Sister Joan Chittister has written a courageous article which appears in the National Catholic Reporter today; the article is apropos the Leadership Conference of Women Religious currently meeting in Dallas and the ongoing "visitation" of women religious in the United States by the Vatican, which seeks to determine if American nuns have strayed too far from tradition and Church teaching.
Sister Joan says:
What shall we think about such a time as this when the women religious who have built, carried, led and staffed every work of the church from the earliest days of this nation to this present time of turbulence and transition are being accused of being unorthodox, unfaithful, and unfit to make adult decisions about what they need to hear and who they want to have say it?
The problem is that in the face of opposition they have also been unafraid.
It is time for thoughtful Catholics to recognize and acknowledge that the hierarchy of the Church, increasingly obsessed with maintaining power and preventing change - in fact, with returning to the pre-Vatican II Church in which all authority was held by Rome - is not the Church. The Catholic Church is the People of God, the workers in the vineyard, who every day, quietly and joyfully, obey the "new commandment" to "love one another as I have loved you."
Sister Joan makes a clear distinction in her article between leadership and authority, taking a shot at the hierarchy in the process:
Now we are at another crossroads moment in time. This is a time, too, of deep crisis and great needs, of the rejection of those who raise new questions and a reaction against those who raise new ideas in a system trying to preserve the old ones in order to preserve itself.
It is a time, as it has always been, for leadership.
But leadership and authority are not the same thing. It can take a long time to learn the difference between the two but there is nothing in life that demonstrates the difference between the two better than a crossroad.
At the crossroads in life, authority goes one direction: back. Authority goes in the direction that's already in the book; the path that has been clearly trod before now, the way that is safe and sure, clear and certain, obedient and approved, applauded and rewarded.
Leadership, on the other hand, rewrites the book. It takes the direction that leads only to the promise of a better tomorrow for everyone however difficult it may be to achieve it now. "The seed," the Zen master teaches, "never sees the flower."
The times are clear. The needs are now. The time for new decisions is upon us. Authority is not enough for times such as these. We need leaders now.
Amen, Sister. Amen.