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Vatican's doctrinal official gives blunt warning to LCWR

May 05, 2014

At a meeting with representatives of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith rebuked the group for giving a top award to a dissident theologian, and pointedly reminded the American women religious that the LCWR is “a canonical entity dependent on the Holy See,” and must comply with Vatican-mandated plans for reform.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller said that the decision by the LCWR to confer its Outstanding Leadership Award on Sister Elizabeth Johnson, whose writings have drawn a caution from the US bishops’ committee on doctrine, can be “seen as a rather open provocation” in light of the Vatican’s call for reform of the American group.

Under the terms of the reform ordered by the Vatican in 2012, Cardinal Müller reminded the LCWR, the speakers at LCWR meetings should be cleared by the Vatican’s delegate supervising the reform process, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle. But Archbishop Sartain was informed about the award for Sister Johnson “only after the decision had been made,” the cardinal observed, in an apparent violation of the Vatican’s directives.

Cardinal Müller—who apologized several times during his address for speaking so bluntly to the women religious—advised the LCWR leaders to bear in mind that an “assessment” of their group, at the conclusion of a Vatican investigation in 2011, had uncovered serious doctrinal problems. He said that these problems “are so central and so foundational, there is no other way of discussing them except as constituting a movement away from the ecclesial center of faith in Christ Jesus the Lord.”

To illustrate his point, the cardinal spoke about the “Conscious Evolution” movement, which has been discussed at length in LCWR meetings and publications. Cardinal Müller said:

Again, I apologize if this seems blunt, but what I must say is too important to dress up in flowery language. The fundamental theses of Conscious Evolution are opposed to Christian Revelation and, when taken unreflectively, lead almost necessarily to fundamental errors regarding the omnipotence of God, the Incarnation of Christ, the reality of Original Sin, the necessity of salvation and the definitive nature of the salvific action of Christ in the Paschal Mystery.


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  • Posted by: Bveritas2322 - May. 07, 2014 1:12 PM ET USA

    When the bishops join the culture of sin denial, it is not surprising that it never occurs to many religious that they are vulnerable to the sin of pride.

  • Posted by: bruno - May. 06, 2014 12:33 PM ET USA

    I too am impatient to see this dissent dealt with. However, I am reminded of St. Pope John Paul II when confronted on what some perceived to be his inaction. Paraphrasing; "When we have an earthquake, we do not bring in bulldozers and simply wipe away the wreckage. We carefully pick through the rubble to see if anyone might yet be saved." So, we ask, we plead, we implore and only then do we cast out. In this way, no one may say, "Did you do all that you could to save them?"

  • Posted by: unum - May. 05, 2014 11:30 PM ET USA

    It is good to see the Vatican taking a firm stand on their 2011 findings. I would not expect anything less under this Pope. Now, it is time for LCWR to respond or face the consequences for their actions. Either the organization will decide to be Catholic, in active communication with the Vatican, or the laity should be warned that they are operating outside of the teaching of the Church. When this issue is resolved, the Vatican can begin clarifying the status of "Catholic" universities.

  • Posted by: MatJohn - May. 05, 2014 6:51 PM ET USA

    The leaders of the LCWR would be startled to find that the majority of the 80% of women Religious they purportedly represent do not agree with the political posturing and typical in-your-face dissent of the moral teachings of the Church that those in authority at the LCWR now embrace as common practice.

  • Posted by: Lucius49 - May. 05, 2014 5:41 PM ET USA

    But we have had a lot of blunt warnings haven't we? When will there be disciplinary action or penalties which are cited as medicinal in that the hope is it will press the individuals concerned to face a serious departure from Catholic teaching and/or discipline. In my opinion the LCWR as constituted is in a state of contumacious dissent on the doctrinal and disciplinary level. Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote about the charitable anathema. Amen.

  • Posted by: rpp - May. 05, 2014 5:36 PM ET USA

    While this is a very important step, I believe that much of the LCWR are so entrenched that they are simply unable to swallow their pride and embrace the the needed humility to conform. I think suppression and excommunications may be the only way to deal with these problems which jeopardize the souls of many. Of course the LCWR will be sure to spin to make the Church look bad and them looking like innocent victims who have been blindsided, but we can endure these calumnies with dignity.