15Apr Pope reaffirms critique of American Religious

Pope Francis has reaffirmed Pope Benedict XVI’s rebuke of the main leadership group of U.S. Catholic sisters and approved a plan to place the group under the control of three U.S. bishops, according to the Vatican.

Reaffirmation of the move came in a meeting Monday between the leaders of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, according to a statement from the Vatican.

During the meeting, the Vatican said, Müller told the LCWR leaders that he had “recently discussed” the issue with Pope Francis, “who reaffirmed the findings of the Assessment and the program of reform.”

The meeting was the first between LCWR, which represents about 80 percent of the United States’ approximately 57,000 sisters, and Müller, who became head of the doctrinal congregation in July.

LCWR confirmed that its leadership met with Vatican officials in a statement Monday and said the conversation was “open and frank.”
“We pray that these conversations may bear fruit for the good of the Church,” the statement concluded.

In April 2012, the doctrinal congregation criticised the sisters’ group, releasing a statement that LCWR’s work contained “themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” The move spurred nationwide protests of support for the sisters.

The findings concluded a three-year investigation of the group, formally known as a “doctrinal assessment,” launched by the congregation’s previous head and former San Francisco archbishop Cardinal William Levada.

The congregation placed the group under the control of Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who was a given a five-year mandate to oversee reforms as its archbishop-delegate.

LCWR said in June the congregation’s criticisms were based on unsubstantiated accusations, came from a flawed process and caused “scandal and pain throughout the church.”

News of the meeting Monday came in five paragraphs in the Vatican’s daily press bulletin, which said Müller, LCWR’s leadership and Sartain were in the meeting.

Before reaffirming the doctrinal congregation’s critique, the release said, Müller “expressed his gratitude for the great contribution of women Religious to the Church in the United States.”

Müller also “highlighted” teachings of the Second Vatican Council promoting “a vision of ecclesial communion founded on faith in Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Church as faithfully taught through the ages under the guidance of the Magisterium,” the release states.

Müller “also emphasized that a Conference of Major Superiors, such as the LCWR, exists in order to promote common efforts among its member Institutes as well as cooperation with the local Conference of Bishops and with individual Bishops,” the release said. “For this reason, such Conferences are constituted by and remain under the direction of the Holy See.”

Notice of Monday’s meeting could reawaken a divide between members of the Vatican bureaucracy over how to handle the sisters’ group.

While the doctrinal congregation may be taking a hard-line approach, the Vatican congregation responsible for overseeing the work of religious orders around the world recently has taken a more sensitive tack, even indicating it sought dialogue with the sisters.

The April 6 appointment of Franciscan Fr. José Rodríguez Carballo as the second-in-command of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Pope Francis’ first appointment to the Vatican bureaucracy, seemed to approve the softer approach: Rodríguez’s colleagues said he is someone who seeks collaboration rather than conflict.

The religious congregation previously launched a separate investigation of U.S. sisters in 2009. Known as an “apostolic visitation,” it examined individual orders of U.S. Catholic sisters. That investigation began under Cardinal Franc Rodé, the religious congregation’s former leader. Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz replaced Rodé in 2011.

The last official statement from any party regarding the LCWR revision came after a Nov. 11 meeting between four LCWR leaders and the three U.S. bishops.

As part of Sartain’s mandate of revision for the group, he has power over five areas, including review of its “plans and programs,” which could affect LCWR’s annual assembly in August.

Sartain’s powers include:
• revising LCWR statutes;
• creating new programs for the organization;
• reviewing and offering guidance on the application of liturgical texts; and
• reviewing LCWR’s affiliations with other organizations, including the political lobby group NETWORK and the Resource Center for Religious Institutes.

LCWR has already announced some plans for its August assembly, including the presentation of an award to Franciscan Sr. Pat Farrell, the group’s immediate past president who was its leader during release of the Vatican critique in April 2012 and who helped steer the group’s response.

When contacted April 4 about Farrell’s award, a representative for Sartain said the archbishop was “currently unavailable for comment” on the matter or on his involvement in the sisters’ group’s planning or giving of awards.

[Joshua J. McElwee is an NCR staff writer. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

Here is the complete statement from the Vatican Information Service:

Meeting of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Vatican City, 15 April 2013 (VIS) — “Today, the Superiors of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith met with the Presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) of the United States of America. Archbishop James Peter Sartain, archbishop of Seattle, Washington, USA, and the Holy See’s Delegate for the Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR, also participated in the meeting,” informs a communique from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“As this was his first opportunity to meet with the Presidency of the LCWR, the Prefect of the Congregation, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller, expressed his gratitude for the great contribution of women Religious to the Church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years.”

“The Prefect then highlighted the teaching of the Second Vatican Council regarding the important mission of Religious to promote a vision of ecclesial communion founded on faith in Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Church as faithfully taught through the ages under the guidance of the Magisterium. He also emphasized that a Conference of Major Superiors, such as the LCWR, exists in order to promote common efforts among its member Institutes as well as cooperation with the local Conference of Bishops and with individual Bishops. For this reason, such Conferences are constituted by and remain under the direction of the Holy See.”

“Finally, Archbishop Muller informed the Presidency that he had recently discussed the Doctrinal Assessment with Pope Francis, who reaffirmed the findings of the Assessment and the program of reform for this Conference of Major Superiors.”

“It is the sincere desire of the Holy See,” the note concludes, “that this meeting may help to promote the integral witness of women Religious, based on a firm foundation of faith and Christian love, so as to preserve and strengthen it for the enrichment of the Church and society for generations to come.”

12 Responses

  1. Mary O Vallely

    I’ll admit my heart sank when I read this news BUT Pope Francis is new to the job so he’s hardly going to immediately undo a process set up under the previous papacy (said she, possibly clutching at straws).
    The LCWR statement on the meeting was that it was “open and frank” and they prayed that “these conversations may bear fruit for the good of the Church.” We can all echo that prayer.
    Remember what Pope Francis said yesterday at the Papal Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls:
    “One cannot proclaim the Gospel of Jesus without the tangible witness of one’s life.”
    Seems to me that is exactly what these sisters are doing, giving witness, and the Pope is no fool. From what we have seen so far, he is in touch with his emotions and he seems to be following the God of Compassion rather than the God of Law (just remembering Peter McVerry’s words of warning in the Regency Hotel last November). Let us wait and see what transpires and just pray that initial reactions may not turn out to be so gloom and despair filled.

  2. Fergus P Egan

    Love requires Trust;
    Trust requires Justice;
    Justice requires Truth.

    Love, which is so strongly espoused as a defining characteristic (Christians – see how they love one another) , is elusive when the required trust is undermined by a dearth of truth and justice.

    ..and so we wait?

  3. Soline Humbert

    The current president of the LCWR,Sr Florence Deacon,will be in Ireland and speaking in Dublin(Milltown Institute,7:30PM,hosted by We Are Church Ireland)on May 13th.It should be interesting to hear how she views the situation….

  4. Darlene Starrs

    I concur with your last statement Mary…..I wonder what Sister Joan Chittister is thinking and saying?

  5. Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh

    “Sartain’s powers include: revising LCWR statutes; creating new programs for the organization;
    reviewing and offering guidance on the application of liturgical texts; and reviewing LCWR’s affiliations with other organizations, including the political lobby group NETWORK and the Resource Center for Religious Institutes.”

    In my view, it is very wrong for Archbishop Sartain to be sitting in judgement of the nuns. Over a year ago, Sartain was the Bishop of the Diocese of Joliet in Illinois, which is where I live.

    When it was found out that the young priest that Bishop Sartain ordained, with known sexual problems, was jailed as a sexual predator, the Vatican immediately removed Bishop Sartain from Illinois and even elevated him to be the Archbishop of Seattle, Washington. To me, this is similar to Cardinal Law being elevated in Rome when he should be in jail in Boston for all the harm that he did to victims of clergy sexual abuse by his protecting the predators, instead of protecting the children.

    From my perspective as a physician, Archbishop Sartain lacks wisdom and discernment and should be removed from the position of evaluating the nuns, since he did not do a good job in protecting innocent boys from priest sexual abuse in Illinois.

    Today, it is very sad for me to read that Pope Francis is just carrying forward the agenda of Cardinal Law and Pope Benedict Emeritus, and maybe he does not realize that.

    Cardinal Rode admitted that it was Cardinal Law who was the instigator of wanting to punish the American nuns, since women are second class citizens, I believe, in his mind, and therefore women should have no voice.

    When will this WAR ON WOMEN by the Vatican end? I am sorry to have to say that it is the American hierarchy who seem the most afraid of treating women as equals.

    St Paul in the early church stated that there was neither male nor female, we are all one in Christ Jesus. Why is the church not living that foundational truth, even in the 21st century?

    With deep gratitude, I thank the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland for allowing us women to share our voices on your website. The American hierarchy have a lot to learn from you, in my view. Dialogue is so needed in our church. Thankyou for providing a venue where we can all dialogue for the good of the church and for the greater glory of God!

    Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, Wheaton, Illinois

  6. Pól Ó Duibhir

    Cardinal Law gets his come uppance
    http://dominusvobiscuit.blogspot.ie/2012/10/pro-bono-publico.html#law
    .

  7. Maire

    Thank you Dr Rosemary for your clear and factual account of how Sartain failed miserably to fulfil his duties,as bishop, in a just and honourable way. To add insult to injury he is elevated to a senior position in the corridors of the Vatican as a reward for protecting the clergy/ good name of the Church, at the expense of the victims.

  8. Joe O'Leary

    People are desperate to believe that Francis is oblivious of US sisters and is just being hoodwinked by underlings. I think it more likely that Francis himself shares the perception that the sisters are not the full shilling doctrinally, and that in particular they are not holding the line against the “machination of the Evil One” which is same-sex marriage. The new pope may have rattled extreme traditionalists but he has said nothing that could make conservatives uncomfortable. 

  9. Eddie Finnegan

    I’m beginning to suspect that the new pope may be a Catholic, but that he still believes in Vatican II.

  10. Soline Humbert

    The church of accidents at a crossroads?….http://ncronline.org/node/50081

  11. Brian

    The media has been a cheerleader for these very liberal nuns. That ought to say enough.

    These are good, well-intentioned women but long ago they lost their way confusing being liberal with being Catholic.

    Reform was long long overdue though it is probably too late as their vocations are ZERO as no young woman would want to join a group of aging liberals who are only very very marginally Catholic.

    Good work Francis.

  12. Dr Matthew McConville

    As a priest who has worked as a physician for many years I believe I understand something of the politics of darkness that enters into every aspect of our lives whether it be in the workplace or while exercising our call as to reform our lives personally and extend this call to reform our church. I have come to feel the pain recently of speaking the truth with love but continue to be shocked by the nature of response and I have at times given into despair. However I must remind myself that christ is with his church and will never abandon us and the holy spirit will do the necessary even amongst the darkest recesses of both vatican and palace