Honoring Sister Joan Chittister, OSB
ARCC Award for Sr. Joan Chittister
Originally published in the ARCC newsletter,
The Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church presents the 2007 Hans Küng Award for the Rights of Catholics in the Church to Sr. Joan Chittister Thursday November 8, 2007 7:00 p.m. Foundry United Methodist Church 1500 16th Street, NW, Washington , DC 20036 7:30 Presentation of Award 8:00 Sr. Joan's Lecture: "Roots and Wings: the Ongoing Renewal of the Church." 9:00 Open Forum – questions and responses from audience
The recipient of ARCC's 2007 Hans Küng Award for the Rights of Catholics in the Church is Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, one of the most powerful visionary voices of contemporary Christian and ecumenical religious life. Sr. Joan is the founder and serves as executive director of Benetvision: Research and Resource Center for Contemporary Spirituality, a ministry of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA. She is the past president of the Leader-ship Conference of Women Religious (consisting of superiors of the over 75,000 Catholic religious women in the U.S.).
She was prioress of her Erie community for 12 years and president of the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses (1974-90). She is co-chair of the Women's Global Peace Initiative and the Tikkun Community, and serves as a member of the Niwano Peace Foundation, Tokyo, Japan, and the International Committee for the Peace Council, a partner organization of the United Nations. She is scheduled to participate as the Christian respondent to the Dalai Lama's presentation alongside representatives of Judaism, Hindu-ism, and Islam in the first Emory University Summit on Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding this October.
A social psychologist and communications theorist with a doctorate from Penn State University, Sr. Joan was an invited fellow and research associate at St. Edmund's College, Cambridge University in 1996 and held the Brueggeman Chair of Ecumenical Theology at Xavier Uni-versity in 2002. An acclaimed international lecturer and award-winning author of more than thirty books and a continuous stream of columns and articles, she has been an advocate for the rights of women, children, the poor and generally disenfranchised for many decades. In 2005, Called to Question, a Spiritual Memoir and In the Heart of the Temple received first-place awards from the Catholic Press Association.
I have admired Sister Joan for years though we met in person only once, in Cape Town, at the 1999 Parliament of the World's Religions. Recently, doing Internet research in preparation for the ARCC event this fall, I was again deeply touched by her love of the church and her ability to capture, illuminate, and communicate the very essence of Christianity in ordinary, accessible language – written as well as spoken. In the original sense of the term, Sr. Joan is a prophet – one who speaks for God to us – her contemporaries. Three years ago, in an interview on Penn State Public Broadcasting on 12/08/2004 (http:// streams.wpsx.psu.edu/ Benedictine12082.html) Sr. Joan spoke of the fifties, and how "we had all the answers; we had exaggerated answers to the point of a kind of a religious straitjacket. And then, in Vatican II, we heard the liberating cry to get our mind and our eyes back on the purpose for our religious existence, an awareness of God and identity with Jesus. . . . Vatican II liberated us from the arrogant assumption that we are the only people that God cares about, that we are the only people through whose life God works." The Beatitudes, she said, "unlike the rules we have been talking about, call us to attitudes of mind; they call us to mercy, to care for the hungry, to care for the poor, to be peacemakers in life, to hunger and thirst for justice, not just to be convenience and comfort for ourselves, the Beatitudes call us to care about this whole globe and in this age of globalism we have never needed anything more."
No one, I thought, could possibly not see the light of Christ in and through Sr. Joan's words. Surely, even those who disagreed would have to recog-nize her love for the church. Then I started reading the attacks – verbal feces, vicious, cruel, personal attacks, virtual fire bombs carefully constructed to hurt the enemy. Anita Moore, an Idaho attorney and Third Order Dominican postulant, for example, calls Chittister a "Fake Benedictine" and introduces her latest blog entry, a reaction to Sr. Joan's July 10 NCR column, with "Now it's serious: the Pope has offended Sr. Joan Chittister. NOW what do we do? Maybe there's still time for the Holy Father to take back the Motu Proprio before the Patroness of Polyester Pantsuits holds her breath until she turns purple and passes out. Her outpourings on Rome's campaign to enforce the actual teachings of Vatican II are a classic backwards tribute to the Rule of St. Benedict: a perfect example of what happens to you when you vow to live by it, and then don't." ( http://v-forvictory. blogspot.com/2007/07/ surprise-surprise.html )
Another ultra-conservative, Fr. Alphonse de Valk, CSB, editor of the Canadian magazine Catholic Insight and co-founder of Canada's Catholic Civil Rights League, quotes disapprovingly from Sr. Joan's "rousing address on what is wrong with the evil Church which refuses to ordain women" at the Women's Ordination Worldwide Conference of June 30, 2000 in Dublin: "'To preach a theology of equality and at the same time maintain a theology of inequality, a spirituality of domination that bars half of the human race on the basis of gender from full participation...is to live a lie.' According to her, the Benedictines have been around for 1,500 years: 'We survived the Dark Ages, feudalism, two world wars. We're not going to let a little letter from Rome get us down.'" Valk concludes, "Sadly, her false rhetoric seduces others to the brink of the abyss, including her entire priory of 128 persons." (http://catholicinsight.com/ online/ feminism /article_246.shtml)
Ironically, it is for the very reasons that Valk and others find so appalling that ARCC will honor Sr. Joan Chittister this November. No one has done more than she to keep alive the true spirit of Vatican II and further the rights of Catholics, ALL Catholics, in the church. After the award ceremony, Sr. Joan will speak on the topic "Roots and Wings: the Ongoing Renewal of the Church." She will focus on key points of renewal launched at Vatican II, how they are faring today, and what next steps we need to take today to move them forward.
AWARD CEREMONY IN PICTURES
Challenges Facing Catholicism