By now, most of the Catholic blogging world has heard of Archbishop Peter Sartain’s appointment by the Vatican. Whispers succinctly delivers the news:
Citing “serious doctrinal problems” found over the course of a four-year study of the umbrella-group representing the majority of the US’ communities of nuns, the Holy See has announced a thoroughgoing shake-up of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), naming Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle as its delegate to conduct an overhaul of the group.
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 current doctrinal and pastoral situation of the 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.
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. This is a challenge not only to core Catholic beliefs; such a rejection of faith is also a serious source of scandal and is incompatible with religious life. Such unacceptable positions routinely go unchallenged by the LCWR, which should provide resources for member Congregations to foster an ecclesial vision of religious life, thus helping to correct an erroneous vision of the Catholic faith as an important exercise of charity. Some might see in Sr. Brink’s analysis a phenomenological snapshot of religious life today. But Pastors of the Church should also see in it a cry for help.
The Cardinal spoke of this issue in reference to letters the CDF received from “Leadership Teams” of various Congregations, among them LCWR Officers, protesting the Holy See’s actions regarding the question of women’s ordination and of a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons, e.g. letters about New Ways Ministry’s conferences. The terms of the letters 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.
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 to the life of 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.
This action by the Holy Father should be understood in virtue of the mandate given by the Lord to Simon Peter as the rock on which He founded his Church (cf. Luke 22:32): “I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned to me, you must strengthen the faith of your brothers and sisters.” This Scripture passage has long been applied to the role of the Successors of Peter as Head of the Apostolic College of Bishops; it also applies to the role of the Pope as Chief Shepherd and Pastor of the Universal Church. Not least among the flock to whom the Pope’s pastoral concern is directed are women Religious of apostolic life, who through the past several centuries have been so instrumental in building up the faith and life of the Holy Church of God, and witnessing to God’s love for humanity in so many charitable and apostolic works.
The mandate of the Delegate is to include the following … 2) To review LCWR plans and programs, including General Assemblies and publications, to ensure that the scope of the LCWR’s mission is fulfilled in accord with Church teachings and discipline. In particular: Systems Thinking Handbook will be withdrawn from circulation pending revision, LCWR programs for (future) Superiors and Formators will be reformed, Speakers/presenters at major programs will be subject to approval by Delegate. … 4) To review and offer guidance in the application of liturgical norms and texts. For example: The Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours will have a place of priority in LCWR events and programs.
[Sr. Simone] Campbell sees the current tension between male and female Catholic clergy as a part of a post-Vatican II democratic evolution within the church, but worries that the male leaders fail to recognize the “witness of women religious.”
It’s painfully obvious that the leadership of the church is not used to having educated women form thoughtful opinions and engage in dialogue.
“I think we scare them,” Sr. Simone Campbell … said of the church’s male hierarchy.