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Catholic Culture Podcasts

It is time to revoke the Catholic status of the LCWR

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 18, 2014

Today’s news of the LCWR’s closing act of defiance against ecclesiastical authority tells us all we need to know. Those familiar with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious have been painfully aware that the spirituality of the group is rooted in paganism, its cherished causes read like a secular wish list, and its whole attitude is profoundly anti-Catholic. For decades, the LCWR has been vitiated by feminism, the New Age, Wicca, Modernism and just plain secularism.

The LCWR is the epitome of all that went wrong with religious life, especially the life of women religious, beginning in the 1960s. Ironically, the LCWR represents no thriving religious orders. It has presided over not only the destruction of much of American religious life, but also the justification of that destruction. These sisters not infrequently argue that it is a good thing—a kind of divinization of the secular—that consecrated life in the communities they represent is fading from the face of the earth.

The LCWR has been very bad for a very long time, but the American bishops had to undergo a significant renewal of their own before they could address the problem, and even the Vatican had to bring itself to the point of getting serious about restoring discipline in the Church. In late 2008, the Holy See announced that it would conduct an Apostolic Visitation of American women religious in general and, early in 2009, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that it would conduct a particular Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR.

Bishop Leonard Paul Blair of Toledo was placed in charge of the Doctrinal Assessment. Working through 2009 and 2010, he submitted the results to the CDF in early 2011. In its turn, the CDF made a series of recommendations for reform to Pope Benedict XVI, who approved them. Accordingly, the CDF began to implement the reform plan in December of 2011. Early in 2012, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle was appointed as an Archbishop Delegate to oversee the changes necessary for the LCWR to conform more closely to the teachings and discipline of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis confirmed both the negative judgment of the LCWR and the reform plan in April of 2013.

Meanwhile, in 2011 one of the theological darlings of the LCWR, Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ of Fordham University, ran into trouble with the Doctrinal Committee of the US Bishops. The bishops critiqued and issued a warning against Johnson’s 2007 book Quest for the Living God. Unsurprisingly, Johnson was defended by the heads of several universities (themselves known for dissent in their theology departments), and by the Catholic Theological Society of America, which has been in enemy hands for as long as has the LCWR, and of which Sr. Johnson had once served as President.

The LCWR, of course, also championed Sr. Johnson’s cause. In particular it showed its utter defiance of both the Pope and the American bishops by announcing that it would give its Outstanding Leadership Award to Sr. Johnson at its Summer convention this year. Both Archbishop Sartain and Archbishop Gerhard Müller, head of the CDF, warned against this proposal, the latter in no uncertain terms. Nonetheless, the award was conferred as planned this past Saturday (August 16, 2014), to thunderous applause.

Logical Next Step

Despite Archbishop Sartain’s repeated efforts to work with the LCWR as a “brother and friend”, the LCWR has resisted at every point, insisting that neither the American episcopate nor the Vatican has any basis for criticism, or even the right to criticize. Sr. Johnson takes the hackneyed line of all modern theological dissidents: Her critics, she insists, have given no evidence that they have read her work, and nobody else has any idea what all the fuss could possibly be about! The LCWR takes essentially the same position with respect to its own work, dismissing Vatican negativity as mere “politics”.

But what else can we expect from an organization which so warmly affirmed the 2007 keynote address of Sr. Laurie Brink, OP, in which she explained that one method used to face the crisis of contemporary religious life in the LCWR was for women religious to acknowledge that they had “moved beyond Jesus”? In reality, this movement goes back over forty years. Those old enough will recall the eye-opening day when LCWR President Sr. Theresa Kane, RSM challenged John Paul II to his face on the question of the ordination of women, during the Pope’s visit to America, on national TV, in 1979.

When the CDF’s Archbishop Müller warned the LCWR against its ill-considered resistance, he reminded the group that it is “a canonical entity dependent on the Holy See” and must cooperate with the mandated reform. In mid-2012, the Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, Cardinal Raymond Burke, had already stated publicly on EWTN that “if it [the LCWR] cannot be reformed, then it doesn’t have the right to continue.”

It is a sign of the grave crisis of religious life in the United States that the leadership team personnel for religious communities comprising well over half of all female religious are members of the LCWR, though the total numbers for these communities have been falling rapidly in recent years and it is the non-LCWR communities that are growing. Nonetheless, the open rejection of both orthodoxy and ecclesiastical authority clearly demonstrates that the LCWR refuses both Divine Revelation and the authority Our Lord Himself. It was Our Lord, after all, who built His Church on Peter, who proclaimed to the apostles that “he who hears you hears me” (Lk 10:16), and who cautioned his disciples that those who “refuse to listen” should be reported to “the Church”—and if they refuse to heed even the Church, they should be treated like pagans (Mt 18:17).

The very next words of Jesus Christ to the apostles were these: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 18:18).

Is it not time for some serious binding and loosing? It would seem obvious that we are not dealing with misunderstanding here; we are dealing with utter defiance. In the face of such defiance, only one course remains open. The Pope must strip the Leadership Conference of Women Religious of its Catholic identity. The infection is virulent and it is time to cauterize the wound, for the sake of the Body of Christ.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - May. 27, 2016 9:25 AM ET USA

    flopag5721: I have referred to the disorder in nature throughout this series, so it is to be expected that there will be cases of faulty sexual development. When I said nature is clear, I meant that if you have male anatomy or female anatomy, it is clear how that anatomy is to be used, providing a clear biological basis for moral distinctions. While there are a variety of sex-development disorders, both physical and psychological (not to mention those that are culture-induced), the number of people for whom chromosomal sexual identity differs from phenotypical, or for whom phenotypical sexual identity cannot be determined, is estimated at 1 in 6,000 births. The number of those with both ovarian and testicular tissue is estimated at 1 in 83,000 (the traditional "hermaphrodite"). While fertility is present in some of these cases, there is no recorded case of both male and female fertility in the same person. By way of comparison, the number of conjoined twins (Siamese twins) is estimated at between 1 in 49,000 and 1 in 189,000 births. Sexual disorders create many problems for those afflicted, but they do not cloud the moral issue at all. Quite apart from Revelation ("male and female He created them"), on the natural level the human person regularly utilizes the inherent capacity to distinguish between order and disorder (normal and abnormal), and is able to perceive chastity as a moral virtue applicable to all. Again, desires may be confused for many reasons (including biological reasons), but desire in the immediate sense plays no role in the determination of morality.

  • Posted by: flopag5721 - May. 26, 2016 7:13 AM ET USA

    Interesting, but you say that nature is always clear with gender, which is false. Some people are born hermaphrodites, and nobody knows their gender. They are just both male and female and feel both. Past attempts to force a gender on them have led to great suffering. Currently, most doctors let them be who they are. If nature can get mixed up with hermaphrodites, why is it impossible that a boy is born with a girl brain and hormones? This is way more difficult than other personal disorders!

  • Posted by: Conor Cook - May. 25, 2016 10:54 PM ET USA

    Thank you, Dr. Mirus. I had reason recently to consider the perhaps overused phrase, "Love the sinner, hate the sin." I don't often detect a focus on that first verb, love. Your reflection indicates the basis for that love, however, as we all suffer from the disorder of our fallen world, and so can only overcome it, in part, by desiring the good order of all persons.

  • Posted by: John3822 - May. 25, 2016 7:20 PM ET USA

    Excellent article Jeff! Thank you so much.

  • Posted by: Dlukenbill2151 - Apr. 24, 2015 10:34 AM ET USA

    To me, the entire situation was shown in the picture of the LCWR leaders meeting with the Holy Father. He and the priest with him were in holy garb, while the sisters were dressed secularly. I think the Vatican has decided that the LCWR is unredeemable—though miracles do occur—and letting them continue to shrink to nothingness, rather than publicly removing them from the Church, is the preferred method; kind of like life in prison rather than capital punishment, though I, as Dr. Mirus puts it in the August 18, 2014 post, support the latter.

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Aug. 20, 2014 4:18 PM ET USA

    The women in this organization are not the sisters we knew as youngsters. They are the priveleged feminists of the 70's, 80's and 90's They are out to destroy the Church out of feminist pride. They will not succeed but they will cause many to lose their souls.

  • Posted by: Jason C. - Aug. 19, 2014 9:38 AM ET USA

    I think the Vatican's strategy here is live-and-let-die: as you note, the LCWR's feeder groups are dying off, and they'll be a non-entity in a generation. And what harm are they causing? Only their own echo chamber listens to their nonsense. You can usher them out with a "bang" and lose a lot of prestige in the liberal press (secular and Catholish) which idolizes and martyrs these women, or you can let them die out with a "whimper" in a nursing home.

  • Posted by: shrink - Aug. 19, 2014 9:14 AM ET USA

    "Johnson was defended by the heads of several universities (themselves known for dissent in their theology departments), and by the Catholic Theological Society of America…" and therein lies the heart of the problem. The CDF can "beat up the old nuns", but let the really bad guys—the elite Catholic universities and the CTSA--still have the run of the town. Doesn't seem fair. In a just world, the CDF would cut off the head of the snake.

  • Posted by: Defender - Aug. 18, 2014 10:58 PM ET USA

    There is a "good" consequence to all this, at least most of these sisters weren't teaching anymore in Catholic schools, especially K-8. The question remains, what do we do with the many priests at this level who are much like the sisters and ignore the Magisterium, as well?