Attempting Dialogue with a Hierarchical Church: Politics and Pressure
History often provides a window for viewing life in the Catholic Church. In understanding the context for the U.S. Presidential election of 1984, it is helpful to recall that it was a very different church from today. Become acquainted with some of these differences by reading the Fact Sheet of 1980.
In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman to run for vice- president of the United States on a national ticket. As a Catholic and a “pro-choice” candidate she was seen by some members of the Catholic hierarchy as being unfaithful. Consider part of her story as related in her autobiography.
This was part of the context of a group of more than 80 committed Catholics, 24 women religious, two religious brothers and two priests asking for dialogue on the issue of abortion. They signed an ad that appeared in the New York Times, October 7, 1984 asking for dialogue on this important issue.
This action was seen as “scandalous” by the Congregation of Religious and Secular Institutes (CRIS) and the religious were commanded to retract their statement. The Prefect of the Congregation, Archbishop Jerome Hamer, OP, sent a letter to the religious superiors of those involved saying they were seriously lacking in ‘religious submission of will and mind’ to the magesterium. Some of the signers responded with another statement trying to defend their desire for dialogue. Ed. note: The statement refers only to women signers. The male signers had retracted by January 17, 1985.
Two of the signers were School Sisters of Notre Dame: Margaret Ellen Traxler and Jeanine Gramick. The complexity of this issue is difficult to describe. However, SSND superiors communicated with both sisters as well as the congregation. These letters from Mary Margaret Johanning, SSND, General Superior, reflect support and attempts at dialogue.
In a presentation to SSNDs in St. Louis in 1985, Margaret Ellen described her reasons for signing the ad. She also expanded these ideas in a speech to the Phoenix Club entitled Prophecy of Dissent. Both presentations are taken directly from her notes written in long-hand.
One example of the concerns and support of Margaret Ellen by 20 School Sisters of Notre Dame is represented in a letter sent on her behalf to Mary Margaret Johanning, SSND, Superior General.
The issue was finally resolved when the signers reaffirmed their acceptance of the official teaching of the Catholic Church regarding abortion. They had not intended to give scandal and their objective was to initiate dialogue on this important issue.
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