First, a little background. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is a national organization of major superiors of women religious orders. The LCWR has been under scrutiny for many years, and underwent a “Doctrinal Assessment” as requested by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). In a 2008 meeting with Cardinal Levada, three issues arose (p.2-3):
- 1. Addresses given during LCWR annual Assemblies manifest problematic statements and serious theological, even doctrinal errors. The Cardinal offered as an example specific passages of Sr. Laurie Brink’s address about some Religious “moving beyond the Church” or even beyond Jesus…Such unacceptable positions routinely go unchallenged by the LCWR…
- 2. …The terms of the letters [from "Leadership Teams" of LCWR Officers to the CDF] suggest that these sisters collectively take a position not in agreement with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. It is a serious matter when these Leadership Teams are not providing effective leadership and example to their communities, but place themselves outside the Church’s teaching.
- The Cardinal noted a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR, including theological interpretations that risk distorting faith in Jesus and his loving Father who sent his Son for the salvation of the world. Moreover, some commentaries on “patriarchy” distort the way in which Jesus has structured sacramental life in the Church; others even undermine the revealed doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture.
So, this is not a minor issue; nor does it have anything to do with the social justice efforts of the LCWR, which the Assessment lauded.
[T]he doctrinal Assessment comes as a result of several years of examination of the doctrinal content of statements from the LCWR and of their annual conferences. The Assessment’s primary concern is the doctrine of the faith that has been revealed by God in Jesus Christ, presented in written form in the divinely inspired Scriptures, and handed on in the Apostolic Tradition under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium…[T]he Assessment reveals serious doctrinal problems which affect many in Consecrated Life. On the doctrinal level, this crisis is characterized by a diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration which leads, in turn, to a loss of a “constant and lively sense of the Church” among some Religious.
The LCWR is meeting in St. Louis, and the National Catholic Register has a report on Day 2 of the its Assembly. It includes this:
The sisters also were asked about how the LCWR sisters had dealt with the “hurt and pain” of the “Doctrinal Assessment,” [Dominican] Sister Donna [Markham] said she felt “extremely hurt” and “betrayed by my Church.” She said it took “everything” to go to Mass the following Sunday, but she went with the other sisters in her community. It was Good Shepherd Sunday, she recalled, and the priest paused in his homily to say that some of the best examples of the Good Shepherd were the sisters. The congregation stood up and clapped, she related, and it was the strength of the laity that made it possible for the sisters to walk through the crisis.
First, I encourage T&C readers, if they haven’t done so already, to read the Doctrinal Assessment itself. It is only eight pages, and I cannot imagine why Sister Donna had the reaction she did. Essentially, the Assessment asks the LCWR to, well, be Catholic in the sense of following the Church and Her teaching.
Second, even if she felt “betrayed” by the Church, it isn’t “the Church” that is present in the Eucharist; it is Christ Himself. Why would it “take everything” to go to Mass and receive Him? It would seem that it would be a great comfort and solace to receive Him after being “extremely hurt.”
Third, that “the congregation stood up and clapped” in response to the priest praising their efforts reminded me of this:
The priest praising the sisters by saying “the best examples of the Good Shepherd were the sisters” seems to me to be his recognition of their “human achievement.”
The response by the LCWR is baffling to me. Despite media distortions, the Assessment does not read as a screed by cantankerous old men trying to clamp down on the hard-working efforts of nuns engaged in feeding the poor. The Vatican wants to ensure that women religious in the US recognize a proper understanding of Jesus, His Church, and Her teaching. That the LCWR was “stunned” and “taken by surprise by the gravity of the mandate” says more about the mindset of dissent among the LCWR leadership than it does about the Church’s desire to “be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.”