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Religious sisters USA

Vatican direction

Religious sisters USAThe Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (previously known as the Inquisition) has appointed Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain to oversee the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). LCWR is to reform its statutes, programs and affiliations to conform more closely to “the teachings and discipline of the Church.”

LCWR represents more than 80 percent of the 57,000 Roman Catholic sisters in the United States of America [let’s put that size into a bit of a context – that’s more than there will be people in our Anglican Churches in the whole of New Zealand on Sunday]. LCWR has been under “doctrinal assessment” by the Vatican since 2009.

In many ways, these sisters are the backbone of USA Roman Catholicism. The presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment. Many laity will side with the sisters – possibly resulting in an increasing, not decreasing division between RC teaching and discipline and ordinary churchgoers. The very opposite of the Vatican’s intention.

The news came on the same day as the announcement that the ultra-traditionalist Roman Catholic splinter group, the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), was heading “encouragingly” towards reconciliation with the Vatican. SSPX rejects some teachings of Vatican II. The allowing of wider use of the Latin Mass by this pope has encouraged SSPX. There is still the issue of SSPX’s Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson, whose excommunication Pope Benedict XVI lifted two years ago.

All this comes hot on the heels of Pope Benedict’s Maundy Thursday sermon in which he condemned priests who question celibacy and the ban on women’s ordination.

The immensely popular Jesuit priest James Martin started a twitter hashtag #WhatSistersMeanToMe to remember how much people value the contributions of U.S. Roman Catholic sisters. “Catholic sisters teach me what it means to persevere in ministry without the benefit of institutional power. #WhatSistersMeanToMe,” he tweeted.

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21 thoughts on “Vatican direction”

  1. I saw this last week on various blogs and news leads.

    It seems symptomatic of the direction that Rome is going. Undoing all of the Vatican II changes and becoming even more inward looking than ever.

    The women religious of the USA don’t appear to be accepting this directive without a fight. The leader said something like “We don’t know what they’re talking about”, which for me sums up the gap between Rome and the US Women Religious community.

    Appointing a man in oversight won’t work. In reality, most of these orders owe their allegiance to their own leadership and might just ignore Arch Bishop Sartain and their own bishops if it interferes with their work for social justice.

    Perhaps they’ll all become protestants and join USEC, that would have them swimming the Tiber, just as a few Anglicans go the other way.

    Here’s an opportunity for the Presiding Bishop to “Park her Tanks” on the Vatican’s lawn.

    1. Thanks, “UKViewer” for your visit and comment. Please, in future, use your ordinary name here – it is the practice of this site, and helps conversations to be open and respectful. Easter Season blessings.

  2. Jonathan Streeter

    I have a personal policy about not commenting on the practices of other faiths, provided they don’t affect my life or community. That being said, I am an Episcopalian by choice, because I want to be a part of a faith process that is informed not by top-down hierarchy and fundamentalism, but by scripture, tradition, reason, and culture. I know TEC has struggled with making this work in the 21st Century, but I believe we are coming out on the right side of if all.

    Full participation of all human beings in the Liturgy of the Word seems an unassailable practice to me.

    1. Thanks, Jonathan, for your as-ever thoughtful comment. Thank you for the second half of your comment. I am interested in reflecting on the first half: where are the edges of “other faiths”? Do you, for example, regard Roman Catholicism and TEC as “other faiths”? Would you regard TEC and CofE as “other faiths”? Would you regard TEC and ACNA as “other faiths”? Where are the edges of “my community”? If a Hindu practice affects the well-being of people, would you comment on this practice? I am not trying to bait you or necessarily disagree with you, I think that decisions are much more closely connected – now more than ever before. Christ is risen.

  3. I noted that Pope Benedict referred back to his predecessor’s comment on Women Priests saying that the Church does not have the authority to ordain women. Surely if the Spirit is calling so many women and at least 75% of RCs (in a poll in Britain at least)think that it is right doesn’t this mean that the Spirit is willing but the Church is weak!
    I agree about the faith issue. I share a faith with RCs but differ on where the authority lies to change things. The Spirit is to lead us into all truth.

  4. You’re not serious, are you? This was no “surprise” to the LCWR. They’ve been under intense scrutiny by the USCCB and/or the Holy See for over 40 years. They’ve gone so far over the edge with their New Age spirituality, radical feminism, and sometimes public denial of Church doctrine, that the CDF could no longer look the other way. In case you haven’t noticed lately, the good sisters of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) are growing and growing. They will overtake the membership numbers of the LCWR in a few short years. Why? Because they are faithful to the tenants of the Faith. They don’t support immoral causes such as abortion and contraception. And they put their faith into action within the institutional church. They practice a corporate apostolate. They don’t pray to Mother Earth, follow their enneagram personalities, or walk in circles around some labyrinth. They pray the Mass and Divine Office, practice traditional spiritualities, and still uphold the Church’s social doctrine.

    1. Thanks, Michael, for your visit and comment.

      I have often reflected on the value of raising thresh-holds and the value of “difference” that are represented, for example, in the CMSWR.

      I am a strong advocate for the centrality of the Eucharist and the importance of the Daily Office. I do not see why you place the enneagram or the labyrinth in contradiction rather than complementary to these.

      So, yes, to answer your question, I am serious.

      I cannot tell that the LCWR are dishonest in saying they are surprised.

      Christ is risen.

  5. I’ve been a lurker for a number of years but generally felt that, as a Catholic, commenting on squabbles in other peoples houses (Covenants, for instance) would just be bad manners. However for some reason this post irritated be mightily, can’t think why.

    Surely you see the irony of using the illustration you did for this post.Presumably it’s there to encourage sympathy for the ‘poor, vulnerable sisters being treated harshly.’ But it shows a young woman, in a habit, in what is presumably (given the window) a convent. Well, the sisters whose congregations belong to the LCRW have an average median age of around 75 (almost none of them have received any young vocations for decades), haven’t worn a habit in 40 years, and live almost entirely in apartments and suburban houses. A more appropriate image would have been an angry old lady in a cardigan in a nursing home. Anyone who thinks that the congregations in the LCRW are ‘the backbone of USA Roman Catholicism’ is getting their image of it from reruns of The Bells of Saint Mary’s’. 50 years ago maybe, now not so much.

    1. Chris, I thank you for being a lurker here for a number of years – and hope you will continue to lurk. And comment. You will have to work out your own appropriate boundaries for when you feel it appropriate to comment, and when not. You will notice, in comments above, others are also trying to work out this for themselves. Personally, I do not think the lines between denominations are the best indicators of community boundaries.

      Now to what you acknowledge are your presumptions about my choice of image: I am assuming you are aware that many posts on this topic on other sites have specifically chosen to use images from, for example, the thriving Nashville Dominicans. Here is one of many such examples. Those sisters, as you will know, are not part of LCWR, but of CMSWR. I spent considerable time trying to find an image that would not falsely do that, as those Roman Catholic sites have done. I considered using merely the logo of LCWR – and possibly that might have been better. I considered using an image of Sister Joan Chittister. I have met her, and I read her books. But she is a former president of the leadership conference and not a current one – so I decided against that. I chose a relatively anonymous image – crediting the source, as is my practice when possible.

      I am not convinced that your suggestion of “an angry old lady in a cardigan in a nursing home” would be appropriate and it did not occur to me to do an image search of such a photo. Nor would it be fair on the person whose image you suggest I so use IMO.

      I produce this site totally in my spare time – of which I have little. At my own cost. I put my full name and information by what I write. I acknowledge I can sometimes get things wrong. Maybe often, mostly, possibly always. But I am not attempting to present false information – or attempting to misinform either by words or image.

      Christ is risen.

  6. Dear Bosco,
    I enjoy a lot of your commentary. This one gets my blood boiling, not because of the topic, but because of your insistence on responding to everything you don’t agree with, then signing off with “Christ is risen” like some high and mighty prick. How about letting people have their opinions rather than stomping on them constantly?
    Christ is Risen!

    1. Vance, thank you for your visit. The only other time you commented here you also said my post got your blood boiling – that was my April Fool joke. You can run your own website any way you wish. Here I often try and make comments part of a discussion. I regularly conclude my comments with a greeting or blessing. I have a big push on twitter, facebook, and here to promote Easter as 50 days – not just a day, so during the Easter Season I have been mixing my greeting up a bit and use the Easter Greeting “Christ is risen” from time to time. If that makes me a “high and mighty prick” to you I’m not sure the issue lies with me. But, as I took great care to say above, I might be wrong. Certainly your calling someone a high and mighty prick, or similar, will not be allowed through moderation in future. Blessings.

  7. Christ is indeed Risen! Leading with his wounds, triumphant over death, Christ is present; and in a profound way this Eastertide.

    Such vitriol and language here – Risen Christ have mercy!

    What is going on here? It is in and through this Risen Christ that we are called to be One. Fr. Bosco’s intentions, although I can’t know his mind, could not have been to set off this firestorm.

    As for the women religious, let me say a few things. One is that my life would be deeply impoverished without so many of them. I am talking about sisters who do not wear habits and I am talking about cloistered nuns, and everyone inbetween. So many rich gifts have come to me from so many of them – thanks be to God.

    As for the flap, I will simply say this – let’s just posit for a moment that the CDF does have a valid complaint. Is it charitable, wise and Christian to publicize and communicate this as they have?

    So for me, the content is spoiled by what, intentionally or not, seems a powerplay and not a good one. And not in any way that creates unity and peace in the Body of Christ, but one that sows division and discord.

    That alone makes me furiously angry, but so be it.

    Last week I sat in a cool, dark and silent church in Montreal, before an image of Margaret D’Youville. I thought of her and of all sisters who have come from all around the world, under the worst circumstances and then transformed lives.

    I thought of St. Mary MacKillop- you know, another uppity woman. She was excommunicated. Today she is a saint. We know where and how the arc of justice works. Thanks be to the Risen Christ for that.

    1. Thanks, Fran, for your thoughts.

      I totally echo your paragraph about being enriched by women religious. And, again like you, this has been right across the spectrum and also across denominations. You mention Mary MacKillop, I have taught with Josephites in one of their schools; I delight in the thriving community of the Beatitudes; I visit the local Carmel where there is a nun I taught at that Josephite school; I was privileged to meet and listen to Sister Joan Chittister, as I mentioned above; to continue would require a booklet – not a comment.

      I have worked with the Little Sisters of the Poor. At the time of her death the sisters didn’t even know that Jeanne Jugan was their foundress. Now she is a canonised saint. Mary MacKillop, Jeanne Jugan, Catherine McAuley, the list of radical women who had to battle prejudice goes on and on…

      Christ is risen.

    2. Fran:

      **As for the flap, I will simply say this – let’s just posit for a moment that the CDF does have a valid complaint. Is it charitable, wise and Christian to publicize and communicate this as they have?**

      Exhibit one: the sword of demosthenes. Granted, the cat is now out of the bag, but the CDF had two options:

      1. Go public with its conclusions, or
      2. Stay private, delivering the conclusions only to the LCWR (and the USCCB).

      If they stayed private, it’s possible that some would spin it very negatively; our culture is clamoring for transparency lately, especially in light of the sex abuse scandal.

      If the CDF stayed private, some in the LCWR may have used that privacy as a tactical advantage, perhaps to the point of dishonesty about the report and its findings. (I am not accusing the LCWR or its members of this, I am simply saying that it is possible, us being sinners and all…)

      By going public, I think the CDF is actually playing it safe, laying their cards out on the table.

      Finally, how many people who have reacted (positively or negatively) have ACTUALLY read the eight-page document? Or have they just read someone else’s editorial take on the matter? How much of the division produced by this publicly-available report is due to its contents, and how much is due to the spin its contents have received in the media? No matter what the content and intent of the actual CDF document, you can be sure that it can be spun in any number of ways by anyone reporting on it.

  8. LCWR is to reform its statutes, programs and affiliations to conform more closely to “the teachings and discipline of the Church.”

    Generally speaking, I don’t see a problem with that. We would expect any official body of believers within the Church to conform closely with the Church’s (doctrinal) teachings and, to a lesser extent, the Church’s (non-doctrinal) disciplines/practices. For example, if there were a body of priests who supported the protection of unborn life but taught that Mary was the third person of the Trinity, I’d expect the Vatican to seek their conformity with the Church’s teaching; or a body of deacons who worked to promote the dignity of immigrants but regularly distributed Holy Communion to, say, Muslims, I’d expect the Vatican to seek their conformity with the Church’s discipline.

    In many ways, these sisters are the backbone of USA Roman Catholicism.

    Not just “these sisters”, but all religious sisters in the US, past and present.

    The presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment.

    I’ll respond to this in a separate comment to follow.

    the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), was heading “encouragingly” towards reconciliation with the Vatican. SSPX rejects some teachings of Vatican II.

    Then is it not reasonable to assume that part of this reconciliation will be the acceptance of these teachings of Vatican II?

    Pope Benedict’s Maundy Thursday sermon in which he condemned priests who question celibacy and the ban on women’s ordination.

    Can you indicate where he condemned these priests? (That seems like a rather lousy thing to do to any priest at a Chrism Mass!)

    I’ve read the Pope’s homily from the Chrism Mass and, despite the reports in the media of him excoriating or condemning or railing against the priests in question, what I see him doing is asking a question about their behavior and presenting his (alternative) answer. Moreover, he did not mention their opinions about clerical celibacy, but only explicitly “definitive decisions of the Church’s Magisterium”, specifically women’s ordination; he would appear to be restricting himself to doctrinal matters, rather than disciplinary ones (like celibacy).

    From his homily:

    “Recently a group of priests from a European country issued a summons to disobedience, and at the same time gave concrete examples of the forms this disobedience might take, even to the point of disregarding definitive decisions of the Church’s Magisterium, such as the question of women’s ordination, for which Blessed Pope John Paul II stated irrevocably that the Church has received no authority from the Lord. Is disobedience a path of renewal for the Church? We would like to believe that the authors of this summons are motivated by concern for the Church, that they are convinced that the slow pace of institutions has to be overcome by drastic measures, in order to open up new paths and to bring the Church up to date. But is disobedience really a way to do this? Do we sense here anything of that configuration to Christ which is the precondition for all true renewal, or do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas?”

    He goes on to speak of the examples in the Church’s history who were “filled with the joy of faith, the radicalism of obedience, the dynamic of hope and the power of love.”

    1. Thanks, Jeffrey, for your as-always thoughtful comment. I think you bring a helpful balance to my post. I particularly acknowledge that my use of the word “condemn” is an interpretation. We will see how the pope’s response to the Pfarrer Initiative develops.

      Christ is risen.

  9. **The presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment.**

    I am curious why the LCWR presidency was stunned by the conclusions. The document says that there have been communications over the past several years between the LCWR and various bishops. At a meeting between the LCWR presidency and the CDF in Rome on April 8, 2008. “three major areas of concern were given as motivating the CDF’s decision to initiate the Assessment” (LCWR assembly addresses, policies of corporate dissent, and radical feminism).

    1. It may help interested people to look at the actual Vatican document (PDF). A link to this has not yet been provided, including in the comments. Blessings.

      ps. Jeffrey, your use of HTML tags appeared to work fine, in spite of your concerns – so I suggest you continue to try using those rather than “**”

      1. Fr. Bosco, I had tried using the “I” tag (for italics) to set off quoted words from my own words, but the italics didn’t take. Permit me to test…

        the I tag

        the EM tag

        the B tag

        the STRONG tag

        And yes, good idea posting a link to the actual CDF document. It’s only 8 pages, a rather quick read.

        1. As far as I can tell, Jeffrey, they all work fine. Good test! Christ has risen. [Update – actually they work fine, but on the moderation page; not all seem to come through to the “public” view intact 🙁 ]

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