Vatican cracks down on Leadership Conference of Women Religious; group says it’s “stunned” by announcement
Below are two news releases — one from the USCCB announcing steps being taken to reform the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and another the following day from the LCWR responding to the announcement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that the group had been targeted for action. According to its website, the LCWR has more than 1500 members who represent more than 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in the United States.
News Release from USCCB, April 18
WASHINGTON — The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has called for reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and named Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle as its Archbishop Delegate for the initiative. Bishop Leonard Blair and Bishop Thomas John Paprocki also were also named to assist in this effort.
The CDF outlined the call in a “Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious,” released April 18. The document outlines findings of the 2008 CDF-initiated doctrinal assessment of LCWR, conducted by Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, which included his findings and an LCWR response submitted at the end of 2009, as well as a subsequent report from Bishop Blair in 2010.
The 2010 report included “documentation on the content of LCWR’s Mentoring Leadership Manual and also on the organizations associated with the LCWR, namelyNetwork and the Resource Center for Religious Institutes,” CDF said. Network is a social justice lobby founded by nuns. The Resource Center provides religious orders with legal and financial advice.
The Archbishop Delegate’s role is to provide “review, guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work of the LCWR,” the CDF document said.
The mandate for the Delegate “will be for a period of up to five years, as deemed necessary,” the document said. It calls for additional advisers – bishops, women religious and other experts – “to work with the leadership of the LCWR to achieve the goals necessary to address the problems outlined in this statement.” It also asked for a formal link between the Delegate and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
“It will be the task of the Archbishop Delegate to work collaboratively with the officers of the LCWR to achieve the goals outlined in this document, and to report on the progress of this to the Holy See… In this way, the Holy See hopes to offer an important contribution to the future of religious life in the Church in the United States,” the CDF document said.
CDF said Pope Benedict XVI approved CDF’s taking action January 14, 2011, two days after a regular session of the CDF decided that “the current doctrinal and pastoral situation of LCWR is grave and a matter of serious concern, also given the influence the LCWR exercises on religious Congregations in other parts of the world.” CDF also recommend that after the Apostolic Visitation of Religious Communities of Women in the United States, the final report of which was submitted to the Holy See in December 2011, “The Holy See should intervene, with the prudent steps necessary to effect reform of the LCWR.” It also said CDF would “examine the various forms of canonical intervention for the resolution of the problematic aspects present in the LCWR.”
The mandate for the Delegate includes:
- Revision of LCWR statutes
- Review of LCWR plans and programs, including its General Assemblies
- Creation of programs for LCWR member congregations in initial and on-going formation
- Review LCWR’s application of liturgical norms and texts
- Review of LCWR affiliation with Network and the Resources Center for Religious Life.
The doctrinal assessment criticized positions espoused at LCWR annual assemblies and in its literature as well as the absence of support from LCWR for Church teaching on women’s ordination and homosexuality.
CDF said that the documentation “reveals that, while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States. Further, issues of crucial importance in the life of the Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.”
The CDF document said “the Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contributions of women Religious to the Church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years.” It said CDF “does not intend to offer judgment on the faith and life of Women Religious in the member congregations which belong to the conference.”
Nevertheless, CDF said, “The Assessment reveals serious doctrinal problems which affect many in Consecrated life,” calling it a crisis “characterized by a diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration.”
The document listed the principal findings of the LCWR doctrinal assessment.
On LCWR annual assemblies, it said, “The talks, while not scholarly theological discourses per se, do have significant doctrinal and moral content with implications which often contradict or ignore magisterial teaching.”
On formation of religious superiors and formators, the CDF said, “Many of the materials prepared by the LCWR for these purposes (Occasional Papers, Systems Thinking Handbook) do not have a sufficient doctrinal foundation. These materials recommend strategies for dialogue, for example when sisters disagree about basic matters of Catholic faith or moral practice, but it is not clear whether this dialogue is directed towards reception of Church teaching.”
Archbishop Sartain acknowledged the significance of the CDF assignment.
“In the four dioceses I have served, I have had the privilege of working with many women religious from a large number of congregations. For most of those congregations, the LCWR plays an important role of support, communication, and collaboration, a role valued by the sisters and their congregational leadership. I am honored that the CDF has entrusted this important and sensitive work to me, because the ministry of religious sisters, especially here in the United States, is deeply respected and paramount to the mission of the Church. Just as the LCWR can be a vital resource in many ways for its members, I hope to be of service to them and to the Holy See as we face areas of concern to all.”
Statement from the LCWR, April 19, 2012
Silver Spring, Maryland — The presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Because the leadership of LCWR has the custom of meeting annually with the staff of CDF in Rome and because the conference follows canonically-approved statutes, we were taken by surprise.
This is a moment of great import for religious life and the wider church. We ask your prayers as we meet with the LCWR National Board within the coming month to review the mandate and prepare a response.
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