The Investigation of the LCWR

Posted by Censor Librorum on May 15, 2009 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Dissent, Faith, Politics

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an association that icludes the leadership of most U.S. women’s congregations, is under investigation by the Vatican.

Cardinal Levada said the assessment of the LCWR will be conducted by the Bishop of Toledo, Ohio, Leonard P. Blair. Bishop Blair is a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine. levada

The Vatican assessment became necessary, according to Levada, because at the 2001 meeting between LCWR and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which took place in Rome, the women were invited “to report on the initiatives taken or planned” to promote the reception of three areas of Vatican doctrinal concern: the 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, the 2000 declaration Dominus Jesus from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and “the problem of homosexuality.”

Cardinal Levada informed conference leaders:   “Given both the tenor and the doctrinal content of various addresses given at the annual assemblies of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the intervening years, this Dicastery can only conclude that the problems which had motivated its request in 2001 continue to be present.”

The National Catholic Reporter, an independent newspaper, said the Vatican ordered the probe because the sisters had not addressed issues raised by the Vatican in 2001 about their promotion of church teaching on homosexuality, salvation and the priesthood, which the Vatican said is reserved for men.

The ripples from  a keynote by Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Laurie Brink at the 2007 LCWR assembly  roused the Vatican machinery into action. lauriebrink

In that keynote address, titled A Marginal Life: Pursuing Holiness in the 21st Century,” Sr. Laurie Brink urged leaders of Catholic religious orders to make clear, if painful choices about the future of religious life.   She began with this assumption: “Old concepts of how to live the life are no longer valid.”   The rest of the speech outlined four possible options or outcomes as a starting point for discussion.

–  “Death with dignity and grace” as opposed to becoming a “zombie congregation” that staggers on with no purpose. This option must be taken seriously, since the average age of the 67,000 sisters and nuns in the United States is 69. Many retreat ministries are closing, and large “mother houses” are struggling with finances, while some congregations no longer invite or accept new candidates.

– Brink noted that some orders have chosen to turn back the   clock – thus winning the favor of Rome. “They are putting on the habit, or continuing to wear the habit with zest…Some would critique that they are the nostalgic portrait of a time now passed. But they are flourishing.   Young adults are finding in these communities a living image of their romantic vision of religious life.”

– During this era of crisis and decline, some Catholic religious orders have chosen to enter a time of “sojourning” that involves “moving beyond the church, even beyond Jesus.” “Religious titles, institutional limitations, ecclesiastical authorities no longer fit this congregation, which in most respects is post-Christian,” added Brink, a former journalist who is a biblical studies professor at Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union.

For these women, the “Jesus narrative is not the only or the most important narrative…They still hold up and reverence the values of the Gospel, but they also recognize that these same values are not solely the property of Christianity. Buddhism, Native American spirituality, Judaism, Islam and others hold similar tenets for right behavior within the community, right relationship with the Earth and right relationship with the divine.”

She described the Benedictine Women of Madison as having a commitment to “ecumenism” which led them “beyond the exclusivity of the Catholic Church into a new inclusivity, where all manner of God is welcomed. They are certainly religious women, but they are no longer women religious as it is defined by the Roman Catholic Church. They choose as a congregation to step outside the Church in order to step into a greater sense of holiness.”

– Finally, some women are fighting on, hoping to achieve reconciliation someday with a changed, egalitarian church hierarchy. “Theologians are denied academic freedom. Religious and laywomen feel scrutinized simply because of their biology. Gays and lesbians desire to participate as fully human, fully sexual Catholics within their parishes,” Brink said. Many Catholics also oppose the “ecclesial deafness that refuses to hear the call of the Spirit summoning not only celibate males, but married men and women to serve” as priests.

Read Brink’s 2007  address and the keynotes from the LCWR 2008, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003 and 2003 assemblies here.

The blog, Journey to a New Pentecost, provided a very crisp and thorough assessment of the LCWR investigation.   You can read it here.

Brink’s comment about being “post-Christian,” and the sentence: “They are certainly religious women, but they are no longer women religious as it is defined by the Roman Catholic Church,” may have been the spark that ignited the gas can.

Amy Welborn, a Catholic blogger who writes on Beliefnet said: “If you are going to be post-Christian, then be post-Christian. I don’t say that with snark. It’s just reality. If you’ve moved on – move on.   Step out from the protective mantle of identity that gives you cachet, that of ‘Catholic nun.'”

Here was a comment on America Magazine’s blog that summed things up for this conservative reader: “The Vatican investigation is long overdue. If you want to be a social worker then be a social worker–not a nun. A nun’s first allegiance is to the Church.   I am quite tired of running into nuns who: look like aged hippies, push for women’s ordination, push for abortion, push homosexuality as an ok lifestyle and do this, supposedly, in the name of Christ.”

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, former co-director of New  Ways Ministry,  commented on the probable political reasons for the investigation: “It is difficult for me to believe that the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) has not already made a predetermined conclusion. This seems to be the Vatican’s modus operandi. An “investigation” process puts a veneer of fairness to the result. Consider the investigations of theologians like Charles Curran, Leonardo Boff, Roger Haight, etc. etc. No matter what the investigating party does to please them (or not please them) the outcome will be the same. For example, in the Vatican investigation of Fr. Robert Nugent and me, Bob agreed to make some “profession of faith” about the church’s teaching on homosexuality while I refused. The sanction for each of us was identical.”

“In this case, I expect the predetermined outcome to be a change in the canonical relationship of LCWR to the Vatican. The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), the traditional group of nuns formed in 1192 by Cardinal Hickey, was not to be the official group representing women religious to the Vatican. By 1195, they not only had canonical status but also were favored over LCWR (e.g., CMSWR had more delegates than LCWR at the synod on Religious Life.) The Vatican would like CMSWR to be the official representative of the leaders of US women’s communities. I think the Vatican is using this investigation to usurp LCWR’s role and replace them with CMSWR.”

I agree with Amy Welborn. I also tend to agree with Jeannine on the politics of the situation.   LCWR gave the Vatican the opening it needed by Sr. Laurie Brinks candid–but public–remarks about the choices facing the communities of the LCWR and the options a few members have chosen to pursue. They were imprudent, considering how many enemies LCWR has in the Church.

However, in addition to ideological purity, there is also the issue of property and endowments.   These aging communities are sitting on a lot of very valuable real estate.   I think the church definitely has an interest in what happens to it when communities begin to fold and the property is sold off.   What happens to the money?   That may be easier to influence or manage if a more traditionalist group of sisters is involved.

There is another investigation underway running parallel to the investigation of the LCWR.

On March 10, 2009, the Vatican ordered an apostolic visitation of the institutions of the Legionaries of Christ following disclosures of sexual impropriety by the order’s late founder, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado.   The letter was signed by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Sectetary of State. It was addressed to Father Alvaro Corcuera, director general of the Legionaries and its lay association, Regnum Christi.

In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI disciplined Fr. Maciel.   He was banned from exercising his ministry in public and told to retire to a life of prayer and penitence, following allegations that he sexually abused about 30 boys and young men over a period of 30 years.   The Vatican initially stonewalled the sexual abuse investigation for well over a decade.

The Legionaires of Christ were much admired by the late Pope John Paul II for its conservative views, strict loyalty to Vatican teaching, fund raising ability and success in attracting seminarians.

But it was not until Fr. Maciel’s death in 2008 that his secret life was revealed. In February 2009 the Legionaries admitted he kept a mistress and fathered a daughter who is now in her 20s.

The leadership of the order recently admitted that Maciel, a cult figure among Legionaires, led a “double life” after the discovery of his liaison with the mother of his daughter.

Several prominent Catholic commentators said publicly–and some Vatican officials said privately–that the situation called for an outside investigation into the Legionaries of Christ, in order to ascertain the truth, determine whether officials of the order covered up Father Maciel’s misconduct and judge whether Father Maciel’s teachings could still inspire the order.

Also at stake in the investigation is the significant estate Maciel left behind–which his daughter could have a claim to…

The probe could also uncover more cases of sexual abuse similar to those committed by Fr. Maciel.

“We have testimonies that there have been other Legionaires who followed Maciel’s example,” said Jose Barba, the legal representative of eight former Legionaries who started court proceedings against Marciel in 1998. “The ramifications of the problem exist throughout the Legionaires of Christ,” he added.

It will be interesting to compare the end result of each investigation.   It will also be interesting to see if Fr. Maciel’s daughter pursues gaining an inheritence or is offered a settlement by the order.   Children of priests and bishops laying claim to church property is one of the reasons priestly celibacy became a requirement years ago.

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9 Responses to “The Investigation of the LCWR”

  1. Terry Maccarone Says:

    Thanks for mentioning my website – Journey To A New Pentecost. I’ve added your blog to my favorites file and blogroll and will check back often.

  2. KvK Says:

    It seems as if the LCWR is looking for bad guys everywhere! Don’t they realize we are not in the 60’s and 70’s anymore! It’s just more of them versus us mentality, and it’s very tiring and wearing and must be confusing for the laity.

    Their vocations are to their respective communities with the Church. That’s the piece I think they are missing. Their lives are to be witness’s to Christ’s message as revealed by the Church.

    If it’s so painful for them within than maybe they need to look at other alternatives.

  3. Thomas Thompson Says:

    Yes, it is clear the outcome of the Vatican’s “investigation” is already predetermined, which is too bad. A good many of the views of these nuns are quite refreshing. That said, I really don’t see how any of us can ever move “beyond Christ,” because beyond Christ is precisely nothing. This does not mean, however, that other faith traditions have nothing of value to teach us. Buddhism, in particular, is not so much a religion as it is a process to assist in enlightenment, and in my view it is entirely possible to approach Christ more immediately through the process of meditation as taught by Buddhism.

    The “conservative” reader who opined that “a nun’s first allegiance is to the Church” is flat out wrong. Her first allegiance is to Christ, not to the Church. Too many Catholics in today’s world make the mistake of confusing Christ with the Church. They are different things, and in any conflict between them (which happens all too often, yes?) it is Christ who must prevail, not the Church.

  4. Thomas Thompson Says:

    I neglected to add one further thought. While some of these Vatican “investigations” are indeed frustrating, they are also quite often entirely appropriate. Father Roger Haight, for example, wrote a highly controversial — if eloquent but somewhat impenetrable — book entitled Jesus: Symbol of God. Nothing could be clearer in our theology that, whatever the “symbolic” implications of Jesus, in the most important sense he simply is God and not, in any sense that matters, “symbolic” of God at all. It would thus seem to me that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had no choice whatsoever in disciplining Father Haight.

  5. Vincent Franck Says:

    There is a Church where these heretic nuns can ply their heterodoxies-The Episcopal Church of the United States. They need to move over voluntarily or be excommunicated. They are more than misguided they are willful disobedient heresyarchs. The time for
    parlaying and dialoging is so over, leave or recant, or at least be
    silent. Go in the name of God.

  6. Fr.JCL Says:

    Rome’s desire for the supposed “valuable properties” of these dissenting convents nearing the point of extinction always seems to receive mention in discussions like this. Consistent evidence reveals this to be incorrect and unjust; all evidence is to the contrary. Here is a current example, but take note, no one out there will be able to produce even one example where it goes differently. Last year, 7 congregations of Dominican Sisters amalgamated and created one new, pontifical-rite congregation placed under the patronage Our Lady of Peace and now headquartered in Ohio. Of the 7 congregations, there were two foer certain (i.e. Akron (Ohio) and Oxford (Michigan) that were diocesan and not pontifical congregations. (I suspect this may have been the case with one or even two more of those congregations; I don’t know for sure.) But whether it was 2, 3 or 4 of them, the fact is: 1) when a diocesan congregation goes “out of business,” its resources go to the diocese; and 2) no diocesan congregation may become part of a pontifical merger without the permission of their own bishop. That means that in each case in this example, the bishop knowingly allowed the small, dying group of Sisters in his diocese to take their money, property, and whatever other resources they may have had, out of the diocese and pool them in the new pontifical community, over which the diocese would never have any ownership. There have been Sisters of St. Joseph amalgamations in the same situation recently. As fas back as the dissident break-off of the IHM Sisters in Los Angeles in the late 1960s this has been the case, always, everywhere and without exception. When it is a matter of a group redefining its canonical status, Rome ALWAYS protects the individual members’ financial security. Always and everywhere.
    Rome does not want to control these women! Rome does not want their money! If they choose to abandon the religious life, or even the Church, or their local apostolates, Rome does not wish to stand in their way in any fashion. Rome simply wants to establish that if they wish to continue to identify themeselves as Catholic Sisters, they must act, believe and teach as such. Enemies of holy religion may function elsewhere as they wish, but they will no longer be able to behave as enemies of the Church while aso claiming to be Catholic Sisters. (Please note, I am not identifying those congregations I have used here as examples as enemies of the Church; I am simply using their situation as current examples.)

    So hate the Church if you must; it’s been done before; but know your facts and be fair.

  7. Karen Doherty Says:

    Dear Fr. JCL, I agree with you on one point: if any sisters or lay Catholics identify themselves as “post-Christian” they should indeed, move on.

    However, were you err, I believe, is identifying anyone who questions doctrine, leadership or dissents from any kind of church teaching as “enemies of the Church” or as people who “hate” the Church. Those statements strike me as shrill and slightly hysterical. Be honest–since when is there a separation of personal agendas, politics and the selective application of discipline in the history of our Church?

    Does it occur to you that people who dissent with parts of Church teaching, or statements of bishops from time to time love the Church? In fact, love it so much that they choose to stay and and work on the relationship, rather than divorce?

    Do I think religious communities needed a course correction? I do. Do I think part of that drift is the result of a institutional hierarchy that was self-serving vs. listening. I do. Both need some reform and renewal.

  8. Cynthia Says:

    Praise be to our Lord Jesus Christ now and for evermore. The quotation below is most disheartening to read:

    “For these women, the “Jesus narrative is not the only or the most important narrative…They still hold up and reverence the values of the Gospel, but they also recognize that these same values are not solely the property of Christianity. Buddhism, Native American spirituality, Judaism, Islam and others hold similar tenets for right behavior within the community, right relationship with the Earth and right relationship with the divine.”

    I must confess that I wept after reading this news. What made it so hurting is the fact that this was made by a “supposed” Catholic religious woman. Is this still Catholicism? Is this the message of the gospel which these women vowed to live by? Are they trying to create another religion? For the last question, if its so, then I have no problem with that, but would it not be wiser to actually “step out” of the Catholic church and establish their own religion, instead of hiding under their Catholic identity to create confusion?

    Any rethoric, no matter how well intended, that denies the Divinity of Jesus and his being the way the truth and the life, is never worthy of a religious, not to mention being Christian.

    Because of the confusion of what it means to be Christian in today’s society, many people fail to understand certain actions of the church, when she silences or excommunicate these so-called(The Body of Christ) is to preach the truth of the gospel and to proclaim Christ as our only hope for salvation. Any life style, teaching or movement that denies this, has no place in the church.

    Above all, I believe that our duty is to pray for these women and people who go against the teaching of Christ and his church. The scriptures reveals to us that “We are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against principalities and power” again in the Gospels, our Lord Jesus told his disciples that “This one can only be cast away through prayers and fasting”. The evil one is tired of old outright spreading of imorality and falsehood. It is now using the very institutions of the church and also twisting and using the very virtues that we hold such as, tolerance, ecumenism, justice, equality and freedom, to turn people away from Christ.

    May God help and bless us all.

  9. Russ Says:

    I have been away too long. This plunge into the social justice and economic justice venues is entirely incorrect. The church, and specifically the sisters and nuns, need to decide if they are Catholic. Their roles do not include the above ‘justice’ issues. They are here to assist in the education and health care of Catholics in line with Vatican policy. If they persist in this heresy they should make a decision regarding their faith. The Episcopal church would be the logical place for those who question Catholic church teachings. Vaya con Dios.

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