LCWR Crackdown, Hierarchy Cracks

No doubt some pom-pom Catholics are feeling good this week. One usually poetic soul has been reduced to the simple refrain “Heck yeah,” in response to the final verdict of the Vatican investigation of American women religious. Lyrical, that.

The LCWR are treating this like any other obstacle or catastrophe. They’ll take it to their leadership and discern. That’s one point of difference from the bishops–when the purple-piped boys get shoved, they usually call a lawyer to shove back. Blogosphere commentary is shooting up like the grass in my backyard on the so-called crackdown on LCWR. I’m inclined to read it not so much–I’m not sure that personally I’m inclined to deal that much (or well) with anger that it stirs up in me. And that’s from the sites with which I largely agree.

I think of Princess Leia’s slip-through-your-fingers comment to Darth Vader. Problem is, Vader was prepared to enact great damage. No doubt the bishops can too. But I suspect this will be a pyrrhic effort for them. And victory is by no means assured. Ewoks lurk.

Since the main players of this effort are getting a lot of scrutiny, I’m going to throw out some peripheral comments on a few side players. And maybe one or two of the big ones.

– I’m not sure what to make of Archbishop Sartain. I don’t know the guy. Is heading the enforcement division of this investigation a path to Chicago and a red hat? He was near there once. He could go back again. On the other hand, Archbishop Jerome Hanus took a lot of heat from progressives for a rather controversial Lectionary II back in the late 90’s. Talk was he was heading to Saint Louis. That sure never materialized. Peter Sartain is on his third wife diocese now. That a rather O’Malleyian pilgrimage, it might be said. Or maybe Archbishop Sartain will get buried in the Pacific Northwest.

– What about the curial heads? Cardinal João Braz de Aviz heads the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, originally responsible for the public face of the investigation. His predecessor was shown the door. American Joseph Tobin, too, was making nicey-nice talk when he was tapped for the position of Secretary of the CICLSAL. These guys were nowhere to be found in the news stories of this week. Are they sidelined by fiat or by choice?

– I can’t see the laity swallowing this well at all. Some of us may have had the occasional knuckles rapped by a woman in a black habit. But the institution cannot expect to get much traction on this, except for a few hundred bloggers. And those few hundred are always angry about something. One of the punishment crew can get a nick, and the Temple Police will be all over him like piranhas at a hemophiliac pool party.

– The TP have had their hat handed to them on the investigation thus far. They poured a lot of money into it. But now it seems like victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat. I suspect that the good sisters aren’t going to take this with acquiesence. Though I trust it will be with good grace. The TP are power-hungry narcissists. They have played their darlings in the upper hierarchy like fiddles and perhaps they think they will gain some happy results now. Five minutes, and the smile will fade. Then it will be time for the next victim. Crusades like this appeal to the basest and crudest of human emotions, and such warfare is never satisfying.

– I predict some backlash from a wide swath of laity on this. A bishop is going to trial in the Fall, and people will deduce that if a yoga teacher is enough to get you a Vatican investigation, then shielding child abusers from the law should merit at least prison orange and a work detail on the interstate roadside. I realize the CDF is rightly concerned about theology. But most Catholics who care aren’t concerned about the yap about a post-Christian option. We do want to ensure the protection of the innocent. This is where Cardinal Levada and his posse are way, way off the moral track on this. That’s how the laity see it. And given the long list of bishops who have become mired in scandal since the Charter: George, Walsh, Rigali, Finn, Mahony, Lennon, McCormack, Egan, Grahmann, O’Brien, among others. The Catholic hierarchy is on probation where many lay people are concerned. They are the wrong, wrong, wrong people to be tackling the women religious. Even if the cause were just. And especially if the cause were just.

– The LCWR was founded at Rome’s request. What’s to stop it from just disbanding, but getting together to conference under a new umbrella, a new organization?

– People only have power over you to the extent you choose to give it to them.

I hope the good sisters continue to turn themselves over to Christ and discern the Lord’s will through their own ministries, collaboration, and community life. I’m inclined to support them 100%. A woman religious friend asked me to give the Religious Retirement collection a pitch in church one weekend about ten years ago. It was an easy task. I have a deep affection and respect for the women I serve with in ministry. I could tell stories. And while I’m happy I don’t need to do it, I would have no problem whatsoever if I had to get on my knees and beg for support for my sisters and colleagues. Considering what they give to the Church, it would be no humiliation at all. It would be a joy. So I’m going to take my love and affection for these fine women and reconsider my anger at their persecutors. I’m going to look at my personal upset from different sides, take it to prayer, and support my friends wherever and in whatever way I can.

Finally, I think this is going to be formative more than it will be punitive for women religious. I think that the hierarchy are about twenty feet from the brink of the falls, and that this is going to get very grisly and ugly for them. The damage to unity will be significant. Whether he realizes it yet or not, the pope is very close to being on the clock for this decision.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Church News, Commentary, The Blogosphere. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to LCWR Crackdown, Hierarchy Cracks

  1. Liam says:

    ” People only have power over you to the extent you choose to give it to them.”

    Exactly. And they have effective authority when people find them credible users of power; transparent accountability and effective authority are directly correlated. The bishops can try to cherry pick one side of that sword (to mix metaphors), but I doubt they will succeed.

    On paper, the Roman way is autocratic; this is especially tempting for the literalist-minded Catholics whose hermeneutical preferences are more ruddered by a culture soaked in Protestant literalism than they realize. In practice, the Roman way requires far more consensus to operate.

  2. Jen says:

    I can imagine what a good friend of mine, and a Benedictine for longer than I’ve been alive, would say to this. She’d smile, nod, and say, “We’ve lived through worse.” If anything, there are still sisters alive, who remember how to deal with the kind of hierarchy we have these days.

    But it is troubling. I know too many good people who’ll be hurt by this. (including those they help.) I do think it’ll backfire on the higher-ups. It’s not making them look any better, that’s for certain.

  3. John Drake says:

    Todd, your knee jerk pessimism is in full flower. And don’t kid yourself thinking that one of the first things Sr. Farrell did was NOT to call their crack lawyers.

  4. Bill Logan says:

    I think that more conservative elements in the hierarchy have thought the sisters (as a whole) were too uppity. When they realized that the earlier investigation by the Congregation for the Institutes and Societies was going to go nowhere, they found this other way.

  5. Dennis Reardon says:

    I couldn’t have said it better. Easter scriptures remind us of how important women are in furthering the faith and helping the Lord to bring back the Boss Man and his other brothers-in-panic. Jesus is faithful to his word and sticks with Peter ( that he sticks with us is good news) but he doesn’t allow him to pervert the gorapel or hijack the mission for long.

    Dennis Reardon

  6. Neil says:

    It strikes me that it is difficult to have any sort of constructive response to this. The key quote, I think, is from the canon lawyer Ladislaus Orsy, SJ, in this NCR article:

    “We are all handicapped because the evidence has not been published. And like any kind of decision, you measure the decision in relationship to the evidence. But the evidence has not been published, except in very general terms. Therefore, you cannot argue with a decision unless you get the evidence on which it was based.”

    Thus, the main effect of this mysterious decision is to intensify one’s previous opinion, whether it was to hunt down heretical contaminants or, alternately, to adopt a persecution complex.

    If one hoped that CDF decisions would serve a catechetical purpose, or show the church’s ability to model rational deliberation, or demonstrate that it can participate in a democracy – well, then, you can be bitterly disappointed.

  7. Bill Wilson says:

    Your take on Rome’s tyrannical and secretive dropping of the hammer on LCWR is right on the money. One additional note: Levada’s record on protecting our children is abysmal. That’s probably why he got his red hat and the job of overseeing and protecting predatory priests, a job PB16 did so well before becoming pope

  8. TheraP says:

    Thanks for this great summary and especially for these words: I’m inclined to support them 100%.


  9. Pingback: Vatican vs. women (in this case, women religious)

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