Sister Donna Quinn was born July 26, 1937 to an Irish Catholic family, with “a mom and dad who were a lot of fun.” She recounted in a 2002 talk that her mother died in childbirth when Donna was only 11 years old. She said: “I think death is the first and most devastating form of violence perpetrated on humanity. I still shout at God, saying, ‘even I could have planned it better!’ I think organized religions were invented to explain it and address it.” She grew up attending daily Mass, and she and her sister and brother all entered religious life–her brother Bill became a priest and her sister entered the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, though she later left.
Donna entered the Sinsinawa Dominicans, the congregation that ran the high school she had attended on the south side of Chicago, in 1955, and professed her final vows in 1960, receiving in the same year a bachelor’s degree in Education and History from Madison’s Edgewood College, where president Sister Mary Nona McGreal was an important influence in her formation as a teacher–“Starting out and receiving a first ‘assignment’ to share a classroom for teaching and spend the other half of every day learning at Duchesne College just down the street from St. Cecilia’s Convent in Omaha I always carried in my heart her love for a good curriculum.” Donna’s education continued with master’s degrees in History from the University of Illinois-Champaign and in Administration from UW-Madison. She served as a Catholic school teacher and administrator until 1975. At that point, her life took a decisive left turn.
In 1974, Sister Donna, according to her talk at Harvard Divinity School in 2002, attended a conference sponsored by Chicago’s Association of Catholic Priests. One of the sessions was facilitated by Alinsky-trained organizer and Dominican Sister of St. Mary of the Springs Marjorie Tuite, and when Donna asked, “where’s the women’s group in Chicago?” Tuite, a truly key figure in setting up the feminist sisters’ extensive organizational networks, followed up encouraging that Donna start such a group, and offered help in any way possible.
What resulted was an independent activist feminist organization, with no sanction under the diocese, called Chicago Catholic Women. Sister Donna Quinn described its December, 1974 founding the following fall in the Sinsinawa Dominican congregation magazine ExCHANGE. She and others desirous of “helping women in the archdiocese of Chicago provide input to the Bishops of the United States for the formation of social justice policy” expressed offense that the Chicago Archdiocesan planning committee for implementing the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ US Bicentennial plans, had just one woman out of 17 members. In response to their request “that at least one other woman, a religious, be added to the committee we were told that a Jesuit priest on the committee was the representative for women religious.” This led to a meeting of around 40 women, who called themselves Chicago Catholic Women, and formulated a proposal to facilitate women’s participation by holding their own non-sanctioned event for women to give “testimony” on all manner of things:
On June 1, at a public hearing held at Holy Name Cathedral, Catholic Women presented testimony from women for 4 1/2 hours before a panel of 16 men and women and to an audience of over 150 people. The testimony dealt with the following topics: the contributions of women in ministry today; the oppression which Black women experience within the Church; women in prison; justice education in the Church; Latino women’s position in the Year of Woman; the need for ordained women priests and deacons; the exclusion of women from decision-making in the Church; discriminatory language in ecclesiastical documents and liturgy; the Church and Equal Rights Amendment, and reconciliation–male and female.
Close on the heels of this exhilarating and dissident experiment in self-empowerment, Sister Donna joined the dissident sisters’ group National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN) in 1975. This group was founded in 1969 by School Sister of Notre Dame Margaret Ellen Traxler, to oppose any “interference” by men in the affairs of sisters, in the wake of Vatican efforts in regards to the disturbing and chaotic affair of the disintegration and split of the IHM nuns. Traxler had been formed in Marxist-type liberation theology “praxis” by intense experiences with the Civil Rights and “black liberation” movements, and carried that over to the women’s movement. NCAN is claimed to have been the first “Catholic” feminist organization to publicly endorse abortion rights (whereas most Catholic feminist groups saw, and continue to see, simply keeping conspicuously silent on the matter as an effective “strategy”), and I have seen it said to have been the first to publicly endorse “women’s ordination,” in 1971. Its specialty seems to have always been, and continues to be, pushing the dissent envelope. Sister Donna also served together with Sister Marjorie Tuite on the task force for the 1976 Women’s Ordination Conference in Detroit, the original event that founded the organization of that name. This became an enduring focus for Chicago Catholic Women also: “While involved with many women’s causes, Chicago Catholic Women identified the ordination of women as a primary focus,” regardless of Catholic teaching that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.” A Sinsinawa Dominican lay associate who participated in the organization described asking Sister Donna why she stayed in the Catholic Church, and the answer was less radical than it was in later years: “I, too, asked that question to Donna Quinn years ago when I was going to Chicago Catholic Women and had no idea at that time that she was a Dominican (or who or where Sinsinawa was). Her answer was simple, yet strong: ‘Because it is my church.'” Chicago Catholic Women continued to be a major focus of Donna’s life until 2000, when it was dissolved. The not-authentically-Catholic organization’s records are archived at Loyola University, Chicago, as part of its “Women and Leadership Archives.”
In 1977 the Sinsinawa Dominicans became a supporting member of the 8th Day Center for Justice in Chicago, which obliged them to provide a staff person and $5000 yearly membership fee. Sister Donna Quinn, who was already part of the 8th Day Center on behalf of Chicago Catholic Women, now assumed that role on behalf of the congregation. After 1981 the Sinsinawa Dominicans continued to provide funds but not staff. Sister Donna seems to have stayed connected with this organization. The 8th Day Center, which has clearly been a dissident organization, has faced scrutiny, for instance from Cardinal George in 2011 over promotion of “women’s ordination”. Google reveals its website continues to contain a letter of support to LGBT youth which implies homosexuality is “a gift” for youth, a statement in favor of ordaining “gay” men, advertisement of a New Ways Ministry pro-homosexuality event, an item in favor of “female priests” and the now-laicized Fr Roy Bourgeois, an advertisement of the pro-“women’s ordination” film Pink Smoke Over the Vatican, etc.
In 1983 Sister Donna, again together with Marjorie Tuite, was a co-founder of Women-Church Convergence, a coalition of nominally-Catholic radical feminist organizations. The Sinsinawa Dominican Women’s Network has continued to be a member of this organization, as are “Catholics for Choice”, the pro-homosexuality group “Dignity,” “Roman Catholic Womenpriests,” “Women’s Ordination Conference,” etc.
In the world of religious life, there was much turmoil over the “Quinn Commission,” which the Vatican had called to examine religious life in the US, was attempting to dialogue and probe the explosive issues surrounding sisters’ increasing rejection of the Holy See’s definition of religious life.
As the 1984 US Presidential election approached, Democratic vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro was under fire for being a Catholic running for office on a pro-abortion-rights platform, for instance Cardinal O’Connor of New York had asked Catholics not to endorse the Mondale-Ferraro ticket. On October 7, which had been designated by the US Bishops as “Respect Life Sunday,” a statement signed by 97 members of Catholics for a Free Choice was placed as an ad in the New York Times, stating that “a diversity of opinion regarding abortion exists among committed Catholics,” and arguing for the legitimacy of a “pro-choice” position supportive of abortion rights, and calling for dialogue within the Catholic Church. The signatories whose names were published in the ad included 24 women religious, and among them were Sister Marjorie Tuite and Sister Donna Quinn; the latter stated: “We believe we have a right to speak out when we have a differing opinion, and this is something European men do not understand.” [Sisters in Crisis, Ann Carey]
At the end of November, 1984, each of the religious congregations to which they belonged received letters from Archbishop (later Cardinal) Jean Jerome Hamer, who had recently been Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in which capacity he had just participated in crafting a Declaration on Procured Abortion which had been issued earlier that very month, and was now the newly appointed head of the Congregation for Religious. The letters stated that the ad was “in contradiction to the teachings of the Church” and those who signed it were “seriously lacking in religious submission to the mind of the Magisterium.” Religious superiors were directed to require the signatory sisters to sign statements indicating their adherence to Catholic teaching on abortion, or else be expelled from religious life. The sisters, their superiors, and some of the lay signers met together and devised a collective strategy; after all the sisters indicated that through the religious superiors that they would not retract, Rome asked that they at least sign affirming “the teaching authority of the Church,” a statement which feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Reuther, who wrote one of the most detailed articles on the affair, points out “might be construed in several ways.” The Congregation for Religious had to clarifiy again on March 25, 1985 that this meant affirming Catholic teaching on abortion. Most of the sisters, or their congregations acting on their behalf, eventually issued statements which were accepted by the Vatican. It is said that Marjorie Tuite‘s congregation submitted her statement without her knowledge; she was terminally ill with pancreatic cancer and passed away soon after; her funeral Mass was a feminist pandemonium of sacrilegious behavior.
Sister Donna seems to recall these highly-publicized controversies as her glory days. She recounted the story, to laughter, at Harvard Divinity School in 2002, and again extremely similarly at Planned Parenthood in California in 2012, of a protest of feminist nuns against the imposing Belgian Cardinal Jean Jerome Hamer, Prefect of the Congregation for Religious, who, during a three week visit to the US in August of 1985 addressed the religious of Chicago in the aftermath of the New York Times ad. Some of the people gathered at the Cathedral wore black armbands to signify that, for them, the Church had died. Sister Donna relates the Cardinal’s (she says Archbishop and does not mention his name but this was surely Hamer, and he had been created a Cardinal that May) reaction to her declaration that she was one of the signers, and that she, like he, was a Dominican: “You are not a good Dominican!” he told her, urging her to become one. Sister Donna says Cardinal Bernardin came over, told her she looked like she was going to faint, and urged her to sit down. She claims that Bernardin said to her, of the Belgian archbishop, “I don’t know what we’re going to do with that man.” Though played for laughs, the experience was radicalizing: “What did I take from this experience? My belief in a woman’s right to choose was stronger than ever,” she said in 2002.
In a Summer, 1985 article in the magazine Spirituality Today, Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Clare Wagner had written of how this situation affected her personally:
After lengthy and intense discussion with my community group, which included one of the signers [ie, Sister Donna Quinn, the only Sinsinawa Dominican signer], and after a restless night’s sleep, I realized that I felt as if I was struck by a bolt which rather thoroughly disconcerted me. Things which I had taken for granted and which, I since realize, gave me security were called into question. This left me fearful and threatened.
I had been confident that membership in my religious congregation and the church would go on, with perhaps some rough times, as long as I would live. I had been confident, too, that my sisters who chose to share this common life-style with me could do so as long as I would live. I had seen ahead of me a path of life which stretched out a great distance before me toward a distant horizon; and I had seen securely situated on this path myself and those with whom I traveled, taking one step at a time toward the future. Suddenly none of the above could be taken for granted and the path was abruptly shortened, the future less certain than ever. Numerous “what ifs” were raised by this incident.
The sense of threat apparently drew the sisters together:
In the first meeting of thirty-three women of one religious community, we prayed, we heard a chronology of the events related to the issue of the signing, and we asked questions for clarification. In recent years we have met dozens of times for chapter preparation and for the renewal process, but this meeting was different from any of those. Views in the group about the statement in the New York Times and Rome’s reaction were mixed. There were no mixed views, however, concerning the fact that one among us — one of our own — was facing a difficult ordeal and her very membership in the community was involved. No mixed views either about the fact that we wanted to support her.
Sister Kaye Ashe, another radical feminist who became Prioress General in 1986, not long after the publication of the famous ad, and handled some of its aftermath, writes in The Feminization of the Church?: “Many felt the statements they had signed or the statements presented to Rome by their religious superiors did not constitute a retraction of what was stated in the ad, but Vatican officials interpreted the statements as such and cleared all but two of the signers,” namely, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Patricia Hussey and Barbara Ferraro.
Substantiating Sister Kaye’s words, a June 21, 1986 LA Times story reported that Vatican “officials have had little to say about any of the cases up to now, but sponsors of the original ad say 22 of the cases have been settled far short of retractions.” A month later, the LA Times reported that “Eleven nuns who signed a 1984 abortion-related advertisement and were threatened with dismissal from their religious communities today denied a Vatican statement that they now adhere to Roman Catholic Church teaching on abortion.” Their statement was made partly to support Hussey and Ferraro, whose congregation was resisting pressure from the Vatican to expel them: “We continue to stand with them in solidarity in their ongoing struggle.” The Associated Press reported that these eleven were: “Mary Ann Cunningham of Denver; Mary Louise Denny of St. Louis; Sister Fiedler of Mount Ranier, Md.; Jeannine Grammick of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Patricia Kenoyer of Kansas City, Mo.; Donna Quinn of Chicago; Marilyn Thie of Hamilton, N.Y.; Margaret Ellen Traxler of Chicago; Judith Vaughan of Los Angeles; Ann Patrick Ware of St. Louis; and Virginia Williams of St. Louis.”
After this, certainly these sisters should have been dismissed. They, including Sister Donna Quinn, had made it clear that they supported abortion rights and were “pro-choice,” though they tried to claim that this was not “pro-abortion”. If the Holy See took further action it seems to have failed, except for continuing to pressure the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, from which Patricia Hussey and Barbara Ferraro resigned in 1988.
The National Coalition of American Nuns, seven of whose board members (including Donna) had signed the statement, honored Frances Kissling, founder of Catholics for a Free Choice, with its “national medal of honor” in 1986. [Sisters in Crisis, Ann Carey] In 1993 and in 2000, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued statements condemning the organization. The 2000 statement says: “For a number of years, a group calling itself Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) has been publicly supporting abortion while claiming it speaks as an authentic Catholic voice. That claim is false. In fact, the group’s activity is directed to rejection and distortion of Catholic teaching about the respect and protection due to defenseless unborn human life.” It is now known as Catholics for Choice, and continues to prominently support pro-abortion-rights politicians. Sister Donna stated on May 2,. 2012 at a Planned Parenthood panel discussion in California, that she is the Illinois state coordinator of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a pro-abortion-rights group of which Catholics for Choice is a member organization.
In November of 1990, Sister Donna Quinn was invited by the Peoria branch of the National Organization for Women (NOW) “to speak at their meeting about reproductive rights of women.” Bishop John Meyers contacted Sinsinawa Prioress General Kaye Ashe, who refused to order Sister Donna not to give a pro-abortion-rights talk, and told the bishop he should tell her himself. “Thank God for Kaye!” said Sister Donna in recounting this. Bishop Meyers let Sister Donna know that if she came to Peoria to give the talk he would report her to Rome. She did of course give the talk, and he did report this to Rome.
In 2002, Sister Donna was invited to speak at a conference on feminism and religion, at Harvard Divinity School. This is available in video form online. She deals with some of the obvious questions many people have about someone who is officially a religious sister, but believes and behaves in ways radically at odds with the Catholic Faith. In fact the question has arisen in her own mind: “One question I have at this time is regarding my identifier as Catholic. I used to say, this is my church, and I will work to change it because I love it. Later I said, this church is immoral and if I am to identify with it I had better work to change it. More recently I am saying all organized religions are immoral in their gender discrimination.” According to Sister Donna Quinn, “The root cause of evil in the church and thus in the world, is gender discrimination.” At the end of the talk there is this, which definitely underscores the dubia about her “identifier as Catholic”:
Several years ago one of our nuns asked me why I stay in community. She was really upset–why do ya stay in? I think she would love to see me go. I responded that it is the sisterhood that keeps me in the Dominican community. I do believe that we need more gatherings of women to say how our spirituality is leading us into the future. What are the strategies we want to follow, and how will the Spirit lead us? You in this conference are a good start. The women’s movement has been church for me. On forms sent out by the Dominican community saying ‘list your diocese’ I always list Women-Church. You know, I was so excited, I was ecstatic to come to this conference. This gathering for me has been a Eucharistic celebration, I always say, out with Scripture, just throw it out, what better stories than those we have been told and those we hold in our hearts as yet unspoken.
In 2005, on Pentecost Sunday at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Sister Donna defied Cardinal George, who was had ordered refusal of Holy Communion to visibly identified “rainbow sash” pro-homosexuality protesters, standard practice that guards against desecration of the Eucharist and politicization of Holy Communion:
Dominican Sister Donna Quinn, director of the National Coalition of American Nuns, Joseph and Barbara Parot of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and long time Catholic gay rights activist Rick Garcia, also attended the Mass. After the sash wearers were denied, Sister Donna, the Parots and Garcia approached the altar and received Communion. To the surprise of some, including the sash wearers, the four then approached the sash-wearers and gave them a portion of their consecrated hosts.
There do not seem to have been any ecclesiastical consequences from her actions.
Though I am not sure exactly when she started, in 2006, 2007, 2008 Sister Donna Quinn was working as Executive Director of the Institute for Women Today, at 7315 S. Yale in Chicago, a group founded by the late Sister Margaret Traxler (d. 2002), who had been perhaps the most prominent sister Civil Rights era campaigner who marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 singing “We Shall Overcome”, before taking her militant liberationist zeal to the women’s movement and in 1969 became founder of the National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN), and had also been one of the signers of the 1984 New York Times ad, and, like Donna, one of the 11 who publicly insisted that they indeed dissented from Catholic teaching on abortion. Donna was also and continued to be a National Coordinator for the radically dissident NCAN, which she’d joined in 1975, a couple years after its founding. A news reporter paraphrased Sister Donna’s description that the Institute for Women Today “works with women, many who have children, who have been rejected by their partners or who cannot afford adequate housing.” It operates a women’s shelter on Chicago’s South Side, Maria Shelter.
The Sinsinawa Dominicans’ email discussion list archive SinsinOP begins in 1999. Sister Donna Quinn’s participation in this means of communication, at first infrequent, became increasingly heavy through the years, a quite continual stream. Her posts are full of the doings of the various dissident organizations she is part of, and urging the community to activism. She seems fond of the font “Comic Sans.”
On October 27th, 2008, Sister Donna recounted to her sisters via SinsinOP her volunteering as a “clinic escort” at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Chicago (if you follow the link, you must click to the attachment to read it):
For those who are still wondering if Reproductive Justice has disappeared from view let me tell you that in my experience it is alive and well and as long as there are women on earth this issue will be with us.
Last Saturday I got up at 4 A.M. (not easy for someone who turns the light out at midnight) to escort women into a health Clinic. (I have been doing this for the last five years). My partner in this endeavor is in her eighties. We arrived at the Clinic to see that it was surrounded by about 25 Catholics shouting the rosary at us (always the sorrowful mysteries) These people keep shouting “Murderers” at the women we are protecting. One woman last Saturday was afraid to get out of her car to go in to the Clinic to discuss a woman’s health issue..The “Catholics” (I refuse to call them protesters as I consider that word sacred in my vocabulary) started blocking the driveway and physically impeding our getting to the drivers to tell them to drive right through..I called the cops..After ten or fifteen minutes a squad appeared with a disinterested cop inside.(He might have been a parishioner ! ) The Catholics stood there and lied saying we were shouting at them and of course they would never block the driveway….Their numbers at the Clinic are growing and I don’t know if this is a result of October being Anti-Choice month or that they sense a Democratic Platform will take over after November 4.. I have greatly admired and worked with all interfaith people for twenty-five years on this issue..Those who volunteer with us are not Catholic. It is only the screamers who are anti-women and anti-choice who are..
Anyway this is an appeal for help. If you would like to help us nationwide with a woman’s right to access health issues please let me know.
Love, Donna Quinn
No reaction at all from her fellow religious sisters was in evidence. The claim that pro-life protesters “keep shouting Murderer” at women approaching an abortion clinic, is very improbable, based on everything I have known of the way Catholic pro life activists approach their outreach to vulnerable moms.
The next July, Sister Donna Quinn received a letter from the vicar for religious for the Diocese of Chicago, Sister Joan McGlinchey, MSC, on behalf of Cardinal George, who “has become aware of your actions as a clinic escort at the ACU Health Center abortion clinic in Hinsdale, IL.” Sister Donna posted the full text right on SinsinOP. The blunt letter states that the prioress has verified that Sister Donna has been “publicly involved in these pro-abortion actions” and emphasizes repeatedly: “Your pro-abortion involvement as a Catholic religious sister is cause for public scandal.” It is a good question why seemingly none of the Sinsinawa Dominicans had confronted Sister Donna as straightforwardly as Sister Joan: “Your dissent with the Church is widely known, but you are actively cooperating in an act contrary to our beliefs as Catholics.” Consequences are spoken of, though not specified:
As Cardinal George’s delegate, I am asking you to cease these public actions at Hinsdale and to reflect on the consequences of your behavior for yourself, for your Dominican Congregation and for the Church. This request is serious and we await your response in this matter.
Sister Donna sent a reply, cc: to Cardinal George, protesting for instance that “I am not publicly identified as a member of the Sinsinawa Dominicans there.” When she received a terse note in reply from Cardinal George, she posted that too, with a feisty confidence that her sisters were behind her (“Thank you for your overwhelming and continued support as we work together to end gender discrimination wherever it is found.”). The Cardinal wrote, in response to correspondence from Donna: “While it is interesting to receive your perspective on events that were reported to my office, this is a situation that is to be worked out between you and your Prioress.”
Thank you to all for your prayers, hugs and calls about our continuing work together regarding Peace Keepers at Health Clinics and the Women who want to go in without violence for many reproductive health care issues offered by these licensed Clinics. As you know the Church has questioned my presence there…Pat Mulcahey, Mary Howard Johnstone, Ann Halloran and I met on Sunday to further this discussion…With your energy and the Spirit’s direction we will continue…Thanks again for all of your support…..Love, Donna Quinn
Then, the disturbing fact of the Dominican sister who accompanied women to enter the ACU Health Center abortion clinic, finally hit the media. LifeSiteNews broke the news on October 23, 2009, based on the reports of Catholic pro-life protesters:
“I’ve called her sister several times, and she never responded,” local pro-lifer John Bray told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN). “But it’s her.”
Amy Keane, a pro-life witness for 11 years, says Quinn has acted as escort for “six years, at least.” Keane described one incident in which Quinn began shouting at the pro-lifers as they spoke to a woman about to enter the abortion facility.
“[Quinn] was so angry, and burst out very loudly so everyone could hear: ‘Look at these men, telling these women what to do with their bodies!'” said Keane. “She was so angry, that it really took all of us aback.” Keane says that the group was peaceful, and that the men present were not among those engaging the woman.
“For those of us who are Catholic, to have a member of a religious order so blatantly – it is so disheartening. It really is,” said Keane. “She’s participating actively in abortion. That is what is so disturbing for us.”
The Prioress General didn’t immediately speak against this cooperation in abortion, the killing of unborn babies:
Sr. Patricia Mulcahey, OP, Quinn’s Prioress at the Sinsinawa Dominican community, said in an email response to LSN that the nun sees her volunteer activity as “accompanying women who are verbally abused by protestors. Her stance is that if the protestors were not abusive, she would not be there.”
Though Sr. Mulcahey claimed that her sisters “support the teachings of the Catholic Church,” she declined to comment on Quinn’s public protest of Catholic Church teaching.
The case caused a considerable stir. On SinsinOP, Sister Pat Mulcahey the Prioress reported:
The [LifeSiteNews.com] article has resulted in over 300 emails to me, requests from reporters for comments in news stories and phone calls from people who went to our schools and are very confused. I imagine that newspapers in your local areas may carry articles. Please know that I am working on a public statement to clarify that we as Sinsinawa Dominicans do not support abortion and are working with Donna Quinn regarding her responsibility as a vowed religious vis-a-vis questions she may have about Church teachings.
Respected canon lawyer Dr. Ed Peters weighed in on the case a few days later on his blog. He was well aware there was little chance of the Sinsinawa Dominican prioress taking canonical action, but pointed out three dioceses (Madison, Chicago, and Joliet where the clinic is) had jurisdiction in the case–“the problem is finding an authority willing to act.” He explained:
Under Canon 696, dismissal from religious life can be imposed against one who gives “grave scandal arising from culpable behavior”. This unusually broad language allows superiors to move against a religious whose specific conduct could not have been predicted when the revised Code was being drafted (perhaps, like Sr. Donna’s, it could scarcely have been imagined!), but which we now know can be both imagined and committed. So, to the extent that conducting babies to their death is scandalous behavior for a religious woman, Sr. Donna deserves dismissal.
But SinsinOP reveals that a few weeks prior to the news story breaking on LifeSiteNews, the sisters were already grappling with the matter of Sister Donna’s abortion escorting.
It seems that not only LifeSiteNews, but also Francis Cardinal George the Archbishop of Chicago was asking for answers, so the silence that the Sinsinawa Dominicans might have preferred was not an option. On November 1st, Sister Pat, who was at the time in Trinidad receiving the final vows of Sister Christine Araujo, finally issued the following statement on behalf of the congregation, telling the sisters now that “As vowed Dominican religious we bear a unique responsibility for proclaiming the Gospel and for loyalty to the infallible teachings of the Magisterium“:
Public Statement of the Sinsinawa Dominican Congregation
Several months ago the leadership of the Sinsinawa Dominicans was informed that Sr. Donna Quinn, OP, acted as a volunteer escort at a Chicago area clinic that among other procedures, performs abortions. After investigating the allegation, Congregation leaders have informed Sr. Donna that her actions are in violation of her profession as a Dominican religious. They regret that her actions have created controversy and resulted in public scandal. They are working with Sr. Donna to resolve the matter appropriately.
Congregation leaders offer the following statement on behalf of members of the Congregation.
We as Sinsinawa Dominican women are called to proclaim the Gospel through the ministry of preaching and teaching to participate in the building of a holy and just society. As Dominican religious, we fully support the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the dignity and value of every human life from conception to natural death. We believe that abortion is an act of violence that destroys the life of the unborn. We do not engage in activity that witnesses to support of abortion.
Unsurprisingly, Sister Donna had a few things to say about this. The very next day, she posted on SinsinOP, and I think it is in the interest of the common good to provide it here in full:
Before I send my Statement I want to write to you about the Process
I have been involved in with Pat and the Council:
In July I was reported to the Cardinal by people who gather to shout and scream at women needing assistance at health clinics. My presence there as a Peace Keeper giving safe passage got in the way of their violence against these women. Following me to my car they discovered from looking up my license plate that I was a nun doing this outrageous activity.
After I responded to the Cardinal’s letter to me he turned the whole matter over to Pat and to our Community
I was happy about this because I thought this will be a teaching moment for the Cardinal as we will lift up a kind loving respectful and inclusive way that our community operates. (It could have been settled back in August).
So far I have kept a silence about this process but it has been three months of hell.
-I have been treated disrespectfully by Pat who calls me at any hour and at any time (3 calls from Trinidad) and attempts to control me by badgering me and twisting stories.
-I went to the Mound this past weekend for the Associates Gathering only to walk into the foyer and find my name on the T.V. monitors to pray for Sr. Donna Quinn. I also found out while there that Pat had called a secret meeting last week of the nuns at the Mound to discuss me.
-I have never heard from the Council (except for an e-mail from Mary Ellen Green a few days ago begging me to think about what I am doing to disrupt the community and Pat)..Not one on the Council has asked me how I am during this whole process.(.not even when I saw them at the Mound last weekend) but I find them rubber – stamping everything that goes out from Pat…This is not my idea of Leadership.
-I received a letter from Pat that I was to meet “under the vow of obedience of my vows of 1957” This meeting was to be in October at the Mound and I was later told by her that there would be only one Agenda Item and that was that I was to say that I am Pro-Abortion and that I am perceived by the protestors as Pro-Abortion. This meeting did not materialize as I will not be treated in such a manner.
-Most of all I am writing this for the women I asked to help me in this process. Kaye Ashe, Ann Halloran, Marilyn Aiello, and Patty Caraher.
We have asked Pat for the correspondence Pat has had with the Cardinal
She has refused this. We asked that Ann facilitate the Nov.meeting.
She said No. They asked Pat to please wait until after our meeting to make a public Statement. Pat held a Conference Call from Trinidad with the Council last Saturday nite to rush out the Statement you received from them..There was no reason nor deadline to do this dastardly deed.
I do not want these great women in our Community Kaye, Ann, Marilyn and Patty to be treated with any more disrespect from this Leadership that is now in place in our Community.
-Lastly, I apologize to Christina Araujo for the letter written by Leadership juxtaposing her beautiful and sacred day of Profession with this sick obsession about me.
Sister Donna’s reference to “the women I asked to help me in this process. Kaye Ashe, Ann Halloran, Marilyn Aiello, and Patty Caraher” refers to a “council” she recruited for purposes of advising her, giving personal support and helping to negotiate with the General Council. Sister Ann Marie Mongoven wrote on SinsinOP: “I understand that Pat and Donna have talked with one another and that Donna also has a group of four sisters who are advising her. What a wonderful way to resolve a conflict. Council members and Donna’s advisors are all sisters looking out for the good of Donna and the good of the congregation.” Sister Kaye is a past prioress of the congregation and radical feminist, Sister Ann the founder of Milwaukee’s Dominican Center for Women, who spoke up on SinsinOP strongly objecting to the prioress’ public statement on the matter partly on the grounds that the congregation membership hadn’t been consulted before declaring that Sinsinawa agrees with the Church that abortion is wrong, Sister Marilyn a medical doctor who states that she counseled women to use contraception, and Sister Patty the co-founder of an innovative Atlanta area school for refugee children and one of the community’s consistently most radical dissidents against Catholic beliefs.
Another sister, Clare Wagner, whom I quoted way up above describing her feelings back when her friend Sister Donna was under fire after the 1984 New York Times ad, further recounts Sister Donna’s extensive support network: “On October 3,2009 [this was prior to LifeSiteNews breaking the story] the Sinsinawa Women’s Network met at Dominican University. Donna is a long time member of that group, and we spent most of the day processing and clarifying Donna’s experience at the Hinsdale clinic, the cardinal’s and congregation’s response,etc.” Sister Clare says, “I felt that I was able to ‘walk in Donna’s shoes’ for a mile or two that day,and that her only intent was to assist women. I sensed that she assumed the congregation would support her in this.” Sister Clare agreed with Sister Donna’s advisor Ann Halloran’s strong words that the prioress’ public statement was “ill-timed, ill-advised, and ill-conceived.” On the other hand, others spoke up to say they agreed with the prioress’ statement: “I agree with the stance taken by Pat and the Council and I understand the difficulty of their decision. If a vote is need they have mine.”
(One sister wrote: “A friend who is not a Sister just called me and said that she had been following the SinsinOP interaction today. She expressed some alarm about the fact that ANYTHING on the internet is public information. Please, let’s not send anything that we don’t want to see in a blog or in the newspaper.”)
Sister Donna indeed issued a public response statement. It does not at all suggest that she agrees with the prioress “that abortion is an act of violence that destroys the life of the unborn,” nor that she would not “engage in activity that witnesses to support of abortion.” It even exhorts pro-life protesters to stop protesting the Hinsdale Clinic, and calls the Sinsinawa Dominicans to stop communicating with the media on the matter, criticizing the statement that had been made by her congregation as “not… in the best interest of women.”
Response of Donna Quinn to the Nov. 1, 2009 “Public Statement of the Sinsinawa Dominican Congregation”
On Sunday, November 1, 2009 I was informed that the “Congregation” had decided to issue a Public Statement regarding my role as a Peace Keeper at the Hinsdale Health Clinic. While a meeting had been scheduled for Nov. 18 to discuss this matter, Congregational leadership decided to act immediately. I am disappointed that the process agreed upon was circumvented.
At the same time, I am more concerned that the growing publicity around my role as a Peace Keeper is inconsistent with what a Peace Keeper is supposed to do. As a Peace Keeper, my goal is to enable women to enter a reproductive health clinic in dignity and without fear of being physically assaulted. I should not become the center of attention. I am very worried that the publicity around my presence will lead to violations of every woman’s right to privacy and expose them to further violence.
Thus, I have decided to suspend for a time my activities as a Peace Keeper and to think about the ways in which I can be helpful to women seeking reproductive health care that does not in any way threaten them.
I want to be clear that this is my decision. Respect for women’s moral agency is of critical importance to me and I look forward to continuing to dialogue with our Congregation on these matters as a way of informing my actions as well as educating the community.
I take this opportunity to urge those demonstrating against women who are patients at the Hinsdale Clinic, whom I have seen emotionally as well as physically threaten women, to cease those activities. I would never
have had to serve as a Peace Keeper had not they created a war against women. It is my sincere hope that my decision serves to protect these women from greater exposure to public ridicule. Were I only concerned for my own interests, I would not suspend this important work.
Since the community has issued its statement in public, it is my intention to make my own statement public. I will not, however, be available to the media to discuss the statement or my decision and I ask that the Congregation also suspend any media contacts or reactions it has undertaken which I believe have not been in the best interest of women.
November 2, 2009
Frances Kissling, the founder of Catholics for Choice, the organization that had placed the 1984 ad in the New York Times asserting that Catholics have a diversity of opinions about abortion, spoke to her old friend Donna Quinn on the phone, and wrote a warmly supportive article quoting the above statement by Sister Donna, that appeared the next day in Religion Dispatches. Of the signers of the famous 1984 ad, Kissling said “Quinn is one of several who have remained active on the abortion issue, especially supporting the concept of women’s moral agency as relevant to the question of abortion. There is no doubt that Quinn will find creative ways to continue to support women.” The Chicago Tribune said, similarly, of Sister Donna’s statement: “Quinn showed no sign of changing her ways Tuesday.”
It must be underscored that in 2009 after the clinic escort affair, just as after the 1984 New York Times letter, the congregation made a statement on Sister Donna’s behalf, that responded to a demand of the Church hierarchy, but that Donna didn’t endorse and even made a public statement making that clear and letting the world know she personally was not taking back any of her words or actions. The Sinsinawa Dominicans made a wagon circle around her, covered for her, never considered dismissing her, and she vigorously kept up her pro-abortion-rights activism, with the knowledge of all the sisters. A Chicago Tribune article the following month reported that on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception Sister Donna sent a thank-you to those who had lobbied for defeat of an amendment that would have barred government funds authorized under Obamacare, from being used for abortion. It then quotes her saying something sick and blasphemous, against the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In February of 2010, there is something very surprising and exceptional: right there on SinsinOP, the Hinsdale ACU Health Center pro-life protesters’ side of the story. A sister writes: “For months I have been reading Donna Qunn’s rendition of what goes on at the ACU Health Center/Hinsdale Clinic. My brother and sister in law are part of the Pro LIfe group that prays in this Clinic area each week.” She passes on the words of Cathy Hubeny, the Coordinator of Notre Dame Parish Catholics for Life:
Back in May I wrote to Cardinal George at the recommendation of his Executive Assistant, about an incident involving Sr. Donna Quinn at the ACU Health Center in Hinsdale requesting his pastoral assistance. On a Saturday in May this year, Sr. Donna was at the clinic as a clinic escort. When the sidewalk counselors tried to talk to the girls and offer assistance as they drove in, she interfered, and waved their cars in. She and her female associate then walked next to and talked to the women and girls coming for abortions, as they got out of their cars, and escorted them into the clinic. She told them not to listen to or talk to the sidewalk counselors. Over her street clothes, she wore a vest that says Clinic Escort. When the counselors attempted to tell the women that they have other options, about the dangers of abortion mentally, physically, and medically, and that there is a crisis pregnancy facility that can help them, Woman’s Choice Servies**, a few feet away. Sr. Donna and her associate, interfered with the pro-life sidewalk counselors. The counselors are pro-life volunteers from our local Catholic parishes. Sister spoke in an openly hostile and angry mode toward the people praying, particularly the men. The women sidewalk counselors were trying to talk to some teenage girls who came to the clinic, Sister followed and walked with the girls and derisively said, “Leave these poor women alone” and “Look at all these men here telling the women what to do.” Because we all knew who sister was, I said to her, “Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli pray for us”. Two of the Catholic sidewalk counselors tried talking to Sr. Donna and her associate afterward, calling Sr. Donna by her name, saying to her very lovingly that surely God didn’t intend that her caring about women as she does would mean taking the life of their innocent unborn babies. Sister Donna’s angry reply was, “You are harassing me.” Sr. Donna has been coming to this clinic for a number of years. So, the pro-life volunteers are familiar with her and her escort work at the clinic. (Sr. Donna was recognized by them by her picture in the Chicago Tribune in an article about her protesting at Holy Name Cathedral about the Church not allowing women priests. After the incident, I also looked up Sr. Donna and found her picture on the Sinsinawa Mound website. Because of seeing Sr. Donna at the clinic we have become aware of her history and involvement in dissenting Catholic feminist groups.)
There is also a message from one of the sidewalk counselors:
Those of us who pray and sidewalk counsel at the Hinsdale clinic do so because we care for these women and men in crisis. We stand by them whatever they decide but we know the heartbreaking road ahead for those who chose abortion. Having sidewalk counseled for the past 11 years, I can testify that we do not harass, intimidate or abuse the women entering the clinic. We provide them with information about fetal development, pregnancy centers in the area (including a Catholic center two doors south of the clinic), ob/gyns who will provide free services and the risks/complications from abortion. We provide truthful, factual information so the woman can make an informed decision. We speak the truth in love. That is not harassment, it’s compassion. We continue to pray for Sr. Donna that her heart will soften to the truth that Abortion Hurts Women. That fully formed babies with beating hearts, brain waves, fingers and toes are being killed in their mother’s wombs at the Hinsdale clinic. I know she is a woman with great compassion for the innocent and the underprivileged. Why doesn’t her mercy extend to those she can’t see?
On November 17, 2010, Sister Donna, who by this time was posting a steady stream of pro-abortion-rights, pro-contraception, and pro-homosexuality statements, was actually corrected by the General Council for her SinsinOP activity–namely, a strongly worded pro-“gay marriage” statement she wrote on behalf of NCAN, one of the dissent organizations she helps lead, which includes this assertion: “Like blinded Pharisees, [the US bishops] fail to see that the Catholic community is embarrassed by their silence in the face of brutality and incensed by their push of a political agenda against marriage equality—all at a time when their credibility on sexual matters is at a record low.”
The willingness of the Council to correct Sister Donna Quinn seems good, however, incredibly, it was not for endorsing grave moral evils (which she has continued to do continually) that she was rebuked and threatened to lose her posting privileges. Sister Patricia Mulcahey, Prioress General, wrote this message which was signed with the names of each Sinsinawa Dominican General Council member:
We do appreciate Sr. Donna Quinn’s efforts to keep us apprised of opportunities to strengthen our commitment to efforts on behalf of women. At the same time maintaining our listserve as a place for respectful dialogue is very important.
Messages which unjustly criticize all members of a group, such as the USCCB, which make derogatory statements about the group and which attribute to the entire Catholic community, personal judgments of a few or some people demean the purpose of our listserve.
We are asking Donna to refrain from posting the type of message she sent yesterday concerning the USCCB. If she or any other user cannot refrain from such types of messages, they will no longer have posting privileges on Sinsinop.
On a frigid January 21, 2011, Sister Donna attended a Planned Parenthood-organized event, “the Conversation on The Future of Choice with Celinda Lake a leading political strategist from D.C.” She recounts that “We were also blessed to hear the words of Fay Clayton Chair of Planned Parenthood” as well as numerous other pro-abortion figures in the panel discussion. Sister Donna said: “We have an uphill battle in the U.S.with this new Congress to keep women’s primacy of conscience and personal decision-making in tact..We worked over the decades to implement good legislation Now we must work to keep it and to begin this for our female children on Earth. So much still to do….Never give up the struggle ….Never give up hope……”
On May 2, 2012, Sister Donna Quinn appeared at a Planned Parenthood event in California,which was advertised in this way in an Orange County Progressive events listing:
May 2 Wednesday 11:30am-1:30pm, Irvine: Planned Parenthood Orange County and San Bernardino Counties Event – Consider This, featuring an interfaith discussion about the intersection of religion and reproductive freedom. Learn how the beliefs of Rabbi Mark Miller, pro-choice nun Sister Donna Quinn and the Rev. Wilfredo Benitez form the foundation of their support for women’s health care, including contraception, and safe, legal abortion. Individual tickets: $45 with lunch and valet parking provided. For tickets and information, call 714/922-445 or visit http://www.considerthisoc.org/index.php
Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine & Cocktails, 2607 Main St., Irvine.
The event may be viewed in its entirety in a YouTube video or read in an official PDF transcript.
Sister Donna is at her most frank in this atmosphere: “For those women sitting with us today who have chosen abortion, I believe in your decision. I firmly believe.” She elaborates affirming the choice to have an abortion:
You know, it used to be nuns would say, “Well, I’m prochoice, but I’m not for abortion.” But see, I don’t understand that. I think that’s doing in the women who have made that choice. And you are good, you are holy. Your primacy of conscience, which is not formed by the church, by the institutional church — it’s formed by all that your grandmothers, your great grandmothers, your mothers, all of your family experience, and also the feminist women’s movement — that’s what we have learned and that’s what we’ve been taught, and that has formed our conscience. And I believe you made the right decision at the time you were asked to do that. I sincerely believe that.
On her abortion clinic escort activities she says:
I came through last year having been a clinic — I called it not a “clinic escort” but a “clinic peacekeeper” for six years. I was reported by the Catholics to the Cardinal. I know they’re all Catholics because they’re all praying the rosary.
He sent it on to our community and then I went thought all last year: am I going to be excommunicated? Am I going to be expelled from the community? We went back and forth and I decided there were other areas that I could work in and I decided that the name-calling that they were doing, calling my name, murderer, everything, they were screaming it, and that wasn’t conducive to a peaceful entry for all of the ideas that Planned Parenthood puts into their clinic.
Those women would have been coming in, as Jon Dunn mentioned, for many other reasons than an abortion. But so what if they were coming in for an abortion? So what? We were there for them. So what?
To Sister Donna, whether a baby is a person is subjective:
…I heard it some years ago from Marge McGuire, a theologian who says this is not a person until the woman gives her consent to embrace, nurture, and invite to full personhood. So that’s what guides me in my thinking on the whole topic.
She describes a statement she made just after the release of the Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, that reflects radical rejection of and misrepresentation of Catholic beliefs:
Oy vey… So anyway, I did send out a statement immediately to the National Coalition of American Nuns. I said because the church supports discrimination, because the church treats women as second-class members, be it resolved that we will work on giving women the right to vote in the church, create a feminist sacramental system. Today, I will walk away and say this has been Eucharist to me. I no longer need ordained people. You are good and holy. I have learned from all of you.
Third, the primacy of conscience must speak; it must come to a point where we can have abortions safe, legal, accessible and one day federally funded. We have to abolish the Code of Canon Law and instead in its place, have a law, a code of law that says women are equal under that law. We have to have inclusive language, so little girls will grow up with the idea, yes, they’re made in the image and likeness of God.
Furthermore, she lets us know, “I am the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice Coordinator of Illinois. We’re often meeting in coalition not for the theology but for the legislative issues like getting education bills passed for Illinois.”
A month later, June 2, 2012, Sister Donna told her sisters on SinsinOP, ”
A month ago I spoke in California for Planned Parenthood and began with a story of why I continue to be a nun.” No one spoke up questioning Sister Donna going to speak at a Planned Parenthood event. Planned Parenthood provides the most abortions of any organization in the US.
Not only abortion was on her advocacy agenda, but also in favor of so-called “gay marriage.” In January of 2013, Sister Donna and NCAN were publicly advocating for the redefinition of marriage in Illinois. When I was at Sinsinawa Mound in January for a large and public showing of a dissident film Band of Sisters, a surreal and disturbing experience for me, I asked a Sinsinawa Dominican sister who I thought looked official, whether there was anyone there who could tell me whether Sister Donna had been corrected for giving scandal about this, as she had been regarding her abortion escorting; the sister gave me a strange and unreadable look and told me that no, there was no one who could answer that question. Sister Donna Quinn told her sisters via their email list SinsinOP on February 23, 2013, “I have been asked to give Testimony to the Illinois Legislation next week about the Marriage Equality Act.” As usual, there was a complete lack of sisters pointing out that this was wrong of her to do.
On February 27th, presumably shortly after she gave testimony to the Illinois State Legislature in favor of legal status for homosexual unions titled as “marriage,” CNN had her on, to comment on Pope Benedict XVI’s surprising announcement that, weakened by old age, he would soon resign from the Papacy.
Sister Donna Quinn told CNN viewers:
Well, I’d like to thank the Pope for his work and wish him well. I’d like to also pick up on something he just said, “for the good of the church.” We women are calling this papal election invalid. It has to be declared fraudulent because it has no women included in the process. By that I mean there are no women on the ballot in the conclave, there are no women voters, there are no women in the whole process, and women make up half of the Church’s Membership.
If CNN had Donna back on after Pope Francis’ election to follow up about whether she was sticking with a sedevacantist position, I did not see that. She was one of the organizers of a “pink smoke” protest at the Chicago Cathedral advocating for “women’s ordination.” After his election, she posted on SinsinOP a wish-list agenda for Pope Francis which essentially entailed doing away with any understanding of the teachings of the Faith as being from God and objectively true: “make changes in the church, looking at ordination, a feminist sacramental system. the meaning of Eucharist, Scripture-writing as it continues to be written today, and circular models of governing including the People of God who are economically or made poor by systems of oppression. -Celebrate a church which welcomes laughter, discussion and dissent and forms its teachings, laws, and promulgations, on the sharing, life learnings and journeying of the Faithful.”
So what is she up to now? She’s still running NCAN, and heavily involved in her umbrella organization of feminist dissident groups with Catholic roots, Women-Church Convergence, organizing and promoting “Women-Church Conference Call Celebrations” to chat about dissident topics, and planning a 30th anniversary conference to be held this September in Mount Prospect, IL, near Chicago.
Sister Donna Quinn is an anti-Catholic activist who simply does not believe the Catholic Church is what it says it is, nor does she believe in its Sacraments, nor its moral teaching, is hostile toward “the institutional Church,” and she herself has doubts about identifying as Catholic. She objects vociferously, strenuously when her Congregation includes Holy Mass with a (male, obviously) priest at its gatherings, preferring all-women “feminist liturgies. She has no compunction but is proud of her aggressive activism in favor of abortion rights, government funded abortion, and state redefinition of marriage to include homosexual unions.
From the evidence, Sister Donna Quinn very much appears as a disbelieving Catholic who remains a member of a religious congregation “for the sisterhood” and for activist reasons, as she is quite famous as a dissident nun and a key figure in a whole dissident network. Her congregation has facilitated and accepted this career of hers, and defended and covered for her, whom they consider a woman of conscience, the congregation as a whole having studiously ignored and opposed Vatican II’s teaching on the grave obligation of Catholics to form their conscience in accord with Catholic teaching. The Church hierarchy’s efforts in her regard have shown a lack of follow-through, since Sister Donna has scandalized great numbers of people and given cause many times over, for mandatory dismissal to be ordered. There are others who are much like her in their beliefs, and protecting them is one reason why the Sinsinawa congregation never would consider dismissing her–but Sister Donna Quinn is one of the most notorious.
Pray, and if your health allows it, fast, that Sister Donna Quinn may repent and Jesus show her His infinite mercy, because He loves Donna and she is a daughter of God. She is made in His own image, above all, as Saint Thomas teaches, in the soul’s faculties of intellect, will, and memory; as we all are, she is a capacity for God, made to receive and contemplate Him as absolute Truth and as perfect Charity, to be fertile for God, to be a spiritual mother–not a midwife and P.R. woman of death and sterility.