Commentary on the Vatican and the LCWR

Today we posted two Web-only articles commenting on the "doctrinal assessment" of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The first article is from Most Rev. Peter Sartain, the archbishop of Seattle and the CDF-appointed delegate charged with overseeing the evaluation of the LCWR. Archbishop Sartain begins with praise for the legacy of women religious in the United States:

Catholic explorers, immigrants, settlers, Native Americans, converts, sisters, brothers and priests faced daunting challenges in the early days: few resources, primitive transportation, disease, extreme weather, racism and language barriers. I am moved every time I read about the establishment of hospitals, schools, orphanages and monasteries in the Pacific Northwest. For the most part, these institutions were the inspiration and work of religious women, who responded to God’s call to serve his beloved people, no matter their religion, culture, language or way of life.

Quite simply, these religious women evangelized. They lived the life of Jesus Christ; they introduced others to him; they taught the truth; they loved; they healed; they cared for the outcast; and most importantly, they prayed. The histories of our early years chronicle the sacrifice offered by religious women to build the foundation of the church in this part of the world, and embedded in each story is a life of prayer. Prayer makes witness to Christ possible and credible.

The archbishop then turns to the present moment, and describes the conflict between Rome and the LCWR as an opportunity for discernment:

Through the years, there have been inevitable conflicts and misunderstandings between religious congregations and their bishops, between one congregation and another and among the members of individual congregations. They exist today as well. Disagreements regarding mission, apostolate, discipline, doctrine, style of life and personality have often been at the core of such conflicts. Each situation was an opportunity to seek reconciliation and collaboration at the heart of the church, in the communio that is God’s gift. Such a pivotal opportunity is now before us.

The recent call by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for the renewal of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious marks an important moment in the life of women religious in the United States, an important moment in living out communio. Precisely because the vocation to consecrated religious life remains significant and contemporary, and precisely because the impact of American sisters is profound and essential to the church’s mission of evangelization, this call for renewal holds particular prominence and deserves special care. According to a CDF statement, it supports the “essential charism of Religious which has been so obvious in the life and growth of the Catholic Church in the United States” and “arises out of a sincere concern for the life and witness of faith among women Religious in the United States in view of their important role of service of ecclesial communion.”

You can read the rest here.

America solicited a reply to Archbishop Sartain's article from Christine Firer Hinze, professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University:

As neither a bishop nor a religious sister, I reflect on events surrounding the Vatican’s Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Council of Women Religious as an observer, not a direct participant. But my life and vocational path have been decisively shaped by the intertwining narratives of the Catholic Church and of U.S. women over the past half-century. What’s more, flesh-and-blood religious sisters and their stories have been a constant part of my own. In special ways, religious sisters and lay Catholics have been companions through a tumultuous and dramatic time for women and for the church. This being so, like many others, my interest in the Vatican-L.C.W.R. intervention has been intense, and my responses, surprisingly visceral.

My Michigan childhood was suffused by the pre-Vatican II church, especially through my teachers, the semi-cloistered Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHMs), who staffed my Detroit parish’s grade school. The Second Vatican Council concluded, and during high school we students watched, literally before our eyes, dramatic transformations of dress, names, practices and ministries among teachers belonging to three different renewing religious communities. Later, as an inner-city lay minister and educator, I was privileged to befriend, learn from, pray and serve with sisters in the process of forging what would become two distinct currents in post-conciliar women’s religious life. Among IHMs and Adrian Dominicans, Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist and Mercy Sisters of Alma, I encountered talented, gutsy, wholesome and holy women, charting different paths in the new territories that the council’s call for renewal had opened.

The story of U.S. religious women and a reforming Catholic Church unfolded amid unprecedented shake-ups in cultural thought and practice concerning sex and gender, power and authority. This story, and contestation over how (and by whom) it is to be told, forms the context for the Vatican intervention. Their respective tellings will affect how Archbishop Peter Sartain, the delegate for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the L.C.W.R. team see and relate to one another, the process and its outcomes. Insofar as each group comes to the table understanding the narrative differently, the dangers of talking past one another, stalemate or alienation are high.

You can read the rest here.

Tim Reidy


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