Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 23, 1976 when Archbishop Henry J. O'Brien passed away.
Catholic Transcript Reader Survey
Catholic Transcript Reader Survey

weigel newAfter the April announcement that the Vatican was taking the Leadership Conference of Women Religious into a form of ecclesiastical receivership, appointing Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain to oversee the LCWR until its statutes and program are reformed, Tom Fox, a major figure at the National Catholic Reporter for decades, had this to say:

"Some of our bishops are acting like bullies, abusing the authority of their offices in the name of enforcing orthodoxy.

"Dealing with U.S. women religious, these bishops’ actions appear governed more by a desire to enforce obedience than to develop fidelity in our sisters…

"What the bully bishops claim to be matters of orthodoxy are really matters of pastoral style. They are the results of an unwillingness among our bishops to enter into sincere and mutually respectful dialogue with the women. None of the issues at hand has anything to do with the Creed. They stem from the actions of a small group of misdirected and fearful men determined to take ‘catholic’ out of ‘Catholic’ while judging, silencing and demeaning those who stand in their way…"

Shortly after a correspondent sent me the link to this rather intemperate comment, another interlocutor passed along an interview with the late Walker Percy, one of American Catholicism’s greatest 20th-century literary talents. Percy was asked what would have most surprised another major Catholic literary figure, Flannery O’Connor, about the post-conciliar Church she did not live to see:

"I think probably the disunity, the near-sundering of the American Church. I think she would be horrified, and probably most of all by the nuns, by what happened to the Georgia nuns, to the Louisiana nuns, and I guess to most of the others. They completely fell apart. They were seduced, not by feminism – which the pope approves of, in the sense of the right of women not to be discriminated against – but by radical feminism. Many of the nuns I know were completely seduced by it, to the point of rebelling against any sort of discipline. They began to mix up the Magisterium with macho masculinism, as if the pope were Hemingway. I think that would horrify O’Connor more than anything."

There’s not a whole lot of "common ground" to be found between these two readings of the post-conciliar history of women’s religious life in these United States. Either Tom Fox is right in his general view of the situation, or Walker Percy is right in his. Yet, while Percy would almost certainly have agreed that there are many holy and devoted women doing great service to Church and society within the LCWR orders, Fox seems unlikely to make any such concession about the bishops who have, over three decades, raised concern about the spiritual life of those orders. If inflexibility and intellectual bullying are at work here, they’re far more prevalent on the port side of the Barque of Peter than on the starboard side.

There is also a question of demographics to be considered, in assessing these two views. Ann Carey’s 1997 book, Sisters in Crisis, reported a hard fact, thoroughly supported by the data: progressive orders of religious women don’t generate new vocations. LCWR-affiliated sisters responded that their job was "not to grow but to be." How one could "be" without new recruits was not explained – a reflection, perhaps, of the same cast of mind that led a recent LCWR annual assembly speaker to praise the "post-Christian" stance of some religious orders. In any case, there can be no denying that the "renewal" of women’s religious life led by the LCWR and its affiliated orders has utterly failed to attract new vocations. The LCWR orders are dying, while several religious orders that disaffiliated from the LCWR are growing.

And this is the question that neither the LCWR nor its defenders, like Tom Fox, ever engage: If what you’ve been doing for about 40 years is so right, why do young women not find it attractive?

Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor, however, would understand.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.


alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.