Message to Nuns: 'Be Not Afraid'

The initial news cycle centered on the Vatican’s attempted suppression of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the leading organization of U.S. nuns, seems to be dying down.  However, make no mistake: the story is not over! The most important piece of it is yet to come:  How will the nuns respond to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) decision to place an archbishop in charge of their conference, in effect, displacing the women’s leadership of themselves?

At New Ways Ministry, which has had its own encounters with the CDF, it is clear that the recent statement from this hierarchical office is designed to silence dissent by instilling fear, not only from the LCWR, but from other sectors of the church, too.  The Vatican no longer has a Grand Inquisitor to physically torture or jail people it calls “dissenters,” so the only tool left to silence them is fear.

We have seen this time and again at New Ways Ministry.  Whenever the Vatican makes a strong statement against LGBT people, one of the most widespread reactions and responses from church people is to be afraid.  Yes, there are many who express anger and outrage, but many, many more respond quietly by silencing themselves, afraid that if they speak out that they, too, will experience the wrath of Church authorities.

Fear, however, is not the full story.  I believe that though church authorities might be instilling fear through their actions, there is another reality present in these situations.  I believe that when fear is present,  God is 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 God’s power instead of the power of human beings–themselves or their oppressors.

When the CDF tried to suppress Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, by telling her that she could not do pastoral work with lesbian/gay people and that she could not speak about the Vatican’s investigation of her ministry, she responded with a simple statement filled with eloquent courage, “I choose not to participate in my own oppression.”

Those who see the injustice of the CDF’s attempt to suppress LCWR need to respond with similar courage.  Now is not the time to be afraid, worried, or despairing.  We must rely on our God who promised to be with us and guide us in our times of need.  The only thing we can ever change is ourselves and our responses, not other people or situations.  We have the choice at this juncture to respond with courage.

The LCWR leadership has announced that they will be consulting their members, the heads of women’s religious communities around the country, as to how to respond to the CDF announcement.   One thing that ordinary Catholics  can do is to exercise a ministry of en-courage-ment by writing to the leaders of nuns’ communities that we know and love, and letting them know that they have the support of Catholics in their time of need.   We need to let our Sisters know that they are not alone, and that the Catholic people stand courageously in solidarity with them.  If we want LCWR to respond with courage to this situation, we must en-courage the Sisters that we know and love.

(If you do not know the names and addresses of the leaders of the community of nuns who have ministered to you, ask a local nun for their contact information or call/email New Ways Ministry, and we will help you get that information.  New Ways Ministry phone: 301-277-5674; email: [email protected] .)

You don’t have to write a long letter.   Just let the Sisters know that you are praying for them, that you are grateful for their ministry, that you want them to continue to be prophetic, and that you will support them.

In doing so, you will be spreading one of Jesus’ most consistent Gospel messages:  “Be not afraid.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Previous Bondings 2.0 posts on the CDF-LCWR story (with some of the links each post contains):

1) April 18:  Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns; New Ways Ministry’s Response
Links: Associated Press article; CDF document.

2) April 19:  Sister Joan Chittister & Sister Simone Campbell Respond to Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns
          Links: National Catholic Reporter (NCR) article; Religion News Service article by David Gibson; New York Times article.

3) April 20:  Can There Really Be “Collaboration” Between the Vatican and LCWR?
          Links:  Cardinal Levada’s letter; NCR article on how LCWR learned of the Vatican’s action; NCR article on canon law relevant to the case.

4) April 21:  Support for U.S. Nuns Spreads Quickly Among Catholics and Others
Links:  Online petition in support of nuns; New York Times editorial supporting nuns; U.S. Catholic magazine analysis of CDF document.

5) April 22: Comments on LCWR Action from National Catholic LGBT Organizations
Links:  MSNBC interviews with New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick and DignityUSA’s Jeff Stone; Washington Post article.

0 replies
  1. Renate Rothwell
    Renate Rothwell says:

    thank you so much on the numerous posting regarding the CDF’s treatment of the religious sisters. I have learnt a lot and it helped me process and discern my own thinking. I feel supported within my church whith its pastoral care of LGBT members in London

  2. Fr Alex Oneto, osf
    Fr Alex Oneto, osf says:

    My Dear Sisters in Christ, Peace and All Good be with you! In the face of much adversity in this day and age I pray that you may all continue doing and living the Gospel. It seems so many in the Church have forgotten the true message of Our Lord as shown in Matt. 34-37 and more clearly in the words of St Francis when he instructed his followers “Go Teach the Gospel, Use words if necessary”! You and your works are in the minds of many thousands of people across the Globe – May God Bless your work, your lives and keep you strong in your Mission and Faith. Fr Alex, Boston MA

  3. Patty Smith
    Patty Smith says:

    I have a more personal reason for wanting to support women religious. I went to an all-girl Catholic high school. In 1976, on a bus ride home from a field trip near the end of my junior year, my homeroom teacher, a Roman Catholic Sister, asked us if anyone thought about becoming a Nun. Although I never entered a convent, her question was always in the back of mind and left me wondering whether I was called to be a Sister. My doubts came from the fact that I am gay. I found love, had a wonderful Holy Union Ceremony at a Dignity Fort Lauderdale Mass. But my partner and I were not meant to grow old together and she died a little less than four and one half years after she moved in with me. After losing my partner and still dealing with the grief, I found myself once again wondering whether I was called to be a Sister. On August 15, 2008, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, I made my Solemn Profession of Vows at Holy Angels Catholic Community.

    On October 19, 2009, I was able to contact that Roman Catholic Sister and let her know that I had finally found my own way to say “Yes!” to her question. I told her I am gay. I told her I had a partner and we had a Holy Union Ceremony. I also told her that my partner was deceased. Then I told her about deciding to become an Independent Catholic Sister. After I finished speaking, I paused and waited for her reaction. She was and still remains very supportive and encouraging. She said I had to be true to who I am. I am grateful for her courage. I am grateful for her guidance. I am grateful for the gift of her continuing presence in my life.

  4. Jenaro Rodriguez
    Jenaro Rodriguez says:

    Onward, courageous followers of Christ! Authority from Jesus is humble service. Remember Teresa : “Nada te turbe, NADA te espante. Todo se pasa. La paciencia todo lo alcanza…”

  5. Mary N. Waters
    Mary N. Waters says:

    Bishop Sartain (now archbishop) was formerly a bishop here in Little Rock. Many folks were not impressed.
    I believe the vatican may have wandered into a territory in which they do not belong. Before this is over, I see hordes of vatican P.R. people being mobilized, probably to no avail, since right is not on their side.
    Mary N. Waters, Little Rock, AR

  6. Kathy Reitz
    Kathy Reitz says:

    Dear Sisters, As someone newly informed of the LGBT struggle that my daughter is going thru, I truly appreciate your support and can sympathize with your own struggles. Thank you for your perserverance, your faith and your example.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] New Ways Ministries, one of the few organizations named in the inquiry, is encouraging people to write letters of support to the leadership of individual communities of women religious.  You can track the details of that at New Ways’ blog, Bondings 2.0. […]

  2. […] Message to Nuns: ‘Be Not Afraid’ ( […]

  3. […] addition, New Ways Ministry has also suggested writing letters of encouragement to women’s […]

  4. […] We continue to pray with and for the members of LCWR, and, indeed with and for all religious Sisters in the U.S.  Having lived through a similar case, we know the grace of God will be with them to give them courage. […]

  5. […] To keep up with the coverage of the LCWR case, The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) webpage has set up a special section on their site entitled “Sisters Under Scrutiny” to gather all of the newspaper’s news stories, opinion pieces, and blog posts about the controversy.  It is a very good resource.  NCR has also set up a Facebook page,  Support Our Catholic Sisters,  where people can post messages of testimony, hope, and encouragement.  Additionally, a group of Catholics concerned about the religious sisters have organized an online petition at  Information about New Ways Ministry’s letter-writing campaign can be found on our previous blog post, “Message to Nuns: ‘Be Not Afraid.” […]

  6. […] Ways Ministry is also encouraging people to send messages of support to the leaders of women’s religious communities in their […]

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