Visiting Sister Explores Women’s Role in the Church

SrAnnePatrickHNU welcomed this semester’s SNJM Visiting Scholar, Sister Anne Patrick, PhD, the week of October 7. Sr. Anne, Emerita William H. Laird Professor of Religion and the Liberal Arts at Carleton College, presented at several campus events, including a lunch presentation titled “Holy Names Sisters’ History and Creative Responsibility” and the public lecture “‘What in God’s Eye (S)he Is’: Prospects for Women in Tomorrow’s Church.”

In her first lecture, Sr. Anne explored the role of Holy Names’ Sisters throughout history, in particular the growing commitment to creative responsibility in place of obedience. She described how 35 years after the founding of the Sisters of Holy Names in Montreal, Canada, six followers of Sister Rose Marie Durocher sailed across the Isthmus of Panama and founded Holy Names in Oakland in 1868.

“Clearly the lives of those Sisters show that creative responsibility isn’t a brand new virtue,” Sr. Anne said. “However, creative responsibility, or responsibility in general, hasn’t been stressed in Christian ethics—not nearly so much as the virtue of obedience.”

Sr. Anne demonstrated how Sisters’ views toward creative responsibility have changed over the years with two examples. When Sisters from the Brooklyn diocese were confronted with conflict in the 1930s, their consciences were governed by institutional loyalty and a patriarchal view of virtue and obedience. But in the late 1980s in Key West, Florida, an egalitarian feminist outlook governed Sisters decisions, she said. In the latter example, Sisters were no longer willing to cover for clergy or accept blame for decisions that were beyond their control.

“Although the present gender imbalance within the Roman Catholic Church has been defended by authorities on theological grounds, many believers do not find the arguments convincing, and they regard these … positions as limited human positions rather than divinely endorsed realities,” Sr. Anne said.

Sr. Anne’s public lecture focused on the changing role of women in the church. She said that there are disputes about the extent to which women can image Christ.

“Women are told we can and should imitate Christ, practicing the virtues and promoting the values of God’s realm,” Sr. Anne said. “But for now, at least, we are considered by official Catholicism, as incapable of acting ‘in persona Christi’—of taking on Christ’s role of community leader and celebrant of the sacraments. There’s a difference of opinion, in short, of whether women are capable of being ordained priests, deacons, and bishops.”

During her visit, Sr. Anne also presented on nurturing the unfinished creative process, and she held a discussion on an experiment in which students avoided the use of computers and other technology for several weeks.

Sr. Anne previously served as the president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and founding vice president of the International Network of Societies for Catholic Theology. She has authored numerous articles and reviews, and the books Liberating Conscience: Feminist Explorations in Catholic Moral Theology (Continuum, 1997) and Conscience and Calling: Ethical Reflections on Catholic Women’s Church Vocations (Bloomsbury Academic, 2013). In June 2013, Sr. Anne received the John Courtney Murray Award for outstanding and distinguished achievement in theology from the Catholic Theological Society of America.

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