Pope Backs Reforms of US Sisters’ Leadership Conference

So far as I’m concerned this settles it.

According to Archbishop Gerhard Muller, prefect for the Vatican’s doctrine congregation, the Holy Father has reaffirmed the Vatican’s assessment of the American Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The assessment found “serious doctrinal problems” and the findings also said that the Conference needed to be reformed.

This action resulted in public controversy and bitter comments that the bishops were a just a bunch of men attacking women for supporting the poor. I think quite a bit of the backlash could have been avoided if the bishops had done a better job of explaining what their concerns with the Leadership Conference for Women Religious were.

The situation was complicated by partisan electoral politics and the fact that the bishops were forced to take a stand against the HHS Mandate at the same time the assessment came down.

It was poor timing, that played into the hand of secular politicians, to say the least. 

What followed is what has happened far too often. Supporters and attackers of the assessment inside the Church went right past the issues in question and headed straight on into name-calling and slander of both the bishops and the sisters. If you listened too long to either side in this debate, you would come away convinced that the other side was evil incarnate.

We really need to stop this kind of behavior if we are going to continue calling ourselves Christians. I am not talking here about private conversations with your closely-held friends, family and clerical advisers. I am talking about the sorry practice of Catholics trashing Catholics in public discussion.

So far as the issue of reform in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is concerned, the Pope has spoken and that settles it. At least it does for me. I support my Church in its struggle to conform itself in all its members to the Gospels of Christ.

At the same time, there is no way that I am going to engage in an attack on the sisters. I was the Oklahoma contact for their legislative alerts for a couple of years and I can say they never once asked me to support or oppose any piece of legislation where I thought their position was contrary to Church teaching. I think they do a lot of good.

However, if the Holy Father has reviewed the report and says that he supports its findings, including the need for reform of the Conference, then I believe it, trust it and am not going to give it one more thought.

I will however, pray that this whole situation will be resolved in a manner that leads to the greater glory of the Kingdom and the increased holiness of all involved. 

From Catholic News Agency:

.- Pope Francis has reaffirmed the Vatican’s assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which found it had “serious doctrinal problems” and needed to be reformed.

Archbishop Gerhard L. Müller, the prefect for the Vatican’s doctrine congregation, met in Rome with conference president Sister Florence Deacon on April 15, along with Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, who was named to carry out the reform of the group.

Archbishop Müller told Sr. Deacon that he “recently discussed the Doctrinal Assessment with Pope Francis, who reaffirmed the findings of the Assessment and the program of reform for this Conference of Major Superiors,” an April 15 statement from the congregation said.

“It is the sincere desire of the Holy See that this meeting may help to promote the integral witness of women Religious,” the communiqué stated, and this requires “a firm foundation of faith and Christian love, so as to preserve and strengthen it for the enrichment of the Church and society for generations to come.”

Since it was his first time meeting with the leadership of the group, Archbishop Müller thanked the sisters for their “great contribution” to the Church in the United States, “as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor” that have been founded and staffed by religious.

He also “emphasized that a Conference of Major Superiors, such as the LCWR, exists in order to promote common efforts among its member institutes as well as cooperation with the local Conference of Bishops and with individual Bishops.

“For this reason, such Conferences are constituted by and remain under the direction of the Holy See,” he stated, citing canons 708-709. (Read more here.) 

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  • Theodore Seeber

    The problem goes way deeper than the nuns. The nuns brought it to the surface, but the real problem is Catholics who act more like Americans than Catholics.

    You can find them in one of two camps, and I do not understand why the two camps are mutually exclusive, other than one camp is pandered to by Democrats and the other camp is pandered to by Republicans.

    To me, you can’t claim to be for social justice without being also pro-life; and you certainly can’t claim to be a good Catholic pro-life if you are not also for social justice. But American politics splits these two up, and says you must be one or the other.

    And that’s why the nuns on the bus rankles- because the real problem with the LCWR is that they’re too American.

    • John Barba

      Too many people present this thinking in a false choice scenario. I agree with you, and it is possible to be both pro-choice and pro-social justice.

  • Ms. Billie M. Spaight

    I wish there was more information about what this conference did and what the Pope actually said.

    • Dale

      Yes, feel the same. I find it hard to evaluate the situation when the report has not been made public and the pope’s comments conveyed second-hand in a condensed form.

      And, as Rebecca wrote, the public partisanship has not been very illuminating. There has been too much name-calling and sweeping generalizations. The public debate has not strengthened the Church, nor has it helped its members follow Christ.

      I have misgivings all around.

  • Bill S

    “The assessment also noted that while the group adamantly promotes social justice issues, it largely ignores matters of life, marriage and sexuality, which have played a large role in recent public debates.”

    Why on earth should the good sisters divert their energy and resources from what they do well and focus on fighting against abortion, same sex marriage and human sexuality? How can they continue to serve when they are being asked to condemn like the USCCB does? For this they need to be reined in. Boy, the Church really is run by celibate men and they’ll remind these nuns if they show any independence.

    • CathyLouise

      Bill – what I’ve learned in the past 4 or 5 years is, whenever “the press” (regardless of political leanings) reports about the Catholic Church, it is imperative to read to documents being referenced. There is an appalling lack of accuracy in what they say. The bishops have legitimate concerns about LCWR, concerns they have a right to express and want to dialogue with them about. And, yes, even if necessary, say “no, that is not Catholic.” Just as they have a right to expect Universities that claim to be Catholic should faithfully present Catholic doctrine in their religion classes and Catholic hospitals should faithfully follow Catholic moral teachings. The bishops acknowledged all the good and faithful work members of LCWR does. However, statements about moving “beyond Christ” simply cannot be ignored. It really has nothing to do with the being “celibate men and they’ll remind these nuns if they show any independence.” The church cannot ever be independent from Christ. ANY faith-filled Catholic – male or female, married or celibate, lay or religious, priest, deacon, brother, nun, sister – would say the same. And, as Rebecca said, Pope Francis has said the review should continue. So it should.

      • Bill S

        Well, I got my information from NPR. They interviewed the bishop in charge of the investigation. It does seem that the nuns want to do their own thing. They claim that they are inspired by the Holy Spirit to do what they are doing. The Church will have none of that.

        • CathyLouise

          Bill, NPR reporting is a little better than other, but not much (no, really!) so it’s still important to go to the source documents and concerns. NPR is often quite biased on how it reports Catholic sisters, and I refer you to analyses on Patheos’ “Get Religion” blog – none of whom, I believe, are Catholic, by the way. And while the good sisters may say they are inspired by the Holy Spirit and even believe it, that’s a very common and fallible means of justifying actions. “I/we want to do this and the Holy Spirit told me/us to.” Looking at what people claim the Holy Spirit tells them to do or say is one of the ways the church assesses the validty of the claims. God cannot contridict Himself so if they say something that is so evidently contradictory such as the need to move beyond Jesus, then it’s something the bishops must investigate. There are plenty of other warning signs about the women in question, please see Theodore Seeber’s comments below, dated 4/15 at 1:48 pm. These are valid concerns about the LCRW that any faithful Catholic (“the church”) should have. And if they want to be known as Catholic sisters, then they should be able to stand up to the scrunity. It’s part of beingable to call your self – or your order – Catholic.

          • Bill S

            I guess that what I can say about the LCWR is that it is made up of women who believe they have a calling and to be faithful to that calling is their prime motivation. I believe that the Church is insensitive to their calling in many ways. In the end, they will have to comply or leave. Probably, many of them will just choose to retire.

            • savvy

              Not all members of the LCWR share their views.

              Sr. Sara (Butler) responds that “it cannot be the prophetic vocation of apostolic religious to repudiate the ministerial priesthood and the hierarchical structure of the Church.” Ironically, the LCWR leaders charged with main­taining ties with the hierarchy themselves support the “anti­hierarchical option” and give their allegiance to the People of God, a chimerical Church that is a “discipleship of equals.” Sr. Sara notes that while many women religious are influenced in their thinking by these ruling feminists, others remain aloof and silent like Cordelia, fearful of speaking out. Sr. Elizabeth writes that “the ongoing, functional tutelage of LCWR” has brought “community after community” under the control of “progressive leadership who belong to that conference, which systematically co-opted the entire course of renewal by effecting a ‘corporate transformation’ into a liberal-feminist-ecological-social-justice-oriented agenda.”

              These leaders live a “corporate executive lifestyle” while publicly challenging Catholic doctrine and worship; they seem not to be accountable to anyone for squandering their religious orders’ physical and spiritual heritage.


              • Rebecca Hamilton

                Just a caution: I don’t want this blog to go off on critiquing the sisters. I would rather let the Vatican handle this situation. That said, thank you for this information.

    • Theodore Seeber

      I wouldn’t mind so much if ALL they did was not talk about it. But what most people don’t get is there was a single straw that broke this particular camel’s back: Sr. Margaret Farley, and her book _Just Love_ promoting homosexuality and abortion in Ireland.

      It was that book tour that garnered a closer look at the LCWR; and what the cardinals found was quite disturbing.

      It isn’t just independence- it is active evangelization of American nuns by new age gurus such as Charlie Curran, or Barbara Marx Hubbard.

      It is really all about product identity, and supporting good rather than evil:

      • Sus

        Ted, did you read the book “Just Love” or did you read about the book?

    • http://fpb.livejournal.com/ Fabio P.Barbieri

      Why on Earth? How about BECAUSE THESE ARE CENTRAL ISSUES TO CATHOLICS AND IF YOU ARE NOT INTERESTED IN THEM YOU ARE NOT CATHOLIC? It’s not even a question of right and wrong in the first instance, only of loyalty to who you are. I would not take very seriously a self-declared “Communist” (and I’ve met a couple such) who rejected the idea of the proletarian revolution led by a party “vanguard”, and insisted that Communism was nothing more than lack of self-interest.And the head coach of the Boston Red Sox is not expected to say that Baseball is a poor way to keep fit and that there are better towns than Boston. Sorry, but if you are drawing money and prestige out of your position within a group, and if you are an honest person, you support that group’s goals and ideals. If you are honestly unable to do so, YOU QUIT. Under no circumstances can an honest person take a stipend and have a public opinion in the name of a body she is at odds with.

      • Bill S

        A nun cannot just devote herself to advocating for the poor without getting embroiled in controversies? Do you think the “nuns on the bus” have to go around telling people not to use contraceptives? Really. Why can’t they just take a neutral stand on those issues that don’t affect them or their work?

        • CathyLouise

          Ah…the “nuns on the bus.” Did you by chance read the GetReligion commentary of the news coverage of them? Here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/2012/06/cheering-on-the-nuns-on-the-bus/ I’ve been reading GetReligion much longer than Rebecca’s blog. For your reading pleasure. Thank you, by the way, Bill, for responding so respectfully to my earlier comments.

        • savvy

          You do not have to be a nun to advocate for the poor. If someone does not hold to the vows the professed, then it’s time to be honest and stop living a lie.

    • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

      Bill, many of them are pro-abortion and pro gay amrriage. That is the problem.

      • Bill S

        Those are two issues that people can agree to disagree on and continue on their mission.

        • http://fpb.livejournal.com/ Fabio P.Barbieri

          Not if their mission is Catholic they can’t.

  • Peg

    As a woman some of the leaderships decisions were troubling. The keynote speech at this years conference was delivered by an agnostic woman and was full of mysticism and new age stuff. Like if we just concentrate we can live 600 years. Most of the members do not seem to be aware of what goes on at these. It was hard to hear the leaders disparage the bishops on NPR but kudos to Fresh Air for giving equal time to Bishop Blair and for his very pastoral response regarding the issues. Here’s hoping for healing and renewal.

  • http://www.rosariesforlife.com Dave

    The sisters of the LCWR have modernized and lukewarmed themselves into extinction already, so this is less and less of a problem every year. I believe the average age of nuns in orders belonging to the LCWR is 74 (and that was in 2009). There are many faithful orders of nuns who do not belong to the LCWR and they are young and booming. The average age of many of these orders is somewhere around 30.

  • FW Ken

    It’s worth remembering that there are two groups of women’s religious orders. The one under investigation, the LWCR, is aging out of existence, since they don’t generally draw that many vocations. The other group, the CMSWR, is growing and manages to do actual social services without abandoning the Church’s understanding of life issues.

    Having worked for, with, and around social services for most of the past 40 years, including state and non-profit agencies (Catholic Charities, among others), I’m pretty comfortable saying that the world doesn’t need more social work agencies. We need Christ’s healing, teaching, reconciling work.

    The LWCR approach has, to some degree, been less about serving the poor, and “advocating for” the poor. So we get aging nuns riding around in a luxury bus pushing Democrat talking points. Catholic Charities, at least at the national level, bought into this approach 30+ years ago. Local chapters do direct services, though mostly with government dollars.

    That video about the Dominican sisters learning about Pope Francis says a lot. Don’t know who they were, but they seemed to have a good number young women and novices. And I’ll bet their ministry is some sort of social service and they are pro-life.

  • Peg

    So true Dave. The order of nuns from my high school that are LCWR haven’t had a vocation in 30 years but Rosalind Moss now Mother Miriams new order in Tulsa seems to be getting lots of applications. Not all may be true vocations but it is exciting to see soany young women want to serve and wear habits. Mother Miriams group is a true inspiration-wish they were still in MO–Gods will be done.

    P.s. Bill I hope you and yours are okay in Boston–my prayers with everyone there.

  • http://fpb.livejournal.com/ Fabio P.Barbieri

    Please notice that the only person who seemed to back your support of the “Sisters” was Bill S.

  • Bill S


    Thank you. This has been a true tragedy. I just heard about the eight year old boy who was killed after going to hug his father at the finish line. Tragic.

  • FW Ken

    The report is public and had been for a long time.


    I’m still wondering how many social service programs these aging, diminishing orders are actually running. In any case, it’s easy to find the problems with the LWCR. They are will documented.

    As to being led by the Holy Spirit, that’s been around for awhile, at least since the Montanists in the 2nd century. I head a friend back in the 70s who believed the Spirit was leading him to jump off the U.T. tower, so one day he did.