Then there are the fictional nuns. Because I found these things so deeply offensive (not to mention just plain embarrassing), I am not featuring any links to these stories, and I ask you not to look for them. There's the "performance art" at the College of William and Mary involving a woman in a traditional habit, obscene behavior, and the strains of the Ave Maria. Further north, an elite Boston athletic club ran an ad involving a male nude and four, yes, nuns. In full habit. Looking on admiringly. This caused no little ruckus in Boston when the Catholic League protested yet another example of the "last acceptable prejudice." Once the ruckus was raised, the crass ad became a "story" which led all the way to the national media. Two of our sisters in Boston were interviewed as part of the coverage on a local and then national level, and their carefully prepared input was reduced to one sentence each in the published reports, which then generated criticism in the Catholic blogosphere.
It is clear that creating a ruckus around an offensive ad is playing into the hands of the ad agency. This means that refusing to take the bait is a legitimate response. I really shouldn't have to say this. However, since people I love and admire reproached my fellow sisters for their (incompletely quoted) responses to the issue, I wrote to the two sisters. This is what I learned:
- The sisters prayed, sought advice, prepared and took the risk of accepting an interview, despite the fear that what they said would be taken out of context or reduced to a senseless sound byte.
- They tried hard to give a thoughtful, rather than angry, response, because the more anger you express, the more publicity you generate for the offenders.
- In what they said, they underscored the need for sensitivity to the sacred, tried to give the audience a look at real people who are nuns and who deserve respect, and asked media people use their creativity in a way that respects all human persons.
- They said much, much more than what made it on the air or on line. The editors plucked a single phrase from each sister's fuller message.
- Amalia Barreda from Boston's Channel 5 said that the young people she interviewed saw the ad as out of place and tasteless.
- Cardinal Sean had his media person call the sisters to express his satisfaction with how well they handled the matter.