National Catholic Register


'Nuns' Gone Mad

BY Ann Carey

| Posted 3/20/14 at 4:40 PM


“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:

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.