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New pope sends bad signal to nuns

VATICAN CITY VATICAN - MARCH 24:  Nuns gather palm leaves as Pope Francis delivers his blessing palms faithful gathered

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MARCH 24: Nuns gather palm leaves as Pope Francis delivers his blessing to the palms and to the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square during Palm Sunday Mass on March 24, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pope Francis lead his first mass of Holy Week as pontiff by celebrating Palm Sunday in front of thousands of faithful and clergy. The pope's first holy week will also incorporate him washing the feet of prisoners in a youth detention centre in Rome next Thursday, 28th March. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 164592516

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Updated: May 22, 2013 6:46AM

I’m worried about the nuns.

They’re worried too.

The new pope, Francis, has made an early, excellent impression as a humble man. A rejector of the pomp and silky finery of the papacy. A priest focused on the poor and marginalized. A cardinal who lived like a nun.

In simple surroundings.

Cooking for himself.

Taking the bus.

Symbolism and substance too? It seems so.

We have hope for this pope.

But no one who deeply cares about women religious is ready, yet, to get carried away.

And last Monday is the reason why.

On that day, the new pope reaffirmed a drastic decision by the old pope, affirming the Vatican’s Inquisition and takeover of American nuns.

Why, exactly?

Because the sisters were charged with being “radical feminists,” too devoted to social justice and the poor.

(Like Francis? Just asking.)

The real sin of the nuns, if the Vatican would only confess it, is that they have not reflexively genuflected before bishops who have so misused their authority.

Forgive me, fathers, but isn’t Cardinal Bernard Law still a member in good standing of the club? Graced with a car, driver, private secretary, first-class airfare and elegant apartment in Rome? Even though he feloniously obstructed justice in Boston, shielded pedophile priests and covered up the truth in a scandal that tarnishes the Church to this day?

The nuns didn’t drag diocese after diocese into disrepute. Priests did. Led by a male hierarchy that, with rare exceptions, resisted accountability at every turn.

On Friday the National Catholic Reporter published an editorial that every Catholic — and in particular, this pope — should read. And read again.

It begins with a quote: “A church that does not go out of itself, sooner or later, sickens from the stale air of closed rooms.”

The quote comes from Francis himself in a recently released letter to his fellow Argentine bishops. In it, he argues for a brave, risk-taking church.

Whether he realizes it or not, the church he describes is the one women religious have been quietly shepherding for centuries.

The leaders of this church have given women religious no real respect. Just lip service when pressed to do so. They’ve insisted that nuns should obsess on birth control and abortion as they have because, after all, those are ways to control women. And women’s choices.

The nuns see a bigger picture. Filled with the born as well as the unborn. Poor children and adults whose poverty has rendered them powerless. Gay men and women whose dignity has been denied.

Pope Francis, in affirming his predecessor’s attack on the nuns, sent a collective shudder through the ranks of women religious. And the people in the pews who love and revere them.

If the Vatican under Francis remains intent on its takeover of the leadership of women religious, then no amount of good pope p.r. will offset the misogynistic message.

Or the consequences.

Yes, we have hope for this pope.

But it’s too soon to know.

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