As a boy I went to Public School 18 on Leonard Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which was just across the street from St. Mary’s Church and elementary school. It was convenient, my mother said as my father worked on dinner, to just cross the street on Wednesdays for religious instructions in preparation for my First Holy Communion and several years later, Confirmation, that is, being inducted into the Army of God.
Aside from the creaky floorboards of the school, the shadowy hallways, the pictures of haunting Saints and Martyrs staring from walls, were the nuns, tough as nails, and not afraid to wield a hard slap in the face for not paying attention, or conking your knuckles with a ruler if you were cutting up. This was quite a difference from the public school teachers who generally were more patient and loving in their teaching approach.
But then most of the latter carried a Mrs. before their last name. One, Mrs. Maxwell, my first black teacher was married to a distinguished looking man who picked her up in his new Pontiac at three each day. Perhaps there was something to having the affection of another person and/or of other gender than just being married to Christ, which was the nun’s fate.
Beyond the classrooms, we neophytes went next door to the church to practice our choreography for the ceremonies. The nuns walked us about the Stations of the Cross, had us kneel at the altars and light candles, instructed us on how to take the host into our mouth and not bite or chew it but let it dissolve on our tongue. This as light streamed in the stained-glass windows and the smell of incense rose to mystify us. There was also Catechism to study, prayers to memorize for questioning by a visiting Bishop on the rules and laws of the faith and the degrees of sin. One had to pass this exam or not take part in the Communion or Confirmation ceremonies. I felt the power of the Church descending on me.
This caused me to join a bunch of bad boys who would try to escape the Wednesday instructions, running blocks away from the church school. But the nuns sent out a group of older boys to corral us and bring us back like outlaws. I never imagined what a truant officer was like before, but this was it, I thought. The church school complained to my parents that I had to try harder to attend or else forsake the instruction. I completed the full course from Communion to Confirmation. My father recommended I do that though I knew he was no fan of the Church. He thought both the priests and nuns should get real jobs.
These memories flood back to me because of a BBC news article, Vatican critical of nun’s book on sexual ethics, sent to me by a woman reader. Here’s a taste of it . . .
“The Vatican has sharply criticised a book written by a US nun and theologian on sexual ethics. The Holy See’s orthodoxy office said the 2005 book, Just Love, by Sister Margaret Farley posed ‘grave harm’ to the faithful. It said that her ideas on masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions and remarriage were in ‘direct contradiction’ with Catholic teaching. Sister Farley said her ideas were coherent with theological tradition.” I agree.
“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal department, said her writings revealed a ‘defective understanding of the objective nature of natural moral law’ and were ‘in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching in the field of sexual morality.’” I disagree.
My first thought was no wonder those poor nuns were so tough. What seemed in contradiction to “natural moral law” as well were the homosexual acts with boys encouraged by some of the house priests. In fact, the Church condoned sex with boys because they were not women, thereby developing a culture of pedophilia as well as misogyny and homosexuality. What a trifecta.
My next thought was here we have this brave nun, Sister Margaret Farley, writing about the rights of women, “Same sex persons as well as their activities can and should be respected.” In other words, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Ironically, the Vatican response said, “That homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and contrary to the natural law.” What natural law is that? And if so, quite a few of their male members were violating that law. But, Sister Farley also advocates homosexual marriage for reducing hatred and stigmatism of gay people. Bravo again!
So, here we have a totally humane and compassionate approach by the feminist sister, while the bishops are acting like thugs, reminiscent of the older boys who used to roughly round us up for return to religious instructions. By the way, Sister Farley has received 11 honorary degrees over her lifetime. She is also a past president of the Society of Christian Ethics and the Catholic Theological Society of America. So she is not exactly the Devil in drag. Pardon me, Sister.
But, then, demonization of women is at the heart of the Catholic orthodoxy which forbids priests and nuns from marrying the opposite sex. They are literally forced into same sex relationships and, being human, sooner or later begin to take solace and pleasure in them. Sister Farley comments, “As Christians (and others) have achieved new knowledge and deeper understanding of human embodiment and sexuality seems to require that we at least examine the possibility of development in sexual ethics.” Right on, Sister.
Yet, it’s not only in the Catholic faith or other Christian faiths that we have a Bible that pictures a woman as the seductress of man, Eve tempting Adam to taste of the apple of wisdom, thereby responsible for man’s fall from grace, and being evicted from the garden of immortality into the time and death of the world. It would seem that also in most Middle Eastern and Jewish orthodoxies, the woman takes a back seat to the man, both in terms of hiding her sexuality, often at the threat of being stoned. An affair with another man can earn her a painful death sentence. No wonder the nuns then were clothed in starched habits, bibs, and black smocks to their black laced shoes. Talk about burkas.
Yet, those same Middle Eastern orthodoxies turn to the recruitment of boys and young men for sexual relationships as well as war, documented in Khaled Hosseini’s excellent novel Kite-Runner, set in Afghanistan. So the present attacks on nuns, on woman, don’t seem limited to the Catholic faith. Although the One True Faith, as we were asked to call it, is now going one step further in pursuing the femme fatale. This time, believe it or not, it’s the Girl Scouts.
In a highly-detailed Alternet article, titled Not Satisfied with Attacking Nuns, Catholic Bishops Go After Girl Scouts, by Mary Hunt, an ex-Girl Scout, she writes, “The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is having a Saturday Night Live moment. Emboldened by the Vatican’s hostile takeover of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the gentlemen have shown their prowess by choosing to investigate the Girl Scouts of the USA. Which would be comical—first the nuns, now the Girl Scouts—if the goal were not so pernicious and the outcome so damaging, especially to the bishops.
“The tactics against the girls and the women are taken from one playbook, the goal of intimidation is the same, and the pushback in both cases is distracting from more pressing problems at hand. Still, you wonder who does their public relations, as the bishops are now about as popular as a recession.” Who does their P.R., indeed; probably another group of misogynist men!
The endgame of this thinking or non-thinking of “investigating” females is to establish and enforce “a male-defined model of girlhood/womanhood. A Vatican . . . or what Sister Sandra Schneiders calls the same as a grand jury investigation,” that is, for a male-run police state. By extension, these inquiries are political as well as religious. It’s just bad old-fashioned harassment, in order to hold the power between genders, i.e., other human beings. Next will be a ban on baking Girl Scout Cookies for tasting devilishly good.
The truth is Girl Scouts USA is part of a World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, some ten million strong in 145 countries. In a month or so, members will meet in a 2012 conference in Chicago to talk about UN Millennium Development Goals, including eliminating poverty, creating universal primary education, gender equality, and a host of other issues, including child mortality, fighting HIV/AIDS, environmental issues, and a blueprint for living in the 21st Century. The Girl Scouts have obviously come a long way from cookies and camp-outs.
Unfortunately, the Vatican, considered a nation-state, is mired in a vipers’ den of claustrophobic manhood, sinking deeper in its own despair and eventual undoing. I don’t know if that’s what Christ gave his life for. I thought it was to take care of the poor, the imprisoned and homeless—and to eliminate usury and money-changing in the Temple. Looking at his scarred body looking from the cross in one of the shadowy hallways of St. Mary’s or coupled in his mother’s arms after the Crucifixion in Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica, I never imagined Christ inspiring a faith that abhorred women, Woman, Virgin or Magdalene, the mother of nature and us all.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer, life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. He has also written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of Intrepid Report (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.