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“Your cover story on the American nuns (“A very public rebuke”, 28 April) is instructive for the very reason that the nuns represent the Church we might have had. After Vatican II, Rome’s attention was focused on the male clergy – bishops, priests and religious. The sisters were largely ignored and allowed to get on with the business of giving themselves a makeover – shortening their skirts, discarding heavy wimples and even allowing their hair to be glimpsed! In many ways, they provided some 1960s fun for Catholics emerging from the dreary 1950s.

This relative freedom – or should we say, neglect? – from Vatican officialdom enabled these dedicated women to chart their own course and to respond to Blessed Pope John XXIII’s heartfelt plea for church renewal in their own way. In the US, they did this by devoting themselves to the needs of some of the most deprived in our greedy consumerist world. It has been out of this daily effort to live the Gospel in service of the marginalised and the outcast that the sisters forged the positions they have on the Church’s “neuralgic issues” of feminism, contraception, abortion, homosexuality, women priests, dissent and authority. Now, after 50 years, the Vatican censors, to their dismay, have recognised that the sisters are indeed a force to be reckoned with.

The hierarchy’s instinct, typically, is to suppress and control. Which side will the Catholic laity come down on? That of the Catholic hierarchs in the marble halls of the Vatican palace, or the sisters who are out there in the streets and ghettos of our twenty-first-century cities?”

Eileen Fitzpatrick

Ilkley, West Yorkshire