Saturday, June 30, 2007

US nun's visit opposed by bishop

The Catholic Bishop of Christchurch, Barry Jones, is opposing a visit by a controversial feminist nun from the United States.

He has written to priests saying that next week's visit by Benedictine nun Sister Joan Chittister is unauthorised.

Permission for the event had not been sought or given, and Jones did not want it promoted through Catholic churches.

"The point is that silence generates the misunderstanding that this is all approved, when it's not. I have made my position clear to the priests," he said.

Chittister, from Eire, Pennsylvania, has clashed with church authorities internationally over her strong stance on issues such as women's ordination and contraception.

She attended the first Women's Ordination Worldwide Conference in 2000, defying an order by the Vatican.

An independent group of Catholic lay people, the Adult Education Trust, has invited Chittister to Christchurch.

She will speak about spirituality, culture, justice and "God, women and the world".

Jones opposed the visit because he said Chittister did not agree with the Catholic Church's teachings.

"I don't see how I, as a bishop, can advance the teachings of the Catholic Church by appearing to condone other views," he said.

High-profile Sister Pauline O'Regan, of the Sisters of Mercy, backs Chittister's visit and was surprised by Jones's stance.

"It sort of sounds like censorship, doesn't it?" O'Regan said. "I think she has a very loving attitude towards challenging the church in matters where it needs to look at itself. She should not be feared. She's a very, very spiritual woman."

O'Regan and her colleagues had studied Chittister's more than 30 books and knew her teachings well.

"Sure, she challenges various things within the church, but then so do a great number of other people. Jesus challenged the leaders of his religious era," said O'Regan.

"It makes me wonder if he (Jones) has read her books and articles that she has written. In my opinion, people have the capacity to judge for themselves."

Trust co-ordinator Kevin Gallagher said most of the group's events over the past seven years had been supported by the diocese.

"It's just the odd one. We understand the position of the diocese if they choose not to. It's their choice," he said.

"I personally have a lot of respect for Bishop Barry. The heart of Catholic teaching is very much in the area of justice and social concern. She (Chittister) is very much about these issues, such as the Iraq war and the gun lobby. People are free to come if they want to."

The lectures are at St Margaret's College Chapel in Merivale on Friday and Saturday.

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