Renewal Service

Re “Vatican Seeks Reform of L.C.W.R. After Doctrinal Assessment” (Signs of the Times, 5/7): No organization is immune from criticism from within or without. That certainly is true of the Vatican and the various dicasteries and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is true of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

The C.D.F. assessment found serious doctrinal problems, a watering down of the Christological center and focus of religious communities and a loss of a lively sense of church among some religious. The L.C.W.R. leadership was criticized for not correcting erroneous visions and positions, for not exercising the charity of “fraternal” correction. The conference was perceived as favoring or at least not speaking out against the ordination of women and initiatives in promoting the reception of the church’s teaching on homosexuality were absent.


Organizations are defined by mission. Missions tend to be specific. The L.C.W.R. focused on social justice issues.

It seems to me that there are valid concerns for a collaborative examination of the issues raised. But there is a cultural divide between the Roman style of operating and the American expectation of inclusive participation in decision making. It is not so much a gender issue as a cultural issue, authoritarian versus democratic.

What is mind-boggling is the lack of understanding and sensitivity to women’s issues in Rome as they pertain to the United States. Today the church trails behind the corporate world in the acknowledgment of the ability and competence of women. Historically women religious surpassed the secular institutions in achieving positions of leadership, such as chief executive officers of hospitals, presidents of universities and executives of social services agencies. Today women are the backbone of the church’s ministries; 85 percent of the volunteer work in parishes is done by women.

It was my good fortune to have served as liaison of the U.S.C.C.B. to both Catholic Charities USA and the Catholic Health Association. Often it was these two organizations that took the initiative in promoting a collaborative working relationship with the bishops’ conference. They brought to the table not only knowledge of Catholic social teaching on public policy issues, but practical experience as providers of services—what works and what doesn’t.

In over four decades of work in social services and health care, I have had the opportunity to work closely with women religious. They were professionally trained, always prepared and consistently followed through on assignments. They were motivated by a deep faith in God and a love of God’s people. They were holy people, dependable and accountable. So many had a deep compassion for the poor.

What was distinctive about their lives was a capacity to deal with issues openly and honestly. They had the gift of discernment as members of a community. They were able to live with differences and yet maintain a profound unity. They lived and acted collegially. It is my hope in the renewal of the L.C.W.R. that those entrusted to work with the nuns will be evangelized in the process. If anyone can rescue the church from this public relations disaster, I believe it is the women religious.

(Most Rev.) Joseph M. Sullivan

Former Auxiliary Bishop

Diocese of Brooklyn

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Faith From Within

Coming from a group of somewhat more traditionally oriented women, I find myself looking on with great sympathy and indignation on behalf of my sisters in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. I think it laudable that the assessment seeks to reconcile the “minds and hearts” of our sisters to the “minds and hearts” of those who are currently in authority at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but I believe this goal would have been more effectively achieved if the C.D.F. had sought union through humble listening in an open forum, as theological equals and colleagues, instead of through secrecy and intimidation.

Our L.C.W.R. sisters tend to be very well educated, not only in the subjects of faith and theology, but also in the sciences, psychology and the arts. They have not been cosseted in positions of authority with little to no familiarity with the ordinary faith experiences of the people of God in the world; these sisters have been right there in the real world; tending, feeding, clothing, healing and educating. The men of the C.D.F. would do very well to listen to these women who have a greater “secular” education and more “secular” experience, as well as to the people whose faith they are ostensibly guarding, because faith has everything to do with the secular world. That is where people live, and that is where God lives, too.

Faith does not come from above at the end of a heavy stick; it comes from within. Well thought out, logical and persuasive theology is a much better approach; especially if it is itself open to transformation through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps our leaders in the C.D.F. will come and join us one day here on planet earth so that together we may “joyously rediscover our faith” and be renewed, so that we can truly experience a union of minds and hearts, as God intended.

(Sister) Patricia Cary, O. Carm.

Kearney, Neb.

Bully Pulpit

Why was I not surprised to read about this next attack on religious sisters by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? There seems to be some confusion between the teachings of Jesus and church proclamation. At least sisters are given some credit for “promoting issues of social justice.” Dialogue and respect are never mentioned, only that Rome will provide review, guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work of the L.C.W.R. The bullying never lets up!

Cathleen Ryan, O.P.

New Britain, Conn.

Exit Interviews

Three days after reading “Why They Left,” I spoke with an active and supportive member of my parish and asked why I hadn’t seen him and his wife at Mass lately. His complaints echoed those listed in the article, especially those concerning bishops covering up child abuse.

I sent him a copy of the article in the hope of maintaining the dialogue we had established about his departure. I then sent the article to a few members of the parish staff with a suggestion that when someone “goes missing” from Mass, an interested member of the community (not staff or pastor) should reach out and at least conduct an exit interview. The interview would not overtly try to bring the person back, but would give the missing an opportunity to communicate his or her complaints. The interview results could be used to clear up misunderstandings, serve as a basis for possible later reconciliation and provide feedback to parish staff.

William Barlak

Burbank, Calif.

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