Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Nun of your business... or is it?

Bad nuns? Naaaah. But these sisters are probably not in the leadership of the LCWR either.

You've probably been hearing and/or seeing stories in the news about the Vatican announcing a pending reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The way that this story has been spun in much of the media and amongst many pundits is that "evil, patriarchal and out-of-touch busybodies" in Rome are picking on all of the good and holy nuns in the U.S.

Article after article, column after column (the vast majority penned - let's be honest here - by non-Catholics whose disdain for the Church's teachings is only overshadowed by their ignorance of the Church's workings) have decried the announcement that the women religious in our country are being bullied by the ruthless men in charge all the way over in Rome.

As you can probably guess by now, the purpose of this post is to tell you that this is pure bunk. Plain and simple. Smoke is being blown here (lots of it) - and it's not coming from the Eternal City.

Funny thing, that internet...

The funny thing about this day and age is that the internet makes the actual documents (not just individual's interpretations and/or opinions of and about those documents) available for anyone to read.

Allow me to digress here to say that this reality (having primary sources available for widespread consumption via the internet) is absolutely devastating to some who seemed hell-bent, over the past 40 years or so, on creating a "new Church" based on the Second Vatican Council; when one actually reads the documents of Vatican II, they are struck not with writings that call for a "new paradigm," not for a wholesale overthrow of the "old system" of worship or Church governments, not with writings which seek a break with the nearly-2,000 historic Tradition of the Church, but, instead, with beautiful documents which are clearly and unambiguously loyal to the Magisterium and to the Apostolic faith and worship of Church. The fact that "the people of God" have actually begun to read the documents of Vatican II themselves in the past decade or two (as opposed to relying on the interpretations of these documents [or, worse, the "spirit" of these documents] as pontificated by embittered lay leaders and flavor-of-the-month parish workshops), has been (in my humble opinion) a great impetus for grassroots efforts at recovery of so much of our Catholic faith and worship that had been so carelessly (and maliciously?) jettisoned during the volatile decades immediately after the Council in the very name of that same Council.

What does the document actually say? Let's see:

But, back to the topic at hand: So, for those who actually take a few minutes to read the actual document in question, known as the "Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious" (and available to read here, on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops), they quickly realize that this situation is not at all what many in the media and pundit-circuit have made it out to be. Here are a couple of key points to help you understand what's actually going on:

First, it is vitally important to clarify that the regular and individual members of women's Catholic religious orders in the U.S. (most of whom are very good and holy women) are not the subject of this document or of this assessment. As the very title of the document suggests, this report is not about all Catholic sisters in this country, but only an assessment of the a very small group - the 1,500 or so women who lead many of the Catholic religious orders in the U.S. through an organization known as the Leadership Conference of Women's Religious (aka LCWR).

The who's-it-what's-it?

So what, exactly, is the LCWR? Well, in the 1950s, the Vatican asked that the superiors (i.e. leaders) of the various men's and women's religious orders, organize themselves into national conferences to help improve communication between Rome and the leadership of these religious orders. In 1956, the superiors of the various women's orders in the U.S. formed, in response to this request, the Conference of Major Superiors of Women. In 1971, the group changed it's name to the Leadership Conference of Women's Religious, claiming that the group's original name was too hierarchical and militaristic (red flag much?!?). And almost immediately, problems started with the group.

LCWR members marching about something. Surely they're marching in loving support
of the Church's priests and bishops. Pffftt..... I can't even type that with a straight face.  

In short order, this group became less interested in maintaining and fostering communication between the superiors of the American female religious orders and the Vatican, and became much more interested (an astute historical observation might suggest the term "obsessed") with their own worldview and agenda - both of which sometimes widely diverged from the teachings of the Church. The group, through their publications and annual conferences, began to publicly criticize and agitate for changes within the Catholic Church - changes even to the Church's immutable doctrine - and did so  in ways which were so scandalous to some women religious and some of their leaders, that a group of them formed a second, parallel organization for leaders of women religious in the U.S. called the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) in 1992. This might have been viewed as the first obvious clue that there were real problems with the LCWR.

Nashville Dominicans at the March for Life in Washington, DC. The Nashville Dominicans are one of the
fastest growing religious communities in the U.S. Their leaders are not members of the LCWR, but of the CMSWR.

The second important point is that, despite the LCWR's claims to be "stunned" at the Vatican's announcement of this assessment (the "faux shock" as Catholic author and columnistGeorge Weigel put it) this news is absolutely nothing new to the LCWR nor to anyone who's been paying any attention to the group's (at times) volatile relationship with the Holy See for more than four decades. Specifically, this can be traced back to 2001 (more than a decade ago), when the LCWR was publicly called to the floor by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) - the branch of the Catholic Church that is responsible for seeing to it that men and women in leadership and teaching positions do not lead the faithful astray by teaching cloudy or incorrect doctrine in matters of faith. In 2001, the CDF warned the LCWR that some of the group's printed materials contained doctrinal errors and it warned them that the speakers at some of the group's conferences strayed liberally from the teachings of the Church.

Then, in 2008, after 7 years of waiting (fruitlessly) for the LCWR to make changes on its own to its printed materials and to its screening and selection of speakers at official LCWR events, Cardinal Levada, the prefect of the CDF, personally informed the president of the LCWR that an official assessment of the group was being undertaken. It's important to note that the CDF did not announce this publicly (i.e. to the press) but, in treating these as internal Church matters and respecting the privacy of the LCWR, they only notified the LCWR leadership of the forthcoming assessment. The next year, however, in 2009, the LCWR, in a press release to the National Catholic Reporter, self-reported that they were under investigation by the CDF [be warned before you click on that link that much of the content put out by NCR is so ridiculously hostile to the very Church they claim to be "reporting" on that it might burn your eyes --- you've been warned!

But, anyway, that was 3 years ago! Yet the LCWR was "stunned" when the CDF announced the findings of this investigation last month? Color me a tad bit suspicious on that one. The point is: this has been a looong time coming.

In summary...

So, there are really two important points to remember when reading (with a wary eye) media stories about this issue:

1) The LCWR is an organization of some (not all) of the leaders of women's religious orders in the U.S. It is this leadership organization that is under scrutiny - not individual sisters or congregations. So, this document is not an assessment or critique of the very good works done by many, many religious sisters throughout our country. It is also not a judgement or a critique of the faith of individual sisters in these religious orders. No, this is only an assessment of the organization of the superiors of these orders and the fact that this leadership organization (the LCWR) has

2)  The LCWR has been pulling stunts for decades which have poked fingers in the eyes of the Church, scandalized the faithful, and split their own ranks. This situation dates all the way back to 1971 when the group publicly criticized an exhortation from Pope Paul VI which called for a close look at the changes within religious orders after the Second Vatican Council (this is a very good indication that some of the changes were so swift, radical and clearly out of bounds that the pope felt the need to step in, only six short years after the close of the Council in 1965). The response of the newly-christened LCWR - published in the form of a book called Widening the Dialogue - was basically to tell the pope to butt out. Basically, things within the LCWR went downhill from there and, instead of obedience to the patient and pastoral guidance of the Church in the ensuing decades, the LCWR continued to ignore Rome. In 2001, the Church gave the LCWR were given a clear set of items which needed reforming within the organization. This, too, was ignored. Then, in 2008, the LCWR was told than an investigation was underway, aimed at reforming the group. In 2012, the completed assessment was released and, instead of doing their homework and reporting the facts of the case, most in the media simply regurgitated the cries of foul made by the LCWR that they were hoodwinked and surprised at the "heavy-handed" mandate for reforms.

So, now you know the whole story about the efforts by the Vatican to reform the LCWR - not just the juicy and prejudiced version of events put out in the LCWR's talking points.

And you, my informed friends, can draw your own conclusions.