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Originally published April 26, 2012 at 8:10 PM | Page modified April 27, 2012 at 10:05 AM

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Sisters of compassion need a hand in dealing with the pope

A recent column criticizing the Vatican's crackdown on a large association of nuns draws a strong response.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Almost 70 years later, Stella Hunt-Darby can still remember the smallest details.

The dish she broke, and the shard she had to keep in her pocket while she prostrated on a hardwood floor. Penance.

The gold cross ring that was slipped on her finger when she took her final vows and became one of the Dominican Sisters in Tacoma.

Mostly, she remembers the women she lived and prayed with for nine years ending in 1952, when she left the convent realizing she was only there to please her mother.

The sisters were "an assembly of the most wonderful, loving, humorous, intellectual women," she told me.

Hunt-Darby was one of many people who responded to last Friday's column criticizing Pope Benedict XVI for taking disciplinary action against the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents 80 percent of the 57,000 religious sisters in the United States.

The pope said the nuns were dabbling in "radical feminist themes," and sent Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain after them like some kind of flying monkey to investigate what sort of Yellow Brick Road they were following.

"It's just a horror to me that he would go after them," Hunt-Darby said from her home in Stanwood. "I think it's an insult.

"It's becoming hard for me to remain a Catholic."

A lot of people feel the same way — many of them nuns, who set aside their rosaries to send me emails.

One nun, who asked not to be identified, wrote that the column "somehow helped me feel slightly better about something that is just so terrible for me as a woman religious ... this is all a piece of the whole, and we can't allow the women's movement to backslide.

"Even if things don't change," she added, "I appreciate the support."

So what else can we do to stand for the sisters?

Well, it just so happens that in the same week that the Vatican went after the nuns, the Seattle Archdiocese launched its 2012 Annual Catholic Appeal.

The Catholic Church is not a democracy, but its members can still vote — with their checkbooks.

M.J. McDermott wrote that she would enclose a letter in her Appeal envelope, explaining that her donation was instead going to the LCWR.

She also directed me to an online petition opposing the investigation of the sisters (www.change.org/petitions/support-the-sisters).

That should make some impact, since many who wrote me think the Vatican can be influenced by what is or isn't in the collection basket.

"Nuns do all the scut work of the church. For free," wrote Helen Cowan, of Port Angeles. "Were Catholic women to withhold money en masse (forgive the pun), the church would be forced to ramp down the testosterone."

Jim Taszarek agreed: "The nuns have been cheap help for those guys for a couple of centuries," he wrote. "Now the nuns own those hospitals and institutions — that's what I think the Vatican slam down is all about. Cash.

"Those guys want to seize the property, sell it off and use the proceeds to pay for legal judgments."

Sister Fran Ferder wrote, describing herself as "one of those radical feminist nuns."

"I get too weary to respond to the boys in Rome much anymore," she wrote. "Ironically, while they whine about our disobedience to them, too many of them make a practice of being disobedient themselves to the gospel values of compassion and inclusivity.

"I will take compassion over obedience any day."

Amen, sister. No pun intended.

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

Sister Paulette, you made your mark.

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About Nicole Brodeur

My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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