid?

SBM: It is interesting. The nuns that I talk to aren't really afraid, because they can't see or they can't imagine what he would do to change us. I mean, like, excommunication? That is a thing of the past. You can't excommunicate hundreds of nuns.

Wouldn't that be kind of funny? Excommunicate the whole order! It is irrational. I don't know what other consequences there would be.

MP: One thing that I have been told is a bishop will now screen all of the speakers at your meetings. Will that have any practical effect?

SBM: Now that could affect our college, the St. Catherine University. And we do still have some high schools. But they have stepped in before to say we can't talk about this or that. I am not affiliated with any schools, so I don't know how their curriculum gets around those issues.

But I know he has tried to silence people in our schools. That could be a very severe possibility, to silence some of the voices, really the social justice voices, you know. Maybe they get around it some way. I don't know. 

Why is he picking old nuns? More than half of us are over 75. We are almost an endangered species now. If he is trying to really change the church, he should start at the level with youth and talk to youth groups or something like that.

He should start with getting his priests together and try to help them through some of their problems. He should get after them for molestation.

MP: Somebody suggested to me that nuns in the past had enjoyed some latitude because you were thought to be powerless, and that in a strange way, this might be recognition that your ministry is powerful.

SBM: That is good insight. Because [before] we were just school teachers and we just had nice little kids in front of us, you know, and we just emptied bed pans in the nursing homes and in the hospitals. But now they are right, we are out there in the different movements. We help with the Occupy movement and the right-to-choice movements.

It is giving us more credibility in the public. Lots of times people will call and seek out our opinions about certain issues, where it never was that way when I entered the convent. After we taught school, we went home, and said our prayers and ate supper and did our lesson plans and went to bed. Now we are out there.

MP: The other thing people have said is possibly dangerous about nuns is that you understand church teachings and can talk about the ways in which they might be being subverted or perverted.

SBM: Nuns [traditionally] haven't been educated in theology. There are more theologians now. We go to workshops and we are at schools and we are taking classes and people are going on for further degrees in theology and stuff like that. So, maybe that is a threat that we are getting educated, especially in theology.

I see the bishops and priests don't get updated in theology. They are still back, for an expression, with Noah's ark.

But, that is a point: People will ask our opinion of theological insight and possibly not ask Father anymore, you know. So, he might be losing his authority in theology particularly.

We should get into cooking or something, I suppose he thinks.

MP: Who do you think will be hurt by this move?

SBM: I have a feeling women theologians who are partners with the nuns and some of our teachers in our schools will be really hurt. It will be a fear hurt and they may not feel free to speak out.

I am suspicious of the motivation. I don't think it is for the common good. They are trying to get us back, bring us back, as it was in the beginning and now as it will ever be, amen, or something like that. They want us back in the habits and being obedient. You don't belong out here with social workers.

MP: Do you think that it will work?

SBM: I can't imagine it working. I think we are too wrapped up in the issues of the time. 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.

We haven't got any more habits left anyhow. We would have to find those all over again.

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Comments (59)

On being a change maker

Reading of Sister McDonald's experiences put me in mind of this article by Karen Pryor called "On Being A Change Maker". Ignore the fact that it's about dog training - the basic concepts are valid, and I bet most people who have tried to effect change will recognize much of what she is writing about:

Seems to me that Jesus never

Seems to me that Jesus never said anything about same-sex relationships or abortion or birth-control.

As I recall, he said much, much more about relieving poverty and the worth of all people. In fact, virtually all of his teachings and parables were aimed at showing the wide range of what fulfilling the desires of God looked like--quite often they could not be easily fit into the existing rules of thinking and behavior.

If you accept that Jesus came after several thousand years of Judaism to show where the message of God had been subverted by the structures and strictures of the existing form of religion, then you should also accept that it is entirely possible that the structures and strictures of the existing form of Christianity have gotten it wrong again.

After all, we are the same flawed creatures with respect to behavior and inclinations as the people in biblical times


I think you hit the nail right on the head!

What Jesus Said

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment."

And the second is about loving your neighbor. Lots of people, atheists, pagans, secularists, etc. love their neighbor and do wonderful work.

Sr. Brigid once made a solemn promise to observe that first and greatest commandment but now "'I think it is pretty impossible for us to all change our beliefs on these issues to coincide with his beliefs."

I believe that we have a case here of "pride", chief of the seven deadly sins.

The "his" beliefs do not refer to God

Ray, I'd be careful about who is the one really feeling prideful. Sister Brigid made her solemn promise to God, not Cardinal Ratzinger. That is the "he" she was referring to. Unless, of course, you equate Ratznger with God, which may well be the case.

What Jesus Said - by Ray Marshall

Ray, he also said "go and sin no more"

How can you love your neighbor and yet despise God's first commandment to love God. How can you love God and yet not follow the teachings of Jesus his son who gave his authority to his Church?

For me, I will follow Jesus and not Sister Brigid McDonald who for sure, does not love God or her neighbor when she supports the killing of the unborn children of this world.

Jesus never addressed partial birth abortion, it is still wrong

You apparently have little faith in the intellectual ability of Jesus Christ. Jesus founded his Church and taught his disciples. In my opinion, Jesus knew who would follow him to lead his Church and he must have said, "it is good".

Now we have a anti-Catholic follower of his teachings (Sister Brigid McDonald), complaining that Jesus just did not know what he was doing when wanted/appointed Peter to lead his Church.

For me, I will follow Jesus and his Vicar on Earth, Pope Benedict.

A new respect

While I still have little/no respect for the Catholic Church, I have a new respect for nuns. What I don't understand is how a group of people feel that they are being faithful to the faith by doing things that are wrong according to the Church can remain faithful to the Church. Perhaps it is like a battered spouse, afraid to leave her batterer because she is afraid of what the alternative is. It seems to me that it is the perfect time to put your faith in God.


Christianity is fundamentally a faith founded in transformation. The core beliefs require one to look at the world in a new way, look at fellow human beings in a new way and live in a new way.

Faith, Hope and Love. These are the three central virtues of Christian life.

So for Catholics like myself, there is always hope and there is always transformation. Transformation is a long journey. The Church will not completely transform in my lifetime. Yet, I am compelled by God to do what I believe is right.

When people ask me why I remain a part of the Catholic church, my first response is "the Eucharist." Since most non-Catholics don't really understand what that means, my follow-up is usually, "because I like that our faith calls us to get down in the mud with the oppressed and wrestle with the real world." I like a dirty faith.

Regardless of what this Pope says (or his predecessor said, for that matter), he cannot change the long Tradition of the Church that calls us to social transformation and salvation. We aren't called to simply live virtuously to "get ourselves into heaven." We're called to be Jesus' hands and feet to bring heaven here.

As Bishop Ken Untener tells us:

"We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own."

I appreciate that

I appreciate that Christianity is founded on "dirty" work. But for me, the Christian faith is something separate from the physical church. I, personally, don't think that God appreciates our good works any less if we do them outside of any given church. The Catholic Church was not founded at the time of Christ or for some time after his death. Why must Catholics be "married" to the Church to practice their faith? Especially when that Church appears to be antithetical to their works of our faith?

Sister Brigid and the Pope

Today the Catholics who are most admired for the way they practice their faith are usually nuns. And the least admired are the ordained clergy, especially at the rank of monsignor and above. This seems to have been the case since Vatican II. I stopped calling myself a Catholic nearly half a century ago and eventually found a spiritual home in Unitarian Universalism. Even the splendid example of the nuns does not tempt me to swim back across the Tiber, because -- thank you, Rachel Kahler -- why enable your abuser? (Also, I don't believe in the Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection, et cetera.) But I do look to the example of Catholic nuns when I try to live my liberal faith by serving the world materially and spiritually.

The Attitude of the Catholic Church Toward Women

Is precisely the same attitude we saw demonstrated in the US congress when Rep. Darrell Issa held a hearing on contraception with NO women called to testify.

It reflects the tendency of a certain class of dysfunctional men to project aspects of their own personalities onto their enemies (in this case women), and seek to control those things they find unacceptable (and often deny even exist) in their own personalities by controlling the women (or other groups) upon whom they have projected them.

Of course such an approach to the quirks of one's own psyche never works, which only leads to a tendency, if you're given sufficient power, to use more and more damaging and draconian measures directed at controlling your own (often unconscious) impulses by seeking to control those who have NOTHING to do with what's "wrong" with you, yourself.

The pope needs to remember that he, himself, has not escaped from the limitations of his own humanity, although he may, indeed, be (one of) God's representatives on earth, he, himself is not entitled, nor qualified to have ANYONE worship his ideas, nor the institution he leads in place of God.

It often appears to me as if the leadership of Catholic Church (including our local metro area Bishop) and Pope Benedict, himself, have themselves confused with the Roman Caesars who declared themselves to be Gods and murdered the faithful Christians who refused to worship them in place of the one true God.


The attitude of the Catholic Church to women is the same as it is to men: that we all need the blood of Christ to redeem us. The pope isn't "attacking women" here, he is teaching the Faith. It's that simple...nothing more to see here.
It's a religion, we have beliefs. Big surprise.

"You have neglected the more important matters of the law ..."

So the Vatican says that the nuns are focusing too much on social justice and not enough on church doctrine? Hmm ... I wonder what Jesus would have to say about that. I think He had a favorite word for that kind of religious leader ...

"You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel." (Matt. 23:24)

Jesus' message is very clear...

if you are willing to take the time to study His words and the historical documentation of His actions. You also have to consider the context of when his ministry took place and the culture of that time and area.

He spent a lot of time and effort pointing out the problem of sin, and that He was the solution. All sin creates a barrier between God and His creation. All of humankind is guilty of sin and is blocked from God. Jesus is the only way to break through this barrier. This teaching puts Him on equal ground with God.

This very bold message is what lead to Jesus' death. Obviously a message that He stated clearly and did not back away from.

The thing that I find most interesting about Jesus message about sin, and a point that is often overlooked by many Christians today, is that He seemed to treat all sin as one thing. He didn't spend time creating levels or degrees of sin.

Like Neal Rovick stated, He spent a lot of effort pointing out the evils of greed, selfishness and self-righteousness and very little on the sins that modern Christians are so preoccupied with. Christians today like to focus on sins that the majority don't have a problem with and ignore the sins that they all commit, daily. Yet, Jesus clearly focused on the sins that we all struggle with. The problem wasn't the particular sin, it was sin itself creating the barrier that only He could break. I think that is why He focused on sins that were not as obvious and are easy for us to brush aside and not acknowledge. He was much harder on an individual that was guilty of pride and in denial about it, than the person that was guilty of murder and was honest about their sin.

Quick examples: He was very hard on a fine, upstanding young man who asked about salvation. He knew that the man was very rich and it would be difficult for him to leave everything if that was God's will for His life. He equated that man's conversion to a camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle. Strong words for a earnest individual who outwardly lived a righteous life.

On the other hand, Jesus quickly granted salvation to a man that He was being crucified next to. This man was guilty of terrible crimes. But he showed humility, true remorse, and was immediately forgiven.

It is a mistake though, to think of Jesus as being open minded about certain lifestyles. He did spend much of his time with people that were "living in sin" (prostitutes, adulterers, scammers, etc.) but He referred to them as LOST sheep that needed a shepherd. In His message we all must acknowledge our sin and turn away from it. This is repentance and it is required.


"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."

There is no truer statement. This is transformative work, but for society and for the individuals undertaking it.

The Sisters of St. Joseph have long been an inspiration to me.


There are two paths religion can take: love or power. The path of love is the one that Jesus took when he ministered to the poor and needy, the old and infirm. The path of power is the one that those who wish to control others take. They say that God is on their side so you'd better obey them. The trouble with those advocating the path of power is that they are selling something they do not own. Sooner or later people figure that out and leave them.

Don't like Catholic Precepts...?

Then go join another church. There are plenty to pick from. Quit acting like a victim when you choose to turn away from Catholic theology.

Seems to me there was a Republican member of Congress that wanted to participate in the Congressional Black Caucus, and was denied that privilege because the majority differed with his political precepts. I don't recollect libs crying their eyes out about that situation. But there they go again with their double standards...which are apparently the only standards they truly cling to.

Always the conservative response

Conservatives, for all their cries of loving freedom, desire, and practically need a monolithic authority figure telling them what to do. It makes them feel safe.

That is why this is the most typical response to change. If you don't like what the boss is saying, just get out.

the progressive, on the other hand, says, if you love your organization enough, work to make it better.

What a great comment!

If I had a "Like" button, I'd press it!

So the Congressional Black Caucus Needs a Monolithic Authority?

I suppose you will next explain how they are conservative?

And Hillel is likewise a conservative organization as they don't permit Jews who publicly oppose Israeli occupation policies to participate?

The Democrat Party demands devotion to the pro-abortion cause to obtain their seal of approval.

Could I join a pro-homosexual group and be accepted if I advocated they return to their closets? Probably not.

It seems to me you either accept the precepts of the organizations you seek to join or move on. And that is truly accepting of diversity.

Two corrections

1) There is no "Democrat Party". There is, however, a "Democratic Party". (I thought MinnPost was going to start enforcing this distinction).

2) There is no "pro-abortion cause". There are, however, many who feel abortions should be "legal, safe, and rare". Note the "rare" part. That's the one that always seems to escape conservatives' notice.

It's called "pro-choice". Try to get it right next time, please.

Correcting the Two corrections

There is a pro-abortion cause and is the glue that holds the Democrats together. People who feel that abortions should be "legal, safe, and convenient" are for the killing of the unborn that are inconvenient disrupting their lifestyle. The "rare" part does not escape conservative notice when the Democrats have consistently voted more money for Planned Parenthood and our pro-abortion President has signed executive orders to expand abortion. Also now consider that Obama is mandating that we, who opposed killing our future neighbors, must pay for these killings.

RARE, I don't think so unless killing a million human beings each year in the United States is now considered rare and 54 million since abortion became legal and rare.

Pro-choice for everyone except those you considered unworthy of life. SAD.

Sorry - doesn't work that way.

I said "pro-choice" and I meant "pro-choice". I said "rare" and I meant "rare". You don't get to re-write what you think I said. I said what I meant to say whether you like the way it looks or not.

Of course, the other word you disregarded in that sentence was "should", as in "SHOULD be safe, legal and rare". And "should" is another one of those key words that conservatives choose to ignore in this context. Democrats say abortion SHOULD be rare, and one way to decrease the number of abortions in this country, of course, is through ready access to methods of contraception. But oh! Wait! The Catholic church doesn't want to let that happen, either!

I'm sorry, but you can't have it both ways. And your arguments in an effort to do so are not made any more compelling by the fact that your definition of an unborn fetus as a "human being" is generally not shared by those you are arguing with. Don't try to rename abortion statistics as the killing of human beings. It doesn't help your argument except with those who already agree with you.

I value the life of the woman who finds herself in that very difficult position. Do you?

I support the concept that regardless of the circumstances surrounding how she got there, the decision over which choice is right for her is a private one between her and her doctor. I hope for the day that very few women find themselves supporting a pregnancy unless this is something they wanted, planned for, and anticipate with great joy. And until that day comes, I believe in the worth of the life and choices of that woman and every woman whose body - and the decisions as to what to do with it - are hers, and hers alone.

who counts as a person?

"And your arguments in an effort to do so are not made any more compelling by the fact that your definition of an unborn fetus as a "human being" is generally not shared by those you are arguing with. Don't try to rename abortion statistics as the killing of human beings. It doesn't help your argument except with those who already agree with you."

I don't know if Sister McDonald or any of those in her order have stated that abortion is an acceptable course of action when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. However, that abortion is the killing of an innocent human being is an unambiguous teaching of the Church of which their order is a part. The point in this thread shouldn't be whether that teaching is binding on those who aren't Catholic, but whether it is binding on Catholic monastics. Without a doubt, it is, and if some members of some orders are openly contradicting it, they are subject to Church discipline (including being barred from Communion), the same as any other church member. As others on this thread have pointed out, they are free to leave that Church and join another if they disagree with such a fundamental point of doctrine. (There are very foundational issues, dealing with the Incarnation itself, at the root of the Church's teaching on who counts as a human being, both inside and outside the womb - it cannot be just a matter of "personal conscience" for those who wish to be in communion with the Catholic Church.)

I see what you're saying

And although it is nigh near impossible to dictate the direction any discussion thread takes in its lengthy meanderings, you may wish to direct your point to Chuck Johnson who was the first one that - in this segment of this thread - turned the discussion away from religion and towards politics when he brought up his point about the exclusion of a Republican from membership in the Congressional Black Caucus.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church seems perfectly willing to meddle in political discussions, so I don't see where it should be any big surprise that people with a political point of view feel justified offering their perspectives in the midst of a religious discussion.

Yet another reason why everyone should be more interested in maintaining the concept of separation between church and state.

Why should abortion be rare?

A liberal, excuse me... progressive... argument that I have never understood is this: If you think abortion is acceptable and should be legal, why then should it be "rare"?

Always the conservative response by Alec Timmerman

Alec you said "practically need a monolithic authority figure telling them what to do. It makes them feel safe."

Yes, our monolithic authority figure is Jesus Christ and yes he makes us feel safe.

Doctrine, not Service

Andrew Richner put his finger on it in his comment, and it's worth highlighting again:

"Nuns, the investigation also concluded, spend too much energy on poverty and economic injustice and not enough on abortion and same-sex marriage."

Rephrased, the nuns spend too much time serving the poor, and not enough on official church doctrine.

On the one hand, it is shocking that the "Vicar of Christ" would rebuke nuns for serving the poor rather than mouthing doctrine, but on the other, Cardinal Ratzinger was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He is all about law, doctrine and obedience - but service, meh, not so much.

When the church is more concerned with doctrine than the service to which Christ called his followers, it has lost its way. In my opinion, if confronted with this kind of pronouncement, the biblical Jesus would display his angry side, and be busy overturning tables and driving scribes, pharisees and money changers (and perhaps errant popes) out of the temple.

They read their book, but do not understand the message.

FWIW, I say this as a non-Catholic who has no use for organized religion and guys in robes telling people what to believe - but who has a great deal of respect for people like Sister Brigid, who commit themselves to serving those in need and doing good as it seems apparent to them.

The pope should do as well.

Doctrine yes then Service

Lance Groth, as a non-Catholic you do not understand our theology so for you to comment on Doctrine vs. Service you should have a basic understanding of our teachings.

It takes no additional effort to follow doctrine just as it takes no additional effort to follow the secular laws of the United States. For example, you can support life vs. supporting killing the unborn as Sister McDonald does with no additional effort.

Serving the poor and hungry is a primary responsibility of the Catholic Church and you will not find another Church or organization that does more in this area than the Catholic Church worldwide.

Sister McDonald, taking a position against Church doctrine or teachings by supporting and advocating killing our innocent unborn children is in my opinion, not helping the poor. Taking a human life and saying this is helping others is a terrible wrong.

You, sir, grossly

You, sir, grossly misrepresent the views of the Sister.

Where did you get the idea that the Sister is "supporting and advocating killing our innocent unborn children"?

I ask you, where?

The McDonald Sisters Rock!

Thank you for sharing one of the prophetic voices of our community.

Thank you, Sisters

Sister Brigid and the commenters above have expressed my views better than I could. I'll only add that the Sisters of St. Joseph gave me my start in life and that I see guidance in Sister Brigid's actions and statements more than those of Mr. Ratzinger or Mr. Nienstedt.

Just two weeks shy of 70 years ago I was born at St. Joseph's Hospital in St. Paul, which was founded in 1853 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. No doubt some nursing sisters took care of my mom and handled me. In 1956 I was co-valedictorian of my parochial school in suburban Chicago, staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph. The top girl graduate later entered the convent and was a Sister of St. Joseph for a while. The sisters had much influence over the young women from St. Kate's I dated as a St. Thomas student.

My knuckles healed long ago from the ruler swats! Seriously, blessings and strength to all the nuns who are under the Vatican's scrutiny.

and the second is to LOVE THY BEIGHBOR AS THYSELF

It's not a throwaway. It was Jesus's response when asked about the TWO greatest commandments. Modern Ratzingers (and Nienstedts) are the ones guilty of pride.

Our Dear Sister Brigid -Telling it like it is

The Vatican has always tried unsuccessfully to suppress any movement that acted outside the purview of their approval whether the substance of what they are doing is holy or not. Holiness has never been an issue with the Vatican. The Beguines were a movement of holy lay women who gathered into informal communities. They were well regarded wherever they were formed. Like the CSJ's, they helped the poor, opened hospitals, cared for the needy and the outcast and lived simple lives of great holiness and mysticism. The problem was that they didn't care to ask for canonical approval for their good work. Therefore they were violently suppressed by the Inquisition aka CDF. Many were burned as heretics in the 14th century. Surprisingly, they survived such genocidal attempts at suppression. The same can be said of The Brethren of the Common Life, Meister Eckhart, Martin Luther, Galileo, Teilhard de Chardin, Leonardo Boff, Yves Congars, women in general, homosexuals or anybody who isn't a man that declares unthinking obedience to the Vatican. It's always the same feeble and violent, coercive attempt at maintaining their delusion of control as if Christian Unity means Conformity with the Vatican.

We will know them by their fruits. The Church is always quick to proclaim how much charitable work they do around the world. Guess who does most of that work - The Nuns. The Vatican has been pulled kicking, screaming and denying at a torn world’s efforts to get them to face the horrible betrayal of child abuse within their ranks. Guess who has done most that abuse - The Male Clerics of the Church. I do believe I know whose fruits I will cultivate in the name of Christ. Sr. Brigid, I’m with you.

Proof in the Pudding

One of the takeaways I retain from my Catholic upbringing was captured by one of the 'folk' songs sung in the days when the church was making an effort to be more inclusive. "They will know we are Christians by our love..."

I find the work of Sr. Brigid and her companions to retain the spirit of that notion far better than the rumblings of a man whose institution tolerated and hid the abuse of children for decades. Thank you for an inspiring article about a woman of courage and conviction.

Thanks for standing up!

Having been raised in the Catholic faith, I was taught to have great respect for the clergy, who, unlike the laity, put their faith into action with different vow, some with vows of poverty, almost all with vows of celibacy or chastity, and in some cases obedience and silence. I assume Sister Brigid actions and words also reflect the commitment to her faith that most of the rest of us have not.

Almost every religious debate or dispute we have today is not really religious or theological at all, at least if you go by what the Bible says. True, there are passages which condemn homosexual acts, but these are more part of the civil code which the ancients also deemed prescribed by God, like sacrificial rites which we no longer observe. Find me anywhere in the Bible where abortion is mentioned. On the other hand, Jesus specifically condemns divorce and slams anyone who marries a divorced person as adulterers. Seems pretty clear but the modern church has found some ways to "get around" that. Same with usury, which, if you know history means "no interest" not just interest above a certain level.

What Sister Brigid and other nuns have been doing is following Jesus in standing up for the outcasts, the weakest and most vulnerable, which offends the rich and powerful. The bishops and the Pope come down on the wrong side there. By trying to enforce "doctrine" which is completely made up by the Church against those who follow their consciences, their hearts and Jesus, they are becoming the modern version of the Sanhedrin.

I would warn Sister Brigid that there are precedents for the Pope dissolving orders. Dan Brown's imaginative fictions do have some basis in history.

Just another example..

There are many in our country who were raised Catholic, support much of the good done by the Church & parish communities but who can no longer identify with an organization whose primary purpose is to perpetuate itself and its institutionally created dogma. American Catholics are leaving the Church in droves -- and taking their financial support elsewhere. A faith community that does not respect its membership cannot expect those members to remain.

Enabling the abuser?

I don't think that progressive Catholics remain in the institutional church because they are emotionally dependent on their "abusers." That may be true of some, but the ones I've talked to feel rather that it's their Church too, not just the Pope's and the bishops', and they want their perspective honored and recognized. They've decided to stay and fight. And if they can get the hierarchy to budge a millimeter, a billion people could feel the effects. I was a fervent Catholic for a brief period in my younger days, but as I found my convictions veering ever further from official doctrine, I decided that life was too short to spend it battling cultural reactionaries and dogmatists. Another wider, freer world was out there and I would rather be part of that. Still, I greatly admire those who fight from within.

Hasn't the Catholic Church Always been a dictatorship?

This is where growing up without knowing much about Catholicism really becomes confusing. Isn't the Pope the dictator of the church? Wasn't there a reformation because people didn't agree with the pope?

I agree with her point of view on focusing on poverty. I really just don't understand why she would want to be in that particular Church. There really are so many other communities to choose from.


I joined the Catholic Church 3 years ago, at the age of 60, along with my wife. Our journey took nearly 2 years from the date we first stepped into a Catholic Church and asked to speak with a priest. This was not a small step as we both were born a and raised (multi generational) in a protestant christian church whose core religious positions (i.e. on abortion, on the authority of the Bishops and Pope) are markedly different than those of the Catholic Church. After much study and reflection we embraced the Catholic's Church's positions as our own. This is where we belong and we are so blessed to be here.

The start of our journey involved trying to get our arms around what we believe were core changes in the religious beliefs in our former church that we found different than our own. We were led to the Catholic Church by C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity". Yes I know C.S. Lewis was not Catholic. Like Lewis, we don't question other's who believe they belong in a different "room in the house".

If someone who is now a Catholic finds they cannot accept the Catholic Churches position on core issues like abortion and the teaching authority resting with Bishops, they should consider doing what we did, consider the alternatives and if another churches beliefs meet your needs, make a change.

But I don't understand how anyone can claim membership in any church where they disagree with the Church's positions on core matters as have been expressed here.

Sales are down

The hierarchy  needs to remember that they are in sales and not management. And that sales are way down. 

The organizational structure is top heavy, isolated and inflexible  It assumes its customers are idiots and treats its best employees like criminals.

 Church history particularly of the papacy remind us this has happened before.  Groups form outside the formal structure and bring needed change  Get busy and join one of them now and get the process on the way.

Sales are Down?

Wow; I'm having a hard time visioning Christ focus as on "sales"; let's make our "product" more popular so everyone will buy it? Well among churches where it's been tried since the 60's it hasn't worked out real well.

Progressivism has been tried, in the Catholic Church, and many Protestant churches. Guess what, "sales" or active member participation in the most progressive segments are down, way down. Look at the examples set here in the US by the Episcopal Church and in the UK by the Anglican Church. Then look to Africa where "sales" are way up and the progressive movement has been avoided.

Where religious beliefs are driven by popularity among the members, religion eventually devolves to a point where there is no reason to participate; "it's all ok". People seeking a stronger personal faith aren't looking for popularity they are struggling to find Truth.

These comments are written by a former member of the church of "What's happening now".

I'd disagree. In the US, at

I'd disagree. In the US, at least, the churches that are experiencing growth are those that preach some version of the "prosperity gospel" that focus on material, earthly reward for "religiosity."

It's the suburban mega-churches, with their church run coffee shops and stores telling people what they want to hear: "pray just a little harder, and you too can have all your material wants met." (but don't forget to write that fat check to your multi-millionaire, private jet flying 'pastor" ")

Can these sisters explain to

Can these sisters explain to us why anyone would want to follow a religion led by a man who covers up child rape? I have heard many explainations why nuns, and Catholics stay in the church, but none measure up to the facts that the rape of CHILDREN has occurred, been covered up, and the perpetrators were transferred to do it again. I left the church. Nothing, not even the selfish hope of salvation could keep me there. It is so horrific that I chose to side with the children over myself. Whatever the Pope says, it is what the church represents. Just leave. Really.

You are misinformed

The pope did not cover up child rape. There are many misleading things in the press and if you were to dig a little deeper you would see how much this pope has done to ensure that the Catholic Church is safe for all children.
The transferring of priests in the 70's (mostly) happened because, at the time, psychologists believed that what these priests were doing was treatable. The Church would often send them off to treatment centers and then back to ministry. It was a very naive and irresponsible culture.
The real problem is not often discussed. Did you know that over 80% of the abuse was actually not pedophilia but homosexual attraction to post-pubescent boys? That's a fact you can find in the John Jay Legal College's 2002 study of 10,000 cases of abuse. Also, what is rarely reported is that these cases from the 1950's to the 80's were almost entirely unreported until 1982 when the real story started to come out. So while it was happening the Church had very little sense of the magnitude.
Also you should know that there is a distinct statistical pattern of abuse beginning in the fiftees, spiking in the seventies and dropping off in the early eighties. New abuse cases reinforce this abuse bubble pattern, and show that the Church has dealt with it adequately.
So it is a bit of a mystery how there is a statistical curve like this from 1950-1980 of homosexual abuse by priests. If I were a conspiracy theorist...
Anyway, there is a lot of good news within the Church and you are going to see a resurgence of Catholicism in the coming years that will bring you home. I promise!
God bless you!

As if that makes a difference

It sounds like you're trying to say the abuse was somehow less objectionable if it was perpetrated on post-pubescent boys.

Well I've got news for you - the victims were still minors, and the behavior of the priests was still inexcusable. Grown men taking advantage of their position of authority over impressionable youth. Absolutely despicable.

There are no excuses no matter how you try to spin it. And I'll never understand why people try.

Those poor kids whose lives were forever changed by the crimes of those men.

Missing the point....?

I wasn't excusing anything. I was pointing out that there was a large influx of active homosexual men to the priesthood beginning somewhere in the 1930s-40s, approximately. Furthermore, I was pointing out that this fact is statistically proven and that it is unreported. I was also pointing out that the hierarchy of the church was both unaware and unprepared for this influx.
I also pointed out that it had all the marks of a conspiracy to it, though this is as yet unprovable.
That's not excusiing anythhing, but doing what the press refuses to do and that is report the facts.

Which point am I missing?

What does "a large influx of active homosexual men to the priesthood" have to do with the abuse of minors under discussion in this segment of the thread? Because it reads an awful lot to me like you're equating child sexual abuse with a person's sexual orientation rather than simply the fact that it's a crime perpetrated by a criminally irresponsible adult in a position of power over a relatively powerless minor.

Child sexual abuse occurs independently of the perpetrator's sexual orientation. Quit trying to pin its occurrence in the Catholic church on "a large influx of active homosexual men to the priesthood". It's not a "homosexual" problem. It's a human problem. And one that's simply reprehensible on its own without trying to bring all of these other agendas into it.


It's ironic to me that most people that harp about the abuse scandal are liberals (progressives?) that would consider themselves "pro gay," and that the root of the problem was an influx of predatory homosexuals into the priesthood. It's true that about 84% of the abuse cases were perpetrated on adolescent males.

This is from the Wikipedia

This is from the Wikipedia biography of Pope Benedict, in the section titled Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: 1981-2005:

"Ratzinger's 2001 letter De delictis gravioribus clarified the confidentiality of internal church investigations, as defined in the 1962 document Crimen Sollicitationis, into accusations made against priests of certain crimes, including sexual abuse. This became a target of controversy during the sex abuse scandal.[22] While bishops hold the secrecy pertained only internally, and did not preclude investigation by civil law enforcement, the letter was often seen as promoting a coverup.[23] Later, as Pope, he was accused in a lawsuit of conspiring to cover up the molestation of three boys in Texas, but sought and obtained diplomatic immunity from prosecution.[24]"

Have you read the 1962

Have you read the 1962 letter? I have, and this is a complete red herring perpetrated by the media to add weight to scandal. The letter is still available on the Vatican website.

It is about the requirement of reporting sexual advances that occur within the confessional. I think some in the media read the title and ignore the content: the title says that the letter is basically for the bishop's eyes only, and that's as close to any covering up there is. In other words the Pope is referring to the policy within the letter: that there is an obligation on every victim to come forward and make an accusation, and proper procedural methods, none of which involve covering up the issue (and remember the issue at hand is a priest propositioning someone - morally ugly but not criminal)
As to the case you refer to, it is, I believe, where the Vatican was alerted to a priest's abuse 20 years after the fact and when that particular priest was elderly, ill and out of commission (he died two years later). Now, the most important point here for you to understand is the Church's principle of subsidiarity, which means that local issues need to be handled locally, that is that this particular case (and all such cases) are the proper purview of the local bishop. That is how canon law works to my knowledge, and so the Pope was correct in handing the case back to the local bishop.
More importantly, I wish you would read the discussion above with my other friend, Suzanne Sloan, as what you know about the issue is what the press uses to sell papers. and what Wikipedia has to offer. Let's all be well informed and not let the agendas of profit determine our beliefs.
The pope is a good man who has done a great deal to address this issue.

The Hierarachy

No, the Pope is not a dictator. He is "first among equals" which is something different. He can't just go and proclaim whatever he wants without consent from the other bishops. Of course, the Pope appoints bishops so there is a positive feedback loop. However, traditionally popes did not live very long so this power was limited. It was really JPII who started this trend of expecting a long-lived pope who could use his power of appointment to reshape the clergy in his image.

The Reformation happened for a number of complicated reasons. Doctrine was a small part of it. Today the main doctrinal difference between Catholics and Lutherans is transubstantiation vs. consubstantiation. That is, is the Eucharist _really_ the body of Christ or does it rather contain the spirit of Christ (apologies of my phrasing of that is not accurate, I'm not an expert in this)?

The Reformation also happened for political reasons. Martin Luther indeed did oppose abuses happening within the church. However, it was really the feudal lords who used the controversy in the Church to assert their power and throw off the shackles of clerical oversight. There's a reason that the various Protestant denominations are centered in certain geographical regions. Those are exactly the regions controlled by certain Feudal lords looking for a way out from under the Church. Remember the story of Henry VIII?

As for why I stay in the Catholic church, read my comment above. I think you'll find many Catholics say the same.

As a Russian Orthodox

As a Russian Orthodox Christian who closely follows the crisis of the Roman Church I was quite horrified to read this interview with Sister Brigid McDonald. The disrespect shown towards the Holy Father is quite appalling. Yet, given this kind rebellion I guess I really should not be surprised at the recent ARDA poll results regarding church attendance and opinions in the USA. Over the last 10 years mainline Protestants have fallen by 12.8% and Catholics by 5%. It seems to me, reading Sister Brigid McDonald’s views, that the Catholic Church (assuming she can be considered representative) is closer to Protestantism than to its own Tradition and that the Protestant percentage should be taken as a dire warning for Catholics around the world. We’ll keep our eyes open for the next poll, due ten years from now.

I’m not a gambling man, but, if the views expressed by the good Sister become mainline in the meantime, well ...

As with any heresy there is a

As with any heresy there is a grain of truth, so it is with the "social justice" Catholics who are here so well represented in all their guilt-tripping glory.
The Faith is easily known and is, thank God, not up for debate. Nothing done in the name of social justice can mask the Truth the Catholic Church teaches: that each of us needs to approach the foot of the cross and beg God's mercy, that the blood of Christ may wash our sins away, and that we may strive in our daily lives for sanctity. Sanctity can be helping the poor, it can be changing a diaper, it can be working on an assembly line. The quality that lives of holy believers share in common is not that they gave everything away, but that they gave all of themselves to God.
You people defending these Sisters need to ask yourself: doesn't every religion have its teachings and its teachers? Right, so what do you do when you have a religion whose teachings you do not agree with? Do you stay and fight the teachers? Change the religion?
That is not a rational position to take in religion.
That's why this is not about the religion: it's about MEN!

Reading comments like yours . . . . .

makes me admire the integrity and courage of Sister Brigid all the more.

I'm so glad there are people out there believing (and fighting for) the idea that things can be SO much better.


What's better than the redemption bought by Christ?
YOUR ideology? YOUR social justice?
Christ came to redeem humanity by His blood. The primary purpose of the Incarnation was to be the spotless lamb sacrificed on the cross for your sins and mine.
This blather by these nuns is itself a sin in that it obscures the nature of Christ's truth away from the cross and towards human ego. This is shameful and harmful to the dispositionn of many souls. I would not want to face being called to account for having taught this heresy.You shouldn't either.

sr brigid mcdonald

You Go Girl!!! Love you. And, for all of you professing to know God and Jesus, why don't you just speak from your soul or your heart, knowing full well that people have the right to do whatever good they can do in this tired old world to make it a better place.

Rated R

I always enjoy Sister Brigid's views on the world.

Folks might like to watch my video portrait of the good Sister. She says it is "Rated R, for Rebellious."