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LCWR denounces Vatican intervention, says critique 'unsubstantiated'

June 01, 2012

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has a Vatican call for reform of their group, saying that it has “caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and caused greater polarization.”

After a 3-day meeting in Washington, the national board of the LCWR issued a stinging reply to a Vatican investigation of the group’s activities. The board said that the report was “based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency.”

The LCWR, an umbrella group that represents most of the women’s religious orders in the US, was the subject of a Vatican investigation that found “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life.” The investigation, which reported widespread departures from fundamental Catholic teachings, prompted an April announcement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that a thorough reform of the group was needed, and Seattle’s Archbishop Peter Sartain had been appointed to supervise that process.

In their June 1 response, the LCWR board members protested the Vatican intervention, saying that “the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission.” The LCWR leaders said that they will travel to Rome later this month to meet with Cardinal William Levada, the prefect of the CDF, and with Archbishop Sartain. They said they would then confer with their members about an appropriate response.

Sister Pat Farrell, the LCWR president, told reporters that the group’s board had met in a mood of “deep, deep sadness” because of the Vatican’s stand. She said that the LCWR would not issue a full response to the Vatican’s investigation until after meeting with members during the summer and convening a national convention in August.

Among the options that the LCWR could consider is a proposal that the group might abandon its current canonical status and become an entirely independent group. That independence would enable the LCWR to escape Vatican oversight. The June 1 statement from the national board did not address that possibility.

In a related development, America magazine posted two companion essays on the Vatican’s concerns about LCWR. Archbishop Peter Sartain, who was appointed by the Holy See to oversee the reform, offered a cautiously worded analysis, praising the historical contributions of women religious in the US and saying that the process of reform could be an opportunity to deepen tiees within the Church. Christine Firer Hinze, a Fordham professor who was asked by America to provide a separate perspective, said that the LCWR was driven by a post-Vatican-II vision of the Church, emphasizing social action. She argued that the Vatican should learn from the LCWR leaders, and come to understand their “prophetic” approach to religious life.


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  • Posted by: aclune9083 - Jun. 03, 2012 1:46 PM ET USA

    The LCWR representatives going to Rome had best take their habits out of moth balls (if they can find them) before going to face justice and, hopefully, open their hearts to the truth.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 02, 2012 5:00 PM ET USA

    The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) are continuing to brazenly defy the Church. They are nothing more than a small group of pompous renegades in leadership positions who think that they are above the Church and Church teachings and dogma. It is time for the Church to formerly disband them and assign new leaders. Let the renegades form their own splinter group if they want. As long as they don’t call themselves Catholics!

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jun. 02, 2012 10:19 AM ET USA

    The Vatican thinks that by mild treatment and appeasement these women will either repent or go away. I think it is time to consider that this strategy has failed, as the predictable is happening and some of these women are actually turning on the Church itself. The question now is how much damage the Vatican will allow them to do to the Church before they take decisive action.

  • Posted by: veniteadoremus1822 - Jun. 02, 2012 12:58 AM ET USA

    Continued and further dissent from the CDF somehow captures a "prophetic" vision of the post-Vatican II Church? How? You are either with the Holy Spirit or again Him. Be obedient. Submit yourself to God and His rightful authority on earth. A breath of fresh air will enter the Church when the remnants from a poorly formed and poorly catechized generation are replaced by those religious who are serious about their vows and understand the selfless purpose of consecrated life.

  • Posted by: ColmCille - Jun. 01, 2012 10:42 PM ET USA

    The Vatican action is causing scandal and pain throughout the Church? Actually, it has been the lack of action by the Vatican and Church officials regarding these dissident groups and individuals that has scandalized me and caused me pain. I praise God that something is being done at last. I do hope there is no way they could still lead women religious as a private entity without Church oversight. If that can happen, then certain communities might need to be dissolved.

  • Posted by: normnuke - Jun. 01, 2012 8:52 PM ET USA

    Why do fulminating rebels insist on being referred to as 'prophetic'? My guess is that Jonah would be a whole lot less delicate in dealing with this than Abp. Sartain will be.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 01, 2012 6:43 PM ET USA

    When the annual collection for retired women religious rolls around, I choose not to contribute. (But I do happily donate to a cloistered order.) I can't help but snort at the posters accompanying the appeal — the nuns pictured have that ageless look of sanctity and are wearing their habits! There may be a tiny fraction of such religious women still alive but they are not representative of these LCWR upstarts. Some sentimental Catholics can't distinguish between the two types.

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Jun. 01, 2012 6:25 PM ET USA

    This graying group has scared off faithful Catholic women who might otherwise seek a lifelong relationship with a religious congregation. And they just don't get it.