LCWR

Breaking Silence, U.S. Nuns Say Vatican Probe Cleared Up Confusion, Reinforced Their Mission

Photo via CNS photo / L’Osservatore Romano / RNS

Pope Francis and representatives of the U.S. LCWR. Photo via CNS photo / L’Osservatore Romano / RNS

The controversial Vatican probe of American nuns that abruptly ended last month looked from the outside like a tense standoff between Rome and the U.S. sisters, punctuated by occasional public jousts that appeared to signal even tougher negotiations behind closed doors.

Not so, say the sisters, now freed to talk after both sides agreed to a month-long media blackout that ended May 15.

Those involved in the talks said that after a rocky start, the talks settled into a constructive dialogue that cleared up many misunderstandings that Vatican officials had about the sisters.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, Catholic Journalist and Longtime Bishops’ Spokeswoman, Dies at 67

Photo via U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops / RNS

Sister Mary Ann Walsh. Photo via U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops / RNS

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a quiet nun with a keen wit who led a very public life as a journalist and a longtime spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, died on April 28 after a tough battle with cancer.

She was 67 and passed away in a hospice in Albany next to the regional convent of the religious order she entered as a 17-year-old novice in 1964.

Walsh had moved to her native Albany from Washington last September after it was discovered that the cancer that had been in remission since 2010 had returned.

She was able to receive better care there and live out her days with other members of the Sisters of Mercy. She was transferred to the hospice on April 23 as her condition deteriorated.

“Sister Mary Ann,” as she was known to the many journalists she sparred and joked with and, with regularity, befriended, worked at the communications office of the American hierarchy for 20 years, retiring in the summer of 2014 just before she fell ill again.

She became director of media relations for the USCCB — the first woman to hold that position — after coordinating media for World Youth Day in Denver in 1993, which featured an enormously successful visit by then-Pope John Paul II.

Timeline: The Long and Contentious Duel Between Rome and American Nuns

The Vatican. Image via pxl.store/shutterstock.com

The Vatican. Image via pxl.store/shutterstock.com

The long and often contentious duel between the Vatican and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious came to an abrupt end on April 16. The probe of the umbrella group that represents most of the nation’s 50,000 nuns concluded with an amicable resolution that avoided serious sanctions for the sisters.

Here’s how the dispute played out:

April 2008: The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith taps Bishop Leonard Blair, then head of the Diocese of Toledo in Ohio, to carry out a doctrinal assessment of the LCWR.

December 2008: The Vatican’s office that oversees religious orders — the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life — launches a parallel review of all women’s orders in the U.S. because of reports about “a certain secularist mentality that has spread among these religious families, perhaps even a certain ‘feminist spirit.’”

July 2010: Blair submits his eight-page initial assessment of the LCWR to the Vatican.

April 2012: The CDF announces a surprise crackdown on the LCWR, accusing the group of allowing views that have “serious theological, even doctrinal errors,” and conferences that featured “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

April 2012: The Vatican appoints Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, along with Blair and Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., to directly oversee an overhaul of the LCWR that would give the hierarchy the final say on the sisters’ statutes, speakers and published materials.

June 2012: After consulting the membership, the LCWR leadership responds by saying that the Vatican crackdown was based on “unsubstantiated” allegations and caused “scandal and pain” in the church. A week later, LCWR leaders meet with top Vatican doctrinal officials in Rome in what is called an atmosphere of “openness and cordiality.”

Three Years After 'Radical Feminist' Charge, U.S. Catholic Sisters and Vatican Reach Peace Agreement

Sister Simone Campbell, outspoken critic of the Vatican investigation. Image via

Sister Simone Campbell, outspoken critic of the Vatican investigation. Image via Richard Thornton/shutterstock.com

The conflicted and controversial three-year doctrinal investigation by the Vatican of U.S. Catholic sisters in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has formally come to an end, according to a press release from the Vatican this morning and reports in the National Catholic Reporter.  

“We are pleased at the completion of the Mandate which involved long and challenging exchanges of our understandings of and perspectives on critical matters of Religious Life and its practice," said Sr. Sharon Holland, IHM, president of LCWR.

She continued: 

"Through these exchanges, conducted always in a spirit of prayer and mutual respect, we were brought to deeper understandings of one another’s experiences, roles, responsibilities, and hopes for the Church and the people it serves. We learned that what we hold in common is much greater than any of our differences.”  

Conservative operators within the Vatican have been working for years to bring suspicion on communities of Catholic sisters in the U.S. In the past seven years, they succeeded in launching twin investigations into American nuns.  

The first, launched in 2008, was a controversial and unprecedented "apostolic visitation" investigating the finances and communal practices of individual U.S.-based Catholic orders of women religious, representing tens of thousands of women. It ended in December 2014 with a formal backing down by the Vatican office from which it was launched. The final report, issued under Pope Francis, was released at a public press conference in Rome — also unprecedented — in which all those involved made clear statements about the process and emphasized a spirit of forbearance, mercy, and transparency.  

The second, launched in April 2012, amounted to a hostile takeover of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 80 percent of U.S. Catholic sisters and is the primary leadership governing body for U.S. Catholic women's orders. LCWR was accused by ultra-traditionalist Archbishop Levada of including "radical feminist themes" and fomenting "corporate dissent" from the church's teaching on human sexuality, among other things. Even though LCWR was founded in 1956 under the urging of Pope Pius XII, it was under Pope Benedict XVI that the doctrinal assessment took place.  

End of an Inquisition?

THE VATICAN REPORT on the three-year investigation of U.S. Catholic sisters landed softly in the national media in December, as major stories combined with Christmas to fill the news cycle. Good timing, if the intent was to bury it. But the story isn’t over.

Some years ago, two Vatican offices, under the leadership of Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, launched separate investigations of U.S. women religious, first of the individual orders and later of their leaders’ membership organization.

Why? The general consensus seems to be that high-ranking conservative U.S. bishops were angry at sisters who had generally served as obedient poorly paid minions to do their bidding, but who now were infected with a certain “feminist” outlook on life.

A September 2008 conference on religious life, held at Massachusetts’ Stonehill College, gathered conservative voices critical of how U.S. sisters had “modernized” following the Second Vatican Council. Within a few months, a Vatican office (the “Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life”) announced it would survey every group of “active” (vs. contemplative) U.S. Catholic sisters.

In addition, in January 2009, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s doctrinal watchdog, announced it would conduct a “doctrinal assessment” of the U.S. sisters’ major leadership organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious—claiming that LCWR diverged from church teaching on homosexuality, women’s ordination, and the centrality of Jesus in belief. The as-yet-unreported investigation of the 1,500-member LCWR entailed a review of publications and speakers’ texts and significant back-and-forth between LCWR and Vatican representatives.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

American Nuns: Grounded Leadership in Conflict

Diego Cervo/ Shutterstock.com

Diego Cervo/ Shutterstock.com

Last week the Vatican released the final report on its unprecedented investigation of Roman Catholic sisters in the United States. Six years ago, when the Vatican announced the apostolic visitation (its formal name), many of the sisters whom the investigation affected responded with hurt and anger. Now, thanks largely to competent, spiritually grounded leadership on the part of American sisters, the spirit is conciliatory.

When the Vatican launched the investigation in 2008, under Pope Benedict, to “look into the quality of life of religious women in the United States,” the announcement was met with suspicion and apprehension. Since the Vatican had previously only ordered an apostolic visitation when a group had gone astray, sisters wondered what the Vatican wanted to investigate and why. Some congregations reported that their elder sisters felt that their whole lives had been judged and found wanting," remembers Sr. Sharon Holland, president of the Leadership Council of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of the 57,000 nuns in the U. S. When Sr. Sandra Schneiders, professor emerita of New Testament and spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., learned of the visitation, she warned sisters to be cautious, treating the visitors as “uninvited guests who should be received in the parlor, not given the run of the house.”

In a situation that could have escalated badly, American sisters rose to the occasion.

New ‘Nuns on the Bus’ Tour to Tackle Political ‘Dark Money’

Sister Simone Campbell addresses an audience July 2, 2012 to conclude the Nuns on the Bus tour. Photo via Chris Lisee/RNS.

This time it’s the Catholic sisters versus the Koch brothers.

That’s one way to look at the upcoming “Nuns on the Bus” tour, which hits the road Sept. 17 for the third time in three years, a monthlong trip though 10 key U.S. Senate battleground states to campaign against the influence of outside money on politics.

The issue has come to be identified with the wealthy industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch, whose huge contributions to conservative political causes have raised concerns about the role of “dark money” on elections.

The spigot for such undisclosed donations, which can be made by unions as well as corporations, was opened by the controversial 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision. That was followed by another 5-4 ruling in April of this year, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.

Catholic Sisters Are Redefining Leadership

A new model of leadership that’s been refined in the fires of change and conflict is emerging from U.S. religious women.

In June, the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, along with Solidarity with Sisters, invited 150 people to Catholic University for an opportunity to discuss the model of leadership that has developed in Catholic women’s communities around the world over the last 50 years since Vatican II. The event coincided with the release of Spiritual Leadership for Challenging Times, an anthology of 10 addresses given by Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) presidents.

Catholic sisters are emerging as leaders ahead of their times. From Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, and Nuns on the Bus to Catholic Health Association CEO Sister Carol Keehan, DC, who helped pass the Affordable Care Act, to former LCWR president Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, who practiced authentic spiritual leadership in the face of the Vatican’s ongoing investigation of that organization (an investigation that Pope Francis should have laid quietly to rest, but has not), religious women are getting notice for their thoughtful, faithful leadership in the face of withering criticism and their own communities’ dramatic changes.

What are the marks of this new leadership?

1. Leadership must begin with facing oneself. Sister Marie McCarthy, SP, calls this taking “a long, loving look at what is.” Developing a prayerful, contemplative consciousness allows illusions and judgments to fall away. What changes are needed so that we can go “deeper into life, into service, into God,” as Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, writes? “The purpose of leadership is not to make the present bearable,” writes Sister Joan, but “to make the future possible.” This kind of leadership is measured and evaluated by the degree to which the people around the leaders are inspired to effective, resilient change.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Nuns Say They Will Continue Dialogue Despite Vatican Criticisms

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, head of Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Photo:Paul Haring/Catholic News Service.

The American nuns who were publicly scolded by the Vatican’s top doctrinal official for disobedience and promoting unorthodox beliefs have rejected the criticisms, and say their “attempts to clarify misperceptions have led to deeper misunderstandings” between Rome and the organization representing most of the 50,000 sisters in the U.S.

But the leaders of the umbrella group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, also said in a statement that the April 30 conversation with Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, who leads Rome’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “was constructive in its frankness and lack of ambiguity.”

“It was not an easy discussion, but its openness and spirit of inquiry created a space for authentic dialogue and discernment,” the four sisters representing the LCWR said late Thursday.

“This work is fraught with tension and misunderstanding,” they said. “Yet, this is the work of leaders in all walks of life in these times of massive change in the world.”

Vatican's Doctrine Chief Blasts U.S. Nuns for Disobedience

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, head of Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Photo:Paul Haring/Catholic News Service.

Catholic nuns in the U.S. have been thumbing their nose at Rome’s demands to toe the doctrinal line and they need to obey or face serious consequences, the Vatican’s enforcer of orthodoxy said in a surprisingly tough talk to women representing most American sisters.

“The Holy See believes that the charismatic vitality of religious life can only flourish within the ecclesial faith of the church,” Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told four members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

Mueller said the LCWR — which represents about 80 percent of the more than 50,000 Catholic nuns in the U.S. – is dependent on the Vatican for its bona fides as a church body. He indicated that the group’s status, and the Catholic faith of the sisters, was at risk if they did not heed Rome’s directives.

Pages

Subscribe