A 'Hostile Takeover' of Women Religious

AFTER THE VATICAN’S “hostile takeover” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in April, I was particularly struck by one joke I encountered: “Go Catholic ... and leave the thinking to us.”

I laughed—but not much. That one, it seems, is too close to the truth these days.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), a major educational center for superiors of Catholic women’s religious orders in the U.S., was launched in 1956 at the urging of the Vatican. For years, it has been a venue where officers of every congregation of women religious are invited to meet, study, and consider together the role and place of women religious in the resolution of the issues of the time. Now the LCWR has been put under the control of three bishops: Peter Sartain of Seattle; Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio; and Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois.

The officers and body of the LCWR—all superiors, prioresses, or other officials of major, longstanding institutions—are no longer authorized to plan its programs, engage its speakers, or create and implement its structures. Instead, Sartain, Blair, and Paprocki have been appointed to oversee the group: to approve its programs, create its constitutions, determine its operational procedures, and define the content of its conferences. As in, “Leave the thinking to us.”

As in, women can’t do it themselves. Or, women aren’t moral agents. Or, women don’t know what they’re doing. Or, the girls need to be controlled. Or, father knows best.

To sap the LCWR’s vision and spirit, risktaking and courage—the same qualities that over the years have opened convents in the wastelands, the badlands, and the marginalized ethnic communities of the United States—will drain the church of both presence and impact. And it will do so in a period when we have never more needed compassion, care, presence, risk, and understanding.

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