Thursday, April 19, 2012

Now this is a crackdown: Vatican calls for reform amid a doctrinal “crisis” within the U.S.'s Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Or, what happened after the apostolic visitation?

They came, they saw, they reported, and now the reform begins.

The visitation is over and the studies concluded and now the LCWR has to account for themselves.  Some poor sisters in their congregations must be thanking God their prayers have been answered and the religious spirit may once again be restored to their particular order. 

From CNA:
.- The Vatican called for reform amid a doctrinal “crisis” within the U.S.'s Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), appointing Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to lead renewal efforts.

The appointment was made as the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith revealed the findings of its multi-year doctrinal assessment of the women's conference, which has more than 1,500 members throughout the country.

The assessment document explained, “it is clear that greater emphasis needs to be placed both on the relationship of the LCWR with the Conference of Bishops, and on the need to provide a sound doctrinal foundation in the faith of the Church.”

Initiated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2008, the assessment was carried out by Bishop Leonard P. Blair of Toledo, Ohio, a member of the U.S. bishops’ doctrine committee.

Among the key findings of the assessment were serious theological and doctrinal errors in presentations at the conference's annual assemblies in recent years.
Several of the addresses depicted a vision of religious life that is incompatible with the faith of the Church, the assessment said. Some attempted to justify dissent from Church doctrine and showed “scant regard for the role of the Magisterium.” - Finish reading here.
Sr. Joan Chittister is pissed...

God bless her.  Sister says the action is immoral:
"Within the canonical framework, there is only one way I can see to deal with this," said Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister, who has served as president of the group as well as in various leadership positions. (Chittister also writes a column for NCR.) "They would have to disband canonically and regroup as an unofficial interest group.

"That would be the only way to maintain growth and nourish their congregational charisms and the charism of the LCWR, which is to help religious communities assess the signs of the time. If everything you do has to be approved by somebody outside, then you're giving your charism away, and you're certainly demeaning the ability of women to make distinctions." - Finish reading here.
Very seriously, it must be remembered that within each congregation of women religious, whose superiors are members of the LCWR, there are very good religious who want to be faithful to the religious charism of their founders, as well as Roman Catholic teaching.  I'm convinced there are generous, faithful, hidden souls even amongst the most progressive and secularized of congregations.  Likewise there may be weaker souls, who 'went along' with the changes, who are most in need, and have been looking forward to such an intervention, offering direction and guidance. 
Citing a passage from the Gospel of Luke -- "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" -- the document says the pope gave Levada the authority to show his "pastoral concern" for women religious, "who through the past several centuries have been so instrumental in building up the faith and life of the Holy Church of God." 
In his letter Wednesday, Levada writes that Sartain's appointment is "aimed at fostering a patient and collaborative renewal of this conference of major superiors in order to provide a stronger doctrinal foundation for its many laudable initiatives and activities." - NCR
Prayers for the success of the reform and renewal of religious life in the United States.  I think Teresa of Avila would be a good intercessor for this cause.  Check out the movie "Teresa of Jesus" and at 6:35 or so into the clip, you will see how the nuns reacted to her reform.  Teresa returns to the Incarnation as prioress.  It's literally a riot.  Click here.  It's in Spanish but easily understood if you know the story.

Link to the actual document:

Photo: Scene from Ken Russell's film The Devils


  1. Praise GOD, it's a beginning! As far as 'Sr.' Joan goes, she stopped being a true Benedictine Nun years ago when she dropped any semblance of a habit and went the 'civies' route.
    The Holy Father is going to after all the 'protestant' disidents in the Catholic Church.

  2. I thought it was in response to the visitation too, but it's not. If forgot that around the same time (give or take 6 months), the CDF called for a separate "doctrinal assessment" of the LCWR. Now, in the 8-page PDF that is embedded in the USCCB's news release, naming Archbishop Sartain, it is mentioned that with the recent Apostolic Visitation of religious communities, it is an opportune time for renewal of the LCWR. And, how! Here is my latest post, where I look at details from the 8-page PDF:

  3. honestly, I think sadly that until a particular generation has passed from the scene that there is no real hope for a real change in those particular communities (if at all). I'm happy that this is finally happening but alas it's too far along I fear. I think like the crisis with bishops, priests etc it's a "generational thing".

  4. Diane - thanks very much for pointing that out and providing a link to your post. God bless.

  5. Anonymous12:21 PM

    Thanks Terry for posting this. It gives me new reasons for hope.


  6. Re: The Mathew M comment above.

    It is a weary truism that the habit does not make the religious. Observance of the vows make the religious. Some religious orders or communities wear no habit at all and never have done so. The Marianist Fathers & Brothers come to mind, and there are others.

    As for Sr. Joan Chittister, and the bulk of women Benedictines in the USA, they have always been communities of active, lay sisters, and not 'nuns', unlike male Benedictine monks. That pattern was deliberately established in the 19th cen in the earliest days of Benedictine establishment in the USA, when the sisters were prohibited from making solemn vows. The sisters in the USA were made to profess 'simple perpetual vows' instead.

    It was only later in the 20th cen that Benedictine nuns from Europe, and under solemn vows, made foundations of monasteries in the USA. Regina Laudis Abbey in Connesticut, the Abbey of St. Walburga in Colorado and Westfield Priory (Immaculate Conception) in Vermont, are all examples of these 20th cen Benedictine monastic houses for nuns.

    Sr. Joan Chittister, on the other hand, is a sister of Mount St. Benedict Priory, Erie, Pennsylvania. The Erie Benedictine sisters belong the St. Scholastica Federation of over 15 priories in the USA and Mexico. All those sisters are not 'nuns' in the technical monastic sense, but active lay Benedictine sisters under 'simple perpetual vows'.

    Unlike the full monastic observance and habits worn in monasteries of Benedictine nuns, Benedictine sisters are allowed these days to wear any dress appropriate to their duties. So it ill befits anyone to chide Sr. John or any active Benedictine sister (not a nun) for what is undoubtedly true for them and for the church - "The vows make the religious and not the habit."

    It would be best to understand these distinctions before going off on criticism or rant about women, sisters or nuns, in or out of religious habits.

  7. Robert - thanks much for explaining the distinction - there are some priests who do not even know that. My label 'school sisters are not nuns' was meant to bring that out - I've posted on the difference in the past.

    Thanks again.

  8. You're welcome Terry.

    Due to the length of my previous post on sisters of the active apostolate and nuns, I failed to mention the very important issue of the canonical Benedictine Divine Office. 19th and early 20th cen Benedictine sisters were prohibited from taking the solemn vows of a nun precisely because it would have bound them to the full canonical choir habit and recitation of the office in choir.

    Bishops and abbots refused to consider any such status for the sisters because they wanted so much work from them in what was then considered the 'missionary' Roman Catholic church that was so top heavy with needy immigrants. The working sisters - over worked sisters - wore the reduced, working habit and they recited short, simple, devotional prayers together with such things as the Rosary and the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

    It was only later, again the the 20th cen, when nuns in solemn vows from Europe made foundations in the USA, that the use of the full choir habit and recitation of the canonical Benedictine Divine Office was again celebrated in the monasteries of women I mentioned in my first post.

    All of these new foundation nuns do wear the canonical Benedictine habit, just as their conferes, the monks in solemn vows do. These are hardly obscure points because they lead to big differences in the way the religious life is lived and seen outwardly by the secular clergy and laity. It is an important part of Christian education to be aware of all this so that one does not rush to hasty and uncharitable assumptions about people who, after all, have made a profound offering of themselves to God, whatever they wear.

  9. As I've said elsewhere, this initiative kinda reminds me of the foxes watching the hen house, or Henry VIII "investigating" the laxity and immorality of all the monasteries and religious houses in England in the 1530's.


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