Justice in the Church
Support US Nuns
Background on LCWR Response

Background on LCWR Response

From the Director’s Desk 8/15/09 Sr. Christine Schenk csj

On Supporting US Nuns   On the July 22nd, feast of St. Mary of Magdala, the FutureChurch Board approved a statement supporting US women religious undergoing a puzzling “Apostolic Visitation” by the Vatican. A  March 10 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) implied there was something doctrinally suspect about addresses given at LCWR’s annual meetings. 

For fifteen years I have traveled to LCWR assemblies in mid-August to staff our FutureChurch exhibit. I never once heard any presentation that openly opposed church teaching. In my experience LCWR leaders are careful and discerning about their programs.  The March letter also referred to a 2001 letter allegedly requesting LCWR leaders to promote church teaching on the non-ordination of women, “the problem” of homosexuality and the teaching that only the Catholic Church contains the fullness of Christian faith (Dominus Iesus). Oddly, even though LCWR officers have traveled on their own initiative to Rome every year since 2001, apparently no church official ever mentioned a problem with their annual assembly. 

Vatican officials announced the Apostolic Visitation of US religious communities in Rome a full month before anyone in the U.S. was notified. Small wonder that concerns about secrecy and an unfair process abound.  While the Apostolic Visitation is separate from the LCWR doctrinal investigation, the list of questions in the working document that religious orders are expected to answer implies that US religious communities are doctrinally suspect. Two questions ask about community processes “for responding to sisters who dissent publicly or privately from the authoritative teaching of the Church” and or “who dissent publicly or privately from congregational decisions, especially regarding matters of Church authority.”  Am I alone in wondering if this could be the ecclesiastical equivalent of asking “how many times have you beaten your wife?”

So I was apprehensive and not a little downhearted as I journeyed to LCWR this August.  Through the years so many women religious leaders have offered kind encouragement and energetic support for FutureChurch’s work to restore Mary of Magdala to her true role as the  “Apostle to the Apostles” and to open the discussion of mandatory celibacy and women deacons to preserve vibrant parishes despite the priest shortage. I grieve that male church leaders too rarely offer these faithful women the kind of support they so generously give to others.

As I shared our FutureChurch statement with the women who approached our table, I marveled that while some sisters wondered what was beneath this mysterious Vatican behavior, no one seemed afraid. Instead most were impressively calm in their determination to remain transparent and rooted in the reality of the Spirit’s call in these critical times.

So I was not surprised to learn later that the LCWR assembly approved a document requesting that Vatican officials alter some of the methods being employed. The document:

  • expressed concern about the “lack of full disclosure about the motivation and funding sources for the Vatican study.”
  • objected “to the fact that their orders will not be permitted to see the investigative reports about them that will be submitted to the Vatican.”
  • emphasized that their orders have remained faithful to the reform and renewal of their communities called for by the Second Vatican Council.
  • reclaimed their commitment to what they believe is the unique and needed role of religious life which includes “serving at and speaking from the margins of the Catholic Church.” (full statement available at www.lcwr.org)

“Speaking from the margins of the Catholic Church.”  What a compelling phrase. Most, if not all laity and especially women, speak from the margins of the Church.  The place, it turns out, Jesus favored most.  “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.”   Rather than grieve, perhaps we should give thanks for the honor of joining Jesus in that powerful marginal space where, through the power of the Spirit, the future church is even now building its cornerstone.