Ann Carey is a veteran journalist who has written hundreds of articles for many prestigious Catholic publications. She is a member of the Catholic Press Association and has won awards for news and feature writing, as well as investigative reporting. Her specialty is women religious, and she is the author of two books: Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women’s Religious Communities, published by Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., in 1997; and Sisters in Crisis Revisited: From Unraveling to Reform and Renewal, an updated version of her first book and published by Ignatius Press in 2013. She and her husband live in Indiana and are the parents of three grown children.
“Stand With the Nuns in Support of Birth Control."
This startling statement is the name of a petition to be presented to the Supreme Court this month when it hears the cases of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. The owners of those two companies have religious objections to the HHS mandate to provide sterilization and contraceptive coverage to all employees. Some of the “contraceptives” covered can also cause an early abortion.
Behind the petition is a group that calls itself the National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN) and claims to have 2,000 members.
Okay, not so fast: The NCAN is really a paper organization started in 1969 and now made up of a handful of sisters. Furthermore, the group does not have 2,000 “nun” members — and never did. By its own admission, NCAN is open to any person in any country, and the “membership” seems to consist of anyone who at one time subscribed to the NCAN newsletter, which is now defunct. At a 1994 NCAN demonstration at the Vatican, three sisters and three laywomen showed up. And the NCAN website has not been updated since 2009. Maybe it’s time for a new NCAN census.
Yet, Unitarian minister Debra Haffner, president and founder of the Religious Institute, has jumped in to assist the NCAN group and claimed on the institute’s website: “More than 2,000 brave nuns have stood up for women’s right to birth control.”
Haffner’s fact checker apparently is off duty, but this petition is in Haffner’s interests to promote, for she has worked for years in the “reproductive rights” and “sexual freedom” industries. She formerly was CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), the former director of Education for the Center for Population Options, and the former director of community services for Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington. The Religious Institute, which Haffner is with now, is billed as “is a multifaith organization dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society,” according to its website.
And who are the “nuns” involved? A handful of familiar names have kept the group going, and they are sisters who have long expressed heterodox views. The main NCAN players have been these sisters:
- Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Donna Quinn, who usually speaks for NCAN. Her photo is all over the Internet wearing her “Nuns for Choice” shirt. She put those words into action by being an escort at an abortion business for several years. In a Religion Dispatches article about the NCAN petition, titled “Catholic Nuns Back Obamacare Contraception Access,” she is quoted: “It isn’t ‘faith and freedom’ when reproductive autonomy isn’t extended by the Catholic Church to women. Now we have other Christian religions seeing what the bishops are doing and saying we will do likewise. It isn’t freedom when a woman can be held hostage by the owner of a business.”
- Loretto Sister Jeannine Gramick also has been long active in NCAN. A founder of New Ways Ministry, she was prohibited by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1999 from continuing any ministry with people with same-sex attraction because she had misrepresented Church teaching. She joined the Sisters of Loretto after her former order, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, insisted she follow the CDF’s directive. As a Sister of Loretto, she resumed her work and has actively lobbied for legalizing “gay marriage.”
- Sister Mary Ann Cunningham, also a Sister of Loretto, lists her ministry as “resisting patriarchy.” She and Sisters Donna and Jeannine were among the 26 sisters who signed the 1984 New York Times ad that advanced the lie that there was more than one “legitimate Catholic position on abortion.” In 2006, Sister Mary Ann acted as a spokeswoman for NCAN, which was “urging Catholic voters to challenge Church teachings against abortion and gay marriage,” according to an Oct. 26, 2006 Denver Post article.
So, this dysfunctional, heterodox handful of sisters (Why are they still sisters?) has succeeded in grabbing headlines, even in the mainstream media. The fact-checkers again were absent when, on March 18, MSNBC ran this headline: “Nuns take sides as contraception fight heads to the Supreme Court.” The article compared the NCAN few to the venerable Little Sisters of the Poor, who are challenging the onerous HHS mandate in federal court:
“Now, a separate group of nuns is taking the opposite tack [from the Little Sisters], defending birth control coverage in the ACA in an online petition,” MSNBC gushed.
Such shallow, lazy reporting is indefensible, and it is outrageous that NCAN is being presented as a legitimate group with an actual membership.
It is even more outrageous that a small group of women who say they are Catholic sisters are allowing themselves to be used by people who clearly have an agenda so contrary to Catholic teaching.
What is most outrageous is the damage to the image of all the women religious who support the teachings of the Church on human sexuality and the dignity of all human life.