NPR's Vatican Villains: Host Tells Feminist Nun 'I Hear You Being In a Lot of Pain'

On Tuesday, NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross offered another puffball interview – almost 40 minutes long – to left-wing nuns who have dedicated themselves to overturning centuries of Catholic teaching through feminist activism.

But the most precious moment wasn't when Sister Pat Farrell claimed "God has no gender," and that was somehow Catholic teaching (as if Christians say an "Our Father/Mother"?) It came when Gross literally felt her guest Sister Pat Farrell’s pain: “I hear you being in a lot of pain” as the Catholic hierarchy refuses to enter into “dialogue” and bow to feminist demands:

GROSS: I think I hear you being in a lot of pain in how to discuss this. Because you so much want to be a part of the church and speak within the church's, you know, rules or beliefs or whatever, and at the same time you have a questioning mind and you want - I just hear this kind of conflict within you and pain.

FARRELL: Well, I think you're naming the question. The question is: Can you be Catholic and have a questioning mind? That's what we're asking. And the church has always taught that the primacy of conscience and freedom of conscience and, in effect, we need to relook at that issue, too: Is freedom of conscience within the church genuinely honored?...

And certainly, this mandate coming from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, putting us in a position of being under the control of certain bishops, that is not an invitation to dialogue. I can't see anyone who would interpret it that way. If anything, it's - it appears to be shutting down dialogue. And, of course, that's a cause of pain for us. And I think it's a cause of pain for a much wider church than for Women Religious, which is attested to by this overwhelming outpouring of support from the laity, which I really believe is more about them than about us. And it's more about their also feeling, as we said in our first statement, that the issues of faith and justice that capture the hearts of Catholic sisters are clearly shared by many people around the world.

This entire exchange is insulting to Catholic bishops and the Catholic faithful. They are not inflicting "pain" by insisting that Catholic nuns follow Catholic teaching. It can just as easily be argued that it's left-wing nuns that are inflicting "pain" on the traditional church by insisting it's a sexist monolith that must "get with the times." Gross then sets up another question suggesting the boys are inflicting pain on the girls:

GROSS: And it just seems like, while your group is kind of questioning the role of women in the church and asking for more of a role and to be able to speak more openly about what women are thinking and the answer is, OK. There are three men from the church hierarchy who are now going to revise your group's statutes and review its plans and create new programs and basically try to overhaul the group. So how does that make you feel?

FARRELL: Deeply saddened and angered, and I think that's just offensive. And I think it reflects a serious misunderstanding and misinterpretation of who we are. And I think it reflects the impoverishment of the church that has not held the leadership and the voice of women in a place of equal prominence. I think that's what we're seeing reflected there. And to call that concern radical feminism I think just reflects the fear of women in the church and the fear of what could happen if women were really listened to and taken seriously.

There's just one more exchange that underlines Gross's attempt to inflict maximum public-relations damage to the Vatican and the American bishops, which would be, of course, suggesting that even at this late date, that they are lax in preventing priest sex abuse:

GROSS: I think a lot of people inside and outside the church have questioned the strict discipline that your group is getting with the way priests accused of sexual abuse have been treated by the Church. And in fact, Cardinal Levada who was the head of the Conference of the Doctrine of the Faith during the assessment of your group -- he just retired -- he is one of a group of top Vatican officials named in a sex abuse complaint filed in September of 2011 in the international criminal court, charging the church hierarchy tolerated widespread sexual abuse on a global scale.

And in at least in two instances during his time, Archbishop Levada chose to return priests with proven allegations of sexual abuse against them to ministry after treatment with the agreements of therapists, according to church records. I read that in the New York Times. So what are your thoughts about how priests accused of sexual abuse were returned to their parishes while the church is cracking down on your group?

FARRELL: Well, it's horrific. I mean, the sexual abuse scandal in the church is deeply painful for all of us and absolutely unacceptable. And I think that the healthiest thing is that it's all coming to light so that it can be dealt with. And I think you're right, the contrast between the severity with which our organization is being treated and the lack of adequate response on the church to the sexual abuse scandal, it's just an unacceptable scenario.

NPR didn't manage to tell its listeners that the American church cracked down with a zero-tolerance policy on abusive priests in 2002 -- ten years ago. Instead, as usual, NPR bases all its reporting and commentary on the actions of contingency-fee lawyers suing the church, implying that any sex abuse complaint is as good as a conviction or settlement.

At this interview's beginning and end, Gross announced NPR would soon interview Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, who has been assigned to oversee the leftist nuns. NPR listeners would be wise to expect the bishop will receive a much more prosecutorial interview than this sob-with-Sister softball session.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis