Thursday, October 9, 2014

Benedictine sister's witness a turning point in struggle for women's equality in the church

by Christine Schenk, Oct. 9, 2014
"A great woman has gone from our midst. Her name is Christine Vladimiroff, and we who are passionate about church reform owe God profound thanks for the gift of this woman's life.
At age 17, Christine joined the Erie Benedictines because the nuns in her high school "were the most happy and competent women I had ever seen." She finished college and earned a doctorate at the Universidad International in Mexico City. She served as secretary of education for the Cleveland diocese, a college professor, and the executive director of Second Harvest, a national network of food banks, before she was elected prioress of her community in 1998. She died in the arms of her sisters on Sept. 25 after an extended illness.
During her eight-year tenure as head of the Cleveland Catholic school system, Christine was affectionately known around town as the "czarina." Clevelanders quickly discovered she possessed a backbone of tempered steel. This strength served her well when, in March 2001, the Vatican ordered her to "forbid and prohibit" her fellow Benedictine, Joan Chittister, from speaking at a Women's Ordination Worldwide conference in late June in Dublin...

In ensuing months, she consulted bishops, canon lawyers, Joan herself, her own sisters, and other Benedictine communities. She journeyed to Rome on a mission to help Vatican officials understand why she could not do what they asked of her. She addressed them with the practiced professionalism acquired from navigating many a board meeting in church, nonprofit, and academic settings. Oh, and by the way, she did it in fluent Spanish. All of this helped quite a bit, since most Vatican males have scant experience dealing with multilingual professional females possessing backbones of steel.
But in the end, it was not Christine's professionalism or her backbone that won the day. It was the incandescent truth to which she witnessed in her official response to Rome:
Christine's refusal to be used by the Vatican "to deliver an order of silencing" encouraged Catholics the world over. It's hard to say what effect it had on Vatican officials, though all the dire penalties previously threatened mysteriously melted away."
Christine's Explanation of Obedience: There is a fundamental difference in the understanding of obedience in the monastic tradition and that which is being used by the Vatican to exert power and control and prompt a false sense of unity inspired by fear. Benedictine authority and obedience are achieved through dialogue between a community member and her prioress in a spirit of co-responsibility. The role of the prioress in a Benedictine community is to be a guide in the seeking of God. While lived in community, it is the individual member who does the seeking.

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