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James Martin, S.J.July 17, 2012

This morning Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, president of the Leadership Conference for Women Religious, appeared on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air," with Terry Gross.  The full audio will be posted later in the day, but some excerpts of this wide-ranging interview have already been posted on the NPR site

On questioning doctrine within the Catholic Church

"The question is, 'Can you be Catholic and have a questioning mind?' That's what we're asking. ... I think one of our deepest hopes is that in the way we manage the balancing beam in the position we're in, if we can make any headways in helping to create a safe and respectful environment where Church leaders along with rank and file members can raise questions openly and search for truth freely, with very complex and swiftly changing issues in our day, that would be our hope. But the climate is not there. And this mandate coming from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith putting us in a position of being under the control of certain Bishops, that is not a dialogue. If anything, it appears to be shutting down dialogue."

On their options

"We're not talking about the risk of ex-communication or leaving the church. That's not our intent. We're talking about the Vatican's dealing with a national organization, not with specific religious congregations or individual religious. The one and only underlying option for us is to respond with integrity with however we proceed. That is our absolute bottom line in this. Some of the options would be to just comply with the mandate that's been given to us. Or to say we can't comply with this and see what the Vatican does with that. Or to remove ourselves and form a separate organization."

On women's ordination

"The position we took in favor of women's ordination in 1977 was before there was a Vatican letter saying that there is a definitive church position against the ordination of women. So it's interesting to me that the document [just released by the Church] goes back 30 years to talk about our position on the ordination of women. There has, in fact, been an official opinion from the Church that that topic should not be discussed. When that declaration came out, the response of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was to call for a nationwide time of prayer and fasting for all Women Religious in response to that. Because our deep desire for places of leadership of women in the church be open. It remains a desire. Since then, the Leadership Conference has not spoken publically about the ordination of women. Imposing a silence doesn't necessarily change people's thinking but we are in a position to continue to be very concerned that the position of women in the church be recognized."

On the phrase 'radical feminist themes'

"Sincerely what I hear in the phrasing that was is fear — a fear of women's positions in the Church. Now that's just my interpretation. I have no idea what was in the mind of the congregation, of the doctrine of the faith, when they wrote that. But women theologians around the world have been seriously looking at the question of: How have the Church's interpretations of how we talk about God, interpret Scripture, organize life in the Church — how have they been tainted by a culture that minimizes the value and the place of women?"

On abortion

"I think the criticism of what we're not talking about seems to me to be unfair. Because religious have clearly given our lives to supporting life, to supporting the dignity of human persons. Our works are very much pro-life. We would question, however, any policy that is more pro-fetus than actually pro-life. If the rights of the unborn trump all of the rights of all of those who are already born, that is a distortion too — if there's such an emphasis on that. However, we have sisters who work in right-to-life issues. We also have many, many ministries that support life. We dedicate to our lives to those on the margins of society, many of whom are considered throw-away people: the impaired, the chronically mentally ill, the elderly, the incarcerated, to the people on death row. We have strongly spoken out against the death penalty, against war, hunger. All of those are right to life issues. There's so much being said about abortion that is often phrased in such extreme and such polarizing terms that to choose not to enter into a debate that is so widely covered by other sectors of the Catholic Church — and we have been giving voice to other issues that are less covered but are equally as important."

"Our concern is that right to life issues be seen across a whole spectrum and are not narrowly defined. ... To single out one right to life issue and to say that that's the only issue that defines Catholic identity, I think is really a distortion."

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Rick Fueyo
10 years ago
Listened to the interview.  Very powerful
David Pasinski
10 years ago
I listened also and agree that it was good, but somehat heady and stilted. I thought she was very measured, as I would expect, and Terry Gross was apprpropriately probing and clarifying and provocative in the best sense of the word. Perhaps the most striking part was when Terry said something like"It seems like you are in lot of pain" and Sr. Pat admittted that but in a more muted way. I think Terri was not only going for hot button clarifications, but also for gut reactions and Sr. Pat was sticking to a pretty good script of not wanting to be overly provoking or disclose as much feeling, though I do give her credit for mentioning sadness and anger later in the interview.

I thought she parried the abortion question well and probably raised a few eyebrows when she mentioned that disstinction between being "pro-fetus" and pro-life. Good for her. Likewise with the women's ordination question... measured.

Although another subject, I thought she might have raised the "bus tour," but that truly could have its own show.

Terry Gross remains such a fine interviewer and Sr. pat was great with some important distinctions... only would have wished for a bit more passion...  Although anotther subject,

It will be very interesting to hedar the bishop's interview next week... 
David Pasinski
10 years ago
It is also worth noting Sr. Pat's phrase"questioning mind." She asked if were possible to have that regarding aspects of the issues raised.  That was a very good insight and question that gets to the notion of authority and how truth is arrived at. This could have been picked up more, but perhaps there will be another occasion as we all struggle with that when discussion on some of the issues cited thas been choked off.

Also, she derserved much credit for naming "fear" as motivator for this investigation. She is right on.
David Pasinski
10 years ago
I assume that first video is not produced by the LCWR or anyone sympathetic tothem. If it is meant as a "friendly" production, it fails and reinforces stereotypes that many more conservative groups would critique..

The "Imagine" movement, with the more tradtional and younger religious, is creative and perhaps yields some good fruit.

I don't think these should be placed ina "versus" mentality.
Jack Rakosky
10 years ago
A strong  point Farrell made at the end is that the church has been structured with all-male leadership, with a hierarchical, unquestioned structure that has little mechanism for accountability, in contrast to women's congregations, which elect all their own leaderships, and have forever - in the history of Women Religious life - experienced the leadership of strong women. “So our experience of the leadership of women in the church is our daily bread. It's very different from that at the hierarchy.” 
Another strong point was that this mandate coming from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is not an invitation to dialogue, “it appears to be shutting down dialogue. And I think it's a cause of pain for a much wider church than for Women Religious, which is attested to by this overwhelming outpouring of support from the laity, which I really believe is more about them than about us.”
Jim McCrea
10 years ago
I don't think that the Vaticanes have realized that (1) this was the wrong fight to pick, (2) their attitude was guaranteed to get very bad press, (3) huge numbers of Catholics hold nuns and sisters in infinitely higher esteem than the clergy in general and bishops in particular, and (4) in the words of that eminent theologian, Kenny Rogers:  "you gotta know when to hold and when to fold."

Fold your tenst and slink away, Boyos.  You got yours kicked big-time in this one.
Thomas Farrell
10 years ago
If you see the Vatican's critique of the LCWR in terms of PR, as Jim McCrea does, then Pope Benedict XVI and the CDF lost big on this, as Jim McCrea says they did. However, I suspect that Pope Benedict XVI and the CDF do not care about the PR dimension.

Instead, they care about their power and authority. In the end, they will prevail over the LCWR, as the CDF, acting with papal approval, has prevailed over a number of other individuals under Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI.

Vince Killoran
10 years ago
I'm not certain that the hierarchy will "prevail" since, as many have pointed out (including Sr. Farrell), the LCWR can re-constitute itself as a non-canonical organization. 

I suppose the Vaticanites can take the orders apart one-by-one but that would take a lot of time-and many of these orders are financially self-sufficent.  
Jack Rakosky
10 years ago
It is very possible that bishops and the Vatican want their money. It is much like our dying inner city parishes. Yes many religious orders like many declining parishes face huge financial problems. But some of them have very tempting financial assets which the Vatican and bishops might claim are theirs.
If one looks at the history of religious orders the scene of a women’s monastery being taken over by a bishop, the pope, a male religious order, or local lord, or king or emperor has happened time and time again. They all think they can find better uses for the women’s assets.
Historically women religious have been very clever in fending off these takeovers. Our present sisters will probably need to use all their wits and expertise to out maneuver these guys, too.  
Jim McCrea
10 years ago
Thomas: they had BETTER worry about their PR. Their new Opus Dei flackpiece will teach them that sooner rather than later, or things will get even worse than they are now.
Jim McCrea
10 years ago
This church needs nuns and sisters a whole lot more than the obverse.
Tim O'Leary
10 years ago
I just listened to the whole of the interview of Sr. Pat Farrell. She was very careful about any doctrinal statements but I am not encouraged - no mention of the love of Christ or the desire to follow Jesus ever closely. No zeal for the faith - all about rights and justice/equality talk, fear and anger. But maybe, she sees her role now as more of a political representative than a religious.

I heard a re-definition of the vow of obedience, to one of listening rather than following. That is certainly new. When Jesus said (in John 14:15) ''If you love me, you will keep my commandments” or (in Matt 28:18-20), “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” – did he just mean listen?
I wonder how the vow of chastity is being redefined, or the vow of poverty, but I can imagine?
A dialogue has been going on for several years now with the LCWR, which is of course an umbrella organization, and not the sisters in the schools or hospitals. But I think the thousands of sisters working on the front lines need better representation in Rome. This is a huge distraction from the day-to-day ministry.
Michael Barberi
10 years ago

I think you need to take a big breath and reflect on your explicit and implicit judgments when you say:

"I am not encouraged - no mention of the love of Christ or the desire to follow Jesus ever closely. No zeal for the faith..."

This remark is not only insulting to Sr. Farrel (and the LCWR) but a slight-of-hand distortion of the truth. Lest you forget Tim that this was an interview about a certain issue. Simply because certain words were not expressed does not mean their absence (for good reasons) means that the sisters of the LCWR are not doing God's work, following Christ and the Gospels...loving God and neighbor, etc. The history of their good works are proof positive of their their "zeal for the faith". 

Your reference to the issues of rights/justice/equality is true but what does that mean?....that these are not legitimate issues that need to be discussed or that such issues invalidates their sense of faith and love? The vow of obedience and your reference to Scripture is more about justifying your point of view (not) and the power and authority of the Magisterium than it is about justice, prudence and charity. There is also no inconsistency or contradiction between the views of LCWR and rank and file sisters. 

Lastly, your statement "I wonder how the vow of chastity is being redefined, or the vow of poverty" reflects a certain sarcastic ignorance and irresponsibility. You are entitled to your opinion, but not my argreement.

Mike Evans
10 years ago
A careful response, leaving many things unsaid. On women's ordination, it is clear the church could ordain women as deacons. Imagine having grandmothers preach and instruct on marriage and family life! I have known many women clergy in other faiths and they provide outstanding and inspirational leadership. The active women religious are the very embodiment of Christ active among us.
Michael Barberi
10 years ago

This is a perfect example of what I have been complaining about, namely, your style of argument...on this and most other blogs.

I have taken your exact words and provided a solid intelligent commentary about it and all you can do is reply with a obscure remark (I just reported what I heard about obedience). That does not address the issues I raised about what you said. If you think what you said is "sharing the good news", you are distorting the truth.

All I can discern from your remark about obedience is that the LCWR is violating their vow of obedience...in your most enlightened opinion. I can't wait until August 7th. Regardless of what happens, I am sure you will have the same opinon. But, God willing, I hope I am wrong.
Thomas Farrell
10 years ago
LCWR is an umbrella organization. As an umbrella organization, it has no financial assets to speak of. So if the pope and bishops want to take over the financial assets of orders of religious women, then they are going about it in a roundabout way by criticizing the LCWR.
Michael Barberi
10 years ago

I hope you are doing well. It has been a long time we cooresponded, publically and privately.

I read the article you posted. Quite frankly, it reflects a childish argument. The entire essay is full of demeaning analogies that are simple "the magisterium speaks the truth and everyone must agree with all of its teachings...end of discussion". Note the use of these sacastic and foolish arguments.

1. The interview reminds the author of "dealing with a 7 year old child"

2. She or they are like "a wayward chil (Sr Farrel) claiming he or she knows better than the mean-spirited parents (the magisterium)".

3. The reference to the cookie jar...I don't want it, I don't need it...blah, blah, blah.

The right to life issue is more complex than "this is what the Church says is the truth...and it is in black and white". The issue is about other questions such as:

> the definition of direct and indirect abortion (the Phoenix case),

> the interpretation and application of the principle of double effect,

> whether life begins at conception...does this mean that a human being is born with a body and soul at the moment that an egg is fertilized? If so, what is the explanation for the fact that this fertiized egg has no mind, no consciousness, and no functioning bodily organs, hormones etc.

> A great many fertilized eggs never get attached to the endometrium and are essentially aborted by the body....what is the theology of their salvation...the nature of their soul....do they go to limbo? On the last day, does this soul get a body...what body...a new one...a different one from the one they never had? Why hasn't the Church addressed this issue?
Tim O'Leary
10 years ago
Michael #14
I just took a breath. Thanks for the suggestion.

I just reported what I heard on obedience. If you think this was the wrong time to evangelize and share the Good News (NPR not being the right place - too few listeners), surely the annual conference of the LCWR is the right place. It will be in St. Louis on August 7 so we will know how that goes soon. Should be a perfect place to remind the world of the true mission of the LCWR. It will probably get a lot of press. Do you know who the Keynote speaker will be?
Juan Lino
10 years ago

I will try to post a short reply to your comment / questions here on Sunday mi amigo. 

As always, let's keep each other in our prayers as always. 

Dennis Malone
10 years ago
OOoooo doggie; the fat lady as done sung.  The only question remaining is will the LCWR comply or will it go bye bye?  They are a creation of the Vatican, there is no doubt that they have been called on their dissent and the evidence is conclusive that they are guilty, they are subject to Vatican authority, Vatican patience is at an end.....

It's about time in my opinion.
Michael Barberi
10 years ago
You may be right IowaMike, but I don't think the fat lady has sung yet. 

If the LCWR does not comply with the Vatican's directive, and they try to dissolve the LCWR, or impose some other punishment, no one will be surprised. It will be interesting to see what happens and the impact that it will have on the power and credibility of Rome. To date, the about 5 Franciscan orders in the U.S. as well as the American Catholic Theological Association and many other groups are in support of the LCWR. Who knows what the LCWR and their supporters will do.

If you are right, the LCWR may have to line up with: the many theologians who have disagreed with some Church teachings and had their licenses revoked to teach Catholic theology, Catholic journals that are pressured by the CDF not to publish anything in tension with Catholic doctrine, priests and bishops who choose to exercise their freedom by using the "silent public" because anyone who publically disagrees with a Church teaching will not occupy any responsible office in the Church, and, of course, most of the laity who have disgreed with certain Church teachings.

It is not inconceivable that the LCWR and perhaps many Austrian priests may be ex-communicated at worst, or be subject to severe condemnation and punishment at best.

It is indeed a sign of the times and I do agree with you "its about time" but not in line with what you might be suggesting.

Dennis Malone
10 years ago
Michael J. Barberi,

I think we are in violent agreement.  My personal opinion is that Vatican power and credibility will be enhanced if they suppress the LCWR.  Based upon what I have read I doubt the nuns will comply so in the end I think they will force the Vatican to take somekind of drastic action.  Pehaps one of the favorable unintended consequences of correcting the LCWR is that many dissident orders, priests etc. are being flushed out. 

The LCWR and their supporters are playing Russian Roulette with an empty gun.  Does anyone really think the the Church will abandon doctrine and tradition (T)?  I think one should look to His Holiness Pope John Paul II for a perfect example.  With regard to female ordination.  In his Apostolic Letter promulgated on May 22, 1994 and speaking from the Chair of Peter he wrote: "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."  Does anyone really think the Church has the authority to accept contraception, homosexual marriage, abortion and other things favored by the LCWR?  The answer is no because it would require that the deposit of faith become fungible....will never happen in the true church.

I think it is time to separate the sheep from the goats.
Michael Barberi
10 years ago
Mike Malone,

You said "Does anyone really think the Church has the authority to accept contraception, homosexual marriage, abortion and other things favored by the LCWR? The answer is no because it would require that the deposit of faith become fungible....will never happen in the true church."

I have to respectfully disagree but for specific reasons and epistomology.

1. Direct abortion is intrinsically evil, but the definition of direct versus indirect has been disputed not only by most theologians (who are so-called revisionists) but even by the most prominent of tradition-minded theologians such as Germain Grisez and Martin Rhonheimer. Many priests and bishops also consider this issue a disputed question. Consider the Phoenix case that defies reason. In this case, the life of a young mother of 3 children was immediately threatened by an 9-11 week fetus that could not survive under any circumstances. The Church was willing to let two people die instead of saving the life of the mother, which was possible if the pregnancy was terminated. The sister in charge of the Catholic hospital's ethics committed approved the procedure to save the life of the mother. The bishop excommunicated her and stripped the hospital of its Catholic identity. Do you really think that the definition of direct aborton will not be eventually reformed?

2. Many of the teachings of popes and bishops that were taught for centuries as the truth were reformed. Why do you think issues such as contraception will not change for good and just reasons? Before we had papal encyclicals we had papal bulls and many "bulls" were changed by succeeding popes. Consider the teachings that have been reformed: usery, slavery, freedom of religion, the ends of marriage, the torture of heretics...to name a few.

Consider the issue of a young married women with children that is told that another pregnancy will be life threatening. She cannot be sterilized or take the pill to safe-guard her life because, according to Humanae Vitae, it is immoral. She must either use "risky periodic continence", imprudent and irresponsible in a life-threatening situation, or practice sexual abstinence which is stoic insensibility. Do you really think that contraception or sterilization to safe-guard the life of a young mother in this case is irrational, immoral and irreformable? 

3. The deposit of faith used to be the teachings of Christ. Today, we see this "deposit" expanded to include teachings because they are claimed to support current teachings and tradition. 

You may be right the the Vatican will discipline the LCWR for what they claim is disobedience to the Church and its teachings. However, I would not claim that Rome's credibility, or what is left of it, will not be negatively impacted. This will be dismissed the Vatican but it will not be dismissed by all the poeple of God. 

It is indeed time to separate the sheep from the goats. The issue is who are the sheep and goats in this complex maze of seeking the truth and the good.

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