The tables of schadenfreude (what a great word!) have turned with the news of the papal endorsement of the CDF witchhunt on the LCWR.
It was likely too much to expect a new pope to pull the plug on the Rodé/Levada/Dolan fiasco. As the episcopacy shifted under the weight of new appointments in this country, many bishops found themselves standing alone in a field, rather than steering the ship. Women religious were an easy target. The Temple Police, still smarting from their traditional knuckle raps, were all too willing to provide “enhanced” reports on what those radical feminists were doing.
My sense with yesterday’s news is to shrug. Pope Francis may have missed an opportunity to pull the plug, but the ball is still in the American sisters’ court. If they think there’s too much of an echo from the witchhunt, they can just walk away and take the regard of the laity with them. Archbishop Sartain and his assistants surely must know this. They are in face-saving mode at this point. Pope Francis may have declined to give the thumbs-down to the investigation/takeover, but depending on how the curia gets reformed and what shakes down from the CDF and the Congregation for Religious Life, anybody on a campaign against any internal group within the Church might find the rug pulled out from under them later on.
As for the sisters, they can dissolve the LCWR. They can meet for conferences and handle leadership however they see fit amongst themselves. Simple subsidiarity. The sisters, unlike clergy, and especially bishops, have a more focused regard for authority. They are responsible for the chain of authority within their respective orders. Individual sisters work for pastors and a few for bishops. But most are oriented toward service to the people. And often the poor and needy.
This isn’t to say that there are no opportunities for continued reform and renewal within religious life. But these are better handled within communities of religious. If I were having marital difficulties, perhaps a sister friend might be able to offer insight. But the responsibility for working on my marriage would be that of me and my wife.
I suspect that at some point the larger issue of women and men in the Church will need to be confronted. The sexy issue of ordaining women is entirely peripheral to the problems that church women and church men have with getting along. Ever since women emerged from convents, inspired by the mendicant movements, the Beguines, mysticism, and other traditions, men have clucked and shook their heads in disapproval. Rodé/Levada/Dolan is not a rupture. It’s rather much a continuity with people who pestered women all through the Middle Ages, and down to the present.
A more productive rupture, if you will, will be to work to restore a sense of mutual regard and confidence between men and women in the Church, between non-cloistered sisters and clergy in particular. Each side is suspicious of the other, and not always without good reason. What seems needed is conversion and renewal. More Vatican II, not less. More dialogue, less dictation. More charity, less churning.
I support my sisters in Christ. I’m a skeptic on the bishops. I’m hopeful with the new pope. I don’t think this conflict has a darn thing to do with doctrine. I think we’re closer to getting through this mess today than we were three years ago.