If Nuns Went on Strike, the Church Would Shut Down

They run hospitals, schools, and social programs. They are stalwart leaders in many spiritual communities. And they are contributing vital insights to the Christian theological discussion. If nuns went on strike, many of the institutions of the Catholic Church would grind to a standstill.

Sure, a work stoppage of this sort is a long shot. But I’d love to see it. Having witnessed both priests and nuns in action, there’s no doubt in my mind which group dominates in the getting-shit-done department. It would be a fine show watching the bishops try to scramble and pick up the slack if the sisters said “enough.”

Certainly, the nuns would have good reason to do so. A storm has been brewing since April, when the Vatican released a statement condemning American nuns for showing too much independence of thought and not adequately deferring to the bishops, who, Rome tells us, “are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” A remarkable June 1 story in the New York Times recounted how the Vatican criticized the sisters for “focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping ‘silent’ on abortion and same-sex marriage.”

Then there’s this transgression: “During the debate over the health care overhaul in 2010, American bishops came out in opposition to the health plan, but dozens of sisters, many of whom belong to the Leadership Conference [of Women Religious], signed a statement supporting it–support that provided crucial cover for the Obama administration in the battle over health care.”

For such grave sins as spending too much time with the poor, the Vatican has put a bishop (needless to say, a man) in charge of restructuring the nuns’ conference, picking through its handbooks, and approving any speakers it has at its public events–a process scheduled to take up to five years.

In short, the Vatican has made a parody of itself, pulling out its most retrograde positions and doubling down on them. That the Pope is accusing nuns of promoting “radical feminist themes” only shows how out of touch he is with radical feminism.

Last week, just after the nuns decided to publicly speak up in protest, calling their censure “unsubstantiated” and “flawed,” Rome went further by condemning a book by seventy-seven-year-old theologian Sister Margaret Farley. Even though the text in question did not claim to represent official Church teachings, it was dubbed heretical because of its defense of remarriage by divorcees and masturbation (the horror!), not to mention same-sex relationships. Pro-choice advocates have long contended that the attack on reproductive rights doesn’t stop at abortion; it’s a crusade against contraception, sexual freedom, and women’s rights as a whole. Rome has gone far in proving their point.

In a sharp response, Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote:

The denunciation of Sister Farley’s book is based on the fact that she deals with the modern world as it is. She refuses to fall in line with a Vatican rigidly clinging to an inbred, illusory world where men rule with no backtalk from women, gays are deviants, the divorced can’t remarry, men and women can’t use contraception, masturbation is a grave disorder and celibacy is enshrined, even as a global pedophilia scandal rages.

Of course, the sisters are amply able to speak for themselves. On June 18, a group of them will embark on a bus tour crossing nine states, in which they will visit food pantries, homeless shelters, and charity ministries. It is a striking and unusual form of civil disobedience within the institution of the Church.

On Monday, Sister Simone Campbell went on the Colbert Report to promote the bus tour, stating her case well and giving the satirist some choice opportunities to send up the Vatican.

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Since he became Pope, Benedict XVI’s gambit has been to create a Catholic Church that is smaller but, in his view, more devout and obedient. That means deciding that certain Catholics are expendable. Little did we know that women would be one of the groups he would be willing to purge in his misguided quest for purification.



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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.

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