The Vatican takes one step backward.
The nuns take one step forward and promise to be good.
We call it progress, but it's very sad.
The photo tells the whole story: four women sitting on one side of the table, two men on the other side, one in white, one in black.
The women outnumber the men, but the men hold 99% of the power. No Pope has ever before met with nuns from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a US group representing 80% of nuns in the US.
The women are smiling nicely at the Pope and his assistant, their hands in their laps. The Pope is grinning. The man in black is looking down, expressionless.
In 2008 the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith began an inquisition of the LCWR. Inquisition is not a figurative term here. This congregation is the branch of the church that actually ran the Inquisition for several centuries.
The reason for the 2008 attack? Doctrine defenders charged that the LCWR had deviated from church doctrine and promoted "radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith."
Such as "spending more time working against poverty and social injustice than abortion and same-sex marriage," as Laurie Goodstein of the NY Times summed it up.
They were also "protesting the Holy See's actions regarding the question of women's ordination."
Pretty radical to suggest that maybe, possibly, women should serve as priests alongside men.
The correct stance for Catholics is silence on any issue with which they disagree with Rome. To speak or publish discussion on these issues can get you fired from a Catholic university, hospital, or religious order. Take for example Father Roy Bourgeois, who was dismissed from being a Maryknoll brother.
In 2012 the Vatican appointed three bishops to work over the LCWR and get it into obedient shape.
After much outrage, including the whole Nuns on the Bus cross-country tours of protest, the nuns have finally been heard.
Pope Francis spent almost an hour with four representatives of the LCWR. Eileen Burke-Sullivan, vice provost of a small Jesuit university in Nebraska, called it "an extravagant amount of papal time," as quoted by Goodstein in the NY Times.
Extravagant. The Pope tossed fifty minutes to these women, like a tourist throwing $50 at a beggar in India.
In exchange, the nuns promised "to promote a scholarly rigor that will ensure theological accuracy and help avoid statements that are ambiguous with regard to church doctrine or could be read as contrary to it."
Furthermore, they will select the speakers and programs for their conferences more carefully.
What the hell does that mean? The speakers will be sworn not to discuss women's ordination, birth control, or acceptance of gays and lesbians?
I was happy at first when I heard this news. It sounded like progress.
But now I see what the nuns have conceded in order to get this lovely rapprochement with their male superiors. Now the deal doesn't sound so good.
Business as usual. Men in power, women patted on the head.
Nevertheless, change will come. Here's the time line I expect:
2015 - Persecution of uppity nuns ends.
2020 - Women are ordained as deacons in the Roman Catholic Church.
2030 - Very few monks and nuns still living, not enough male priests to hold Masses at all the churches in the world; number of irregularly ordained women priests world-wide now over 1000.
2040 - Congregations and councils begin work on how to admit to abundant records of women serving as priests and bishops in the first several centuries of Christianity.
2050 - Roman Catholic Church regularizes ordination of women to the priesthood.