Women religious' conference digs in its heels

Supporters of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious take part in a vigil outside St. James Cathedral in Seattle May 8 to oppose the Vatican's call for a reform of the LCWR.
h3 class="credit">CNS PHOTO | STEPHEN BRASHEAR

Supporters of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious take part in a vigil outside St. James Cathedral in Seattle May 8 to oppose the Vatican's call for a reform of the LCWR.

June 11, 2012

The board of the U.S. Leadership Conference of Women Religious said it feels the assessment that led to a Vatican order to reform the organization "was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency."

The LCWR board called the sanctions "disproportionate to the concerns raised" and said they "could compromise" the organization's ability "to fulfill their mission."

"The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the Church community and created greater polarization," the LCWR said in a statement released June 1.

The statement was issued after the board concluded a special meeting in Washington May 29-31, held to respond to an eight-page doctrinal assessment issued to LCWR by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Citing "serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life," the doctrinal congregation April 18 announced a major reform of LCWR to ensure its fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women's ordination and homosexuality.

In response to the LCWR statement, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, appointed by the Vatican to oversee the reform, said both he and the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "are wholeheartedly committed to dealing with the important issues raised by the doctrinal assessment and the LCWR board in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, integrity and fidelity to the Church's faith."

The LCWR board said the organization's president, Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell, and its executive director, Sister Janet Mock, a Sister of St. Joseph, will return to Rome June 12 to meet Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Sartain "to raise and discuss the board's concerns."


The Vatican April 18 appointed Sartain to provide "review, guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work" of LCWR, an umbrella group that claims about 1,500 leaders of U.S. women's communities as members, represents about 80 per cent of the country's 57,000 women religious.


His appointment came the same day the congregation announced a major reform.

The congregation issued an eight-page "doctrinal assessment," that cited "serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life." The problems, it said, were revealed in an assessment originally ordered in April 2008.

In an interview with Catholic News Service, Farrell did not discuss specifics of the board's reaction to the Vatican's assessment, saying it was "a conversation we want to have first with the Vatican."

Farrell said the LCWR leadership had not given interviews about the document since its release more than a month ago because they did "not want to react in the moment."

"It was important not to respond immediately," she said, "so that whatever we would say would come from our best selves."

She also noted that the LCWR leadership "couldn't respond with any substance individually" because the group is a collaborative organization that speaks with one voice.


Farrell said the LCWR leadership was not surprised by the doctrinal congregation's report. "The great surprise was the severity of it," she said.

In the weeks since the Vatican order was issued, the Franciscan sister from Dubuque, Iowa, said she has found "a lot of strength and comfort in prayer and in other members of the LCWR."

"We have a deep and strong solidarity among us and we will move in a way that does not allow this to divide us."

Sr. Pat Farrell

Sr. Pat Farrell

In his statement, Sartain added that Vatican and the U.S. bishops "are deeply proud of the historic and continuing contribution of women religious - a pride that has been echoed by many in recent weeks.

Before the LCWR board opened its meeting, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the papal nuncio, met with Farrell and Mock.


Later that day at the nunciature, when a group was demonstrating to show support for LCWR, the archbishop invited some of its members inside and he accepted a petition they presented calling on the Vatican to stop the reform of LCWR.

In an article he wrote for the June 18 issue of America magazine, Sartain discussed the Vatican reform of LCWR.

"No one expects that such a sensitive task will be accomplished quickly or effortlessly, but by God's grace and with mutual respect, patience and prayer it can be indeed accomplished for the good of all," he said.

"Challenges larger than this have been met before, with renewal and even deeper faith the outcome."


"Through the years," Sartain wrote, "there have been inevitable conflicts and misunderstandings between religious congregations and their bishops, between one congregation and another and among the members of individual congregations. They exist today as well.

"Disagreements regarding mission, apostolate, discipline, doctrine, style of life and personality have often been at the core of such conflicts. Each situation was an opportunity to seek reconciliation and collaboration at the heart of the Church, in the 'communion' that is God's gift. Such a pivotal opportunity is now before us."