Pope Francis and the LCWR

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.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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8 Responses to Pope Francis and the LCWR

  1. John McGrath says:

    The contention will be put to rest within a year. Concessions are probably being discussed, with the nuns asked to make a philosophic statement in support of the value of human life in all forms, in the womb, during the years requiring loving nurturing, when sick or frail or managing a disability, and among the poor and neglected of society. With an addition that each religious order has a charism to work for the value of human life in specific missions, especially to the poor. Nothing terribly specific, no other results except a yearly/three yearly a report detailing their support of the value of human life in any form. Basically they will continue as before but their work will be treated under the banner of supporting the value of human life in all stages of life.

    You touch upon a big problem: bishops playing up to the Vatican for political points. Reducing their ministry to one person, the pope, and dealing imprudently with their obligations as a result.

  2. Liam says:

    Recall that JM Bergoglio, SJ, lived through the intervention of Rome in the governance of the Society of Jesus three decades ago, and that, however his perception of events evolved during that time, he is likely to have continued reflecting on those events long after they were settled.

  3. Todd says:

    I also suspect at this point, the game is about saving face as much as possible. Bishops cannot appear to “lose” this confrontation. And while just a few notable and isolated women religious have parted from the Church on abortion and other life issues, by and large these issues are not about the LCWR.

    LCWR leaders also cannot “lose” this confrontation, unless they want to take their chances with the rank and file sisters who, it must be noted, suffer much more at the hands of men, especially clerics, than clergy are embarrassed by the occasional wayward sister.

    I’m sure both sides realize this, and the devil, so to speak, is in the details.

    The hardcore fringes, including the Temple Police, will end up disappointed. But they have Rorate Caeli and Dr Z to go to for venting. Then all will be well, more or less.

  4. FrMichael says:

    “I don’t think this conflict has a darn thing to do with doctrine.”

    Well, we’re all entitled to our opinions, but your opinion makes a liar out of CDF, since the published material so far is all about aberrant doctrine– and that not simply in life issues but Christology and Ecclesiology as well.

    For the curious, link here to the 8 page CDF doctrinal assessment:

    http://www.usccb.org/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&pageid=55544

    Now do these male-female issues between the hierarchy and the consecrated religious that Todd posits exist as well? IMNSHO yes they do, and may even explain why the CDF went first after the women religious instead of the male religious, where the rot is almost as deep. But that’s no excuse for the rot itself, denying that it exists, or allowing for its existence but claiming it is not a significant problem in the life of the Church in the US. My beef is that this assessment came decades too late.

    • Jimmy Mac says:

      The CDF lying? Who woulda thunk!

    • Todd says:

      I don’t think the CDF’s problem is lying so much as a lack of comprehension. I’ve read the doctrinal assessment, and really, the conflict isn’t so much about doctrine as politics. So the sisters were willing to listen to non-Christians. So what? Bishops do it all the time, only with more “manly” stuff like lawyers, psychologists, PR experts.

      And if indeed there is rot in religious life, it is not the place of the CDF or the bishops to address it. It must be addressed within the communities themselves. Going after the LCWR makes very little sense–that’s not where the fringe stuff that is of concern is happening.

      Some sister in suburbia is living an a townhouse, doing massage therapy while listening to Enya–that’s not driving people away from the Church. Prelates wrapping themselves in lace and red bridal trains while predators roamed free and African sisters were raped–that kind of thing drives believers to the Protestants by the tens of millions.

      FrMichael, get some perspective, please.

  5. FrMichael says:

    Todd, did you even read the assessment? It addressed talks at LCWR’s own national convocations, not just some flaky New Ager somewhere in suburbia. It addressed a handbook published under the auspices of LCWR, not the writings of the local Reiki retreat master.

    CDF’s job is to serve the Holy Father and the Church in dealing with heresy and bizarro theology wherever they raise their ugly heads.

    And while the collapse of consecrated religious life in this country is not the subject of this inquiry by CDR but rather the one under the auspices of the Congregation for Religious, IMNSHO the doctrinal fuzziness of orders involved with teaching and catechesis and their self-immolation is an important topic. The decline of the teaching orders and the resultant decline of the Catholic school system, both parochial and secondary, is indeed a disaster of the first order, on a par with the sexual abuse crisis. Millions are currently being lost as the US Church has been completely unprepared for this particular wave of Catholic immigration: the Hispanic. The bishops of the 19th and early 20th centuries understood the need to educate Catholic immigrant children in Catholic schools. The past 40 years have been an unqualified disaster. We don’t have a working model (other than in those few areas with school vouchers and the Diocese of Wichita) where the parochial school system can provide low tuition Catholic education to Hispanic families.

    • Todd says:

      Yes, I did read it, and I found it unconvincing and intellectually weak.

      I also read part of the transcript of Laurie Brink’s talk and she was describing a reality, not telling the sisters what to do.

      The bishops and the CDF are responsible for approaching this matter with intelligence. I haven’t seen it yet. As prelates they might not like to hear bad news, but the sisters strike me as a little less fearful about it.

      I also read some of the leadership handbook. It wasn’t a catechism. And every published word of what struck me as essntially a non-religious document need not deal with religion.

      If there’s heresy here, it has yet to be proved. Unless we’re just talking about the neo-orthodox definition as “church stuff I disagree with.”

      You’ve misdiagnosed the social situation of religious life.

      And you are abjectly wrong about the last forty years.

      But you are welcome to keep your blinders. I know you have a lot of company, but relatively few solutions.

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