After a long pause in the LCWR versus bishops + CDF tussle, we have some new upset. David Gibson at RNS details a few recent salvos.
The LCWR fired big, slating theologian Elizabeth Johnson for its Outstanding Leadership Award at their upcoming August conference. Referring to the head of the bishops’ committee responsible for the Rome/LCWR connection, the CDF head, Cardinal Gerhard Müller fired back:
The choice to honor Johnson without (Archbishop) Sartain’s approval, Mueller said, “will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See. … Not only that, but it further alienates the LCWR from the bishops as well.”
I see a lot of sites trumpeting crackdown, but truly, the bishops are powerless on this front. The LCWR was formed in the 1950’s to facilitate communication between sisters and Rome. The organization can be shut down, or the sisters can walk away, and pretty much nobody can do anything about it. The sisters might continue to conference, to meet in various configurations, and the institution loses out. The impetus for dialogue is all with the men. They can push, and they might end up sidelined, and there will be no meetings, no discussion with them. Sisters and communities will interact with bishops in dioceses where they serve, women religious and pastors will still collaborate in faith communities, and these women will continue to serve with the laity in ministry. Which is probably how most of them would want it anyway.
If the lazy and anti-intellectual reading of Professor Johnson’s book is any indication, the bishops are sorely out of their element on the theological plane. I read the USCCB criticism. I read Johnson’s book. I don’t see we read the same thing. The sisters have too much to do to indulge in a dialogue of the deaf. They’ll walk away. They’re actually doing the men a favor by staying in the conversation.
To be clear, the LCWR is not a traditional structure in the sense of the governance of a religious order. It’s not Benedictine, Dominican, or anything. It strikes me as just a meeting of the minds. That meeting can take place in all sort of ways. It doesn’t need Rome. It doesn’t need bishops. It doesn’t need clergy. It doesn’t need the four letters, L, C, W, and R.
As for Cardinal Müller, he’s getting pushback from bishops in his own country on pastoral care for the remarried. The CDF seems to have no teeth. It has no law enforcement arm as it might have had centuries ago.
I have a few predictions:
- Pope Francis will do nothing. This is the realm of the bishops, the curia, and theologians. This is like leaving Bishops Finn, Myers, etc. in their dioceses to twist in the wind. This is about making a bed and sleeping in it. Archbishop Sartain, Cardinal Müller, and the other players are all adults. It’s up to them to work it out. There is no theological cavalry on the horizon, and the women aren’t backing down.
- This is a centuries-old battle that won’t end any time soon, barring the grace of God. Men in the clergy have often had great difficulty with women who served Christ and his Gospel outside of the cloister. Don’t be fooled: this argument isn’t about theology. It’s about administration and control. These men do not understand apostolic ministry outside of their own. Few understand lay people. Fewer understand women–they just aren’t part of that world in most any way.
- These new developments will blow over. If the men push too hard, they will be the only ones left at the table. I suspect that even still, there will be some face saved somewhere. This will get a quiet end. Eventually.
- Liberal Catholics will get upset. Really: there is nothing new going on here. Nothing worth spending spare cash on antacid, or spending time writing to the editor or to the pope or somebody. Send a sister a card of support? Fine.
- The sisters will continue to take the high road. They will not condemn bishops, cardinals, or most anyone trying to boss them around. They’re going to take their serenity and walk.
- Conservative Catholics will remain bitterly disappointed. The cardinal who was originally a mover on this is deposed. Bishops have come out everywhere in support of the sisters. Everybody knows where lay people stand. Archbishop Sartain has a nearly impossible task that just got a little bit tougher, thanks to his brother in Rome.
Is there a theological problem with the sisters? Who knows? Who can tell? The whole darn thing is so fatiguing. I read a book or two and a handful of articles. It looks to me like the confusion between catechesis and theology. The former is the well-defined and safe knowledge that is important for neophytes, children, and books with imprimaturs. The latter is the exploration of the margins of faith, of people seeking for God in a lot of places, and finding him in some of them.