Over at the National Catholic Reporter, John Allen offers an inside baseball look at exactly what the heck is going on at the Vatican regarding the L.C.W.R. clampdown, or is it? Allen offers a somewhat calming dissection of the behind the scenes jockeying that took place, is probably still taking place, between the CDF and the Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, better known as the "Congregation for Religious." Readers will be shocked, shocked to learn that there may be some intrigue and hard feelings this week in Rome after the CDF move against (or as Allen would have it, "with") the L.C.W.R. among the leaders of the Consecrated Life who had spent a good part of last year attempting to soothe anxieties among U.S. women religious.
It's an open secret that the tones emanating from these two departments about women religious in America are rather distinct.
Under Brazilian Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz and American Archbishop Joseph Tobin, the Congregation for Religious in the last couple of years has attempted to calm anxieties generated by a wide-ranging apostolic visitation of women's religious communities in the United States, which recently reached conclusion. (That's a separate process from the doctrinal review of LCWR; more on that in a moment.) Bráz and Tobin have signaled that they want dialogue, not confrontation, and have made clear there won't be any immediate earthquake as a result of the visitation.
When the LCWR initially said it was "stunned" by the assessment from the Congregation for the Faith, there was swift blowback. Critics said the tensions outlined in the document have been brewing for decades, so what's the surprise? Vatican insiders also insisted that Levada had written to LCWR in late February to inform them that results of the assessment would be discussed in an April meeting.
Yet the shock was nonetheless understandable, given the more conciliatory signals LCWR and other leaders in women's religious life had been receiving from the Congregation for Religious.
In broad strokes, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith believes that fundamental deviations from Catholic faith and practice have been allowed to fester inside some circles of women's religious life for too long, which they see as especially serious in the case of LCWR, given that it's a juridical person under canon law, approved by the Vatican, with a special responsibility to faithfully represent the church. The climate in the Congregation for Religious, meanwhile, tends to the view that now is a time for confidence-building exercises rather than what will inevitably be perceived as punitive measures. In addition, some senior Vatican officials, and not just in the Congregation for Religious, worry that the LCWR overhaul feeds images of a clerical boys' club hostile to women.
To be clear, the contrast, at least inside Vatican walls, isn't so much over whether the doctrinal assessment points to some real concerns. It's instead over whether the overhaul announced April 18 is the right way to address those concerns and whether this is the right time to do it.
Allen also suggests, that with U.S. Cardinal Levada retiring from the CDF next year, the proposed five-year overhaul of the L.C.W.R. may not prove as traumatic as many fear today:
"... in fairly short order, the Congregation for the Faith could be led by a non-American who might not feel the same personal investment in the process.
"To be sure, other personnel involved in the assessment won't necessarily be moving on and the Congregation for the Faith has a deep institutional memory, so Levada's departure probably won't signal a sea change in approach. It could, however, betoken a difference in intensity, and by itself, that might be significant."
You can read the rest of his frustratingly even-tempered analysis here.