It is unfortunate that coverage in the news media concerning a recent document of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been so one-sided. The document at issue, published on April 18, 2012, is entitled, “Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious” (LCWR). It has been placed on our archdiocesan website, and I urge our Catholic faithful to read the text in full with an open mind.
Here are the summary points I gleaned from reading the actual text:
1. The Holy Father, as well as the Vatican, acknowledges with gratitude the substantial and historic contribution that religious women have made to the Church in the USA through their schools, hospitals and institutions for the poor.
2. This evaluation reports the findings of an assessment that began four years ago. Similar assessments have been done of programs involving seminarians and priests. Far from a secretive process, the LCWR has been aware of this assessment these many years.
3. The main concern of the Congregation is that the leadership or administration of the LCWR, not necessarily the individual members of the orders represented, has veered toward positions contrary to the teachings of the Church. This is a concern that involves the salvation of souls. It is not meant as an indictment of individual women religious.
4. In particular, the evaluation found disturbing questions in four areas:
a. Addresses at assemblies: One of the principal ways that the LCWR promotes its vision of religious life is by sponsoring an annual assembly. The addresses given here are a matter of public record. A review of such talks has found a number of serious theological problems or even doctrinal errors. When such statements go unchallenged, a certain credence builds in their favor.
b. Corporate dissent: The LCWR has, on several occasions, written the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) objecting to Church discipline on ordination of celibate men as well as their pastoral approach to the ministry to homosexual persons. Such positions are contrary to the collaborative relationship that a leadership conference should have in witnessing to Church teaching.
c. Radical feminism: Public programs and presentations (all a matter of record) challenge the revealed truths that God is Father and that Jesus is fully God and man. At the same time, we know there is a faith-filled feminism articulated by Blessed John Paul II in his apostolic letter “Mulieris Dignitatem.”
d. Silent neglect: There has also been concern expressed on the lack of expressed support by the LCWR on critical social issues such as the immorality of abortion and euthanasia along with the Church’s biblical view of family life and human sexuality. As a prominent Catholic institution, one would expect a more pro-active stand on such issues.
I think it can be said that there are ample reasons for the action that the CDF has taken. After four years of research, it cannot be said that there was any haste in addressing the matter, nor was it a situation of simply “jumping to conclusions.”
Benefiting Body of Christ
For my part, I have benefited greatly from the ministry of consecrated religious, who educated me in my grade and high school years. In many ways, they made me who I am today.
I also feel blessed with the collaboration and dedication of women religious here in this archdiocese. As with any school accreditation visit, if there are issues to be addressed with its administration, then those should be addressed for the overall good of the institution.
So, too, in the Body of Christ, we need to be clear that our preaching, teaching and Gospel witness accurately reflect the revelation that has been passed down to us from the apostles. It is by being faithful to that revelation that our future salvation is assured.
It is in that context that this assessment has been formulated. So let us all thank religious women for their witness of faith. Let us also trust that from this renewed engagement, God will, in time, bring forth even greater goods for the Church.
God bless you!