“Stunned”: LCWR responds to Vatican

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious just posted the following statement on its website:

“The presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Because the leadership of LCWR has the custom of meeting annually with the staff of CDF in Rome and because the conference follows canonically-approved statutes, we were taken by surprise.

This is a moment of great import for religious life and the wider church. We ask your prayers as we meet with the LCWR National Board within the coming month to review the mandate and prepare a response.”

Stay tuned.


  1. Well, better late than never. Suspect a lot (most), of us will be “stunned”, when either by death or in extremely rare cases, “Vatican Intervention”, we meet “Truth.”

  2. One thing that should be a constant in any personnel situations: there should be nothing stunning. This is like the annual mployee supervisor conference. If there has been the appropriate communication, there should be no surprises. Someone dropped the ball, or possibly, there is a lot of politics going on.

  3. The Leadership Conference, based in Silver Spring, Md., represents about 57,000 religious sisters.

    I wonder how many nuns will resign now that the Vatican is questioning this groups pro-aborition, pro-gay marriage, pro-Obamacare stances?

    The report released Wednesday paints a scathing portrait of the Leadership Conference of Women’s Religious as consistently violating Catholic teaching.

    “The current doctrinal and pastoral situation of the LCWR is grave and a matter of serious concern, also given the influence the LCWR exercises on religious congregations in other parts of the world,” said the eight-page statement issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Benedict led for a quarter century before his election.

  4. Does the LCWR response remind anyone of the scene in Casablanca: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.”

  5. This is a good thing. The Vatican did the correct thing here. I’m sorry, but in the last few years groups of Nuns have tried to supercede Episcopal authority. In some ways this was leading to a fragmentation of our Church. It’s been evident. This is a much needed correction. I hope the Nuns (I’m not familiar with the various groups) will accept with humility Papal correction and Episcoapl authority. This was very much needed.

  6. The action of the Vatican is a most unfortunate development that will further hurt all vocations in the Church, priests and religious sisters. High-handed authoritarianism should not be mistaken for spirituality. I am sorry to see so much disrespect, sexism, and lack of gratitude in the comments on this issue, with this post, and the other post on the same subject. This is another example of an out-of-touch hierarchy abusing power. The timing of the release was calculated to embarrass. The clergy and hierarchy who long for the days of teams of nuns scrubbing their rectories and acting as their nannies is forever gone, but a Vatican clique gasps for one last attempt to bring back that epoch. It is pitiful that the scandal ridden hierarchy has chose to move with lightening speed on this matter, while dragging out the sex abuse crises now for decades.

  7. Drake:
    In response to your comment:
    “It is pitiful that the scandal ridden hierarchy has chose to move with lightening speed on this matter… .”

    I think that this issue between the LCWR and the Vatican has been seething for years, perhaps going back to 1979 when Sr. Teresa Kane said to Pope John Paul II in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception”
    “As women we have heard the powerful message of our church addressing the dignity and reverence of all persons. As women we have pondered these words. Our contemplation leads us to state that the church in its struggle to be faithful to its call for reverence and dignity for all persons must respond by providing the possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries of the church.”

    At that time, Cardinal Levada, then Fr. Levada, was an official at the the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger.

    I am surprised at the tenor of the comments here on this subject , but more about that later.

  8. deacon john m. bresnahan says:

    Considering the radical, virtually anti-Christian attitudes and comments of some of the “leadership” sisters, there are a lot of Catholics who are feeling:: “It’s about time the Vatican acted!”

  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Peripheral question: Why don’t they use the definite article in connection with organizations’ acronyms? I’ve never seen that before, except with people talking about “here at CIA”. Is this an East Coast thing?

  10. I hate to burst your bubble Drake, but the Church is not a democratic institution. It is and supposed to be authoritarian. It’s authoritarianism is what has kept the faith from drifting to all sorts of crazy, gnostic beliefs. Long live Catholic Church authoritariabism!

  11. A few years ago, I attended a conference of Catholic women, lay and religious. A sister, I believe she was the Director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious at that time: said:

    “We (sisters) used to think that we were the ones with the charisms. Now, we are beginning to think that our charism is to facilitate the growth and development of those charisms in others.”
    (I am paraphrasing but that was the gist of her comment.)

    Makes me think that the sisters are not that concerned that they will “die out.” Look at their legacy in education, especially for the poor, in health care, and in programs that deal with the basic needs of those who are marginalized in our society.

    The Church’s “preferential option for the poor?”

    My response:
    “I desire you would remember the ladies… .” (Abigail Adams to John Adams, March 31, 1976)

    She also wrote: “Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could.” But, I prefer not to go in that direction.

  12. Drake, who is the hierarchy out of touch with? You? the nuns? Jesus? Seems you are out of touch with the Church.

  13. ron chandonia says:

    In the wake of Vatican II, many nuns and sisters renounced their vows and left their convents. Others remained, often transforming very radically the expectations they must have had for their future lives in order to pursue the “up-to-date” tasks to which the bishops in Council had called them. The sisters now under fire are the ones who stayed faithful and demonstrated incredible resilency in order to do what they had every reason to believe was the will of God and of the Church. They are being treated worse than the wacked-out schismatics from SSPX, not just by the men who run the Church but by some of the people commenting on this very blog. I think that is disgusting.

  14. ron chandonia:

    I think that you have have hit the nail on the head and are expressing precisely what my views are, having taught and worked with sisters my entire working life. They have been an inspiration.

  15. But Ron, I will argue that these are certainly NOT the Sisters who “…stayed faithful…”. This is exactly the problem which has finally come to a crossroad. These are the Sisters who have veered off the very course they were called to followand and now even in the midst of their very very good and sorely needed works with the poor and needy, have also adopted, sometimes rather vocally positions completely in opposition to the Church. That is not faithful by any definition.

    In my Diocese all Deacons are “strongly encouraged” to make an annual retreat. I’d LOVE to do one locally but all I have found when doing so with our local Orders’ retreat centers are Sisters who have placed their faith and trust in “New Age” religions and actively promote such utter nonsense as crystals, massage and Reiki as the true paths to find “oneness” with Mother Spirit. What?

    Long long overdue, and I pray the Seminaries are next. Please pray for Archbishop Sartain as he goes forward in this task now placed on his shoulders.

  16. deacon john m. bresnahan says:

    I wonder how many Catholics know what sort of things these “leadership” sisters have been saying.
    A typical example is one Sister Laurie Brink who in a talk to other “leadership” sisters said they were “moving beyond Jesus.” That “they are post-Christian.” and put down what she called the “Jesus narrative” (other religious narratives -the Koran???– are just as good.) And I gather she is only the tip of the anti-Christian Movement among leadership sisters. Why any genuine Christian or Catholic would want to defend their attitude is beyond me.

  17. “They are being treated worse than the wacked-out schismatics from SSPX…” It surely does appear that way. Especially with news of both the doctrinal assessment and the talks moving forward with SSPX coming out on the same day.
    It seems like there is a problem with a minority of the nuns, and the rest of them are being lumped into the same basket. A lot of people don’t remember how much of a free-fall things were in during the late 60′s and early 70′s; it’s a wonder any of the religious who went through that persevered. I am still in contact with a Sister who was one of my teachers back then. I have a great deal of admiration for all she, and her sisters in religion, have done. She is still in active ministry, well into her 80′s.

  18. I think this is a good reminder of how important it is to pray for ALL of our religious. They really need our prayers.

  19. Mark Greta says:

    Ron, a person who has taken vows to the Catholic Church knows when they are in tune with the teaching of the Church and have a clear choice to obey or to dissent. For decades, this group of religious has chosen to be on the wrong side of the Catholic Church clear teaching with an in your face attitude based on the “spirit” of vatican II rather than on what was clearly in writing and approved. Most Catholics wondered for years why the Bishops and the Vatican did nothing. I think we have a Pope who for years worked with the various groups to try to bring them into communion with the Church. Remember, the SSPX was excommunicated because the felt the written approved changes went to far and believed in an even more traditional belief. It was right to excommunicate them, but it has been wrong to allow these nuns to lead souls astray with false teaching for generations. Many have lost their souls because of the error in this teaching. I note that most of these religious in open dissent are almost totally made up of aging nuns with few vocations. Those who have no issue with Church teaching are flourishing as are those seminaries in union with the Church teaching. The age of dissent and liberal views as opposed to actual church teaching are coming to a close. The next stop should be Catholic universities who have ignored the Pope on having those teaching the Catholic faith to have a mandatum from the local Bishop. Fine to have discussion, but it should lead to the truth of the one Holy, and apostolic Church and it solid truth.

    I talked with four Dominican nuns today and their reaction was its way past due for this to happen.

  20. Mark Greta says:

    If we look at the fruits of those nuns in open dissent from Church teaching, you see fruits in hospitals gone astray, children in their care who lost their faith and never learned actual Catholic teaching, and much more. They openly advocated for massive centralized government programs which have been horrible for the poor and have set up the country for bankruptcy. Many of them were wrong going after Reagan whose policies ended the cold war and destroyed an evil empire rather than surrender and prop them up as they were advocating.

    As Bishop Sheen use to say when viewing the open dissent in Catholic education, if you want to have your kids lose their faith, send them to some of the Catholic schools for their religious education.

  21. The Vatican shouldn’t worry about the LCWR. All of the congregations they represent will soon be extinct. I just hope at least one person is left to turn off the light.

  22. The more they act like Jesus, the more the powerful will try to crush them.

  23. What a way to distract us from the pedophile priest situation. Our sitting Pope when he was bishop of Munich played “catch us if you can” as he moved pedophile priests around? Did Jesus live in the splendor of the Vatican or was he with the people of poor, sinners, ill, and possessed? I think I would rather be a Mother Theresa than a Pope who has no clue as to what the world is like. Where would the Church be without these “radical” nuns who run homeless shelters, work in hospitals and work and teach children without molesting them? We are importing priests and exporting our nuns all over the world. Nuns are the brides of Christ and follow him, especially as he instructed us to live.

  24. Or possibly the LCWR is pretending to be innocent.

  25. Ummm. I’m pretty sure that Mother Teresa would back the Vatican on this.

  26. I’m stunned that they are stunned. You wonder what universe the folks from the LCWR inhabit.

    Luckily, the LCWR is not “the only game in town.” Nuns also have the choice of affiliating their orders with the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR). Frankly, they should.

    Demographics and time are on the side of the CMSWR and not the LCWR. According to the Study on Recent Vocations conducted by the NRVC, the average median age of women in LCWR institutes is 14 years higher than those in the CMSWR. In addition, among those who have entered in the past 15 years, 56 percent of those from LCWR institutes are OVER the age of 30. However, nearly half of those who enter CMSWR institutes are UNDER the age of 30.

    CMSWR institutes are more faithful to the magisterium and their members wear an identifiable religious habit and are active in an apostolate. And unlike the LCWR, the CMSWR actually welcomed the Vatican’s visitation of U.S. women religious that was begun in 2009. Imagine that!

    Weep not for the LCWR but rather rejoice for the CMSWR. They represent the future.

  27. Here is the irony:
    In this year, the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II

    the group that denied the legitimacy of Vatican II and broke away are given encouragement to return and the group that took the documents seriously are being censured.

  28. Then they don’t have to worry, because they certainly are not acting like Jesus and so therefore the “powerful” should not crush them.

  29. Mark thanks for that interesting info!

  30. Everyone on every side is talking as if the CDF is coming down on the whole of women religious leadership in the US. This is a false representation. The LCWR are simply one “leadership group” that has been wayward for decades. There is also The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), which are very much in line with those teachings taught in the Ecumenical Councils and other infallible documents which Catholics cannot dissent against and remain truly in the Fold. The CMSWR represents religious women all over the United States. They represent over 100 communities and the CMSWR goals are stated as:
    1-to establish collaboration among major superiors who desire it,
    2-to serve as a channel of communication among major superiors,
    3-to provide a forum for participation, dialogue, and education on the patrimony of the Church’s teaching on religious life,
    4-to promote unity among major superiors, thus testifying to their union with the Magisterium and their love for Christ’s Vicar on earth, and,
    5-to coordinate active cooperation with the USCCB.

    The only reason that it is “stunning” that the CDF has come down on LCWR is due to so very many years of open dissent not being dealt with. The first people to drop the ball were the local bishops, who refused to reign in dissent from those Catholic teachings which are a part of the Deposit of Faith. If the local bishops were doing their respective jobs, it would have never turned into an issue. After much more time passing without these issues being dealt with, they became deep seated. The CDF should have stepped in quite a bit earlier. So, I would say that the CDF also dropped the ball.

    Now, the dissent is rooted deeply in the US Catholic Church. There is plenty of blame to go around, but finger pointing will do no good. It is time for correction. Unfortunately, it was let go for so long that those dissenters FEEL they have a “right” to do and say what they are doing and saying. They do not have a right to do what they are doing, or to say what they are saying. They are abandoning Jesus Christ, and His Bride, the Holy Catholic Church when they do so.

    So, let’s pray for these women, and for our Church. There is going to be some ugly backlash due to this development. We are going through some growing pains right now.

  31. Fiergenholt says:

    Manny said:

    “The Vatican did the correct thing here. I’m sorry, but in the last few years groups of Nuns have tried to supercede Episcopal authority. In some ways this was leading to a fragmentation of our Church. It’s been evident.”

    Let me see here:

    –LCWR takes a bit hit from conservative/traditional Catholics because their leadership challenges the authority of the bishops.

    –OK, then please explain why Mother Angelica — down at EWTN — was not removed from office after her direct and brutal challenge to Archbishop Mahony of Los Angeles ?

    I really do not see the difference in the issue proper — only in the voices involved.

  32. ron chandonia says:

    The CMSWR was formed by the Vatican in the mid-90s specifically to counter the influence of the the increasingly independent LCWR. But its membership has always been small, confined to groups of “habit sisters” like the Nashville Dominicans to which Archbishop Sartain’s own sister belongs. It may well be that the archbishop will try to remake LCWR in CMSWR’s image–or perhaps even try to merge the groups under CMSWR’s bylaws. If so, most sisters in the US will no longer have a leadership organization that reflects their understanding of their mission and role in the Church.

  33. They aren’t “stunned” they are just trying to play the victim. They’ve been victimizing parishes for years and it’s about time they are brought back to orthodoxy and the Faith.

  34. naturgesetz says:

    The difference is that Mother Angelica was vigorously upholding defined doctrine in response to an ambiguous statement by Cardinal Mahony. The LCWR seem to be questioning or ignoring doctrine.

  35. Is there any data out on how many sisters stay in the communities under each group?

  36. Let’s see, the group that educated many of today’s Catholics and then abandoned the schools, who moved out of convents and communities to live in apartments, who dress better than my mother ever did–this group took VII seriously? The group that never speaks out against abortion or same sex marriage, the group that is more interested in ecology than the Gospel–this group?The group that has wavered on the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, women’s ordination and many other issues—this group? Please.

  37. Henry Karlson says:

    Wrong, Cardinal Mahony said nothing wrong, but Mother Angelica said “zero obedience.” Zero obedience??!?!?! Who is upholding defined doctrine? Not EWTN.

  38. Fiergenholt says:


    A good place to start is the Catholic Almanac. It comes out yearly (i have access to the 2005 and 2009 ones). They have a lot of that kind of information.

  39. annette and Carl says:

    I am 100% with the nuns…..the CATHOLIC CHURCH is loosing members daily and they wonder why????…It is their antiquated thinking… and refusal to acknowledge free will that is the at the crux of the problem….They treat most catholics like we are people incapable of independent cognitive thought…we are to accept without question the teachings of the church…….how many of these teachings are in the bible???? we are like lambs following a floundering shepherd…..these “men” should heal themselves first before attacking these women…..

  40. M. Frances says:

    The women of the LCWR are following the message of the gospel of Jesus. They are working with the poor and marginalized in ways that make the faith apparent to many who would never, otherwise, experience it. Christ did not lay down Canon Law. Christ did not restrict love of neighbor. Christ instructed us to serve and love. He did not differentiate based on sexual orientation, religion (quite the opposite), race, poverty, or anything else we might imagine in the 21st century.

    The Church heirarchy. The sisters. Who lives the message of Christ more faithfully?
    Christ expects the sisters (and us) to be faithful to HIS teaching. They are.

  41. People are equating LCWR with all nuns and with the fine work that nuns have done and continue to do. But that’s not valid. The criticism is with the LCWR as a leadership organization and with the organization’s lack of fidelity to Church teaching. Besides, there is a competitor group (CMSWR) to the LCWR which I posted about earlier. The CMSWR actually represents the future of women religious in the US, especially judging by their more favorable demographics (i.e., they’re considerably younger than the LCWR folks!).

    As for the aging, graying folks over at the LCWR, here is a fascinating post on another Patheos blog about their main keynote speaker at their annual convention this August: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/godandthemachine/2012/04/exhibit-a-for-explaining-the-lcwr-report/

    Read it to get an idea of just how simply loony the LCWR leadership has become. At least it’s good for a laugh on a late Friday afternoon :-)

  42. fiestamom says:

    Mother Angelica ‘s exact wording was ” In fact, the Cardinal of California is teaching that it’s bread and wine before the Eucharist and after the Eucharist I’m afraid my obedience in that diocese would be zero” She took that from Cardinal Mahony’s pastoral “Gather faithfully together” The cardinal got his apology from her.

  43. fiestamom says:

    We are lambs-it is true. But our shepherd, Pope Benedict is not floundering! Annette, the Church knows we have free will, sometimes we use our free will and sin. But she gives us the sacraments so we can have the grace to avoid sin. In regards to “cognitive thought “, as Catholics, we have the teachings of so many doctors of the church, like St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, both considered among the greatest thinkers of all time. The church asks for our obedience,but not without question. We are called to pray. But please, in all seriousness, kindly pray for our Pope, he will not lead us astray!

  44. midwestlady says:

    Have you seen their keynote speaker for this year? Get a load of this: http://www.barbaramarxhubbard.com/site/

    And no, she’s not a sister. She’s a new age speaker.

  45. midwestlady says:

    Only possibly? ROFLOL

  46. midwestlady says:

    No, actually the heyday of the women’s teaching congregation has come and gone.

    A lot of people in here don’t seem to know the difference between a nun and a sister. Sisters belong to congregations and institutes. Nuns belong to medieval orders. They’re different.

  47. midwestlady says:

    That’s exactly it, some of them (not all) didn’t stay faithful even though they stayed in the convent. The confusion over charisms that you heard was not casual. Many of these teaching congregations had a constitution, not a rule; they had a set of customs but not a charism. When the customs were curtailed, the habit modified and the apostolate disappearing due to changes in society, they found they had no reason for being sisters at all. In fact they found that they didn’t even understand what they were supposed to be doing. Some of them realized that they were sisters but not Christians. So they decided to be “prophetic” and started talking about “moving beyond the Church.”

  48. midwestlady says:

    Due to the connections they have put together, they’re still able to inflict a lot of suffering on the rest of us. This is one of the issues involved in this crackdown.

  49. midwestlady says:

    I’m VERY sure Mother Teresa would back the Vatican on this.

  50. I don’t know enough to comment on the LCWR. I can note though that the timing of this intervention is unfortunate with “the war on women” all over the US news outlets.

  51. POOR Cathecism … that’s the only reason for leaving the Church.

  52. That isn’t really what she said — Diary of a Wimpy Catholic links to her complete talk and the “moving beyond Jesus” quote was taken out of context.

  53. midwestlady says:

    Yup, and the Benedictine sisters understood what she meant out of context, so they lawyered up and went non-canonical. No coincidence at all. The idea never occurred to the LCWS. Right. When pigs fly.

  54. I was thinking the same thing, regardless of the internal church perception of who is right and wrong, the external optics are bad… and it does matter what others think.

  55. Actually I am reminded of another scene from Casablanca. I do not believe his holiness appreciates who he is dealing with.
    There was a scene when the SS major asked Humphrey Bogart: You were in Paris and left before we arrived. What do you have to say about it?

    Bogart: What does it matter what I have to say?

    SS Major: What will you say when we are in London?

    Bogart: Call me when you get to London.

    SS Major: What will you say when we are in New York?

    Bogart: There are some parts of New York that I would suggest that the German army not go into.

    Here in Philadelphia there are a number of religious women who protected children from pedophile assault by clergy and were disciplined for it. I do not know of one sister who let that affect her actions.

  56. Sisters victmiszing parishes?? Not in my experience. But then Jane may have reason for her anger. The nuns I know have worked hard for little — they have mothered so many of us. Be a bit kinder dear Jane!

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