By Brian Fraga - OSV Newsweekly, 8/26/2012
There was a call for more dialogue, but no apparent breakthrough is on the horizon in the ongoing clash between the Church hierarchy and the leaders of the nation’s largest group of nuns and religious sisters.
The Aug. 7-10 annual assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious concluded with resolutions calling upon the organization’s leadership to start a “conversation” with Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, the archbishop delegate appointed by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to help implement a reform of the LCWR.
The CDF released a doctrinal statement on April 18 calling for reform after a Vatican assessment of the LCWR said it found “serious doctrinal problems,” including addresses at LCWR conferences that dissented from Church teachings.
However, statements from the LCWR’s leadership and guest speakers at the recent assembly in St. Louis defended the organization, which represents 57,000 Catholic sisters in the United States, and its understanding of religious life in the 21st century.
In her presidential address, Sister Pat Farrell, the outgoing head of the LCWR, told the estimated 900 assembly participants that it would be a “mistake to make too much of the doctrinal assessment.”
“It is not the first time that a form of religious life has collided with the institutional church, nor will it be the last,” said Sister Farrell, who subsequently added that it would also be a mistake to not take it seriously.
Sister Farrell went on to tell the audience that the LCWR’s model of religious life is an authentic expression of the renewal called for 50 years ago by the Second Vatican Council. She added that the doctrinal assessment was an opportunity to “explain to Church leaders LCWR’s mission, values and operating principles.”
That statement would seem to indicate that it may not be easy for the LCWR to find common ground with the Vatican and its stated concerns that the LCWR leadership fails to affirm Church teachings on faith and morals — particularly life issues and the all-male priesthood.
The doctrinal assessment also accused the LCWR of allowing radical feminist themes, heresy and dissent from Church teachings to be promoted in its programs and presentations. One problematic address cited was that of Sister Laurie Brink, a Dominican nun who in 2008 told the LCWR about some religious needing to “move beyond the Church, even beyond Jesus.”
Nevertheless, Archbishop Sartain released a statement on Aug. 11 after the LCWR’s annual assembly in which he affirmed the Catholic religious sisters’ contributions to society and added his hopes for a fruitful collaboration.
“I remain committed to working with leaders of the LCWR to address the issues raised by the Doctrinal Assessment in an atmosphere of prayer and respectful dialogue,” Archbishop Sartain said. “I look forward to our meeting and our future discussions as we continue to collaborate in promoting consecrated life in the United States.”
During an Aug. 9 interview on EWTN’s “The World Over,” Cardinal Raymond Burke, the current prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, wondered aloud about how “consecrated religious who profess to follow Christ more closely” could clash with the Church in such a manner.
Cardinal Burke even suggested that the Vatican could dismantle the LCWR, adding: “If it can’t be reformed, then it can’t have a right to continue.”
Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, who conducted the Vatican assessment and is also charged to assist with the reform, told National Public Radio in a July 25 interview on “Fresh Air” that the dialogue was difficult because the LCWR refuses to concede that the bishops’ concerns have merit.
“In all candor, up to now, there’s been a lot of just denial, a refusal to at least, until now, recognize that there are any problems, that the bishops and the Holy See should even be concerned about these things,” Bishop Blair said.
The perspective from the LCWR general assembly was that the nuns, in practicing their ministries and engaging the modern world, are being caught between the tensions of old understandings of truth and reality and an emerging paradigm marked by equality, communion, collaboration and “wholeness.”
“Some larger movements in the Church, in the world, has landed on LCWR. We are in a time of crisis and that is a very hopeful place to be,” Sister Farrell said.
The LCWR assembly’s main speaker, Barbara Marx Hubbard, a futurist and writer lauded by some New Age practitioners such as Deepak Chopra, spoke on consciousness evolution, and said that humanity is facing a crisis on a global scale that requires an exercise of “a higher level of ethical, shared commitment and social synergy to realize positive change.”
On the first day of the assembly, Hubbard was escorted to the podium by seven religious sisters who waved pink-colored scarves and danced around her, singing and sounding chimes.
Inviting Hubbard to be its guest speaker and surrounding her with liturgical dancers prompted criticism from some corners. Father Mitch Pacwa, an EWTN personality and author of “Catholics and the New Age,” (St. Anthony Messenger Press, $12.99) told the St. Louis Review, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, that Hubbard’s writings about humans becoming “cocreators” within the universe were problematic.
The LCWR assembly also featured remarks from Thomas C. Fox, publisher of the liberal National Catholic Reporter, and Jamie Manson, a columnist for the same newspaper, who offered ideas for how religious life might evolve in the future.
Writing on his blog, Fox said that the LCWR’s membership presented an “alternative vision” of religious life that is anchored in the Second Vatican Council and emblematic of the Church’s future.
“It is a vision that proclaims that Christian communities are intrinsically hopeful, that they believe in the goodness of all people, and that these communities must never stop being living examples of the full embrace and acceptance, which Jesus taught,” Fox wrote.
The LCWR assembly also passed a resolution calling on Congress to pass the so-called DREAM Act to provide conditional permanent residency to some undocumented immigrants. The assembly also passed a second resolution committing the sisters to work for the abolition of human trafficking.
Sister Farrell said it was her hope that an “open and honest dialogue” with the bishops will not only lead to understanding, but also create more opportunities for the laity, particularly for women, to have a greater voice in the Church.
Sister Farrell ended her presidential address by quoting a proverb popular during Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile.
“They can crush a few flowers but they can’t hold back the springtime,” she said.
Brian Fraga writes from Texas.
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
blog comments powered by Disqus
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs