Global Post: The Vatican is reining in the progressive leadership of American nuns, raising the stakes over the future of a faith with one billion adherents worldwide. Described as a modern ‘Inquisition,’ this political test of wills is playing out on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council as a rigid papacy imposes a disciplinary culture on nuns who were inspired by Vatican II in taking the social justice gospel directly to the world’s poor.
Over the last half century, the place known as Holy Wisdom Monastery in Westport, Wisconsin, has changed as the Catholic Church has changed.
And today as history is made with Pope Benedict XVI resigning, the first pontiff to do so in 600 years, this simple, white building here with its modern architecture is a symbol of a global Catholic Church that is deeply polarized, and which some fear could even be fracturing.
But it wasn’t always that way.
In the early 1950s, Holy Wisdom Monastery was a Catholic girls’ school run by the Sisters of St. Benedict. In time, the school closed, and in 1966 the sisters, spurred on by the reformist ideals of the Second Vatican Council, transformed it into a retreat center, one that thrived in the confident spirit of a church opening its windows to the modern world — the metaphor used by Pope John XXIII in summoning the world’s bishops to the council in Rome.
In the 1990s, the nuns there established a strong interfaith spirit, they undertook a rigorous environmental effort toward “sustainability’ and they welcomed gay couples into the church and its services. By the year 2000, the nuns transformed the monastery into an ecumenical institution, welcoming a Presbyterian woman minister. And that was the point at which they crossed an irreversible line. Having a Protestant woman ministering in the community threw their identity as a Catholic women’s order into question.