Friday, June 15, 2012

The Church and Our "Religious Sisters"

Father Martin Fox at Bonfire of the Vanities has a very good post about the Vatican's Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religions (LCWR). I have addressed this topic previously in a personal light. But I think Fr. Fox covers this matter much better than I as it is addressed without hurt or emotion taking his necessarily priestly perspective. I encourage you to read it in its entirety. It begins:

This isn't a subject I want to write about--but I think it's important that I say something.

As you probably know, there have been several stories involving some sort of disagreement between Church authorities and some of our religious sisters. What's that about, you may wonder?

Well, one story has to do with a series of concerns with a group called the "Leadership Conference of Women Religious"; the other has to do with a book authored by Sister Margaret Farley. In both cases, the concerns are being expressed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith--i.e., the office in Rome that seeks to ensure that those charged with teaching the faith, do so faithfully.

So what's this about? To put it simply, some of the decisions and statements of the LCWR have, over the years, sure seemed to deviate from what we believe as Catholics. The CDF folks have cited a number of concerns, such as speakers at public events, statements about "moving beyond" the Church, and other ways that Church teaching and practice have been contradicted or called into question.

Now, of course, if the folks at the LCWR believe that's not true, they have been invited to respond. Some of their leaders just met, yesterday I believe, with officials in Rome. This has yet to work itself out completely. And it isn't just about direct challenges to the Faith, but also how these religious orders might best go forward, so that they flourish, rather than shrink--as, sadly, many of them are.

But let's not beat around the bush. This didn't come out of nowhere. There have, indeed, been very real causes for concern over many years. So serious were these concerns that in the 1990s, a group of women religious in the country sought, and received, from Rome permission to form a new leadership group to represent them--because they grew unsatisfied with the LCWR.

Now, just to be clear, the issue is not with all religious--although that's how it's being framed. My understanding is the LCWR has a membership of about 1,500--as it's name makes clear, it's made up of leaders; those leaders may, or may not, accurately reflect the views of all the thousands of women religious in this country.

By point of comparison, there are two groups that might be taken as representing priests in this country: the longer-established "National Federation of Priests Councils," based in Chicago, and the recently established, "Association of U.S. Catholic Priests." I have no particular issue with either group--but I am not a member of either one. Many of the priests of the Archdiocese are affiliated with the first group, and one of our priests is part of the leadership. If any of our priests are part of the second, I'm not aware of it. The thing is, if someone--either in Rome or elsewhere--were to find fault with either group, I might agree, or disagree, or have no opinion; but why would I take that as a criticism of me?

The other question that comes to mind is this. For those folks who are up in arms about Rome calling for changes in the LCWR, is it their position that Rome isn't allowed to exercise this oversight?

Go here to read his entire post.

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