The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday June 12th

Column: “Nuns, too” and my own reckoning with the Church

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It’s hard to express the depth of my disappointment with the Catholic Church in 500 words. I was raised in a staunchly Catholic family, and my parents are still my favorite types of Catholics: intellectually engaged with the Church’s long history of social justice work, and convinced that the grace of God can be found in art and literature and small acts of kindness. They work together as criminal defense attorneys, and their faith informs their shared belief that everyone deserves a good defense against incarceration. I went to an all-girls Catholic school, where I was taught to prize intellectual curiosity, personal faith and social action. 

I blossomed under these conditions, and I’ve held onto my role as a questioning Catholic throughout college out of respect for the people and institutions that formed me. I still believe in God; I still value my parents’ version of faith hugely; I still credit my Catholic school education for my personal and intellectual formation. 

Last week, Pope Francis (finally) publicly acknowledged the rash of sexual assault allegations lodged against priests and bishops by nuns around the world. In November, the International Union of Superiors General – which is not, in fact, a Star Wars tribune but a collective of Catholic women’s religious orders – issued a statement condemning the “culture of silence and secrecy” that abounds in the Catholic Church. The editor of Women Church World – yet another incredible name – blamed the sexual assault scandal on the imbalance of power between genders in the Church. Whatever the cause, the stories are horrific: nuns in sexual slavery; nuns reporting abuse and being subsequently shamed; nuns being pressured to get abortions to cover up the misdeeds of priests.

Something about this blatant abuse of power feels especially insulting given the gender inequality within the Church at large. I went to a Catholic school that valued confidence and empowerment for women, but I was never under any illusion that the Catholic Church as a whole valued my rights to control my own body or my potential for intelligent leadership. The Church is a male institution, predicated on the faithful and docile service of its female congregants. 

I’m glad the nuns who were victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church have spoken up, but it’s too little, too late. How can I possibly dream of returning to an institution that so clearly doesn’t value the voices or bodies of its female constituents? 

I heard a quote once saying that you don’t choose Catholicism, you catch it. I’ve found this to be true. Catholicism is rooted in my upbringing and family. It’s in my relationships and in my interest in things of beauty. I won’t convert to another religion, I’ve realized. There’s something beautiful and hopeful about Catholicism that I’ll always circle back to. And, besides, it would be too much work. I know Catholic rituals and truths as well as I know my favorite books and songs. For me, Catholicism as a belief system is still worth revisiting. The Church as a human institution, though, plagued as it is by corruption and scandal and despicable silence, might not be worth my time anymore. 

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