The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has rejected the findings of a Vatican report last month that criticized the mission and spiritual fidelity of the organization that represents 80% of US Catholic sisters. The LCWR took issue on Friday with the secretive process by which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith assembled its facts, the broad and "unsubstantiated accusations" contained in the report, and the divisive language that has outraged many Catholics around the world.
There's no doubt that the efforts to silence women religious at the beginning of a presidential election campaign by putting them under the control of a trio of bishops has been hurtful to the Church. The LCWR rightly called out the bishops for their lack of transparency and for taking a paternalistic approach that devalues the role that women religious play in carrying the torch for Catholic Social Justice in this time of economic injustice and duress across the country. Perhaps most preposterous was the idea that the nuns ought to be echoing the political priorities of the most Republican-leaning of the bishops, and to deemphasize their traditional focus on the needs of the most vulnerable in society.
The Vatican report April 18 ordered the largest leadership organization for U.S. women religious to reform its statutes, programs and affiliations to conform more closely to "the teachings and discipline of the Church." It placed the LCWR under the authority of Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain and two other bishops for up to five years, and gave them the power to review and revise the LCWR's policies.
The fact that the Vatican's report was made public in a press statement by the US bishops seemed to indicate that the Vatican was responding to anger on the part of the USCCB's conservative leadership that the nuns had muddied the waters of public perception about who speaks for Catholics--particularly during the public split over President Obama's healthcare reform law. As the bishops launched their questionable national anti-Obama campaign, termed, "Fortnight 4 Freedom," they seemed determined to prevent a replay of the 2010 public spat with the nuns.
Among the themes of the Vatican report that have drawn particular attention in public commentary was its stipulation that there was "a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith" present in some of LCWR's programs and presentations. The report cited in particular one talk given by a Dominican sister, about how women view their vocations, at the 2007 LCWR national meeting. Another was the report's criticism that Catholic sisters had "serious doctrinal problems," and in particular that they are too focused on social justice and not enough on echoing the bishops' views on homosexuality and abortion.
It's fun to imagine the US Bishops' Conference being held accountable for some of the crazier partisan utterances of people like Cardinal Raymond Burke or Bishop Daniel Jenky, and placed under the supervision of a few wise nuns. Then we really might see a return to the core Catholic values of concern for the poor and non-violent resolution of world conflict.