In her book, If Nuns Ruled the World: Ten Sisters on a Mission, Jo Piazza profiles ten nuns and the causes to which they have dedicated their lives. Her primary goal is to show how badass nuns are, and spends about twenty pages on each woman’s story to do so. In a sense, she succeeds. Some of the women are indeed very impressive. Sister Joan Dawber rescues victims of human trafficking and sex slaves. Sister Dianna Mae Ortiz works with those who survive torture. Both of these women do incredible work and serve others with compassion and care. Some of the others do good as well, but these two stood out the most. In each of the ten chapters, Ms. Piazza shares how these women chose to be a nun, what they do to help others, and the challenges they face.
It is obvious that Jo has a lot of respect and admiration for these women. She works hard to convince the reader that he or she should do the same. Unfortunately, it is also clear that the author has a bias and agenda. In the summary for the book Jo Piazza defines these sisters “…as the most vigorous catalysts of change in an otherwise constricting patriarchy.” The biggest problem she has with this patriarchy is that women cannot be priests. On the second page of the introduction it reads, “The new pope was hailed as a progressive icon, and yet on the subject of women in the Church, he remained loyal to a long-held and antiquated stance: women cannot become priests” (pg. 6). This issue is discussed throughout the book. Ms. Piazza repeatedly quotes various men and women who want to change the Catholic Church so that this practice comes to an end.
It seems like the author desires the above so much, and admires the nuns to such a high degree, that she cannot see her own bias. The statements made by the nuns, their use of Scripture, and the positions they hold are essentially never challenged by the author. As was mentioned earlier, Ms. Piazza makes sure to present the liberal positions held by practically everyone in the book. The only times that alternative perspectives are provided are when shallow lip service is given, or when people who disagree with the nuns need to be made to look like jerks. On a related note, Jo likes to make jabs at the Catholic Church. She, and many others, do so repeatedly. Even though I am not a Roman Catholic, by the end of the book I found it rather irritating.
Beyond all this, the saddest thing is that the nuns use Scripture and related ideas so poorly. When they do so, it is almost always focused on physical things. Salvation in Jesus Christ is almost never mentioned, nor is His divinity. To make matters worse, the author’s bias, and her lack of understanding of Scripture, help support misuse of the Bible. One of the first indications of this is in the chapter related to the Nuns on the Bus. In it, Sister Simone Campbell describes how “…the Holy Spirit began to make some mischief with them” (pg. 63). This isn’t the only time this idea is shared. Near the end of the chapter it reads, “But in 2013, the Holy Spirit continued to make mischief with the nuns…” (pg. 72). The New Testament says much about the Holy Spirit, but He is never described as making mischief. To associate Him with that is ridiculous.
Such statements could potentially be overlooked if they were isolated cases, but they are not. In the book’s third chapter we learn of Sister Jeannine Gramick. She despised the idea that the Church would exclude anyone for something so inconsequential as homosexuality (pg. 78). 1 Corinthians 5 and 6 teach us to exclude people who claim to be Christians, and yet commit various sins. A couple of pages later Ms. Gramick uses Galatians 3:28 and the relationship between David and Jonathan to illustrate God’s inclusiveness (pgs. 81-82). To the author’s credit, she does say that Jeannine doesn’t necessarily view the friendship or love between David and Jonathan as being physical. Even so, neither text helps her argument. The book’s silence on the multiple of passages in both the Old and New Testaments that condemn homosexuality further demonstrate the faulty nature of the chapter’s arguments.
Although other chapters don’t feature such bad twisting of Scripture, many still contain absurd statements similar to the Nuns on the Bus section. One features Sister Madonna who runs marathons and triathlons, writes haikus, and meditates. One time she was having a particularly difficult time training for a race, and cried out to God saying, “I just can’t do it.” She then heard a small inner voice respond. He talked about stepping out in faith, and how He did not know “…how many people down through the ages would respond to my supreme act of love by laying down my life for them” (pg. 116). Apparently Jesus’ act of sacrificial love can be spoken of in the same breath as training for a physical race. In another situation, a sister makes a decision based on daring her Bible to fall open to any passage (pg. 173). While I am glad that Sister Dianna Mae Ortiz now does good work, going to a random passage to make a decision is superstitious. It is not biblical, just like many other things said in this book.
When it comes down to it, that is the main reason I cannot recommend this work and reject many of its arguments. Yes, Jo Piazza tries hard to make these nuns look badass and give us reasons to admire them. Unfortunately, their poor understanding of Scripture is also on display throughout. The same can be said for the author’s bias. Thankfully, some of the good deeds of the nuns can still be appreciated, and that is a main reason I give the book two stars.
My Rating: 2 of 5 stars
A Group of Nuns Walking by Ane_Hinds from Pixabay.