After the crusty old honchos at the Vatican on Wednesday charged the Leadership Conference of Women Religious with "radical feminism" and vowed to stamp out any perceived dissent from Church policies amongst nuns, the general public immediately offered the sisters its overwhelming support and sympathy, circulating petitions, tributes, and t-shirts that read, "I'm with her."
This outpouring of support, observes the Washington Post's Melinda Henneberger, marks a dramatic reversal in our cultural imagination from a time when nuns were perceived as the rule-rapping classroom authoritarians that would send little kids crying back to their seats if they couldn't memorize all the stages of the Passion. No longer are nuns thought of as the villainesses your parents may remember instilling in them their initial aversion to the Catholic Church — more people today see nuns for the work they do with the poor, and in schools and hospitals, and for the fact that, amid an institution rocked by sex abuse scandals, the nuns have maintained the integrity of their order.
Henneberger cites Tina Fey's 2008 SNL bit in which Fey turned the old stereotype of the cantankerous schoolteacher nun on its head by saying that so what if people think Hillary Clinton's a bitch?
You know what, bitches get stuff done. That's why Catholic schools use nuns as teachers and not priests. ... At the end of the year you hated those bitches, but you knew the capital of Vermont.
Nuns compose the bulk of the Catholic Church's vanguard, working directly with the sick and poor and often carrying out the Church's charitable mission all on their own. Though it came as something of a shock this week to the squawking emus of conservative blogging that nuns had apparently helped circulate a recall for Wisconsin's beleaguered Governor Scott Walker, it makes sense that nuns would break with the political trappings of the Church's hierarchy, since there's a pretty big disconnect between the sexless men ensconced in the Vatican's marbeled halls and the women who deliver toys every Christmas to underprivileged kids. Moreover, the Church policies on contraception that gave rise in February to so much outrage don't necessarily reflect the sisters' sentiments.
Jesuit writer the Rev. James Martin expressed his support for nuns in the wake of the Church's condemnation of the LCWR's activities through a Twitter campaign called #WhatSistersMeanToMe that encourages Catholics (both lapsed and practicing) to voice their support for nuns. Martin described the work that nuns do on behalf of the Church as invaluable and seemed disheartened (but by no means as outspoken as you'd hope a Jesuit would be) that the nuns had suffered such a unwarranted rebuke:
Several of my sister friends told me how saddened they were by the new document on the LCWR. So I thought it would be a good time to express gratitude for the unbelievably inspiring work that Catholic sisters do and have done: For God, for the Church and for the poor. ... I couldn't imagine my life or the Church without these women.
Responses flooded in, and Henneberger notes that public's the enthusiastic endorsement of nuns is helping to reverse a long-maintained stereotype of the severe nun. For anybody looking for more illustrative proof that nuns can be totally awesome and not at all like the rest of the seemingly stodgy Church, I offer you an unlikely surfing spot in Stone Harbor, NJ called Nuns' Beach, where the sisters live in a beachfront convent called Villa Maria by the Sea and host an annual cookout/surf contest that they of course participate in wearing full waterproof habits. Just a little more proof that, if Jake and Elwood Blues showed up at Sister Mary Stigmata's office, she'd be a little nicer in asking for their help...though she might still levitate, under the right circumstances.
In art and life, nuns finally get their due [Washington Post]