by M. Doretta Cornell, RDC
I would like to share with you a compassionate response in the face of grave stress, like the ones I wrote of a few months ago. A little background information: I was a member of this conference, LCWR, for the past eight years; since my terms in leadership are over, I am no longer a member. The present Leadership Team of my congregation does belong to the conference.
As you may have read in the newspapers since April, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) received a severe reprimand from a Vatican office, accusing the conference of “serious doctrinal problems” and “diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus” of our lives. In other words, they accuse sisters of having lost our true center, Jesus Christ, and of being not wholly Catholic in our understanding, practice, and teaching of our faith. As a result, the conference was assigned an archbishop and two assistant bishops to oversee the “reform” of the conference, by revising its constitutions and publications and monitoring speakers for the annual assembly and other activities.
The document cited rather vague accusations – such as “radical feminism,” hearing speakers with inappropriate interpretations of scripture, and choosing to focus on social issues different from those chosen by the bishops for their focus – as evidence of LCWR’s distorting true doctrine and failing in their role as religious leaders.
Needless to say, this has caused great grief and much sadness and anger among many sisters, myself included!
In the fifty years since the Second Vatican Council, we sisters have undertaken deep and difficult changes in order to become more faithful to both the Gospel message and the intentions of each community’s founders, as well as the understanding of Church and today’s society laid out in the documents of the Council. All of the changes were made from prayer, study of theology and scripture, communal discernment, and experimenting with possible ways to act before the changes were made. To be accused of this sort of infidelity felt, and still feels, like betrayal and misinformed rejection of all that we are, as well as what it means to be the People of God.
The leaders of LCWR, in keeping with their principles of living a truly Christian life and responding out of their own integrity, are demonstrating the sort of compassionate response that I spoke of in several previous blog entries.
First of all, the leaders – president, past president and president-elect – issued no reply until they had had time to experience their own feelings, and to pray individually and communally. They then consulted with one another and with the national board, which includes representatives of all thirteen regions of the country. Other related groups and commissions also were contacted, and all members of each region were invited to gather for discernment, and insights from sisters in each community were also invited.
Finally, last weekend, the presidency and the national board engaged the 900 leaders of religious communities present at the annual Assembly in communal prayer and discussion about the official LCWR response would be.
Two short paragraphs from the press release following the Assembly will give you a sense of the results of this prayer and consultation:
The assembly articulated its belief that religious life, as it is lived by the women religious who comprise LCWR, is an authentic expression of this life that must not be compromised....
The assembly instructed the LCWR officers to conduct their conversation with Archbishop Sartain [the chief overseer] from a stance of deep prayer that values mutual respect, careful listening and open dialogue. The officers will proceed with these discussions as long as possible, but will reconsider if LCWR is forced to compromise the integrity of its mission.
Here we see both respect for the opponent and fidelity to our truth: the leaders will attempt to enter into dialogue with the overseeing bishops, hoping to explain why our position seems so contrary to that of the Vatican office. At the same time, the leaders will not be complicit in distorting who and what women religious in the United States are.
The outcome of the dialogue with Archbishop Sartain remains to be seen, of course. However, the leaders of LCWR are concerned not only with that outcome. Their primary concern is that they act according to the Gospel principles of loving others, even when to those who present themselves as adversaries. LCWR is refusing to take an adversarial stance. They will proceed as leaders of religious communities, faithful members of the church, speaking to other religious leaders, representing the leaders of that church. Much forgiveness and many hours of deep prayer will guide the next steps of LCWR.
We invite you to join your prayers to ours for a peaceful outcome.