“This is not the way the church should function”

A rather startling revelation yesterday from the upper reaches of the Vatican:

The Vatican decision last year to place the main representative group of U.S. Catholic sisters under the control of bishops was made without consultation or knowledge of the Vatican office that normally deals with matters of religious life, the office’s leader said Sunday.

That lack of discussion over whether to criticize the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), said Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, caused him “much pain.”

“We have to change this way of doing things,” said Braz de Aviz, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious.

“We have to improve these relationships,” he continued, referring to the April 2012 order regarding LCWR from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — approved by Pope Benedict XVI — that ordered the U.S. sisters’ group to revise.

“Cardinals can’t be mistrustful of each other,” Braz de Aviz said. “This is not the way the church should function.”

Braz de Aviz, who has led the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life since 2011, made the comments Sunday during an open dialogue session with some 800 leaders of sisters’ communities at the triennial assembly of the International Union of Superiors General.

Answering questions from the sister leaders for over an hour and a half, Braz de Aviz spoke openly, referring several times to tensions between sisters and bishops on church authority, questions of obedience, and the future of religious life.

At one point the cardinal even called for wide-ranging review of structures of church power.

“We are in a moment of needing to review and revision some things,” Braz de Aviz said. “Obedience and authority must be renewed, re-visioned.”

“Authority that commands, kills,” he continued. “Obedience that becomes a copy of what the other person says, infantilizes.”

John Thavis offers his analysis:

What makes Cardinal Braz de Aviz’s comments all the more fascinating is that they seemed to express a personal cry of conscience. That may reflect a new freedom of expression at the Vatican under Pope Francis.

From the NCR report:

He also said it was the first time he was discussing the lack of consultation publicly, saying previously he “didn’t have the courage to speak.”

I’m guessing that the Brazilian cardinal discussed all this with Pope Francis before speaking Sunday to a meeting of international representatives of women religious orders in Rome. I don’t think, given Braz de Aviz’s remarks about the need for consultation, that he would have blindsided the new pope on this topic.


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