Writers on all sides of the ideological spectrum have been chewing over the welcome news that the dissident Leadership Conference of Women Religious will be reformed, so I won’t rehash the story here. You can find the full Doctrinal Assessment here, and read Rocco’s balanced coverage here.
I was curious to see how the LCWR leadership (which is nothing if not completely predictable) would react, and they do not disappoint.
The National Catholic Reporter got hold of an private email from the LCWR. In it, the leadership expresses shock that the report was made public, which was precisely that last reaction they should have if they’d been paying any attention at all. Beyond this, they’re not saying much, but don’t count on them going quietly into that good night.
They posted this on their 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.
The LCWR is a toxic organization that has slowly poisoned the church since the 1970s. Founded in 1956 as an umbrella organization for the leaders of various women’s religious institutes, the group was merely supposed to serve as a resource for about 1,500 nuns in leadership positions. Instead, it began setting up a kind of alternate magisterium, complete with open dissent from basic points of Catholic doctrine, particularly abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality. A group founded to aid in the Church’s mission in America has instead worked against key elements of it for almost 40 years.
They do not represent the 60,000+ women’s religious of America, but rather a small, elite cadre of left-leaning leaders who openly break with the church. Many orders belong to the LCWR merely out of habit (so to speak), but feel as though they have no voice in the organization. They largely ignore them as a noisy embarrassment.
I know for a fact that many, many of their rank and file members are appalled by them. I’ve talked to and interviewed nuns who have been waiting for the Vatican to do something for a long time. The situation got so bad that John Paul II established the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious as an antidote. The cure didn’t take, however, and the LCWR presided not over the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit which they insisted would follow from their “prophetic” witness against their own Church, but the radical decline in religious vocations. Right now, the only orders with healthy vocations are the traditional, habited orders better represented by the CMSWR.
I respectfully have to disagree with Fr. Z, however, who suggests that dissolving, rather than reforming, the group would have been a better idea. Dissolving the LCWR simply would not work. Its leaders would remain in place, and it would have gone on–perhaps under another name, but with all of its infrastructure intact–sowing dissension. By prescribing oversight, however, the Church is able to exert some level of control of the group (which, it must be recalled, was founded by the Church, not the nuns) while shooing the dissidents into the corner where they can be safely ignored.
This is not some strike against women’s religious by the Vatican. The Vatican has been infinitely patient (too much so) over the years as they pleaded with the LCWR leadership to stop sowing confusion and remain faithful to the consistent teachings of the Church they vowed to obey. The leaders had plenty of opportunities to avoid this, but their monstrous vanity would not allow it. They are now reaping what they have sown.
UPDATE: Elizabeth Scalia writes with her typical reason and wisdom about the subject. It is indeed tempting for a blogger looking to score some cheap rhetorical points to mock hippie nuns in bad pantsuits and bid good riddance to them. I try to avoid that, because I know how much good work many of them do. I am careful in writing about the issue to always cite the leadership of LCWR as the key problem, not the entire body of US nuns and sisters. The report makes that much clear as well. This is the reform of one group that has gotten out of control and lost their bearings so much that prominent voices in official capacities can envision moving beyond not only the Church, but Christ.
I dislike this idea, implicit in Fr. Martin’s Twitter effort, that the criticism of the leadership of the LCWR is somehow a criticism of American women religious as a whole. The LCWR is the equivalent of a professional society for school principals or CEOs, there to provide training and leadership formation. This is not about American women religious. This is about a tiny, noisy slice of their leadership that has lost its way and no longer understands its role in the universal Church. Here’s a hint: it has nothing to do with issuing position statements on politically divisive issues and building labyrinths.