August 11, 2012 – Praying for a Resolution

With all of the happenings that have been going on in the church and in current events it has been impossible to stay well informed on everything, much less to write about them.  One of the ones that I have been let sliding through the cracks is the mandate issued by the Vatican earlier this year to reform the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).  This group was in the spotlight this past week as they held their annual assembly in St. Louis.  I heard some of the reports on local and national TV but still did not really feel inclined to dig into it further until one of the local reporters led her report with a statement something to this effect: “Many people feel that as the church continues to make its stances on social issues more intolerant, that more and more people are turning away from the church.”  I don’t think this was a statement from any of the women religious at the assembly.  I think this was a case of a reporter not checking facts and trying to come with a good catch line to make people listen.  Well, I listened, and my blood boiled.  But before I talk about why I had steam coming out of my ears, I thought I should look a little bit into the background of the LCWR and what this conflict with the Vatican is really all about.

The LCWR was founded in 1956, and according to its website, “assists its members to collaboratively carry out their service of leadership to further the mission of the Gospel.” The conference has more than 1500 members, whose congregations in 2011 included 46,451 (or 83%) of the 55,944 women religious in the United States. The membership of LCWR is confined to the women who are the superiors, or leaders, of their respective congregations; it is a consortium of executives rather than as an organization of representatives of religious women generally.

In 2009 the Vatican announced it would be conducting a doctrinal assessment of the LCWR because of concern about some of the content of the addresses given at their annual assemblies.  The findings of this assessment were released this past April, which indicated that the LCWR needed to make changes to reform its statutes, programs, and affiliations to conform more closely to “the teachings and discipline of the Church.” On June 3, 2012, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith headed by Cardinal William Levad expressed public disapproval of Sister Margaret Farley and her book, Just Love, which emphasized a toleration of homosexuality and feminism contrary to the Catholic teachings. In the statement, he maintained that Farley’s teachings were “in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching in the field of sexual morality”.  Levada further noted that such beliefs “pose grave harm” and counter the official teachings and moral tenets of the Roman Catholic Church while Farley maintained that such beliefs are in line with a modern type of Catholicism and should draw from various other religious traditions and secular perspectives tolerated during the Second Vatican Council.  After a June 12, 2012 meeting with representatives of the LCWR, Cardinal Levada expressed his fear that the lack of response to Vatican concerns by the LCWR was becoming like a “dialogue of the deaf”. He presented the possibility that if the LCWR did not accept the demanded reforms that they could be decertified to make way for a new organization that would take up their duties and be more responsive to the Vatican.

At their general assembly this past week, the LCWR made a statement that they wish to continue to dialogue with the Vatican, and did not necessarily feel the pressure of a deadline to form a response to the mandate.  So it appears that this conversation will continue even after the conclusion of this assembly.  What I have presented here is just a very brief synopsis of the events leading up to this time.  There is a lot of material on the internet about this.  I would also recommend going to the website for the St. Louis Review for coverage of the assembly:  

My reaction to what is transpiring is basically two-fold.  One, I cannot put into words the appreciation I have for the contributions the religious sisters have made in this country.  As Cardinal Timothy Dolan said so well in a recent article, “We Catholics love the nuns.  We Americans love the nuns … Long before women had any executive positions in business, industry, education, or politics, Catholic women religious ran schools, colleges, hospitals, and agencies of charity.  And anybody of my vintage or older knows that the most influential people in the parish were the sisters … They had sharp minds, soft hearts, radiant souls, and indomitable wills.  In them we saw the two great commandments given us by Jesus — “love God, and love your neighbor” personified.”  I am blessed to have been touched by the sisters.  Here at St. Mary’s, from Sr. Mary Edna in first grade who taught me so many basic fundamentals, to Sr. Virginia in the upper grades who somehow brought out musical ability in my very limited talent range.  And at Gibault High School, Sr. Mary Bernard Braun, who always referred to her students as “onions” because they bring a lot of flavor to life but once in a while make you cry.

My other reaction, however, goes back to the reporter’s statement that made me so furious.  I do not think that the church has a duty to reform its teachings on social issues just because the culture of our society does not conform with them.  I think on the contrary, it is more important now than it ever has been for the church to stand firm in its beliefs, which by the way are based on the teachings of Scripture.  And these teachings have not changed over time.  The Second Vatican Council did not modify these in any way.  What it did was to help the Church present itself in a way that the modern world could better relate to.  So when someone says that the church continues to narrow its stance on these issues, then they are misinformed.

My hope is that dialogue can take place between the Vatican and the LCWR, and that a resolution can be found that satisfies both parties.  Definitely something to keep in our prayers.  Also, let us pray for our students, school staff and parents as we begin another school year this week (where did the summer go?).  Also, we thank God for a break in the oppressive heat and we continue to pray for our farmers and all affected by the extreme drought.  Have a great week.  Peace.


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