WASHINGTON (CNS) – The Vatican-ordered doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is not directed at the tens of thousands of women religious whose communities are associated with LCWR but at the actions of the organization itself, according to two bishops who are assisting in the assessment.
In separate columns for their diocesan newspapers, Bishop Leonard P. Blair of Toledo, Ohio, and Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., criticized mistaken reporting about the intent of the assessment.
The two bishops were named in April to assist Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, who was appointed by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to provide "review, guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work" of LCWR, a Maryland-based umbrella group that claims about 1,500 leaders of U.S. women's communities as members, representing about 80 percent of the country's 57,000 women religious.
"It is a great cross sometimes to know firsthand the actual facts of a situation and then have to listen to all the distortions and misrepresentations of the facts that are made in the public domain," said Bishop Blair in a column for the June 8 edition of the Catholic Chronicle.
"The biggest distortion of all is the claim that the CDF and the bishops are attacking or criticizing the life and work of our Catholic sisters in the United States," he added. "What the CDF is concerned about ... is the particular organization known as the LCWR."
"What are the Church's pastors to make of the fact that the LCWR constantly provides a one-sided platform – without challenge or any opposing view – to speakers who take a negative and critical position vis-a-vis Church doctrine and discipline and the Church's teaching office?" Bishop Blair asked, citing several "causes for concern":
– Dominican Sister Laurie Brink, in a 2007 LCWR keynote speech, said religious congregations were moving in "four different general 'directions,'" none of which is better or worse than another. She described one direction as "sojourning" and said it involved moving "beyond the bounds of institutional religion."
– Capuchin Father Michael H. Crosby said at a joint LCWR meeting with the Congregation of Major Superiors of Men in 2004 that although "we still have to worship a God that the Vatican says 'wills that women not be ordained,' that ... is a false god; it cannot be worshipped."
– Other LCWR speakers "explore themes like global spirituality, the new cosmology, earth-justice and eco-feminism in ways that are frequently ambiguous, dubious or even erroneous with respect to Christian faith. And while the LCWR upholds Catholic social teaching in some areas, it is notably silent when it comes to two of the major moral challenges of our time: the right to life of the unborn, and the God-given meaning of marriage between one man and one woman."
Bishop Blair said that although "serious questions of faith" may arise among women religious, "is it the role of a pontifically recognized leadership group to criticize and undermine faith in Church teaching by what is said and unsaid, or rather to work to create greater understanding and acceptance of what the Church believes and teaches?"
He expressed confidence that "if the serious concerns of the CDF are accurately represented and discussed among all the sisters of our country, there will indeed be an opening to a new and positive relationship between women religious and the Church's pastors in doctrinal matters, as there already is in so many other areas where mutual respect and cooperation abound."
Bishop Paprocki wrote in a similar vein in the May 6 issue of the Catholic Times.
"It is important to note that the doctrinal assessment of LCWR does not deal with the faith and life of the 57,000 women religious in the United States," he said, adding that it is "not meant to call into question the faith and witness of so many dedicated and faithful women religious throughout the country."
He said the major concerns center on "problematic statements and serious theological, even doctrinal, errors" in talks at LCWR's annual assemblies; "policies of corporate dissent" on such issues as women's ordination and ministry to homosexual persons; and the "prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith" in some LCWR programs and presentations.
Bishop Paprocki said he and Bishop Blair would be assisting Archbishop Sartain in his duties, which will include "the development of initial and ongoing formation material that provides a deepened understanding of the Church's doctrine of the faith" and "guidance in the application of liturgical norms" to give the Eucharist and Liturgy of the Hours "a place of priority in LCWR events and programs."
"In sum, the purpose of the doctrinal assessment is to work collaboratively to renew LCWR and strengthen the doctrinal foundations that should guide the organization's many important initiatives and efforts," he said.
In an article he wrote for America magazine, Archbishop Sartain also discussed the Vatican reform of LCWR.
"No one expects that such a sensitive task will be accomplished quickly or effortlessly, but by God's grace and with mutual respect, patience and prayer, it can be indeed accomplished for the good of all," he said. "Challenges larger than this have been met before, with renewal and even deeper faith the outcome."
"Through the years," Archbishop Sartain continued, "there have been inevitable conflicts and misunderstandings between religious congregations and their bishops, between one congregation and another and among the members of individual congregations. They exist today as well.
"Disagreements regarding mission, apostolate, discipline, doctrine, style of life and personality have often been at the core of such conflicts. Each situation was an opportunity to seek reconciliation and collaboration at the heart of the Church in the 'communion' that is God's gift. Such a pivotal opportunity is now before us."