May 9, 2013; PRI, “The World”

Pope Francis got up in front of 800 women superiors of religious orders to call them to a “fertile” chastity that would “generate spiritual children in the church.” He also suggested that “The nuns should be like mothers, …not like spinsters” (or “old maids,” depending on the translation of the Italian word zitella) and that the nuns should be obedient and have an attitude of adoration and service.

NPQ’s recent newswire covered Pope Francis’ recent reaffirmation of the need for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—historically, the office that monitors strict compliance with church teaching—to keep the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 80 percent of nuns in the U.S., under supervision or a kind of receivership. The rebuke was based on the nuns’ promotion of “certain radical feminist themes,” among other things.

Doctor Lavinia Byrne, a theologian, practicing Catholic, and former nun, was interviewed by Public Radio International’s “The World,” and she called his language “old-fashioned and so inappropriate.” She said, “What I fear frankly is that his reticence is that he’s not looking at the of what really should be looked at which is the place of women in general in the Church and the aspiration some women to be ordained. We cannot go on living in the medieval period.”

Going on, Byrne said that, if she had the chance to put a bug in the ear of the Pope, it would be this: “Please, please consider what the Church has done for women. It’s changed their aspiration by saying to them, ‘You have the right to be well educated. You have the right to have opinions.’ So please take our education and our opinion and don’t go on punishment women for a sin they never committed. Ordain them for God’s sake.”—Ruth McCambridge