Sister Pat Farrell discusses dramatic life
Though she is at the center of one of the biggest crises in the Catholic Church today, Sister Pat Farrell is loath to talk about herself, and certainly not in any way that would make her a focus of the looming showdown between the Vatican and American nuns.
To be sure, Farrell has spoken publicly and with quiet clarity about why the organization she heads, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, rejects Rome’s plans to take control of the umbrella group that represents most of the 57,000 nuns in the U.S.
In announcing its proposed takeover last April, the Vatican accused the nuns of embracing a “radical feminism” that questions church teachings and focuses too much on social justice causes. Farrell says the American sisters are simply doing what the gospel requires, often speaking on behalf of so many in the church who have no one else to advocate for them.
The high-profile confrontation will reach another crucial pass next week (Aug. 7-10) when LCWR members gather in St. Louis to develop a formal response to the Vatican’s plans. Options run the gamut from complying with all of Rome’s directives (unlikely) to decertifying the group and re-establishing it outside of the pope’s control (a possibility).
But it is Farrell’s own life — a vocation that has taken her from the Iowa heartland to ministry in Pinochet’s Chile and war-ravaged El Salvador and back again to Iowa — that may be the best way to understand the root of Rome’s clash with the nuns, and why it may not be going away anytime soon, much as Farrell wishes it would.
“I’ve had a dramatic life, I really have. But the drama of it is not what’s important,” says Farrell, a soft-spoken, 65-year-old Franciscan who eventually, if hesitatingly, agreed to discuss her more than two decades in Latin America. “The best of what we do is not about high drama.”
Indeed, behind the drama is a story of service to the poor, advocacy for the marginalized, and a radical spirituality that has profoundly shaped Farrell and many nuns like her — as well as shaped the identity of the LCWR. Viewed in this context, the standoff is not a political struggle or power play as much as a contrast of complementary roles and experiences in the church. [More]