Joan Chittister

A Banned Nun and Growing Divide Within the Catholic Church

on July 1, 2019

A prominent activist nun associated with the political Left has been dis-invited from a Roman Catholic conference at which she was scheduled to speak.

Benedictine nun Sister Joan Chittister, a figurehead of the religious left, was planning to speak at a Catholic education conference in Melbourne, Australia next year. She was notified via email that she was to not come. The reason given in the email to Chittister was that Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli hadn’t endorsed the invitation.

According to Chittister and her supporters, no reason for the revoked invitation was specified in the email, but Chittister speculated it was due to falling out of favor with conservative leadership in the Catholic Church. Chittister describes her focus as empowering women in the church as well as laypeople, but the Eighty-three-year-old nun has long been a vocal advocate of feminism within the Roman Catholic Church.

Chittister past served as the Benedictine prioress and Benedictine federation president. She has also served as the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the co-chair of Global Peace Initiative of Women.

In 2001 the order of the Benedictine nuns was directed by Vatican officials to block Chittister from speaking at a women’s ordination conference in Dublin, Ireland. Her work in women-focused organizations has caused critics to claim that she supports women’s ordination (currently banned in the Roman Catholic Church and denounced by church officials). Chittister claims that her focus is monasticism, justice, and equality for women in both the Catholic Church and society.

In the past Chittister has made controversial statements regarding the pro-life movement. Some critics were upset that the politically active nun assumed the pro-life movement does not care about the child after birth when she stated:

“I do not believe that just because you are opposed to abortion, that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, a child educated, a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

Chittister assailed capitalism on page 12 in her book Heart of Flesh: Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men:

“We have trained our children to go for jobs that bring the quickest corporate advancements at the highest financial levels. We have taught them careerism but not ministry and wonder why ministers are going out of fashion. We fear coddling the poor with food stamps while we call tax breaks for the rich business incentives… What’s worse, we have applauded it all—the militarism, the profiteering, and the sexisms—in the name of patriotism, capitalism, and even religion.”

In the past, Chittister has taken several politically and ecclesiastically liberal positions especially in her interpretation of social justice issues like nuclear proliferation and the role of women in the church.

No official reason is stated in the email to Chittister as to why she won’t be allowed to speak at the education conference next year. Comensoli, a noted conservative moral theologian, previously served as an auxiliary bishop in Sydney under former Cardinal George Pell, a convicted child sex offender. [Editor’s Note: Since this article was first published, Pell’s conviction has been overturned by an Australian court]

The decision to dis-invite Chittister comes in a time of division when church teachings on abortion and gender are under assault, and child sex abuse scandals and the response of church officials been an ongoing scandal.

In response to the dis-invitation, Chittister replied: “these [attendees of the conference] teachers for the next generation of thinkers are being denied the right to pursue ideas.”

  1. Comment by Cullen P Bordages on July 3, 2019 at 8:24 am

    I am a Benedictine Oblate and my Abbott and Oblate leader are both acquainted with Nona Chittister. I read her commentary on the Rule daily. Your observations reflect a lack of understanding as to what constitutes Benedictine spirituality as well as the authentic teachings of the Church summarized in the concept of “the seamless garment” or “from conception to natural death”. Obviously Nona Chittister has a better grasp of this doctrine than you. The Church is family and families fight. Making an issue of this from the standpoint of misinformation and misinterpretation is to invite scandal, something that I would prefer to avoid

  2. Comment by mary delaney on September 4, 2019 at 7:07 pm

    I am glad she was uninvited. There has never been a place in our church for radical feminist nuns using their status as Roman Catholic nuns to trick people into attending their events only to be dissappointed by their true agenda to ” empower women.” Mary , Mother of Jesus empowers women enough, thank you very much..

  3. Comment by DJ on October 28, 2019 at 1:06 pm

    I read a book by Sr. Joan and am a fan. I am also a conservative bit I believe she has valid points. She’s intelligent, experienced, and I am impressed with how she steps up for women in the Church. She is an incredible woman and it is their loss to not hear what she has to say.

  4. Comment by Candice Erba on November 4, 2019 at 9:15 am

    Can I join nuns on a bus, if I am not a nun? I am a soon to be retired nurse and social worker and also a grandmother. I want to join the cause in an active way!

  5. Comment by Sr. Christine Kresho on February 15, 2020 at 10:33 pm

    I was fired approximately a month ago because male clergy privilege always “trumps” justice. I have been a CSJ for 62 years and was handed a six-page non-disclosure agreement offering my Congregation money to constrain me from speaking the truth about my termination. Blessed to be in a Congregation that values my integrity, we chose not to sign. In spite of the fact that the diocesan office previously admitted that they understood what was going on, I am the one looking for another ministry.

  6. Comment by Paul Burns on December 6, 2020 at 4:07 pm

    In the interests of Truth, justice and fairness, I suggest you please update this blog, to reflect the fact that Cardinal George Pell’s conviction was not only unanimously overturned, but that there was “a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place”.

  7. Comment by Joy Moore on May 24, 2021 at 10:28 pm

    I think it best she retired….she has gone round the bend.

  8. Comment by Whoever on June 1, 2021 at 4:08 pm

    Please update your statement that cardinal pell is a convicted child sex offender as this has been proven false.

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