Can There Really Be "Collaboration" Between the Vatican and LCWR?

The Vatican’s document announcing that an Archbishop Delegate has been placed in charge of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) concludes with a paragraph which begins:

“It will be the task of the Archbishop Delegate to work collaboratively with the officers of the LCWR to achieve the goals outlined in this document, and to report on the progress of this work to the Holy See.”

The letter from Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which accompanied the decision’s announcement, states in its opening paragraph that the action was taken with the goal of

“. . .fostering a patient and collaborative renewal of this conference. . . “

One wonders how “collaborative” such work will be, however, since the very announcement of this decision was handled in such a one-sided way.   In a statement released yesterday, the LCWR presidency (comprised of President, Past President, and Vice President) said they were “stunned” by the public announcement, which came without any advance notification even though these three leaders were at the Vatican itself on the day news of the decision was released to the press.

A National Catholic Reporter (NCR) article reports on how the LCWR leaders learned of the Vatican’s decision:

“[LCWR] sent an email Thursday to the heads of each of the congregations it represents, explaining how the group became aware of the news.

“That email, obtained by NCR, says LCWR leadership was in Rome to meet Wednesday with members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding the doctrinal assessment. When the leaders came to the meeting, the congregation had already communicated with the U.S. bishops’ conference news of [Archbishop Peter] Sartain’s appointment, the email states.

“Additionally, the email says LCWR membership was told during the meeting that news of the appointment would only be shared Wednesday at the bishops’ conference internally and not with the general public in order to give the group time to communicate with its leaders.

” ‘When we met with Cardinal (William) Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on April 18, where we received the assessment results, CDF’s communication had already been sent to the USCCB for release at noon,’ the email states.

” ‘We understood that the documents would be put on USCCB’s members-only web page,’ it continues. ‘Consequently, we had hoped to communicate the conclusions with you ourselves. That was not possible.’ “

Another NCR article explains the background of the church’s canon law in regard to the Vatican’s decision and discusses the options which LCWR has for making a decision about its future:

“. . .experts say the options available to the group [LCWR] are stark.

“Ultimately, several canon lawyers told NCR, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has two choices: Either comply with the order or face ouster as a Vatican-recognized representative of sisters in the United States.

“What’s more, the lawyers say, LCWR has no recourse for appeal of the decision. . . “

The two canon lawyers quoted in the article,Oblate Fr. Frank Morrisey, professor of canon law at St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, and Jesuit Fr. Ladislas Orsy, visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC, explained why appealing the decision does not seem feasible:

“Morrissey said part of the problem regarding the question of whether the sisters can appeal the decision is the fact that, when a decision comes from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ‘there’s no appeal except to the Doctrine of Faith itself.’

“While Morrissey said the LCWR ‘could always ask’ the congregation to reconsider its own decision, he doubted the congregation would be willing to re-evaluate, considering the number of the meetings that have already been held on the matter since announcement of the investigation in 2009.

“The situation regarding the chances of appeal is so dim, Orsy said, that no canon lawyer would advise LCWR to spend time even trying to prepare a case to present.”

One of the reasons that the Vatican undertook the doctrinal assessment of LCWR was because the hierarchy was concerned about the sisters’ support of  lesbian/gay issues, including support of New Ways Ministry’s programs, in particular.  Background on the Vatican’s decision, as well as New Ways Ministry’s response, can be found in the previous two days’ Bondings 2.0’s blog posts which can be accessed here and here.  Both contain links to primary documents and other news sources.

The Vatican’s failure of communication with LCWR in announcing the decision and the one-sidedness of any “appeals” process does not bode well for any true “collaboration” between the two groups.   There can be no collaboration when one side holds all the power, especially if it does not act honorably and fairly.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


0 replies
  1. David J. Martin
    David J. Martin says:

    “Collarborative”? The Vatican? By the very nature of the manner I which the evaluation was announced…without any dialogue between the the organization representing US nuns and the papal appoints…we can expect it will be a return to pre-Vatican II policy of “pay…pray…obey”. This Pontiff uses his “Divinely granted” authority (which is questionable at best) to squash any dissent or opposition to his agenda…his authority…his wishes. As a cradle Catholic…such abuse of his position does not fulfilled his post ss a servant to Christ’s flock. Rather…he uses a rod of iron and a heart of stone. The difficulty…in the few short years of his reign…Benedict has alienated the majority of Catholics…lay and clergy. His leadership and dictates have no effect on those who longer listen to him…his credibility is very…very much eroded.

  2. Casey Lopata
    Casey Lopata says:

    The 1st paragraph of the Introduction ot the Doctrinal Assessment says what “collaboration” means here. It quotes John Paul II “commenting on the genius of the charism of religious life in the Church” in his 1996 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. “Vita Consecrata”: “In its founders and foundresses we see a constant and lively sense of the Church, which they manifest by their full participation in all aspects of the Church’s life, and in their ready obedience to the Bishops and especially to the Roman Pontiff.” It goes on to characterize this “participation…in…obedience” as “love towards Holy Church,” seemingly equating “Church” with the Bishops and the Pontiff. “Collaboration” means obedience to them. No mention of obedience to Jesus or His Gospel message.

  3. Barbara J Monda
    Barbara J Monda says:

    If Jesus were here today, WHAT WOULD HE SAY about the principles, practices and leadership of the Hierarchy of the Catholic Church? Perhaps they are the ones needing to be re aligned with the Gospel.

    1. The refusal of Eucharist to those allergic to wheat?
    2. The hierarchy making demands on Catholics and the civil population at large to vote a certain way?
    3. Firing good hard working people from church positions because they did not agree with the bishop in a matter of conscience?
    4. The culture of pedophilia in those dedicated to his service?
    5. The Papal denial, cover-up, destruction of documents, and intimidation of victims by the Bishops, in the response to the claims of molestation?
    6. The disenfranchisement of Gay and Lesbian and Transgender persons?
    7. The absolute denial of women from all decision-making positions including priesthood?
    8. The use Litigation or threat of excommunication to remove parishes from parishioners?
    9. Refusal of sacraments to people divorced for a good reason?
    10. Excommunication of persons whose only wrong is to support marginalized persons or encourage others to think about different possibilities?
    11. Supporting war?
    12. Urging support or removal of civil legislation that would remove rights from persons of other, or no religion, or force beliefs and behaviors on them by law?
    13. Mandating there be no discussion about any differences of opinion?
    14. Ignoring blatant injustices such as genocide, torture, exclusion of rights to certain classes, abuses of civil power, and the wholesale destruction of the earth?
    15. Denial of qualified and spiritual persons from writing, teaching, preaching, and ministering with out specific permission for trivial reasons?
    16. Choosing “doctrine” or “tradition” over conscience?
    17. The salary and life style of the hierarchy?
    18. The haughty attitude of the most hierarchy toward the people of God?
    19 The censure of Nuns for, using their intelligence, free will, and conscience in the development and exercise of Social Justice work?

  4. mary
    mary says:

    It seems to me that the more appropriate question is, “Should there be collaboration between the Vatican and LCWR?” The Vatican has already proven its allegiance to harbor and protect (if not outright attract) predatory pedophile priests while rejecting the priesthood of men wishing to be in sacred and honorable marriages, or the priesthood of loving women whether married or single. Never question if whether the world is following the Vatican down the dark path that they have chosen. The world is not deceived by wolves in sheepskin. But be assured and certain that the world will follow the light of truth, justice, and true love; they will recognize the voice of their true shepherd and follow. Please, step away into the light, and let the world see the real face of Catholic christians.

  5. gloria
    gloria says:

    Being pro-life and against abortion is one thing, insisting through law enforcement is something else. Guiding people is very different from forcing them. Christ forced nothing, and there were plenty of injustices during his time on earth.


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  2. […] April 20:  “Can There Really Be “Collaboration” Between the Vatican and LCWR?“ Links:  Cardinal […]

  3. […] calling us to courage.  Though it may seem that the LCWR has few options at this juncture (see the posting about canon law guiding this case), they do, in fact, have the option to respond courageously, relying on […]

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