Updated: July 3, 2012 10:45AM
The silence of American Catholic sisters is deafening.
The discipline that surrounds their silence is profound.
They were slapped hard by the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in April for being too invested in social justice and the poor. And for not being sufficiently obsessed — as the bishops clearly are — with contraception, abortion and homosexuality.
The nuns are reeling. The Holy See has decreed that the men of the church will now oversee the so-called “radical feminist” sisters, most of whom are 60 or older.
The Vatican named three bishops, including Illinois’ Thomas Paprocki, to police the Leadership Council of Women Religious, the influential umbrella organization of most sisters. And to try, I guess, to make the nuns sit a little straighter in their chairs.
It is insulting.
But the sisters, stunned and saddened, are not talking publicly. Not even to their most faithful friends.
Their quiet should be, for the hierarchy, deeply disquieting.
The nuns, who have always been our teachers, are making Rome wait for their response.
The people in the pews, however, are producing a growing thunder.
On May 10 at Old St. Patrick’s Church in the Loop, it was standing room only for a prayer service to honor the sisters. The place was packed. I spotted a flight attendant, still in uniform, who had raced from the airport to the church in order to be there.
At that service, a story was told of an elderly nun named Sister Mary Adrienne Carolan.
She had a hump on her back. People assumed it was the product of age. But it was, in truth, from the multiple back fractures she endured during the 1958 fire at Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago where 92 children and three nuns perished.
Sister Carolan had stretched herself from the windowsill of the burning school to the windowsill of a closely adjoining building so children could crawl across her back to escape.
The sisters have always been the bridges to our faith. Especially now in a church that has yet to heal from the scandal of sexual predators protected by the very hierarchy that is now going after the nuns.
Whether it is their attack on Obamacare over contraception insurance or their threat to investigate the Girl Scouts — dear God — for daring to discuss family planning, the bishops want us to believe they are fighting an attack on their religion.
But what they are really, truly, sadly, fighting is a war on uppity women.
Including nuns who don’t genuflect and say, “Yes, Your Eminence” enough.
People in the pews keep gathering.
This Sunday, May 27, there will be another prayer service for the sisters at 7 p.m. at St. Barbara’s Church at 2859 S. Throop in Chicago.
The people of the church know the nuns are the Magdalenes.
The apostles to the apostles.
The miracle will be if the sisters can ever teach the Holy See how to Hear.