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James Martin, S.J.June 07, 2012

A statement from the seven Franciscan (OFM) Provinces in the United States in support of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has been released.  This is the first men's religious order publicly declare their solidarity with the LCWR and also to critique the Vatican's Doctrinal Assessment.  To my mind, for the Franciscans to not only stand with the sisters but to call the Vatican's approach "excessive" evidences a deep displeasure with the way that the reform of the sisters' organization is proceeding.  It is fathers and brothers coming to the defense of their sisters. 


Franciscan Leadership Declares Solidarity With Catholic Sisters

American Provinces Release Letter to the LCWR

NEW YORK — June 6, 2012 —  As follow-up to the recent Vatican assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the leaders of seven entities of Franciscan friars have released a letter to the Catholic sisters expressing their strong support.

Several weeks ago, the Vatican Congregation for the Defense of the Faith (CDF) released its assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the support system and public voice of some 1500 leaders of women’s congregations, representing over 80% of the women religious in the United States. This assessment was highly critical of the LCWR and demanded changes in its organization and activities. Like many American Catholics, the friars of Holy Name Province and other communities of Franciscan men across the country have been deeply concerned by this document, especially its impact on their sisters in religious life, many of whom belong to Franciscan congregations.

The provincial ministers of the seven provinces of the Order of Friars Minor in the United States  released the following statement to express their appreciation of the invaluable ministry of American religious women and to extend their support to the members of the LCWR, as they attempt to respond to the concerns expressed in the Vatican directives.


May 31, 2012

Open Letter to the United States Catholic Sisters

We, the Leadership of the Friars Minor of the United States, write today as your brothers in the vowed religious life who, like you, have great love for our Church and for the people whom we are privileged to serve.  We write at a time of heightened polarization and even animosity in our nation and Church, with deep concern that the recent Vatican Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) may inadvertently fuel the current climate of division and confusion.  We write, too, as a public sign of our solidarity with you as you endure this very difficult moment.  We are privileged to share with you the journey of religious life.  Like you, we strive in all that we do to build up the People of God.

As religious brothers in the Franciscan tradition, we are rooted in a stance of gratitude that flows from awareness of the myriad ways that God is disclosed and made manifest in the world.  For us, there can be no dispute that God has been and continues to be revealed through the faithful (and often unsung) witness of religious women in the United States.  Thus we note with appreciation that the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith (CDF) “acknowledges with gratitude the great contributions of women Religious to the Church of the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years.”  We certainly know how much our service has been enriched by the many gifts you bring to these ministries.

However, your gift to the Church is not only one of service, but also one of courageous discernment.  The late 20th century and the beginning of this century have been times of great social, political and cultural upheaval and change.  Such contextual changes require us, as faithful members of the Church, to pose questions that at first may appear to be controversial or even unfaithful, but in fact are asked precisely so that we might live authentically the charisms we have received, even as we respond to the “signs of the times.”  This is the charge that we as religious have received through the “Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life” from the Second Vatican Council and subsequent statements of the Church on religious life.  We believe that your willingness to reflect on many of the questions faced by contemporary society is an expression of your determination to be faithful to the Gospel, the Church, the invitation from Vatican II and your own religious charisms.  We remain thankful for and edified by your courage to engage in such reflection despite the ever-present risk of misunderstanding.

Moreover, we are concerned that the tone and direction set forth in the Doctrinal Assessment of LCWR are excessive, given the evidence raised.  The efforts of LCWR to facilitate honest and faithful dialogue on critical issues of our times must not result in a level of ecclesial oversight that could, in effect, quash all further discernment.  Further, questioning your adherence to Church teaching by your “remaining silent” on certain ethical issues seems to us a charge that could be leveled against many groups in the Church, and fails to appreciate both the larger cultural context and the particular parameters of expertise within which we all operate.  Finally, when there appears to be honest disagreement on the application of moral principles to public policy, it is not equivalent to questioning the authority of the Church’s magisterium.  Although the Catholic moral tradition speaks of agreement regarding moral principles, it also – from the Middle Ages through today – speaks of appropriate disagreement regarding specific application of these principles.  Unfortunately, the public communications media in the U.S. may not recognize this distinction.  Rather than excessive oversight of LCWR, perhaps a better service to the people of God might be a renewed effort to articulate the nuances of our complex moral tradition.   This can be a teaching moment rather than a moment of regulation -- an opportunity to bring our faith to bear on the complexity of public policy particularly in the midst of our quadrennial elections.

Finally, we realize and appreciate, as we are sure do you, the proper and right role of the bishops as it is set out in Mutuae Relationes to provide leadership and guidance to religious institutions.[i]  However, the same document clearly states:
since it is of utmost importance that the council of major superiors collaborate diligently and in a spirit of trust with episcopal conferences, ‘it is desirable that questions having reference to both bishops and religious should be dealt with by mixed commissions consisting of bishops and major religious superiors, men or women. …Such a mixed commission should be structured in such a way that even if the right of ultimate decision making is to be always left to councils or conferences, according to the respective competencies, it can, as an organism of mutual counsel, liaison, communication, study and reflection, achieve its purpose.  (#63)

We trust that CDF was attempting to follow their counsel from Mutuae Relationes; however, we fear that in today’s public media world their action easily could be misunderstood.  We hope that our bishops will take particular care to see that the way they take action is as important as the actions themselves in serving the People of God.  Otherwise, their efforts will surely be misunderstood and polarizing.

Lastly, we appreciate the approach that you at LCWR have taken to enter into a time of discernment, rather than immediately making public statements that could be construed as “opposing the bishops” after the release of the Doctrinal Assessment.  The rancor and incivility of public conversation in the United States at this time make the possibility of productive dialogue more difficult to achieve.  We pray that the future conversation between LCWR and CDF might provide an example to the larger world of respectful, civil dialog.  Such dialog will require a degree of mutuality, trust and honesty that is absent from much of our world.  We trust that you will continue your efforts to live out this principle, and we trust and pray that our bishops will do the same.

Please be assured of our on-going support, prayers, respect, and gratitude for your living example of the following of Christ in our times.


Leadership of Franciscan (O.F.M.) Provinces of the United States

Assumption BVM Province
Franklin, WI, U.S.A.

Holy Name Province
New York, NY, U.S.A.

Immaculate Conception Province
New York, NY, U.S.A.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Province
Albuquerque, NM, U.S.A.

Sacred Heart Province
St. Louis, MO, U.S.A.

Saint Barbara Province
Oakland, CA, U.S.A.

Saint John the Baptist Province
Cincinnati, OH, U.S.A.

[1]Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes, Directives for the Mutual Relations Between Bishops and Religious in the Church, Rome, May 14, 1978

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Sharon Valente
10 years 9 months ago
As is stated in the letter, Please be assured of our on-going support, prayers, respect, and gratitude for your living example of the following of Christ in our times.  May these prayers also extend to the Leadership of Franciscan (O.F.M.) Provinces of the United States.  Amen.
David Pasinski
10 years 9 months ago
"Rebuild my Church"- no les a command today. Thank you,Franciscan community, for your service, solidarity, and witness.
Fran Rossi Szpylczyn
10 years 9 months ago
Thank you Franciscan male religous - this is beautifully put.
Thomas Farrell
10 years 9 months ago
The CDF's criticisms of the LCWR are small potatoes. It was excessive for the CDF, with Pope Benedict XVI's approval in January 2011, to issue such a strong critique of the LCWR based on such small criticisms.
Jack Holden
10 years 9 months ago
I hope we will see the leadership of the Society of Jesus step out in soliditary as well.
ed gleason
10 years 9 months ago
While watching the Vatican going through theological contortions to accept the SSPX demands, I ask will the Vatican now censure the Franciscan support of the well loved Sisters? Maybe SSPX will add a demand of Franciscan censure!!. Lose Franciscans .. gain SSPX?? I bet some Curia  think it would be a plus! The other Religious orders had better chime in their Sister support quickly. As Robert Kennedy said to all Dems in 1960 ... "we don't need or want your support on the SECOND ballot" There will never be a second ballot on this Sister support. .
Anne Martin
10 years 9 months ago
Solidarity?  Is this a revolution?  The Church is not a democracy.  How about solidarity with the Holy See?
david power
10 years 9 months ago
Although I am not sure if the nuns have all the right in this matter I applaud the move by the Franciscans.
While others stood back and waited for the wind to blow a certain way and used coy language and the passive tense a lot rather than stand and be counted the Franciscans stood up. 
The  Jesuits will no doubt come barging through the door once the others have taken it off it's hinges. 
Vince Killoran
10 years 9 months ago
The letter's third paragraph is especially powerful with its call to be witnesses to a Living Faith, not just caretakers of museums and waterboys for a vested elite.

What a challenge to all Catholics!  Much more demanding than the "pray, pay, & obey" model so prevalent today.
Jack Holden
10 years 9 months ago
Neither is the church a dictatorship.  It is a visible sign of God's presence in the world and a community of disciples.  We can still speak when moved, and we should.
Abigail Beck
10 years 9 months ago
Hi, I think it's really sweet that they did that. I appreciate all that these woman have done for God, but does that mean that they have done nothing wrong? I find the Vatican's claims to be quite reasonable seeing as how the LCWR has, at times, spoken out against the Church's teachings on important matters. I've also noticed that they took doctrinal positions that are completely contrary to the Truth that we have in Christ Jesus. This kind of action is wrong. I do not criticise all woman in the conference and I do not presume that they have bad spiritual lives, or intentions. But we must be careful with the Truth, with Jesus. They have, in some areas, rebelled against our Mother the Church and although it should be done with care and love, I believe that they should be reformed. As do some of their own members, so I'm just asking that America Magazine would maybe take a more balanced view of the controversy. Not taking human positions, but the position of heaven, of Christ our Savior. 
       Thanks for considering,
                In Christ, AB 
Kevin Murphy
10 years 9 months ago
This statement would have meant more if  it had offered its "on-going support, prayers, respect, and gratitude" to not only the LCWR but also to the Vatican/CDF who, I believe, are also acting as they believe fit.   To quote an article titled "Bad Religion" by Stephen White at The Catholic Thing website,  ". . . when LCWR publicly dissents from settled Church teaching it is being “prophetic.” But when the Vatican has the temerity to suggest that dissent from Church teaching is. . .well. . .inconsistent with Church teaching, the Vatican is immediately cast in the role of authoritarian scold – insecure, misogynistic, and probably homophobic, too."   You could remove Mr. White's term "prophetic" and substitue the Franciscan statement's term "courageous discernment." Also, the Franciscan phrase "the ever-present risk of misunderstanding" means the LCWR is never wrong, only misunderstood, and this statement makes it clear that the LCWR is clearly in the right.  
It saddens me that much of the American clergy automatically, like a reflex, casts the Vatican as the villian in the LCWR and Sister Farley affairs.   They treat the Holy See as something that has to be tolerated, like "the crazy aunt in the attic."      I believe that many in Rome, including the Pope, genuinely believe that souls are at stake and it is their duty to act.  At least I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, unlike many. 
10 years 9 months ago
With freedom, without intimidation, all children of God should be encouraged to enter into dialogue. Whatever person crosses our path., either our neighbor, our own family members, our classmates, our  coworkers, parents and children, sisters and brothers, Governors and citizens, clergy and laity, companies and customers, pastors and parishioners, democrats and republicans, rich and poor, old and young, and so on, love would be only fully expressed  through bidirectional communication, respect and compassion.

These events are not about blaming Vatican Leaders or blaming our sisters of the LCWR, but an invitation that all we need to be more respectful, provoke and promote dialogue and be attentive to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to serve and love better.  

I hope that the virtual coup d'etat against the LCWR be not implemented respecting our Sisters and avoiding violations of Can 708-709, that uses the word cooperation with the conference, but not impositions or kidnapping of the leadership.

Promoting dialogue is the avenue to attract participation of more faithful, Discouraging dialogue blocks the free expression of the HS.
I believe that after healing on these events , our church will be stronger than ever before.
I invite everyone to pray the following Prayer for Grace for Dialogue.

The grace of dialogue.
Lord God, we praise you and glorify you for the beauty of the gift called dialogue.
Dialogue is the beloved ''child'' of God because it is like an alternating current that buzzes incessantly within the Holy Trinity.

Dialogue unties knots, dissipates suspicions, opens doors, solves conflicts, and enhances a person; it is the mother bond of unity and brotherhood.
Jesus Christ, core of the evangelical community, make us understand that our misunderstandings are almost always due to the lack of dialogue.

Make us understand that dialogue is not a discussion or a debate of ideas, but the search for truth between two or more people.

Make us understand that we need each other and we need to complement each other because we need to give and receive, because I can see what others can’t and they can see what I do not.

Lord Jesus, when you see the tension give me the humility to not want to impose my truth attacking the truth of my brother or sister, knowing to silence at the right time, knowing how to wait for the other to fully express his/her truth.

Give me the wisdom to understand that no human being can fully grasp the whole truth, and there is no mistake or blunder that has some element of truth.

Give me the wisdom to recognize that I can also be wrong in some aspect of truth and enrich me with the truth of another. Give me the generosity to think that also the other seeks the honest truth, to look without prejudice and with kindness the opinions of others.
Lord Jesus, give us grace to dialogue. So be it.

Thomas Rooney OFS
10 years 9 months ago
BRAVO, my Brothers!!!  A clear and decisive statement.

I pray our Secular Franciscan Order takes similar action as an entity.
10 years 9 months ago
The Cincinnati Province of the Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood also sent a letter of support during their May 21-24 assembly.  We just did not get the publicity that the Franciscans did since we are smaller.  Let's hear from more men's communities.  Leon Flaherty, C.PP.S.
Anne Chapman
10 years 9 months ago
#17.  Thank you for speaking out. The  Executive Committee of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) has also issued a statement that it is ''praying'' for the LCWR.  The statement falls short of truly courageous and honest support - relying on very carefully chosen words and phrasing - but it's better than nothing.

 The fear that permeates the church, especially the male clergy, is palpable. The sisters are beyond fear. They know that they do God's work and do not fear the men in Rome.
Jane & Francis Thomas
10 years 9 months ago
Bravo!  I hope to see other orders support the sisters as well. Questions to discuss, please:   I wonder, is the Church in crisis with division so deep and almost a weekly occurrence of condemnation of someone or some group from the Vatican or the USCCB.  Rather than serving as a guiding and teaching force, the Catholic Church is rapidly loosing what little moral authority it has because it seems more mired in corruption and intrigue than discipleship.  And because it remains intransigent on some issues that just don't seem worth the fight while loosing the credibility to be heard on issues of fundamental importance.  Can the Church survive in this climate?  What does it do to the leaders of the Church, the clergy and the laity to be in such strife?  It can't but help further polarize and radicalize for all of us - clergy, laity, hierarchy and humble servants are human.  Yet, human history teaches us that once liberated, we can't return to a position of ignorant and blind obedience to any authority.  In other words, where is this leading?  Do the Church leaders truly want or accept as a legitimate outcome a smaller church?  Do they confuse being devout with being docile?  And if they are willing to accept a smaller Church, will they also accept the status as a fringe element unable to influence public discourse let alone be a voice of moral authority?  Not to mention, will they accept having considerably less income.  It seems like they are following a preordaned script to irrelevance and fanaticism - and that would be disasterous.  Does anyone see a real way out of this given where we are in the historic development of mankind?
Kevin Murphy
10 years 9 months ago
Father Viveiros, above, states that those supporting the LCWR and Sister Farley and, I assume the LCWR and Sister Farley themselves, ''are willing to speak out for justice and truth.''   Does it follow that those who disagree stand for injustice and lies?
John Feister
10 years 9 months ago
The last few weeks have been a low point in my life as a Catholic woman.  I saw sisters who had formed me in my faith being hurt; it felt as though I were witnessing women being beaten.  Thank you Franciscans, for a carefully written and wise response that inspires hope.  Kind of like re-building the church at San Damiano, I think.
Nancy Walton-House
10 years 9 months ago
Bravo Franciscan leadership.  Society of Jesus, please say ''Presente!''
michael alba
10 years 9 months ago
I feel quite close to Abigail's viewpoints. The Pope and the Bishops represent the teaching authority of the Universal Church. They  must respected. Our  beloved  Roman Catholic Church is being severely attacked because of its beliefs about the dignity of human life and the sacredness of Christian matrimony. The confrontation is abetting our adversaries and creating disunity among the People of God. Let's go back to our roots and follow the Holy Father's guidance 
ed gleason
10 years 9 months ago
Francis Thomas; excellent questions and comes from the an excellent  reading of the signs of the times. The present Church in Rome stance reminds me of an army that loves salutes but can't fight.
10 years 9 months ago
Within the First Order of Saint Francis of Assisi, there are three branches of Franciscan Friars: the Order of Friars Minor (of the Leonine Union - OFM), the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (OFM Cap.), and the Order of Friars Minor Conventual (OFM Conv.).  I have been a professed member of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual for twenty-two years.  As a Conventual Franciscan Friar, I am most grateful for the public sign of solidarity of the Leadership of the Order of Friar Minor Provinces in the United States with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).  Along with many of my conventual confreres, I offer my solidarity and humble support to the sisters of the LCWR communities.  My hope is that the friars minor’ “Open Letter to the United States Catholic Sisters” will inspire more people to offer the sisters an equal level of support at this difficult time.  I too appreciate the fact that the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith “acknowledges with gratitude the great contributions of women Religious to the Church of the United States as seen particularly in many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years.”  I too believe that the friars’ call for a “renewed effort to articulate the nuances of our complex moral tradition” would indeed be “an opportunity to bring our faith to bear on the complexity of public policy particularly in the midst of our quadrennial elections.”  With my brothers in the Order of Friars Minor, I pray “that the future conversation between LCWR and the CDF might provide an example to the larger world of respectful, civil dialog.”  I stand in solidarity with the sisters with due deference to the service of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and with due respect for the role of ordinary magisterium in the life of the Church I love.  With such respect, I would be remiss if I did not also express my constant gratitude for all that religious women have taught me by their witness, their skill and their compassion in the service of the Church.  Thank you dear sisters.  Thank you dear friars.  
Kevin Murphy
10 years 9 months ago
And what will happen if the Farley/LCWR situations are not resolved to everyone's satisfaction?    Will all the disaffected Jesuits, Franciscans, Sisters and their admirers, unable to exist within the current situation, have the courage of their convictions and form their  own ''progressive'' American Church, independent of Rome?   Let's see if they can ''walk the walk.''   The rest of us, faithful to the Magisterium, will be watching.
Patricia McMahon
10 years 9 months ago
Thank you my brothers. 
Gabriel v
10 years 9 months ago
It is in moments such as this that the true character and nature of a religious community can be seen when they are willing to speak out for justice and truth. I am so proud of my Franciscan brothers in the USA for speaking out in support of our sisters during their time crisis. Rest assured that as well in Canada many are praying for the LCWR and that Bishops of the USA see how faithful these religious women are to the Church and their local communities.
Michelle Reiter
10 years 8 months ago
I have also struggled recently with the church, starting with the nun investigation and, more recently, the Girl Scout investigation. The church leadership is certainly conservative, but lately it also seems ridiculous and indefensible. It is a crisis for the liberal-minded Catholic, which is what many nuns are, and is what much of the church laity is, because we simply do not morally agree with many of the Vatican's edicts. That does not mean we do not love the church, because there is truly much to love. But I also see great injustice that seems not at all like enduring moral principles, but rather like the perpetuation of all that is truly morally reprehensible. It is a difference in perspectives; the Pope is sure his is Christ's, and many of us have far different ideas of what is Christlike. The division is, I think, welcome to the Pope who wants what he calls a ''more faithful'' church. But for those of us who see things differently it is a crisis, a tragedy even, as we are given the option only of toeing the line or leaving, despite what our consciences tell us is right. The question is, ''What and who is the church?'' And, like many churches, we can't agree. But I do know this - the church is the people more than it is its leadership. Without us, there is no church, and if there is to be a church, is needs some room for growth and change. Its unilateral, myopic, dictatorial policies have already cost it. Nuns are disappearing, and there is a shortage of priests; the remainder of the laity fall into wide degrees of what is ''faithful.'' Most are not obedient to the Pope; most are what are called ''cafeteria Catholics,'' and most likely struggle with at least some aspects of church teachings, which may not make sense to them. This is the reality of the church and the leadership's response could heal it or further fracture it. What we're dealing with is a gaping unmet need, along with a history of questionable morality and betrayal, and I am indeed referring to the priest pedophile crisis, among other injuries. And instead of healing the Vatican is beat that wound with a mallet.

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