Some very good news! The Vatican and the American Sisters have acknowledged their common mission and officially ended the multi-year Mandate for reform of the LCWR.
In a joint statement and final report released April 16 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the Vatican and the American Sisters announced the completion of the Mandate and announced their common understanding regarding the future of women’s religious life.
How did we get to this place of agreement, despite what had seemed an impasse between the Vatican dicastery and the intransigent women’s leadership? The discussions have been held in private, and much of that information will not be made public. Among the negotiated changes which were announced today are these:
1. THE LCWR’S STATUTES.
The LCWR’s Statutes underwent several revisions, as drafts were presented for discussion. Finally, the Statutes were revised based on a “common principle” that
“the role of the Conference as a public juridic person centered on Jesus Christ and faithful to the teachings of the Church is to undertake through its membership and in collaboration with other sisters those services which develop the life and mission of women religious in responding to the Gospel in the contemporary world.”
Following a positive review by the CDF, the revised Statutes were approved on February 6, 2015 by Decree of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
2. LCWR PUBLICATIONS AND PROGRAMS.
The Mandate also called for a review of LCWR publications to ensure that the Conference’s mission would be fulfilled in accord with Church teaching. The Conference’s mission is in service of its members and their positive role of collaboration in the Church’s mission. At the same time, LCWR publications serve a larger audience in the Church. Many persons desiring spiritual growth have become readers of various publications.
The nature of LCWR publications is intended to address spiritual matters rather than engage in formal theological inquiry. Nevertheless, because of the vital link between spirituality and theology, and in order to inspire, help evaluate experience as Women Religious, and challenge to growth, publications need a sound doctrinal foundation.
To this end, measures are being taken to promote a scholarly rigor that will ensure theological accuracy and help avoid statements that are ambiguous with regard to Church doctrine or could be read as contrary to it. This exercise of theological responsibility is for the sake of both Conference Members and other readers. At the same time, it serves to protect the credibility of the Conference itself as a long-standing canonical entity of the Church.In addition, a publications Advisory Committee exists and manuscripts will be reviewed by competent theologians, as a means of safeguarding the theological integrity of the Conference.
3. PROGRAMS AND SPEAKERS .
One concern which had been expressed, and which was addressed in the Mandate, was that some LCWR speakers and topics at General Assemblies and other LCWR-sponsored events were sometimes not in keeping with the constant teaching of the Church. According to the agreement announced today:
The choice of topics and speakers appropriate to the Conference’s mission and service will be carried out in a prayerful, thoughtful and discerning manner. As with written publications, LCWR expects speakers and presenters to speak with integrity and to further the aims and purposes of the Conference, which unfold within the wider context of the Church’s faith and mission.
When a topic explicitly addresses matters of faith, speakers are expected to employ the ecclesial language of faith. When exploring contemporary issues, particularly those which, while not explicitly theological nevertheless touch upon faith and morals, LCWR expects speakers and presenters to have due regard for the Church’s faith and to pose questions for further reflection in a manner that suggests how faith might shed light on such issues.
As with publications, this kind of professional integrity will serve the Members well. Finally, a revised process for the selection of the Outstanding Leadership Award recipient has been articulated.
4. OTHER ISSUES.
Lastly, the Mandate considered other matters including
- the importance of the celebration of the Eucharist;
- the place of the Liturgy of the Hours in religious communities;
- the centrality of a communal process of contemplative prayer practiced at LCWR Assemblies and other gatherings;
- the relationship between LCWR and other organizations; and
- the essential understanding of LCWR as an instrument of ecclesial communion.
The Joint Statement ends with the following conclusion:
Our work together in response to the Mandate has borne much fruit, for which we give thanks to God and the gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit. The very fact of such substantive dialogue between bishops and religious has been a blessing to be appreciated and further encouraged. The Commitment of LCWR leadership to its crucial role in service to the mission and membership of the Conference will continue to guide and strengthen LCWR’s witness to the great vocation of Religious Life, to its sure foundation in Christ, and to ecclesial communion.
In all, it’s a decidedly hopeful report. Let us pray that the Sisters who have given their lives in service to Christ and His Church will now strive to ensure that their message is consistent with the long tradition of the Catholic faith.