US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Pope Francis affirms critique of LCWR: What does the future hold for women religious and the church?

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Pope Francis made a splash on Holy Thursday when he included women in the annual washing of feet, prompting many to hope that this could signal a change in the relationship between the Vatican and women. Francis likely added to this hope when he acknowledged the “primary, fundamental role” women played in the gospels.

So for some, it may have come as a letdown, then, when earlier this week Francis upheld the recent critique of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

In a short statement, the LCWR leadership said of their meeting with the Vatican:

The LCWR officers reviewed the activities of this past year since receiving the report of [the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith']s doctrinal assessment of LCWR in April 2012.

In his opening remarks, [prefect of the CDF] Archbishop Müller informed the group that he had met with Pope Francis who "reaffirmed the findings of the assessment and the program of reform for this Conference of Major Superiors".

The conversation was open and frank. We pray that these conversations may bear fruit for the good of the Church.

This is not terribly surprising – I can’t imagine that for all the unexpected things Francis has surprised people with at the beginning of his papacy that he would have come out with a radically difference position regarding the rebuke of the Conference. It’s critical in any relationship to have clear communication, though I don’t doubt that for many people, on the issue of women and the church, actions will speak just as loud as words. (Be sure to read from our May issue current LCWR president Florence Deacon’s advice for Pope Francis to renew and maintain dialogue with women religious.) But it seems that this news from the Vatican has created reactions of anger, disappointment, and frustration for those hoping that Pope Francis would bring a change of heart.

It seems safe to say that while women religious will continue to push for open dialogue, they will also continue their commitment to service. And last week, Jennifer Bryson in the Washington Post proposed another way that nuns could serve the church: by being allowed to become military chaplians, which is currently only available to men. It’s an interesting read, as Bryson argues that nuns would only be unable to perform (but could still assist with) two of the functions of chaplains--saying Mass and sacramental ministry--and would help fill a crucial void.

What do you think: Will we ever see nuns as military chaplains? And what fruits will come from continued conversations between the Vatican and women religious?