With a new Catholic pope come old questions about the history and roles of nuns and clergy in modern, and not-so-modern faith. Nuns and clergy: that the first isn’t considered as part of the second is a shame. They share the same leaps of faith, the same sacrifices, and the same falls from grace. But in the end, nuns are just an attachment to the dominion of clergy. In the end, too, the issues of both are often a distraction from larger social issues.
These days we talk a lot about priests’ falls from faith. Issues of homosexuality, pedophilia, and general child abuse are better grist for media mills when men are considered. Equivalent issues about nuns seem to earn winks at best. When I was a kid, though, it was about the seemingly twisted faith of nuns we mostly talked. I don’t think there was a single kid in my school whom the nuns didn’t hit. And we all were hit hard! During breaks between classes, there were often nuns stationed inside the boy’s lavatory keeping order. They berated us. They hit us with rulers, belts, and paddles. They beat their selves into our long-term memories.
But really, this isn’t only about qualities of nun-ness. We were hit by lay teachers also. We were hit by men; we were hit by women. This was the culture of discipline where I grew up. The nuns wore black and white uniforms, and so were more uniformly regarded and remembered than their lay counterparts. And who doesn’t prefer to hear stories of evil nuns. But whom I conveniently forget to talk about are nuns like the one who took the extra time in fourth grade to teach me short division.
We weren’t allowed to learn short division back then, but this nun recognized that long division was too abstract for me. This might sound counter-intuitive, even nonsensical, but the woman woke up the right side of my brain to math. I went from being the class idiot to being the only kid in class who could do division in his head. I don’t quickly remember that now. It’s easier for me to reminisce about the brutality. Yes, some of those nuns were brutal. Some of the priests were too.
So, all this isn’t just about nuns and priests. The subject shouldn’t be only about the bad behavior of certain members of certain groups. We should also talk about what happens in our society that drives some women and men to seek refuge from life by surrendering to sub-cultures of convents, monasteries, and rectories (picking on Catholicism only) which serve to distill the best and worst human qualities into chalices from which the rest of us drink. I think forgetting this in our discussions of issues of modern faith is like firing arrows fletch-first at the target.
March 13, 2013