Leaders of American women religious meet in Nashville starting tomorrow. The five day conference will include private meetings with Archbishop Sartain the prelate designated by Rome to get results. NCRep summarizes here. There seems to be a tired and pessimistic note in it all. I don’t know why it seems so serious.
The ground under the bishops and bureaucrats has shifted in the past year or two. And most decidedly not in their favor.
Conservative bishops are under fire. Some say a backlash for unpopular stands. More likely, the loss of credibility over the past decade has led to questioning their “bling” and what some might say are aggressive political stances. Some few bishops, they say, have intimidated people in their care. They’ve used, so it is said, law, sex, and church politics to dominate seminarians, priests, sisters, abuse victims, and allies.
The Church nets headlines for its actions on things like the sign of peace (something few people place as a priority). A new generation of bishops trots out a document on preaching (having largely ignored the previous one). The culturewar has not turned out so well, and many of its chief generals are under fire for legal or moral misconduct.
And to rub salt in the palliums, one sure way to get people to read controversial theologians is to criticize their books. It shows just how cheap episcopal regard is these days. And how valuable their opposition might be.
Even if Pope Francis were not reminding us constantly of the Church’s proper place with the poor, I’d say that the crisis of corruption and violence around the world would demand that we, the Church, address humanitarian issues in Central America, Iraq, the Ukraine, here and there in Africa, and in Gaza. Here in the US, I suppose some sounds might be made about foreign policy. Maybe more effective would be to bypass our frozen government and just welcome refugees into our homes, churches, and neighborhoods. Bishops and sisters could move on this together with the rest of us laypeople. Wouldn’t that be a good thing?
Despite the soundings from the CDF, I think women religious have the high ground here. I think Cardinal Müller is no friend of Archbishop Sartain. And the archbishop knows it. And the sisters know it.
My prediction for this meeting is that nothing much will come of it. The sisters are gracious enough to allow the Seattle ordinary to save face. The other two bishops on his committee have largely disappeared from view on this, have you noticed? Leonard Blair now has his own archdiocese. And I can’t even remember the name of the third bishop.
The sisters don’t need Vatican recognition of a leadership organization. And clearly, the Vatican isn’t getting what it wants: a bureaucratic watchdog–somebodies to do the dirty work of another century’s CDF.
Archbishop Sartain could press his luck. He seems like a sensible guy. But he could press. Then I think the sisters just walk. They can conference however much they like, and not invite any bishops at all. They continue with their communities and acts of charity and ministry. The men stay totally out of the loop.
The only way this becomes win-win is if the bishops here in the States bring to the table some common sense and a willingness to listen.