Saturday, February 02, 2008

This has been a rough week for nuns. Here in Chicago, we had the shameful event of a sister being sentenced to jail in a sex abuse case. (She was taken away from school work as soon as allegations were made, but it was already too late for the victims.) The elderly woman admitted the abuse, and finally also asked pardon of her victims. There is really nothing that can be said about this horrible situation; we can only pray for that disturbed woman and for her victims, known and unknown.
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.
Personally, I want to ask why nuns have become the comic relief of pop culture. Is it an attempt to cancel out the witness to a life of purity? Does it represent fear of the invitation our life expresses? (After all, we are meant to be an eschatological sign!)


Fred said...

Sister Anne,
I know all of you, as all of us are, still hurting from this onslaught, but today's gospel says more than I can ever say:
"Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” (Matthew 5)
We can only pray for these insensitive slobs...Forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Peace, My Sister,
Father Fred, CMF

DJC said...

Look at our magazine ads, television, and music, everything is about sex. The nuns in a habit are an obvious example of a different life style, that represents a different value system that they don’t have or understand. It’s just a quick way to get attention or make a joke. Also shows a lack of talent, that they couldn’t come up with something that was really creative.

Lisa said...

As I try to get over this bad cold, I've been election-fixated, surfing back and forth between MSNBC, C-SPAN, and CNN.

You can imagine my surprise when during a non-election news clip they reported on the Equinox ad and mentioned that they had a response from the Daughters of Saint Paul. Quickly I turned to see the news editor's workproduct: two-lines from S. Martha Moss which I knew could not have been the heart of the interview. I'm thinking to post something and encourage folks to contact CNN. Perhaps they'd make another opportunity to re-do it correctly. Not likely, I guess, but worth a try. Needless to say, Sister Martha was well-spoken and poised. It's just a shame that from the entire interview all they took were those two sentences. They weren't bad sentences - it was just clear to me that they weren't the whole story that Sister shared. Who else was interviewed? I only saw S. Martha.

Lisa said...

Sister Anne,

I see that S. Julie, IHM, at has something on this topic. I suggested that her guests visit your post for more on the FSP interviews.


Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous. This focusing on such an outrage might capture the fancy of Abercrombie and Fitch. Irma

Anonymous said...

Sister, you are so on target...fear and a pinch of jealousy. Harv

The Daily Grotto said...


I have an urgent prayer request. Melissa, a young woman is fighting for her life and in need of a miracle. Please go to
for more information. Thank you!

xaipe said...

Prayers for Melissa.

Anonymous said...

Amen to those prayers for Melissa.

Sister Julie said...

Sister Anne, Thank you for your post on this, for contacting your Sisters, and naming some of the issues involved. I am grateful for you and your Sisters who are day in and day out in the media living the Gospel and beautifully expressing who we are as women religious.