US Catholic Faith in Real Life

It ain't easy being a woman today: LCWR to be "renewed" by USCCB and CDF

By Meghan Murphy-Gill | Print this pagePrint |

Were you under the impression that the Vatican investigation of U.S. women religious had just blown over? News on that front had been quiet for nearly three years. Well, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and USCCB announced today an initiative to "renew" the Leadership Conference of Women Religious following an "assessment" from the CDF. Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain will be the new Archbishop Delegate for organization, the main organizing body for women religious in the U.S., assisted by Bishops Leonard Blair and Thomas John Paprocki.

The assessment names three things Cardinal William Levada found problematic in the investigation, but remains extremely vague and relies on what seem to have become buzz words for “out of line”: “addresses at the LCWR assemblies” (naming Sister Laurie Brink, OP, a former US Catholic interviewee), “policies of corporate dissent,” and “radical feminism.” (Ironically, the document makes a point earlier of the usage of the word “radical” to mean “the roots,” but fails to do so in this case, thus relying on the whole “feminism is scary” trope.)

Likewise, "The doctrinal assessment criticized positions espoused at LCWR annual assemblies and in its literature as well as the absence of support from LCWR for Church teaching on women’s ordination and homosexuality” and that the LCWR isn’t doing enough to promote “the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality.”  

My general impression reading the CDF’s assessment is that it’s no longer enough to keep your mouth shut if you have dissenting opinions regarding women’s ordination and homosexuality. Rather, you must also be promoting the bishops’ teachings in your work and in your writing. And if you are a theologian (and many of the best theologians of this century are women religious), please don’t do any theology that recognizes and incorporates the many findings in science, sociology, anthropology, etc, in your reflecting on God’s relationship with this weird and wonderful world. Rather, you should become apologists for the bishops. Similarly, maybe if the sisters spent their time teaching NFP instead of, I don’t know, teaching, they wouldn’t be in this position.

My cynical and admittedly premature reactions to the CDF’s assessment aside, the issue here is how the LCWR will be “renewed” and how it should go forward. Frankly, it seems excessively invasive that the overseeing bishops will now have to approve speakers.

The LCWR seems to have three ways to respond. They could, as an acquaintance of mine put it, “Put their collective foot down, say ‘Enough of this,’ and have a big showdown.” The sexism at the root of this investigation, its findings, and “remedies” is blatant. (For example: “Some might see in Sr. Brink’s analysis a phenomenological snapshot of religious life today. But Pastors of the Church should also see in it a cry for help.”) Women religious have a long and bright history of standing up for women, why not stand up for themselves?

They could also simply dissolve the organization and create an interest group for sharing resources that does not require oversight from Rome.

Finally, they can just accept the findings and the remedies and comply. I, for one, hope they do not. And I look forward to hearing from some of the women religious I have been inspired by, the women who, when studying theology, gave me hope for a better and brighter church.