VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis told leaders of women’s religious orders today that their vocations can only be recognized within the fold of the Church.
“Your vocation is a fundamental charism for the Church's journey and it isn't possible that a consecrated woman or man might 'feel' themselves not to be with the Church,” he told around 800 female superiors general on May 8.
The International Union of Superiors General has been meeting for its general assembly in Rome since May 3.
Present this year were more than 150 American sisters, some of whom also belong to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which has had a strained relationship with the Vatican since it was required in April 2012 to undergo reform.
Bishop Leonard Blaire of Toledo carried out a four-year review and found “serious doctrinal problems” and the need for the LCWR to undergo renewal.
The assessment of the leadership conference expressed concern over “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” that were in some presentations sponsored by the conference.
One such address discussed religious sisters “moving beyond the Church” and beyond Jesus.
In addition to highlighting the need for the organization to provide adequate doctrinal formation for its members, the report also voiced concern over letters from LCWR officers suggesting “corporate dissent” from Church teaching on topics such as the sacramental male priesthood and homosexuality.
Pope Francis seemed to address this history during today’s meeting. He told the sisters about the “‘feeling’ of being with the Church,” given to them through baptism.
It is a “feeling,” he said, “that finds its filial expression in fidelity to the Magisterium, in communion with the pastors and Successor of Peter, Bishop of Rome, visible sign of that unity.”
To be otherwise, he said, would be against their vocation.
“It is an absurd dichotomy to think of living with Jesus but without the Church, of following Jesus outside of the Church, of loving Jesus without loving the Church,” he stated.
“Feel the responsibility that you have of caring for the formation of your institutes in sound Church doctrine, in love of the Church, and in an ecclesial spirit,” Pope Francis added.
The Vatican’s doctrine department put Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle in charge of working with the sisters to reform the organization for a period of up to five years.
On May 5, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, made waves when he told the sisters gathered in Rome that he was not consulted about the doctrine department’s decision on reforming the LCWR.
His words drew a rare May 7 statement from the doctrine office, which aimed to dismiss the idea of a "divergence" between the doctrin and religious congregations.