About Ursuline Sr. Dianna Ortiz and Rush Limbaugh

Two national icons died the week of February 14, 2021; how were they memorialized by members of the national media?

As reported by Ryan Dicarpo, Dianna Ortiz, nun who told of brutal abduction by Guatemalan military, dies at 62,” Washington Post, February 19, 2021:

…Despite her small frame — at 5-foot-3, she weighed less than 100 pounds — Sister Ortiz exuded what Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group, called “a combination of absolute, angelic innocence and this indescribable inner strength to stand up again and again every time she was brutalized.”

On Nov. 2, 1989, assailants Sister Ortiz [O.S.U.] identified as Guatemalan security forces abducted her from a convent retreat-house garden in Antigua and drove her to a detention center in Guatemala City.

Targeted for working with the Indigenous community — which the military had long brutalized for presumed left-wing sympathies — she said she was blindfolded and raped by three captors….

At times, Sister Ortiz said she continued to struggle with the Christian ideal of forgiveness. “I leave that in God’s hands,” she told NPR. “The fact that I’m a Catholic nun and I’m not able to forgive, that makes me feel all the more guilty. I’m not sure what it means to forgive.”

As reported by Charles Sykes, “Opinion: We’re living in the world Rush Limbaugh created,” Washington Post, February 17, 2021:

          How big was Rush Limbaugh?

We are all now living in the world that he created in his own image.

No history of modern conservatism would be complete without recognizing that he was both the alpha and the omega; the founder of a right-wing media ecosystem and the architect of our current political moment — Donald Trump and all.

For decades, Limbaugh, who died of lung cancer on Wednesday at age 70, was at the center of it all. It is hard to overstate the role that the syndicated talk-radio host played in the transformation of the character and culture of the conservative movement. Every Republican over a certain age has a story about how they were inspired or influenced by him.

But his legacy is double-edged. Limbaugh pioneered the rise of the outrage/entertainment wing to dominance in the GOP, a project that culminated in Trump’s presidency and a political culture that is driven less by facts and substance than by snark, sophistry and alternative realities.

To a degree that is not always understood on the left, Limbaugh invented a new genre in which conservatism could be entertaining, even fun. He was a master at using parodies as weapons. He was outrageous and daring; occasionally funny and charming, but also often dishonest and offensive.

While his friends describe him as gracious and generous, Limbaugh also cultivated an insensitivity that normalized cruelty, racism and misogyny….

I never met Sr. Dianna, but was well aware of her impact on social justice and the Church for decades after her service in Guatemala.  As I mentioned to a group this morning, she probably did more to alert Christians and government officials of the evils of torture than perhaps any activist of the 20th and 21st centuries.  There are a number of testimonials to her by members of Pax Christi USA, her Ursuline community, and her intentional Christian community in Washington.  In many ways, I place her in the same company as Sr. Simone Campbell, S.S.S. and Sr. Helen Prejean, C.S.J., as historic Catholic social justice activists of the last thirty years.  But Sr. Dianna was different; you would not find her on center stage at national conventions or the subject of a made for Hollywood movie, two legitimate tools that Sr. Simone and Sr. Helen have benefitted from.  I do remember one visit in a Washington coffee shop when Sr. Dianna and her housemate and President of Pax Christi International Marie Dennis walked in and almost fainting in respect.

I do remember the first time that I heard Rush on the radio.  I was working in an archives one afternoon, flipping through radio stations, and heard an unknown radio personality celebrating in song the bombing of Iraq by the US.  He then proceeded to ridicule the Kennedy family for the many tragedies that it had faced.  I decided to change the channel and chose to never listen to him again; this is not to say that he did not infiltrate my reading and conversations with family and friends over the next 30 years (my mother, probably the most positive influence on my life, listened to him every day). I found the piece by Charles Sykes very telling; Sykes cut his teeth as a conservative talk radio host on WTMJ (Milwaukee) in an earlier Wisconsin chapter of my life.  Sykes also had his following in our family; though we have probably never voted for the same Wisconsin candidate or US president, I respect him for his intelligence and character.  His reflection on the life of Rush, written by another politically conservative media star, is telling.

Sr. Dianna and Rush will be remembered in history by different audiences.  A literature search in Newspaper Source Plus, which includes more than 860 full-text newspapers, provides more than 35 million full-text articles and 857,000 television and radio news transcripts, yielded 177 hits on Rush but just one article on Sr. Dianna–Devroy A. “First lady promises assistance in Nun’s case,” Washington Post News Feel. April 5, 1996. Just over 230 libraries have Rush’s autobiography, The Way Things Aren’t: Rush Limbaugh’s Reign of Error : Over 100 Outrageously False and Foolish Statements from America’s Most Powerful Radio and TV Commentator. New York: New Press, 1995.  But 440 libraries have any of the four editions of Sr. Dianna’s book, The Blindfold’s Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2007.

Memorialize each or either as you like; I will be forever indebted to Sr. Dianna for sensitizing me to the ethics of torture and US government involvement in Guatemala and neighboring countries, a sin for which we are still paying the price. 

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1 thought on “About Ursuline Sr. Dianna Ortiz and Rush Limbaugh

  1. Enjoyed your post. Also, I enjoyed our conversation this afternoon. Thanks for taking the time to call. Have a good week.

    Sent from the all new Aol app for iOS

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