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 PapersSystems 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.



Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 12:26 AM By Clinton
The LCWR is surprised because they’ve gotten away with their liberalism for so long. Hopefully their days are numbered. They’ve been shilling for leftist policies for far too long.

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 1:07 AM By Loraine
I read on Life Site News that the average median age of women in LCWR institutes is now 74, and many of the LCWR-represented congregations are no longer accepting applicants. That’s about the best news from this story.

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 4:18 AM By David
“prepare a response.”? They need to meet for this? Shouldn’t their response be ” we will comply and correct the errors that are in conflict with our catholic faith.”

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 5:13 AM By Canisius
Well, well, well the Vatican after 40 yeas have finally decided to do something about these pant suited valkries, a little late in my opinion

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 5:50 AM By Anna Asher
This is Good News! Time to set the House in order.

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 5:58 AM By Angelo
The “Reform of the Reforms” is alive and well. Not too long ago here on calcathdaily some of us thought Rome had taken a wrong direction on this matter. But lets take care not to gloat. In the “Reform of the Reforms” in one way or another we are all next in line with disciplinary actions. May God continue to purify his Church through the Immaculate Heart of his Most Holy Mother.

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 6:00 AM By JMJ
I love it, especially the response, of which I was anxious to see, from the LCWR. The big question is: how will these ‘nuns’ change? If Notre Dame and other ‘catholic’ schools, hospitals, churches, etc. are examples, then we won’t see anything different at all. Pope John Paul told the Bishops of this country to clean the Church of ALL hectics, priests to wear their collars and for the ‘nuns’ to wear their habits, and we have seen just how obedient the Bishops were and still are to Rome. I keep praying that we will have One Holy Catholic Church once again and the gates of hell will be closed forever. +JMJ+

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 6:20 AM By Sandra
Praise the Lord!

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 6:25 AM By Ted
It appears to me that what they have wrong is not necessarily an overt practice of disobedience, more a matter of prioritization of its roles and activities. The one matter that should be dealt with the most strictly is the mistaken idea that they may have their own beliefs at variance with the teaching of the bishops. That one is a major problem, and they have no reason to be surprised by the CDF intervention for that reason alone. Women religious are NOT the defenders and teachers of the faith, and any practice on their part pretending that role should be dealt with.

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 6:37 AM By Dan 
The book Ungodly Rage, which accurately depicted the problems with the LCWR, came out in 1992. By then the revolt against Magesterial teachng was in full bloom. Now, 20 years later, the Church finally confronts the situation and wants to put the genie back in the bottle? Good luck!

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 6:53 AM By Gabriel Espinosa 
I hope this is a sign that the Holy See finally acknowledges and understands that there is a definitive demarcation in the USA between holy nuns AND the “skirts!”

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 7:05 AM By Lynn
I think this is about time. Over the years I have seen the decline in religious life for women wondering why, and for me, it has to do with the falling away of what was once so pure and holy for Our Lord, I have often said I wished I had been called to the religious life, but that I would only be happy in an order seeking that of true obedience and wearing the full habit for the love of my faith, my God and Church. It’s about time and maybe if it does shape up, more will consider a calling.

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 8:22 AM By Larry
If they really were “stunned” and “taken by surprise” that the Vatican found cause for concern, then they have to be the stupidest people on earth–or at least in the Church. Perhaps the above should be translated: “we are stunned and dismayed that the Holy See has not responded to our habitual intimidation tactics in the usual craven backing-down manner. We are not accustomed to, nor are we prepared for, the Rock of Peter standing up to us, for the faith, after all these years of cowardice. We will meet with our board to decide how we will fight this tooth and nail.” Abp. Sartain isn’t going to have much work to do. He’ll send them letters asking to arrange meetings, etc. They’ll send him letters telling him to take a long walk off a short cliff. He’ll relay that to the Vatican. They’ll decide further action from there. The only question is: how long will it take for the grey ladies to be formally dissociated from the Church, and will it be done at their initiative or the pope’s?

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 8:42 AM By cj
In other news, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that shares of Birkenstock have fallen off sharply in high volume trading…

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 8:44 AM By Elaine
How can the LCWR be “stunned” by the assessment? Did they have no idea of doctrine, so when they made their pronouncements they didn’t know they were wrong? Did they not get it that their priorities were in the wrong place? If they were truly “stunned”, then they must be either ignorant of doctrine and the teachings of the faith, or over-confident that their agenda would not be seen and condemned. I am so glad the Vatican has stepped in and will fix it, better for all the souls of women religious in the end.

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 9:15 AM By Dana
As well as portfolios in fireside singalong books, cj. Cumbaya has fallen off the charts.

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 9:16 AM By Anthony
cj, you are too funny!

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 9:17 AM By MD
We can see that the fruit of looking past doctrinal neglect in right to life and homosexuality has borne negative fruit and the attitude of letting things slip in the light of social justice has increased the death toll. No religious group should accept or overlook the ideology of death for people who supposedly help the poor. Our primary objective as Catholics should be the protection of ALL human life and an end to abortion. We have been quiet so long in the country that now we are at risk of losing our religious liberties. This is a time we need to pray more than ever and not look back at what we could have or should have done, but how we are going to do the Lord’s work in the future. God Love You.

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 9:49 AM By k
MD, if we had been quiet, they would not be targetting us!

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 10:13 AM By Tom
Anybody remember Captain Louis Renault from Casablanca? “I’m shocked, shocked to find there’s gambling going on in here!” “Here are your winnings, sir.” “Oh…thank you very much.” These feminist dissidents are utterly stunned by this. Yeah…right…

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 10:21 AM By Cheryl
The women religious HAVE been working with the Vatican and have NOT been trying to get away with anything anti-Church as some assert. This is just more of the attitude “I’m-a-man-and-therefore-holier-than-women” nonsense. It’s another binding by of menfolk to assert more power over women and to ignore what Christ taught and what the Holy Spirit mandated with the Father.

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 10:28 AM By goodcause
When the Church has a crisis of confidence, blame the nuns! How can it be that our Holy Church, still set in an international culture of sex abuse and criminal coverup, feels a need to be the moral arbiter of Women Religious? Ireland ends all diplomatic contact with the Vatican, the Church has paid out $2.1 Billion in sex abuse legal settlements, but the Vatican’s main objective is harrassing the nuns (again)? Holy Spirit, set your GPS for the Vatican!

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 10:33 AM By bud
This has certainly been “a long time coming” but will it result in anything of importance? The “orders” have needed a “weeding out” for years by their exceeding authority over many of their own faithful members. I find this especially intolerable among the Jesuits of which some believe their authority exceeds all others under the guise of “discussion” and what ever hold they seem to have over the Vatican.

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 10:34 AM By lisag
They are old and they are dying out. No one wants to join a group of disheveled looking women who rather be in secular organizations than proclaim the truth of the church.

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 10:37 AM By Peggy
Thanks be to God. I take issue with the statement “the ministry of religious sisters, especially here in the United States, is deeply respected and paramount to the mission of the Church”. This is only true of the many orders that are not a part of the LCWR, such as the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist from Ann Arbor and the Dominican Sisters from Tennessee, Texas and such groups, where the average age is 28 – 35 and vocations are booming.

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 10:49 AM By Loraine
CJ, you are so right! I have noticed that so many of these liberal sisters wear Birkenstocks. I have nothing against Birkenstocks, I have worn them in the past, but I must say the religious sisters that are wearing them, it’s sometime difficult to tell whether they are male or female because of the short masculine haircut and sometimes masculine clothes they sometime wear.

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 10:55 AM By Mark from PA
Canisius, I was taught by religious sisters for 12 years in Catholic school and had respect for these women who devoted their lives to God and to us. Your comment about “pant suited valkries” is very degrading. The attitude of many towards religious sisters is sad. They are not appreciated it seems.