Before finishing their Aug. 7-10 meeting in St. Louis, the nuns of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious conferred the group’s “highest honor” on a former faculty member at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley.
While most news items about the St. Louis meeting focused on the LCWR’s reaction to a Vatican call for reform of the organization, buried at the end of a news release from the LCWR was the following:
“The assembly closed with the conferring of LCWR’s highest honor, its Outstanding Leadership Award, on Sister Sandra Schneiders, IHM, a theologian and professor emerita at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California.”
Who is Sister Schneiders? According to the website of the Jesuit School of Theology, she is a “professor emerita” who specialized in New Testament Studies and Christian Spirituality. But Sr. Schneiders has done much more than teach at Berkeley’s Jesuit School of Theology. She has also been a national leader in urging her fellow women religious to rebel against the Vatican.
In 2009, Sister Schneiders, a sister of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, called on her fellow nuns to give a cold shoulder to visitors from the Vatican conducting a study of U.S. women’s religious orders, calling those carrying out the visitations “uninvited guests who should be received in the parlor, not given the run of the house.”
On Jan. 30, 2009, the Vatican announced it was launching a series of on-site visits to “look into the quality of life” of women’s religious communities in the U.S. In a private email message to “colleagues and friends” obtained by the National Catholic Reporter and later published with Sister Schneiders’ permission, she said, “I do not put any credence at all in the claim that this is friendly, transparent, aimed to be helpful, etc. It is a hostile move and the conclusions are already in. It is meant to be intimidating.”
“We cannot, of course, keep them from investigating,” Sister Schneiders continued. “But we can receive them, politely and kindly, for what they are, uninvited guests who should be received in the parlor, not given the run of the house. When people ask questions they shouldn’t ask, the questions should be answered accordingly. I just hope we will not, as we American Religious so often do, think that by total ‘openness’ and efforts to ‘dialogue’ we are going to bring about mutual understanding and acceptance. This is not mutual and it is not a dialogue. The investigators are not coming to understand — believe me, we found that out in the seminary investigation. So let’s be honest but reserved, supply no ammunition that can be aimed at us, be non-violent even in the face of violence, but not be naive.”
Sister Schneiders called the visitations “a fake war being stirred up by the Vatican at the instigation of the frightened” and advised her colleagues against getting involved in it. “Also, what is the worst thing that can happen from this investigation?” she asked. “They are surely not going to shut down 95% of the Religious Congregations in this country, even if they’d like to, any more than they closed all the seminaries that were not teaching 19th century moral theology or buying the official line that the clergy sex abuse scandal was caused, not by corrupt bishops protecting pedophile priests, but by homosexuals in seminaries.”
In 2010, Sister Schneiders wrote a defiant five-part series for the National Catholic Reporter about the visitations and the confrontation between the LCWR and the Vatican that led to the “doctrinal assessment” published in April of this year by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. That assessment found serious theological and doctrinal errors on the part of the LCWR, and called for its reform.