MAKERS Profile

Theresa Kane

Nun Who Confronted the Pope

In this video

Sister Theresa Kane on questioning the exclusion of women from Catholic ministries and publicly challenging the Pope.
In 1979, Sister Theresa Kane was serving as President of the US Leadership of the Women Religious when she was invited to publicly address Pope John Paul II during his visit to the National Shrine in Washington DC. She came before the Pope and the packed pews and said quietly: “We have heard the powerful message of our church addressing the dignity and reverence of all persons. As women, we have pondered these words." The Church, "must respond by providing the possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries.” While the Pontiff himself did not immediately respond, Sister Theresa’s words were broadcast and televised around the world. They continue to reverberate today. She says her plea was “a surprise” to the public, “but not to professional theologians or those in the sisterhood…we were looking at the role of women in the church and society and I was quite imbued in that culture.”   She has continued to speak, to teach, and to lobby for the expansion of women’s roles within the Church. And she left an impression: When a member of Sister Theresa’s order met with the Pope nineteen years later, he made note of the connection and asked if the sister knew her. The reply was “yes.” John Paul II asked the sister—not once, but twice—to “give my regards to Sister Kane.” 

More From Theresa

Non-gendered images of God
An image of God that fits with feminism.

Women as Deacons
Kane looks at the history of the Catholic Church to understand why it's been slow to bring women into the ministries.

“Pro-life” & “Pro-choice”
Kane points out the inaccuracy of the terms "pro-life" and "pro-choice" and explains her unique perspective on abortion rights.

Shift in Attitudes of Catholics
Just how likely is it that the Catholic Church will allow women priests in the near future?

Church teachings can evolve
How Kane answered to the Catholic Church leaders after her controversial remarks to the Pope.

The Nerve to Confront the Pope
Kane reflects on where she got the nerve to challenge the Pope.

Rare Woman to Speak Publicly
Kane speaks about how unusual it was for women to speak in official, public ways in the 1970s.

An Assertive Nun
On the stereotypes of nuns that made Kane's speech to the Pope all the more sensational. 

A More Urgent Plea
If she could, what would Theresa Kane change about her controversial appeal to the Pope?

The Women’s Movement Comes to Catholic Nuns
Think the women's movement and the Catholic Church are unlikely bedmates?  Kane talks about how they began to align in the 70s.

The Need for Women as Priests
Kane discusses why she believes women should be ordained as priests and the times in her own work when it would have been helpful.

Equality in the Church Community
What the Catholic Church's emphasis on "community" should mean for women.