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Women Religious: Few Options Left

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Sep 17, 2009

As reported by Catholic World News on April 16th, the Vatican is conducting a doctrinal investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. For the past forty years, the LCWR has deliberately shaped religious life along a path of dissent and apostasy, emerging now finally as an advocacy group for “post-Christian” patterns of life.

It is difficult to imagine how the Vatican has allowed the manifest rebellion and catastrophic decline of female religious communities in the United States to continue for so long. It has been apparent from the first that women religious were hardest hit by the upheaval in values caused by “sexual liberation” and the rapid secularization of culture beginning in the 1960s. Indeed, the fundamentally anti-Christian commitments of many mainstream religious communities was already crystal clear by the 1970s, and after a long generation of ignoring and resisting every effort of the Vatican to bring order out of the chaos, the LCWR—which has always represented the vanguard of the deChristianization of religious life—is finally openly admitting that it is giving up not only on the Church but on Christ Himself.

The sordid history of the LCWR has been cogently recounted by Ann Carey in a fine article in the July 2009 issue of Catholic World Report: Post-Christian Sisters. If you read it, you’ll gasp again at the monumental failure of discipline on the part of Church leadership over the same long generation. This consistent failure to discipline is a scandal of huge proportions in itself, as I have often noted. What might have been handled far more simply, and with the support of many women religious, in the early 1970’s will now be almost impossible to manage without allowing many communities to die, or indeed actively suppressing them.

It has long since been obvious that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious should be disbanded (which, even if it persisted in its defiance, would eliminate its official connection with the Church). It is noteworthy that the doctrinal investigation of the LCWR is proceeding at the same time as the Apostolic Visitation of female religious communities. Readers may recall that two major visitations of American seminaries did help to get priestly formation back on track, but the biggest problems there continue to be with (male) religious institutes. The fact is that ecclesiastical governance and infrastructure facilitates responsiveness to Rome on the part of bishops far more than on the part of religious superiors. Moreover, typical dioceses never became as sick as female religious communities. One wonders, therefore, whether some limbs will have to be amputated to preserve the life of the body as a whole.

In 1992 Rome set up an alternative Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious to accommodate those who could no longer stomach the LCWR. The fact that only ten percent of female orders have since affiliated with the CMSWR is an outrageous testimony to the scope of the problem, though one would love to know what percentage of religious under age 40 are represented by that ten percent. Sadly, as has been typical in our time, what Rome has failed to do has made things worse. In the matter of women religious, Pope Benedict XVI may now have few options left.

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