With Love and Gratitude

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My Mother, the Pope, and Women in Rome

Even in her dementia-hijacked mind, moments of clarity emerge.

During moments of opinionated clarity, one forgets that our mother's mind has been hijacked by the memory thief.  She is a jumble of long term remembrances, short term forgetfulness, and intermittent delusions laced with common sense. A nursing home escapee at 93, she beamed when she saw the new pope.  However, she did have harsh words for Pope Benedict XVI for stepping down.

When she first heard the news, she said:  “Who does he think he is resigning?  Popes do not resign. They get the job from God and they are supposed to stay there until they die. I never heard of such a thing.”  

She looked around the room and said, “It’s a good thing I’m friends with the nurses here, who let me catch up on the news, because these people are all cracked.”  

Our mother consumed us and was consumed by the pope

Our mother has been a nursing home challenge since December and has consumed our lives. With my sister visiting new nursing homes while I was seeking recommendations and going through ratings -- and with us visiting her often -- our lives were turned upside down.

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Undiagnosed urinary tract infections changed her personality from a calm, fun person to an agitated woman. Fortunately a hospital stay and a change to a new nursing home with better trained staff restored her sense of humor and ability to speak her mind.

After complaining about some fellow residents "who are not with it", she asked me to take her shopping so she could buy some food to cook dinner for her husband who passed away last year. I reminded her that, thanks to me who called a priest to administer Last Rites, he was in heaven.  

Then I added, "Given his days as Frank Sinatra’s sound consultant, he surely had some explaining to do at the Pearly Gates."

She turned from wistful to silly thinking about Ole’ Blue Eyes and his philandering friends. But remembering how much he was adored by his grandchildren, she added: "Daddy could be a bad boy, but he loved all of us and he was good to us."  

Suddenly she was back to the pope. Not quite understanding the sex scandals associated with pedophilia and an alleged gay lobby in Rome, she interpreted scandal news in a way that she could understand -- all men are womanizers. 

"Do you think they all have a comare hiding under their beds in Rome?" she asked, adding, "I think that all those sex scandals affected the pope. Even in a nonna’s village the padre had his little puttan from the next town.”

I assured her that women in the Vatican were not part of the problem -- although they may have caused the pope some serious heartburn. 

The pope, the nuns, and heartburn

I explained how the Vatican tried to rein in the nuns prior to the presidential election. Members of a social-advocacy lobby, headed by Sr. Simone, took part in a nine state “Nuns on the Bus” tour to Washington. There they protested the Republican budget of Congressman Paul Ryan. Empathy: Sister Simone, the Election, and Women

The nuns have supported women's rights, the rights of gay couples, and even talk about the ordination of women.  As such they may already be at odds with the new Pope Francis who is opposed to abortion, gay marriage, and women priests. 

It has been argued that if women were in places of power within the church we would have more sensible policies and fewer cases of sexual misconduct. Indeed if priests were allowed to marry this might also be true.  But in our lifetime we will never see the theories tested.  

A church of cover-up or change?

The Voice of the Faithful, a group formed in 2002 to support victims of abuse and clergy with integrity, has long urged Roman Catholics to “Keep the Faith. Change the Church.”  

But a church that brings Cardinal Bernard Law to Rome instead of seeing him off to jail does not seem intent on changing. Infamously involved in covering up the scandal that harmed so many young boys, Cardinal Law was also named as the person in Rome who instigated reeling in the nuns.

In his country, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio lived among the people.  He gave up the palatial residence and his chauffeured-driven limousine and took public transportation. He chastised priests who did not baptize babies of single mothers. While we can be grateful for his humility and example, I don’t think priests in this country will be giving up fancy cars or standing in line to apply for senior citizen bus passes. 

As such, without some serious soul-searching and change in Rome, Pope Francis will be little more than a figurehead to a flock of disillusioned, cafeteria Catholics picking and choosing rules to live by.

Our mother often says, "Listen to me, I know what I'm talking about." When it comes to cleaning up the Vatican, she may be right. Bring in the nuns.

Copyright 2013 Rita Watson/ All Rights Reserved

 

Rita Watson, MPH, is an Associate Fellow at Yale's Ezra Stiles College and a columnist for The Providence Journal.

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