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The Heroic Nuns the NYTimes Failed to Mention

Jeffrey Bruno

Tom Hoopes - published on 08/22/14

The real connection between belief and service

When Nicholas Kristof praised religious sisters recently, he missed a whole category of great nuns – those whose fidelity to the Church is a part of their witness of strength to the world.

Don’t get me wrong. It is a good thing when a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist praises nuns. Kristof has done that good thing several times now, this time in a column called “Sister Acts,” about author Jo Piazza’s new book If Nuns Ruled the World.

Piazza is a perfect fit for Kristof. “I may not believe in God,” the author says, “but I do believe in nuns.” She loves women of God but not God; Kristof loves servants of the Church but not the Church.

When Kristof writes on Catholic matters, he does so to build his thesis that there are two Catholic churches. One is the “rigid all-male Vatican hierarchy” that (in “A Church Mary Can Love”) he calls “obsessed with dogma and rules and distracted from social justice.”

The other is the one “I admire intensely,” he says. “This is the grass-roots Catholic Church that does far more good in the world than it ever gets credit for” serving the needy and educating the poor. (Ironically, as examples of this “grassroots” church he cites two groups headed by the hierarchy: the U.S. Catholic Relief Services and the Vatican Caritas.)

“Jesus himself focused on the needy rather than dogma,” he proclaims, forgetting for the moment the Sermon on the Mount – and the Eucharistic Discourse and the Last Supper Discourse and the Great Commission and the Keys to the Kingdom, and “not a jot nor a tittle,” and so much more.

In “Sister Acts” he praises religious sisters by name. The women he praises are fine women indeed – each of them better Christians, I’m sure, than me, for instance. But Kristof wants to use their lives to serve his “two churches” meta-narrative, and so focuses on a nun in tension with “conservatives,” one who has been silenced by the Church, and one who has left the Church altogether.

The implication: To be truly strong women, religious sisters must stand up to the man, and the man has a pointy hat.

I thought it would be instructive to answer his “two churches” stories with counter-examples from the one Church –strong women who accept all of Jesus’ teachings, including his counsel to “listen to the Church” (Matthew 18:17).

Sister Roseann Reddy, for example. She founded the first new order in Scotland in 150 years to help make good the promise of the late Cardinal Thomas Winning that any woman facing a crisis pregnancy, or suffering after abortion, could come to the Catholic Church for help.

Founding such an order takes uncommon strength. It also takes uncommon strength to buck popular opinion.

“If you are a member of the Catholic Church we are not a democracy and we have never claimed to be a democracy,” she is reported saying. “Something like women priests will never change because of the nature of the Catholic priesthood, which is that Christ was a man. We believe that when the priest is officiating at the sacraments he becomes in the person of Christ.”

Everyone is your friend when you accept the truth as popular culture sees it. Accept the truth as God sees it and you lose friends, fast.

Olalla Oliveros knows that. She is another strong woman who gave her life to God.

She was a successful model in Spain, but found herself increasingly unhappy with the world’s adulation of skin-deep beauty. Then, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fátima in Portugal, she felt an “internal earthquake” in her.

Earlier this year, she went from the catwalk to the cloister, and she’s not the first. In 2005, Sister Amada Rosa Pérez was a top Colombian model who joined religious life. “I want to be a model that promotes the true dignity of women and not their being used for commercial purposes,” she is quoted saying.

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