A new hope for the LCWR?
In April 2012, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith mandated that the Leadership Conference for Women Religious undergo a series of reforms that would be overseen by three U.S. bishops. (One of the three musketeers is Bishop Thomas Paprocki, who participated in a public debate about same-sex marriage last week with Sister Jeanne Gramick. The crowd was not very happy with him.)
For some left-leaning Catholics, the report and mandate from the CDF has caused some consturnation and confusion. The LCWR has felt that the process was unfair and has misrepresented them as a group. There was more scandal and confusion when Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, the Vatican prefect for religious life, came forward, claiming that he had been left out of discussions that led to the CDF investigation and report.
When Pope Francis was elected in March, some Catholics started looking to him to see if he might lessen the scrutiny that had been present during Pope Benedict XVI's papacy. But in April of this year, Pope Francis "reaffirmed" the critique of the LCWR as well as the plan for reform that came out of the CDF's report.
Of course, it seems that Pope Francis is going to keep us all on our toes--and keep us all guessing. On June 6, Pope Francis met with the Latin American Conference of Religious (CLAR), and made a remark that was quintessentially "Papa Francesco."
While he was addressing the group, the pontiff seemed to reference the CDF investigation of the LCWR, and he told CLAR not to sweat it too much if the CDF came after them too. “They will make mistakes, they will make a blunder, this will pass! Perhaps even a letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine (of the Faith) will arrive for you, telling you that you said such or such thing. … But do not worry. Explain whatever you have to explain, but move forward.”
Because the remarks were made in a private meeting and not a public forum, they have been understood as slightly less than completely official, and CLAR has been understandably reluctant to comment publically about them.
For those who were maybe discouraged by the reaffirmation of the CDF's findings with regard to the LCWR, this might be a glimmer of hope. It is certainly not a difinitive affirmation of the LCWR or of women religious in general, but it might indicate that Pope Francis is at least a bit more willing to engage in real conversation with various groups of women religious. After all, Pope Benedict XVI was a product of the CDF. Pope Francis is perhaps more a man of the people.
We will see how this plays out--if it does at all. In the mean time, those of us watching from the wings will continue to stay on our toes to see what Pope Francis decides to say next.