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The LCWR Needs an Ecclesial Mission

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Aug 13, 2012

Apparently the “good times” are over. The new normal for Catholic priests and religious, and for official Catholic organizations, is that if you don’t take the mission of the Church seriously, you’re going to draw unwanted attention and pressure from Rome. At least that seems to be the lesson of the current Vatican attempt to reform the Leadership Conference of Women Religious by conducting an Apostolic Visitation and then placing Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain in charge of getting the organization back on an authentically Catholic track.

The LCWR has just held a meeting on how to respond to the Vatican intervention, and has released a statement noting its intention to engage in dialogue but without compromise. What the statement says, in effect, is that the LCWR intends to remain cordial while blowing the Vatican off. It is determined to defend its own “authentic expression” of religious life.

I’m sorry, but this won’t do. The first thing that every religious (and indeed every Catholic involved in any sort of Christian apostolate) needs to remember is that apostolic work, to be authentic, must be rooted in the mission of the Church itself. The mission of the Church is to work for the glory of God and the salvation of souls according to the Revelation Jesus Christ has committed to His Church, and under the authority of the successors of Peter and the other apostles, of whom Our Lord said “he who hears you, hears me”—and not only that but also “he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects Him who sent me” (Lk 10:16).

Now, is it possible that the pope and other bishops can misjudge a particular apostolic initiative or theological trend and end up restraining something that will in time contribute significantly to the mission of the Church? Yes, this is certainly possible. Nonetheless, it is precisely the pope and the bishops that God Himself has chosen to work through for the accomplishment of the Church’s mission, bringing things to fruition through their agency in His own good time. Moreover, the hallmark of every such initiative or trend is the recognition of this fundamental constitutional structure of the Church, a recognition which takes the form of obedience. This obedience is also a way of testing and purifying the spirit, ensuring that what is proposed will ultimately bear fruit because of the firm connection of the branches to the vine.

In this case, however, it is not as if there is any reasonable doubt about the problems of the LCWR. One needs only to read their various statements, observe the activities of their leadership, or attend their conventions in order to understand that, during a period of upheaval in the Church, the LCWR became an apparatus promoting something between secular humanism, radical feminism and the New Age. No one who cares deeply about Divine Revelation, or the mission of the Church rooted in that Revelation, is surprised by this new scrutiny of the LCWR. Indeed, large numbers of deeply committed Catholics have been calling for it for a generation or more.

But the key point is that the LCWR has no mission apart from the mission of the Church, and it is up to the hierarchy of the Church to determine what constitutes an authentic Catholic mission and what does not. That is why such quotes as the following, taken from the recent LCWR statement, simply will not do:

  • “At the meeting took place, participants were reminded of the thousands of people…who have communicated with the LCWR…, urging that the response be one that helps to reconcile the differences that exist within the Catholic Church and creates spaces for honest and open conversation on the critical moral and ethical questions that face the global community.” [This suggests that the Church does not currently have ‘space’ for honest and open conversation on critical moral and ethical questions, and that it is precisely this lack which is the real problem.]
  • “While acknowledging their deep disappointment with the CDF report, the members proclaimed their intention to use this opportunity to explain to church leaders LCWR’s mission, values, and operating principles.” [This suggests again that the fault is all on Rome’s side (one marvels at the small “c” in “church”), and that the LCWR is not interested in changing what may be wrong with its own mission, values and operating principles—which are supposed to be part of the mission of the Church. This also sets at naught the entire detailed Apostolic Visitation the Vatican has already completed.]
  • “[The LCWR members’] expectation is that open and honest dialogue may lead not only to increasing understanding between the church leadership and women religious, but also to creating more possibilities for laity and, particularly for women, to have a voice in the church.” [So the LCWR is intent on using the talks to further its own agenda concerning power in the Church, as if it speaks now not only for all women religious but the laity as well. Yet much of the harshest criticism of the LCWR has come from the many women’s religious orders who refuse to participate in it, and from lay persons who are continually scandalized by the LCWR’s disregard of Catholic doctrine and fruity para-liturgies.]
  • “The officers will proceed with these discussions as long as possible, but will reconsider if LCWR is forced to compromise the integrity of its mission.” [Once again, one asks the crucial question about Catholic mission and its necessary foundation in the mission of the Church as directed by the pope and bishops.]
  • “The members…urged the officers not to allow the work with CDF to absorb the time, energy, and resources of the conference nor to let it distract the conference from the work its mission requires.” [Don’t let the Vatican distract you! The hubris is breathtaking.]

The rest of the post-assembly press release goes on to emphasize the LCWR’s continuing commitment to “a higher level of ethical, shared commitment and synergy to realize positive change”, as discussed by their “futurist” speaker Barbara Marx Hubbard—a level which the Vatican apparently cannot possibly attain. In her Presidential address to the Conference, Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, offered the six key tools “for navigating the shifts occurring in the world and the church”: contemplation, use of the prophetic voice, solidarity with the marginalized, community, nonviolent responses, and the capacity to live in joyful hope. One wonders how such contentless “keys” can help one to navigate between true and false, let alone unlock the potential of a successful Catholic mission.

The LCWR assembly closed by giving its highest honor to Sister Sandra Schneiders, IHM, a theologian and professor emerita at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley (not known as a haven for the orthodox). I have not researched the work of this theologian, but I will wager without looking that her works are heterodox, almost certainly secularized and Modernist. Please check me out on this, and you will see how obvious and predictable the whole case is. I’ll bet you that her theological mission was neither derived from nor united with the mission of the Church. And that, my friends, is the problem with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.


Note: Thanks to Michael Jarman (see Sound Off! below), we now have a quote from Sister Sandra Schneiders which proves the point: “When the first Women's Ordination Conference met in Detroit in 1975, the women who attended were focused on...the admission of women to orders.... Since 1978, women have come to realize that...we are not talking about how to organize the institution. We are talking about whether the God of Judeo-Christian revelation is true God or just men-writ-large to legitimate their domination; whether Jesus, an historical male, is or can be messiah and savior for those who are not male....”

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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: alowan6931 - Aug. 22, 2012 2:07 PM ET USA

    Ah, yes. They desire "solidarity with the marginalized," is that right? Then they ought to be standing shoulder to shoulder with the faithful Catholics, who have been marginalized for not wanting to pay for other people's contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortions. But somehow, I'm not expecting them to show up in that fight.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Aug. 14, 2012 2:45 PM ET USA

    Not really, AgnesDay. The door is on the left.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Aug. 13, 2012 9:13 PM ET USA

    "The new normal for Catholic priests and religious, and for official Catholic organizations, is that if you don’t take the mission of the Church seriously, you’re going to draw unwanted attention and pressure from Rome." If this is the new normal there's an implication that something abnormal has been the previous normal, but this new normal is the always-normal duty of the successors of Peter and the Apostles. The Feast of the Assumption provides occasion to plead for a full return to normalcy.

  • Posted by: mjarman7759049 - Aug. 13, 2012 5:25 PM ET USA

    "When the first Women's Ordination Conference met in Detroit in 1975, the women who attended were focused on...the admission of women to orders... Since 1978, women have come to realize that...we are not talking about how to organize the institution. We are talking about whether the God of Judeo-Christian revelation is true God or just men-writ-large to legitimate their domination; whether Jesus, an historical male, is or can be messiah and savior for those who are not male..." Sr. Schneiders

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Aug. 13, 2012 3:42 PM ET USA

    I sometimes wonder if the only reason some "religious" remain in the Church is the discount they get on airline tickets. If they want to remain true to the charism of their communities and the teachings of the Church, they should straighten up. If they don't want the Holy Father on their case...the door is on the right.

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