Report on LCWR Meeting With the CDF at the Vatican

Sister Pat Farrell

The president and executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) met with a Vatican official and an American archbishop in Rome this week to see if they could resolve differences in perspectives that resulted from the Vatican’s demand that the leadership group reform itself.  The nuns’ support of LGBT issues, including New Ways Ministry particularly, were part of the Vatican’s critique of the organization.

Sister Pat Farrell, president, and Sister Janet Mock, executive director, met with Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, who was appointed to direct the LCWR’s reform.

Sister Janet Mock

According to LCWR’s statement after the meeting, the nuns stated that they were able to communicate their message:

“ ‘It was an open meeting and we were able to directly express our concerns to Cardinal Levada and Archbishop Sartain,’ said Sister Pat Farrell.”

The National Catholic Reporter article on the meeting quotes from the Vatican’s statement, which seems to indicate that Rome has not backed down on any of its original demands:

Archbishop Peter Sartain

“According to canon law, the Vatican said, the LCWR ‘is constituted by and remains under the supreme direction of the Holy See in order to promote common efforts” and cooperation.

” ‘The purpose of the doctrinal assessment is to assist the LCWR in this important mission by promoting a vision of ecclesial communion founded on faith in Jesus Christ and the teachings of the church as faithfully taught through the ages under the guidance of the magisterium,’  the Vatican said.”

Cardinal William Levada

The NCR article quotes Sister Farrell as saying:

“We are grateful for the opportunity for open dialogue, and now we will return to our members to see about the next step.”

The meeting comes after almost a month of discussion and commentary on the issue, as well as an outpouring of support for the nuns from Catholics across the U.S.

Last week, the first religious community of men, the Franciscan in the U.S., issued a statement of support for the sisters. In an open letter to the nuns, the Franciscans said:

“We write. . . as a public sign of our solidarity with you as you endure this very difficult moment.  We are privileged to share with you the journey of religious life.  Like you, we strive in all that we do to build up the People of God. . . .

“. . .your gift to the Church is not only one of service, but also one of courageous discernment.  The late 20th century and the beginning of this century have been times of great social, political and cultural upheaval and change.  Such contextual changes require us, as faithful members of the Church, to pose questions that at first may appear to be controversial or even unfaithful, but in fact are asked precisely so that we might live authentically the charisms we have received, even as we respond to the “signs of the times.”  This is the charge that we as religious have received through the “Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life” from the Second Vatican Council and subsequent statements of the Church on religious life.  We believe that your willingness to reflect on many of the questions faced by contemporary society is an expression of your determination to be faithful to the Gospel, the Church, the invitation from Vatican II and your own religious charisms.  We remain thankful for and edified by your courage to engage in such reflection despite the ever-present risk of misunderstanding.

St. Francis

“Moreover, we are concerned that the tone and direction set forth in the Doctrinal Assessment of LCWR are excessive, given the evidence raised.  The efforts of LCWR to facilitate honest and faithful dialogue on critical issues of our times must not result in a level of ecclesial oversight that could, in effect, quash all further discernment.  Further, questioning your adherence to Church teaching by your “remaining silent” on certain ethical issues seems to us a charge that could be leveled against many groups in the Church, and fails to appreciate both the larger cultural context and the particular parameters of expertise within which we all operate.  Finally, when there appears to be honest disagreement on the application of moral principles to public policy, it is not equivalent to questioning the authority of the Church’s magisterium.  Although the Catholic moral tradition speaks of agreement regarding moral principles, it also – from the Middle Ages through today – speaks of appropriate disagreement regarding specific application of these principles.”

Sister Simone Campbell

One of LCWR’s greatest supporters has been Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, the executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby.  In an article in Canada’s National Post, Sister Campbell identifies what she sees as the biggest difference between the Vatican and U.S. nuns:

“It’s a clash of monarchy versus democracy. It’s not about faith. It’s culture.”

But her analysis doesn’t stop there.  She also points out some other important differences which may be causing the rift:

“We’re a bit more vibrant than the European folks. . .

“I don’t know anything the bishops are saying is true. I don’t think we’re radical feminists. We now have advanced degrees, often more education than the bishops have, which makes the bishops nervous.

“What irks the bishops is that ordinary people look to Catholic sisters for their moral perspectives and find us credible teachers. We understand the complexity of life. When you can live in the Vatican without engaging in real people in pastoral settings it’s way easier to be black and white.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

0 replies
  1. Chris Nunez
    Chris Nunez says:

    THANKS FOR THIS SHARE. And it’s good to see Sr. Campbell say what many of us already suspected — this is about those pesky culture wars, and about our spunky democratic spirit of dialogue and inquiry. Stayin’ alive and keepin’ the faith!

  2. Annette Magjuka
    Annette Magjuka says:

    I support the sisters 100%. I have joined NETWORK and have purchased many of the books written by the sisters that have been mentioned during this dialogue. The sisters seem to have a handle on the way I want to live my Catholic faith. I want to follow their guidance and will support them in any way I can. Is there a way I can contribute to the nuns (with no chance that the bishops or Pope will be able to confiscate the funds? I am thirsty for this balanced, Christian approach. I do not appreciate the gay bashing that is going on. I do not believe in prosecuting (literally or emotionally) women who have unplanned pregnancies, including those who are desperate. I am horrified to read that the bishops in Uganda have actually supported a law that would give the death penalty to gay people. The church should be working for social justice, helping the poor, and should speak out loud and clear against measures like the Ugandan proposal! Instead, my beloved alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, have joined the lawsuit designed to deny medical coverage for millions. My heart is broken. The sisters give me hope and make me want to keep fighting, to stay Catholic as they are.

  3. Donna mollica
    Donna mollica says:

    As I watch this unfold I come to believe it is not just a clash of culture. It is also about faith. The women religious, some groups of priests like those in Ireland and Austria, and some men’s orders clearly have a different understanding of the Gospel than the current magesterium. Where does authority lie? In an institutional leadership or in God’s ongoing revelation

  4. Annette Magjuka
    Annette Magjuka says:

    The ultimate authority is in the individual conscience. This used to be taught. Now the Pope wants to roll it back and ignore individual conscience. But When those in charge are dead wrong, on the side of evil and not love, as Jesus taught, then each individual must follow his/her conscience. For example, the Holy Spirit has most certainly come to my heart and the hearts of many other Catholics and assured us that denying gays equality and dignity is a grave sin. I don’t care what the Pope or some bishops say, I know what the Holy Spirit has told me is right.


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