More Articles Relating to the Doctrinal Assessment


  1. “Sartain is the right man for the LCWR job, former co-workers say,” Dan Morris-Young, National Catholic Observer, May 8, 2012

  2. “Former nuns write open letter to the USCCB,” Alice Popovici, National Catholic Reporter, May 9, 2012

  3. “In San Juan, Texas, fifteen gather to pray for sisters,” Alice Popovici, National Catholic Reporter, May 9, 2012

  4. “In Louisville seventy-eight observe silence for Catholic sisters,” Alice Popovici, National Catholic Reporter, May 9, 2012

  5. “Some protesters express anger; Protester at D.C. ‘Support the Sisters’ vigil says: ‘I’m angry, and this is the first protest I’ve ever been to,’” Alice Popovici, National Catholic Reporter, May 9, 2012

  6. “New website launched to support Catholic sisters,” Alice Popovici, National Catholic Observer, May 9, 2012

  7. “Master of Divinity student organizes vigil to support sisters,” Monica Clark, National Catholic Reporter, May 10, 2012

  8. “The Peace Pulpit: Where we find peace in our hearts,” Homily given at St. Ann Church in Frankfort, Michigan, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, National Catholic Reporter, May 11, 2012

  9. “Let's not be a laughingstock, OK? - An open letter to the U.S. bishops,” Robert Blair Kaiser, National Catholic Reporter, May 18, 2012

  10. “Former LCWR leader gives take on Vatican order,” Joshua J. McElwee, National Catholic Reporter, May 29, 2012

  11. “LCWR president speaks of pain and process,” Joshua J. McElwee, National Catholic Reporter, June 1, 2012

  12. “LCWR Board Meets to Review CDF Report; Leadership organization’s response to the Vatican order will be determined in August,” June 1, 2012

  13. “Bishops' move against women religious a hard sell, indeed,” Thomas C. Fox, National Catholic Reporter, June 5, 2012

  14. “Franciscan Friars Back American Nuns in Vatican Spat,” Daniel Burke, Religion News Service, June 7, 2012



Sartain is the right man for the LCWR job, former co-workers say

By Dan Morris-Young

National Catholic Observer
May 8, 2012

Women religious and others who have worked with the "archbishop delegate" charged with overseeing potential new compass points and sail settings for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious describe him as a man of prayer who listens well, welcomes dialogue, defends church teaching, administrates fairly, shares authority and remembers people's names.

Most persons contacted about their views of Archbishop J. Peter Sartain as an episcopal leader declined any comment because of avoid-the-media directives from their diocese or their religious community issued in the wake of an April 18 statement from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Others point out that Sartain's credibility will continue to be dogged by his role in the ordination of a man for the Joliet, Ill., diocese who seven months later was arrested for child molestation and is now serving four years in prison for criminal sexual assault of a minor.

Met with thunderous reaction in the United States, the doctrinal congregation's document charged that "the current doctrinal and pastoral situation of LCWR is grave and a matter of serious concern" and criticized the organization -- whose member congregations represent four of five U.S. women religious -- for being mute on issues such as abortion and euthanasia and displaying "corporate dissent" on topics including homosexuality and the ordination of women.

Issued with the explicit approval of Pope Benedict XVI, the doctrinal congregation document invested Sartain with authority over LCWR statutes, programs, publications, assemblies, liturgical activities and affiliations with other entities. It also mandated a link between his work and the U.S. bishops' conference.

Charity Sr. Mary Barbara Philippart said she views the tension between the congregation and LCWR as "trying to find a balance between freedom of conscience and the teaching authority of the church," adding that Sartain "is one of the best to be able to do it."

"It is always a struggle to obtain the balance between those two things -- purity of doctrine and freedom of thought -- and it is not new in church history," said Philippart, who worked in Hispanic radio ministry for four years during Sartain's episcopate in the Little Rock, Ark., diocese (2000-2006).

Now semiretired and living at her motherhouse near Cincinnati, Philippart still flies to Little Rock for a week each month to work with the Hispanic permanent diaconate community there.

She said she "immediately felt sorry for" Sartain when she heard of his Vatican assignment "and started praying for him right then and there.

"I believe it is a difficult position to put somebody in," Philippart said. "Anybody who mediates between two groups -- both of whom are very good -- has a hard job coming to the truth."

She and others who have worked with Sartain lauded his administrative style and appreciated his consistent support and a willingness to let them follow their own lights with little if any interference.

Some might ask if that hands-off tendency could be an element in the furor created in the Joliet diocese when Sartain ordained in June 2009 a seminarian with a history of questionable contact with young men and who reportedly viewed computer images of young-looking males engaged in sex acts.

Seven months later, the new priest, Alejandro Flores, was arrested and charged with child molestation. In September 2010 Flores pled guilty.

While diocesan officials quickly removed Flores from any contact with children and notified authorities when a mother called to complain about Flores' relationship with her son, a Nov. 19, 2011, Chicago Tribune story reported, "Critics argue warning signs were ignored or missed while Flores was a seminary student -- a five-year period that mostly occurred under Sartain's watch." Doug Delaney, a Joliet diocesan spokesperson, admitted to the Tribune that "in hindsight" Flores should not have been ordained.

NCR's calls and emails to multiple offices of the Joliet diocese were declined or ignored.

In the Seattle archdiocese, director of communication Greg Magnoni said all press inquiries were being forwarded to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' media office. In line with that, the archdiocese's director for religious, Joyce Cox, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, emailed NCR that she was "not taking calls or requests for information with this situation at this time."

However, a source with contacts in Joliet said, "Based on my opinion and observation, you are not going to find any dirt on Sartain, partly because he is a good person, and partly because he is too cautious to get into trouble."

"He's a good person who doesn't like to be disliked," the source said, "but he also likes a clean slate. I kind of feel for him, but also see this as a red hat kind of test for him. I feel more sorry for the women who were who identified by the CDF as whose teaching is problematic."

The latter will find "a good listener" in Sartain and a man "who is very approachable, very personal and willing to dialogue," said St. Joseph of Cluny Sr. Mary Glynn, who was Little Rock's director of religious education from 1999 to 2009.

Currently religious education director at Mary Star of the Sea Parish in San Pedro, Calif., Glynn said she was encouraged when she learned the Vatican had picked Sartain as the doctrinal congregation's point man in dealings with LCWR.

She and others like Daughter of Charity Sr. Joan Pytlik expressed confidence in Sartain's fairness.

"I always felt that he listened to what the church has to say and also to the people -- and came out with good, pastoral solutions," said Pytlik, who was the diocesan lobbyist during Sartain's Little Rock years.

Pytlik served a yearlong 1994 internship in Washington, D.C., with NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby that was one of two organizations that the doctrinal congregation singled out for investigation of LCWR links. The other was the Resource Center for Religious Institutes, which offers legal and financial expertise to religious orders.

Some observers speculate women religious' widespread support of the Obama health care plan, which the U.S. bishops opposed, might have animated the congregation's move.

Regardless, Pytlik said Sartain "is someone who will be conciliatory and fair and not cause a big controversy. He will work well with people who are involved in the assessment, and work behind the scenes to resolve situations."

Sartain's own limited public comments support Pytlik's view. He has declined to discuss the reform agenda in detail until meeting with LCWR leadership, and he played down charges that differing health care law assessments motivated the doctrinal congregation.

"I think this is a good opportunity to look at different visions of church," said Pytlik, who is now Little Rock's minister for religious. "Maybe the congregation has one vision, and a lot of women religious connected with LCWR have another vision. But they are both of the Spirit, I think, and there is a need for a dialogue and openness on both sides and to come to a deeper understanding of church. It should be a true dialogue, not some top-down type thing. I think it is the role of leadership, servant leadership, to listen to the Spirit and to the people. And I am trusting the church is going to do that and this is a good opportunity to reflect on that."

Pytlik said, "One thing that sticks with everybody who knows [Sartain] is that he knew everybody in the diocese by name. He was back here a few months ago and still calls everybody by name. He is personal. He is a humble man."

Sartain's sister, Sr. Marian Sartain, is secretary-general of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tenn. Her order is not affiliated with LCWR but rather is a member of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, which was formed in 1992 and represents about 10,000 women religious in the United States.

[Dan Morris-Young is an NCR West Coast correspondent.]

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Former nuns write open letter to the USCCB

Alice Popovici

National Catholic Reporter
May 9, 2012

The following letter was sent to the National Catholic Reporter by a former Sister of Mercy, and it is signed by 14 other women who were once members of religious communities. In a cover letter to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Helen Urbain-Majzler writes: "We would be grateful if you shared the contents of our letter with other member bishops."

The "Open letter to the U.S. Catholic Bishops" letter reads:

The Vatican crackdown on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) sends this message for religious women and average Catholics: there is no room for dissent; no opportunity for differing perspectives; no way to engage in dialogue about traditional, often narrowly-held, Catholic views. In a word, women religious leaders need to keep their ideas to themselves and simply follow the dictates and directions of Rome. Anything less than this position will be met with censure, public embarrassment, heavy-handedness, and even potential expulsion.


The LCWR leadership may have expressed surprise and confusion at the report from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) but, frankly, women like us were not surprised. All of us (now former members) have lived many years in religious communities and have witnessed cruel and punitive treatment of women religious who have taken courageous public stands to defend the poor, medically vulnerable, and the targeted victims of society, including homosexuals. As you know and may not fully appreciate, religious communities of women have been the central providers of charitable services, including hospitals, schools and parish ministries, and have been in the forefront of social justice causes including efforts at world peace and an end to oppression in all its many forms. For these selfless and tireless efforts, their faith and integrity is called into question.


The Vatican has failed to recognize the changes that have gone on in the church at large and American society in general for the past 40 to 50 years. Catholic institutions that were once a major force in American society in the 1950s have slowly given way to a more pluralistic and diverse cultural milieu. Catholics who once graciously and unquestioning submitted to Church authority, obedience and order have left the church in great numbers. In our lifetime, we have seen that the church no longer holds center stage; people in Western society question authority and realize that our broader understanding of the universe and its institutions are evolving to better respond to the world around us.


For many adult Catholics, the reforms of Vatican II, as well as the church’s ruling against contraception, sexual abuse scandals, and hierarchy cover-ups, began to unravel the blind obedience that many adults felt for the church. Surely, American bishops are aware that 87 percent of Catholics oppose the papal prohibition of artificial birth control. Perhaps the Vatican has not realized that Western culture places more emphasis on personal responsibility and urges individuals to make personal decisions that affect their own lives. Adults have insisted on using reasoning to reexamine their religious worldview and on being treated as adults capable of accepting responsibility. During the post-Vatican II era, adult Catholics walked away from the established Catholic rituals and practices if they ceased to be relevant to their life’s journey. While these facts may sound harsh and critical, they merely portray the erosion of the church’s fading influence in modern times in the U.S.


Currently, religious women leaders find themselves in this changing world and having to navigate through a maze of the often conflicting and competing needs of their members, the public whom they serve, and the institutions within which they expect to find support and assistance. The missions of service, education, healthcare, and spiritual ministry are alive through these women even when their approaches to ministry may change to meet the needs of the people they serve. Spiritual orientation and faith in God are not in doubt even when ministerial approaches and priorities shift. Doctrine and ministry are separate issues. Religious women are not questioning core Catholic doctrine. Their spiritualities, ministries, and services are shaped and are changed by the ever evolving challenges of culture and history.


Why is it so difficult for the Vatican to allow open and frank discussions and dialogue about the future of their church, spirituality, and ministerial priorities within the context of their own organizational community, without fear of punitive action? Where was the Vatican when real abuse and scandal, perpetrated by its very own clergy (all male), remained undetected or ignored for decades? That’s where the crackdown should have been and perhaps still should be. Instead, in a diversion that can only be suspect, women religious are questioned. Only the most repressive and autocratic organizations fear the frank and honest input of its members. What does this say about church authority and its relationship to the women who have provided thousands of years of dedicated, consistent, and faithful service?


For us, the decision to silence women religious impacts our lives profoundly and directly. At a personal level, these are women whom we have known and admired for decades as they courageously and graciously live out their call to be faithful to the gospel message of Jesus. They lead their members to stand up to injustice and intolerance within the complex and varied institutions of our society. We all benefit from their fearless opposition to human cruelty and violence. The church is poorer when women’s insights, ideas and presence are silenced.


We do not presume to speak for the LCWR or its representative members. We have confidence that they will represent their own perspective as time permits. We hope that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will keep an open mind and heart toward women religious leaders, and will continue to appreciate and foster their many gifts rather than to quietly and obediently side with the Vatican in silencing this voice of the spirit in the church today. We hope that you will have the courage to do the right thing for women, though we are not at all confident that that will occur. Many of us left religious communities because of the church’s treatment of women. The church, sadly, still appears to be fearful and defensive in the face of our potency. How will the church ever survive, continuing to ignore or subjugate half the world’s population? What will it become?


We urge all women and men of good faith to join our efforts in affirming and supporting the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.




Helen Urbain-Majzler, M.S.N., Clinical Director, Boulder County Public Health
Jane M. Sweeney, Ph. D., Clinical Psychologist/Jungian Analyst
Mary Kay Sweeney, Ph. D., Executive Director, Homeward Bound of Marin
Linda Valli, Ph. D., Professor, University of Maryland
Mary Lou Watkins, M. Ed., Senior Vice-President & Chief of Staff, Council of Better Business Bureaus
Kathleen McCormick-McLean, M.S.N., M.P.H., Maternal Child Health Program, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
E. Ann Walsh, M.S.W., Owner & Director, Healing Connection
Suzanne Lareau, EdMA, Reading and Curriculum Resource Teacher, Royal Oak Schools
Nancy Corrigan, L.C.S.W.C., Director of Admissions, Good Shepherd Center
Janice Davin, M.Ed., M.A. in Oral Traditions/Educator in Catholic Schools
Elayne Hollen , M.Ed., Assistant Vice President and Bank Manager (Sun Trust Bank)
Kathy Menger, B.A., M.A., Education, Southern States Catholic Schools
Ruth Bell Fulger, B.S., M.A., Director of Nursing
Helen Grady, PMHCNS-BC, Adjunct Professor, Towson University
Cris Lonnstrom, M.A., Education, Elementary School Teacher

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In San Juan, Texas, fifteen gather to pray for sisters

Alice Popovici

National catholic Reporter
May 9, 2012

Al Dabrowski, Call To Action member and organizer for the Nun Justice Project in the Rio Grande Valley area, said the stormy evening weather likely kept some people home Tuesday, when a group of 15 gathered for a prayer vigil to support Catholic nuns at the Basilica of our Lady of San Juan del Valle in San Juan.

The prayer vigils, planned in select cities every Tuesday in May, are part of a nationwide effort launched by The Nun Justice Project and supported by local Catholic groups.

If you attended the vigil in San Juan, Texas, or know someone who attended, please leave a comment.

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In Louisville seventy-eight observe silence for Catholic sisters

By Alice Popovici

National Catholic Reporter
May 9, 2012

Protesters observed an hour of silence Tuesday evening in front of the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, Ky., during the first of a series of vigils planned in May to support Catholic sisters, an effort led by the Nun Justice Project. Then, said organizer Helen Deines, "everyone went forth to live just as the sisters would want us to."

Deines, a retired professor of social work, wrote the following prayer, which was read at the start of the vigil:

We members of this Archdiocese of Louisville stand here on our cathedral steps today to express our solidarity with our sisters, the women religious of this archdiocese and our country.


We do so on this Tuesday and the coming Tuesdays of May from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m., and we do so in solidarity with other concerned citizens around the U.S., who are also gathered in prayer. It is natural that we pray for the sisters, because—above all—the women religious of this country have been those we asked to pray for us! Sisters, this evening we return the favor.


Through the years – centuries, in fact – of their presence in this archdiocese, we have experienced these dedicated women as the founders of our Catholic schools and universities, and then as our teachers in them, and as scholars, women who lead the church to recognize the divine presence in our lives.


We have recognized women religious as the founders of our hospitals and hospices, and then as our doctors, our nurses, and our healers from all kinds of ailments of mind, body, and spirit. We saw them lead these institutions, serving rich and poor alike, unfailingly respecting life, long before federal funding made Catholic health care institutions wealthy.


We have watched them establish social agencies of all kinds—in the cities, in the country, in the hollows, in the deserts—and then serve the poorest and least valued of our community, offering clothing, food, warm places to stay, and most important—dignity and hope to all God’s children.


We have seen them serving as administrators and pastoral ministers in so many of our parishes, "keeping the place going" and being the personal "listening ear" of the church for us as we needed to talk over private concerns, family life issues, how to cope with a sick family member, losing a job or a house, or an empty nest, or a teenage daughter. "Sister" has always been there for us.


We have experienced women’s religious congregations demonstrate leadership in advocating for peace and justice, even facing arrest, harassment, and imprisonment while doing so.


We have seen them serve as lawyers representing migrant farm workers, as policy experts testifying about poverty and care of the planet in Frankfort and Washington, and as model caregivers for our elders and those with disabilities.


We have turned to them for guidance as spiritual directors, clinical psychologists, and theology professors.


We have honored them (or averted our eyes) as martyrs. They have fed our spirits and challenged us as artists, speaking of the divine without words.


We have watched them leave their convents and serve global missions for long periods of time, often returning with sisters from those countries to minister in new ways.


In whatever they do, the women religious of this country have worked with quiet humility, asking for little in return. These are the women who model what it means to live our faith!


So we ask you now to go deep into your own hearts, recalling the women religious who have drawn you here. Use this silence in your own way to lift up and support women religious. I will return at 10 minutes before 6 to send us forth. And remember, during these vigils our silence loudly proclaims again and again: In 2012, we are all nuns.

As Deines reflected on the vigil Wednesday, she described it as "an ever-widening circle of really building up the church in the way that the church needs to be built up.

"It wasn’t a vigil against something, it was a vigil for something," she said, "a time of solidarity and to demonstrate our respect for women religious."

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Some protesters express anger

Protester at D.C. ‘Support the Sisters’ vigil
says: ‘I’m angry, and this is the first protest
I’ve ever been to’

Alice Popovici

National Catholic Reporter
May 9, 2012

Late Tuesday afternoon in Washington, D.C., about 75 protesters gathered in front of the sign that marked the entrance to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops building, as part of a nationwide effort led by the Nun Justice Project. However, Kate Conmy, the organizer of the event in D.C., said the USCCB sign that was to be a landmark had been covered with a black tarp. Conmy, who works for the Women's Ordination Conference, said most people learned about the vigil by visiting, the website that hosts a petition started by the Nun Justice Project to support the sisters. She remembers one woman at the vigil saying: “I’m angry, and this is the first protest I’ve ever been to.”

The vigils will take place every Tuesday in May, and are expected to expand to more cities.

If you attended the vigil in Washington, D.C., or know someone who attended, please leave a comment.

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New website launched to support Catholic sisters

Alice Popovici

National Catholic Observer
May 9, 2012

The Nun Justice Project, a grassroots movement of Catholic organizations working to support the American nuns criticized in a recent Vatican report, has announced it is launching a new website. Find it here [], along with a list of six things you can do to support sisters.

Six things you can do to Support the Sisters

  1. Petition

Let the sisters know you stand with them! Sign the petition or share it with friends! Let's get 57,000 signatures — one for every sister in the United States!


  1. Write

Tell Church officials that you support the sisters. Write to the Apostolic Nuncio, the Vatican's ambassador in the U.S., other officials, or to your local newspaper.
Download a sample letter and suggested talking points.


  1. Vigil

Join or organize a public vigil Tuesdays in May. If you're unable to join a vigil in person, join a Virtual Vigil in spirit by posting a photo showing your support!
Find a vigil near you.

  1. Share

Follow Nun Justice on Tumblr
Post a photo
showing your support
Tweet using #nunjustice
Share the
petition on Facebook


  1. Pledge

For Pentecost, make a financial pledge to support the sisters by directing or redirecting a contribution to your local community of women religious. Help us tally the total amount pledged by recording your pledge amount here.


  1. Pray Now and on May 29th

Pray for the sisters on your own and organize a prayer service in your parish or small faith community on May 29th, during Pentecost week, when LCWR begins its meeting. A sample prayer service is available to use.

The Nun Justice Project is a grassroots movement supported by the following organizations: American Catholic Council, Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church, Call To Action, Catholics for Choice, CORPUS, DignityUSA, FutureChurch, New Ways Ministry, RAPPORT (Renewing a Priestly People, Ordination Reconsidered Today), Voice of the Faithful, WATER: Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual, Women's Ordination Conference.

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Master of Divinity student organizes vigil to support sisters

By Monica Clark

National Catholic Reporter
May 10, 2012


OAKLAND, Calif. -- "I love women religious," saaid Christine Haider-Winnett, a 29-year-old graduate student at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley who is organizing a May 29 vigil at Oakland's Cathedral of Christ the Light to show support for U.S. sisters in light of the recent Vatican mandate.

"To me, sisters are the best example of how to live Christ's teachings in our terribly broken world," she said. "They have given me a place in the church and hope for the church when not much else has. I feel like this is the least I could do to thank them."

The prayer vigil is one of nearly two dozen being organized around the country through the Nun Justice Project, a group of Catholic organizations offering support for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) as it deals with a mandate from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to reform its statutes, programs and affiliations to conform more closely to "the teachings and discipline of the Church."

The weekly vigils, most of which are taking place in front of local cathedrals, are being held every Tuesday through May 29 when LCWR's officers will meet to discuss their response to the Vatican action.

"This is such an important time to surround women religious with love and support," said Haider-Winnett, who started wearing a button that said "I heart women religious" after learning of the April 18 appointment by the Vatican of a three-bishop panel to oversee LCWR with the power to review and revise the organization's policies and practices. LCWR represents about 80 percent of the 57,000 sisters in the U.S.

"If there's one silver lining in this whole terrible mess, it's that the doctrinal assessment has given us an opportunity to really thank sisters for all that they've done for our church," Haider-Winnett said. "I think that we sort of took them for granted for a long time, but this gives us an opportunity to really see them for the incredible ministers that they are."

Haider-Winnett was a young teenager grieving the death of a close friend when she met a sister who helped her sort through her sorrow and, in the process, put her on a path to ministry. "She ministered to me when I really needed it, and was one of the first models for me of what a woman's ministry could look like."

The sister encouraged her to read the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, which "totally changed my life."

She became involved in social justice ministries, later organizing with faith-based nonprofits and meeting "a lot of really incredible women religious" through the Catholic Worker movement, Latin American solidarity groups, and church reform work.

"I don't think the institutional church realizes how important it is for women -- especially young women -- to have role models, and to be ministered to by someone who looks like them," she said. "That's one very important role that women religious serve in the Catholic Church. If they were to disappear, I don't think I could stay in the church, and I think that's true of a lot of laywomen."

Haider-Winnett, a lifelong Catholic and active parishioner, is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree in Berkeley and serves on the Board of Directors of the Women's Ordination Conference. She is organizing the vigil as an individual and not as part of the Women's Ordination Conference, she said.

She sees the Vatican action towards LCWR as "emblematic of the way our hierarchy silences women's voices."

"The doctrinal assessment proves that they aren't simply barring us from the right to preside over the Eucharist. They are forbidding us from forming ministries and spiritualities that are authentic to our own lived experience.

"When bishops call themselves the authentic teachers of faith and morals what they are really saying is that women fundamentally lack the right to make any personal moral or spiritual discernments," she added. "They are saying that our only role is to pray to a male God in a way that has been taught to us by a male authority. That is an affront to all Catholic women, not just women religious."

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The Peace Pulpit: Where we find peace in our hearts

Homily given at St. Ann Church in Frankfort, Michigan

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

National Catholic Reporter
May 11, 2012

At the end of our first lesson today, St. Luke describes how that first Christian community lived and what was happening to them. He says, "The church was at peace and was built up throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria with eyes turned to God and the church lived, filled with comfort from the Holy Spirit." In a couple of other places in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke describes how that early Christian community was at peace.

You may remember a couple of Sundays ago, Luke described how the community found that there was no one among them that was in any kind of need because they brought everything they had and shared it. They shared with one another whatever they had so that no one was in need and so they were living in great peace.

Earlier on in the Acts, Luke had described how they would come together at the temple and pray, and then regularly they would break bread together -- celebrate the Eucharist as we're doing now.

It was a community, Luke says, where they loved one another and they were at peace.

In fact, as Luke says at the end of today's lesson, they continued to grow in numbers. What has happened? I don't think many of us would describe our church community now as living in peace. There is a lot of turmoil going on in our church and it's disturbing to people, disturbing to me, disturbing to all of us.

We're certainly not growing in numbers. In fact, it's reported, based on accurate surveys, that there are 30 million Ex-Catholics in the United States. Thirty million that have left our church. I'm sure many of us would say that it has happened in your family. A lot of our younger people who have been baptized, even gone to Catholic school right through Catholic university -- they're walking away.

Of course, there are so many problems. Just this past week, or within the last 10 days, I think all of us became aware how, from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an investigation is going to go on about the United States nuns -- those who've perhaps have been most faithful in our church serving the poor, educating our children, serving in hospitals, and taking care of the sick. Just today I read in the paper about Philadelphia: five more priests are defrocked and forbidden to function as priests forever because of the sex abuse scandal.

So there are many things that are happening in our church that cause turmoil to go on. There are at least three dioceses in the United States where because the bishop has decreed the closing of certain parishes, they've gone to court. The Cleveland diocese took their case to Rome -- to the church court, and the decision of the bishop was reversed.

So there's this turmoil, struggle going on within our church, and we wonder what happened? What has happened to make the church today so different from the way Luke describes it? While in fact, Luke was giving sort of an idealistic picture of the church because there was turmoil going on then too.

Paul, who had gone to Damascus to imprison Christians but then experienced that extraordinary conversion where remember, he was knocked to the ground and then he heard the voice saying, "Why do you persecute me?" "Who is it that I'm persecuting?" "It is Jesus," and then Paul is converted. But now he comes to Jerusalem and the people are afraid of him. Barnabus intervened and so they accepted him for a while, but then he has to flee because they're going to kill him. Paul was preaching kind of like a firebrand and people didn't like it and so they were driving him away.

There wasn't always peace and quiet in the early church. There were times where people were fighting with one another and disillusioned with what was happening in the church.

But Luke gives us an understanding of the church that's at peace and yet again, there were times where St. Paul, later on to the church at Corinth, criticizes that community because he says, "You're making distinctions between the rich and the poor. When you come to celebrate the Eucharist, the poor are kept outside on the edge of the community and the rich celebrate together, so there's this huge division."

Or another time, Paul criticizes Peter because (this is in the letter to the Galatians) Paul says to Peter, "You're a hypocrite!" Can you imagine that? That was going on in the church. Peter and Paul, the two leading apostles in our historical remembrance of the church, are at odds with one another. Well, how could Luke then say, "This community is at peace." I think the answer is found in today's gospel.

We can find the same thing ourselves. If we feel some of the turmoil that is going on in our church, we're discouraged. Maybe we're even tempted to walk away as so many people have.

What does Jesus say in the Gospel? He says, "I am the vine; you are the branches," and what he's talking about is that there's more to being a disciple of Jesus and following Jesus than belonging to the Catholic Church. It's an institution, it's important and I would never want to leave the church and I hope I never would, but that's not the most important part of being a disciple.

It's the fact that Jesus lives in me and I in him. That's what he means when he says, "I am the vine; you are the branches." We are in Jesus and Jesus is in us.

Think about a vine and how dependent the branches are on the vine. It's the same life that flows through the branches that flows through the vine. There could not be a deeper connection and that's what we have to nurture within our hearts is our relationship to Jesus to try and deepen our awareness that I live in Jesus and Jesus lives in me.

What's happening in the church around us? Yes, it'll be important to us and we'll try to make it better, but it won't tempt us ever to leave because we would not want to be separated from Jesus if we're very deeply aware that he lives in us and we live in him.

If we really begin to accept that, think about what that means when we interact with one another: when we interact with one another, we're carrying on and carrying out the message that Jesus gave to us to 'love one another as I have loved you.'

When we think of Jesus living in us and living in all of us, when we love each other, we're loving Jesus, and that gives us greater motivation to make sure we bring about reconciliation if it's broken down, if our community is breaking down in any way. If we find turmoil in our church, we can still love and reach out in love.

As John tells us today, it has to be more than just words; it has to be action, in deeds -- love one another. That's how we will bbe at peace in our hearts and in our church.

If we reach out in love to one another and if we do that because each of us shares deeply in the life of Jesus and then we nurture our relationship with Jesus who is the vine of which we are the branches. When we learn to deepen that love and that living in Jesus, that is possible because Jesus invites us to be branches on the vine, which is Jesus.

When we live that way, then we too will be at peace in our hearts and our church too will begin ever more to be at peace and perhaps we too will find as Luke said about that first disciple -- first community of disciples -- they continued to grow in numbers. So will we, but especially we will begin more and more to experience the peace that comes from being deeply united with Jesus.

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Let's not be a laughingstock, OK?

An open letter to the U.S. bishops

By Robert Blair Kaiser

National Catholic Reporter
May 18, 2012

Back in the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas warned his fellow scholars about taking positions that brought ridicule upon the church. "Ne fides rideatur," he said. Literally, "Don't let the faith be laughed at."

Last week, we learned the U.S. bishops were launching an investigation into the supposedly subversive activities of our Catholic Girl Scouts. According to The Associated Press, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Ft. Wayne-South Bend, Ind., and his fellows on the bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth will be looking into the Scouts' "possible problematic relationships" with groups like Doctors Without Borders, the Sierra Club, and Oxfam International "because they support family planning."

Only a few weeks ago, we were laughing over the news that our bishops are investigating the doctrinal purity of our religious sisters, the most admired Catholics in the land. Who of us is not hooting this week over something even sillier, this latest attempt by our bishops to swoop down, Taliban-like, on our Girl Scouts?

What, pray tell, is wrong with family planning? Rhoades would have us believe it's against Catholic teaching. He is referring, no doubt, to the so-called papal ban on birth control promulgated in Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical, "Humanae Vitae," which took the position that every marital act had to be "open to the transmission of life." The pope's courtiers said that meant couples were guilty of grave sin if, while making love, they used any artificial means of birth control, like condoms, IUDs or the pill.

Since then, Catholic couples have vetoed the pope by simply exercising responsible parenthood in good conscience. They do so emboldened by their own common sense; an open worldwide debate on birth control during the 1960s; and a leaked report from Pope Paul VI's own Pontifical Commission on Population, Family and Birth-rate, which advised the pope to reverse the teaching of his predecessor, Pius XI, which stated that Catholics who practiced any form of birth control, including rhythm, would go to hell.

Paul VI did not follow the advice of his own commission, not so much because he disagreed with its reasoning, arrived at after three years of serious debate, but because his ultra-conservative advisers in the Roman Curia couldn't figure out what he was supposed to do with all those souls he and his predecessors, Pius XI and Pius XII, had condemned to hell. I paraphrase the pope's actual words: If he dared change the not-so-ancient (1931) teaching, he would lose his moral authority. The ironic outcome: He didn't change the teaching and lost his moral authority. Most of the Catholic world ignored his thoughts on marital morality that were so antithetical to the thoughts of his own commission. Almost half of the Catholic bishops in the world issued statements that nuanced "Humanae Vitae" into nothing. In the next 10 years of his reign, the pope never wrote another encyclical.

In effect, the papal teaching on birth control was not, as the theologians were saying, "received." Therefore, it is not a teaching at all. In my exhaustive history of the papal birth control commission and its aftermath, I cite a learned paper, "The Doctrine of Reception" by James Coriden, a former president of the Canon Law Society of America, which lays the rationale for that position. In that paper, he gives a pretty good account of Catholic history, where the common sense of the people (the sensus fidelium) often overrode papal nonsense.

What appalls me most about Rhoades is he seems ignorant of the relatively recent history of Vatican II, when the papal birth control commission had its meetings. I suspect that what he knows of the council, which began when he was 5 years old, is what Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI wanted him to know of it, which is to say, not much.

The best thing about Vatican II: It reversed centuries of Catholicism's standoffishness toward "the world." I will never forget one day during the council's fourth session, when members of the press were given a draft of the council's crowning document on the church and the world. The world was a good place, it said, because it was redeemed by Christ, and where it wasn't so good, it was our job as followers of Christ to help make it better. I was covering the council for Time magazine, and at a session of the American Bishops' Press Panel later that day, I remember trying to understand the implications of this "new stance toward the world." I asked the panel of theologians, "Does this mean that Catholics can, for example, start working together with all kinds of organizations (not necessarily Catholic), like Planned Parenthood, for instance?"

I will never forget my sense of euphoria when almost everyone in the room applauded the reply of Francis Connell, a moral theologian from the then quite rigid Redemptorist Order. He said he didn't see why not.

I think it is important that we, the people of God, including our bishops, study up on Vatican II, now approaching its 50th anniversary. Folks were not laughing at us then.

[Robert Blair Kaiser has just republished his history of the papal birth commission and its aftermath, The Politics of Sex and Religion, as an ebook. It is available for free.]

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Former LCWR leader gives take on Vatican order

Joshua J. McElwee

National Catholic Reporter
May 29, 2012

Almost two months later, clarity is still elusive.

Across the country, women religious are still trying to make sense of the Vatican's latest move -- an April order to the organization representing the large majority of their ranks, telling the group to revise and place itself under the control of an archbishop.

For the first time since announcement of the sweeping order, the leadership of that group -- known as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) -- meets this week to discuss what to do next.

While the group has not given many details about the expected contents of the meeting -- scheduled for Tuesday through Friday -- an April release said the national board of the group will meet in an "atmosphere of prayer, contemplation and dialogue" and that it "plans to move slowly, not rushing to judgment."

Among those still trying to understand the implications of the Vatican order as the LCWR board meets this week is Mercy Sr. Theresa Kane.

A former LCWR leader, Kane made headlines across the world when she welcomed Pope John Paul II to the United States in 1979 and pointedly asked him about the possibility of ordaining women to the priesthood.

Kane, now an associate professor at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., first spoke to NCR about the Vatican order in a wide-ranging, half-hour-long phone conversation in early May.

Among her reflections then were her initial thoughts on hearing news of the Vatican's move, how she sees it fitting into the larger history between the Vatican and U.S. women religious, and what advice she has for the current LCWR leadership.

Following is that conversation, edited for clarity and length.

NCR: What was your initial reaction to the Vatican's order to the LCWR?

Sr. Kane: I was shocked but not surprised because I've seen a pattern over the years where LCWR has not been received well at Vatican institutions, certainly including the congregations for religious and doctrine of the faith.

It just hasn't been a good environment. LCWR has been very faithful about going over to the Vatican once a year, sometimes twice a year. We have spent an enormous amount of our membership money on this whole project, and now we're being asked to do it again. And it's just really not fair to the members.

We've spent a tremendous amount of money and now it seems futile. I was one that said we really need to continue the dialogue; we need to keep on going year after year because they need to hear from us personally.

But I have a sense that they were just quite hostile and almost resented our coming, and were pleased when we went home. It didn't seem to have any effect on them. It's like we put tremendous goodwill and energy into it, and it still seemed to fall on deaf ears.

NCR: You mention that the membership has spent a lot of time and money going to Rome, trying to have a conversation. At this point, how do you see that conversation?

Sr. Kane: Well, I certainly think that the head of this committee and his members should make it a priority to be at the LCWR assembly this summer, because that's when all the members gather together for the annual conference. That's really when they'll have power to make decisions for the future.

I think those men should be at that meeting and it should be a priority and they should attend all of it. We should not be meeting them in Chicago or California and spending our members' money on it. They should be coming to us now.

I think they need to be at the assembly, absolutely. I think our members need to see them, hear from them, and they need to hear from our members. We can't do this in a vacuum.

I also think that my big concern is that there is great hostility toward the LCWR. I think it's probably woven among the American bishops as well as the men in the Vatican, and I don't know how we get through that kind of a blockage.

It just seems to be a real blockage. It's almost as if they really do not like us. And don't appreciate what we've done. And don't see the value and the wisdom to what sisters have been doing all these years.

NCR: How does that make you feel?

Sr. Kane: It's very, very frustrating. I really think it is a gender issue here. It is a matter of the men in the Vatican still thinking they can control the women, especially control the women religious because we are pontifical and we are canonical.

And they don't realize that we have moved to another whole point of tremendous equality and mutuality. And that we have much to say about our future and what's going on.

We're calling for full participation of women in the church. That means that women have to fully participate and have an equal voice. I don't see that reflected in this whole direction. I do think that's a very serious problem.

NCR: There's been a number of articles concerning the level of involvement the U.S. bishops had with the Vatican order. How do you feel about the possibility that American bishops were really behind this?

Sr. Kane: Well, the statement came through the United States' bishops. Basically, the whole thing got channeled through them. So they had to have known it. Now whether they agreed with it or complied with it, I don't know.

Maybe they don't feel like they have any power over it either. Cardinal (Timothy) Dolan, the president of the U.S. bishops, is here in New York, and I haven't heard him say one single word about this. He has said absolutely nothing about it.

NCR: I know there was a lot of talk during the apostolic visitation about how much personal energy it takes to deal with these kinds of things. How much energy does it take for sisters to deal with this? Do you just expect this sort of tension with bishops to be a part of your life?

Sr. Kane: You know, we've had it as part of our life for a long time. We haven't had really good, strong relationships with bishops in many years.

There was a time when U.S. bishops who were working with sisters would come to our assembly, and we really had some good dialogue. And then I think there was a real shift after Pope John Paul II became pope. He wanted sisters to be in their habits, he wanted them to spend their time praying -- that goes back to 1978. I think that he set the groundwork for that.

I think because he came, and I gave the greeting that I did, that it caused a tremendous outpouring. And I think they've been really upset about that all these years. I mean, we're still going back to the question of ordination. And that's basically what I put in the message. And LCWR, in 1975, put in a resolution that said women need to be in all ministries of the church. We're talking about a 30-year history here. And they're still trying to reverse it.

NCR: Looking back and knowing what's happened now, would you change what you said then?

Sr. Kane: I would not change it, no. And, if anything I guess I've realized after I had said it that it was probably much more urgent than I realized at the time. It was a very urgent message for our times.

I think what happened in some aspects of the Catholic community is that we became defensive about it. Even among sisters -- we are still hesitant to talk about ordination. We don't want to upset the priests or bishops too much because we've worked very closely with them for so long. And we have a nice, comfortable relationship.

NCR: At this point, what do you think about the idea of LCWR letting go of its canonical recognition and just becoming a voluntary organization?

Sr. Kane: I think there's some wisdom to looking at the question. The reason I would be uncomfortable with the direction is it's like giving up the power that we have. And I don't really want to do that. I don't think we have a reason to not be pontifical, to not be officially and canonically Catholic.

But at the same time, if we were to really do a discernment on this to decide if it's more harmful to continue as a pontifical organization or not, we may say it is -- that it's taking too much energy, its taking too much time, or we're misdirecting our energies from the service of people.

I wouldn't not want to look at it, but I don't find myself saying that should be our position because I think there are forces in the Vatican and the hierarchy that would be happy if we did it. I really do.

NCR: It's almost like you're saying that if you go noncanonical, you remove yourself as the thorn in the Vatican's side.

Sr. Kane: That's correct. That's absolutely right. And I think that we do give up the power that we've had.

I've been in LCWR since 1970. So I'm in the organization 40 years. I'm not sure that I want it to go that quickly. I really don't. They actually could have taken it away if they wanted to. After five years, that may be part of their plan. But who knows? Between now and then there's much of divine intervention and divine providence that can come along.

[Joshua J. McElwee is an NCR staff writer. His email address is]

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LCWR president speaks of pain and process

By Joshua J. McElwee

National Catholic Reporter
June 1, 2012

Franciscan Sr. Pat Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, told NCR Friday the group is still discerning whether it can abide “with integrity” a Vatican-ordered revision of the organization’s charter, and plans to raise serious questions with church officials during planned meetings later this month in Rome.

In an exclusive interview, Farrell said a special meeting of the group’s national board of directors this week found it facing “a gamut of emotions of ups and downs” as it attempted prayerfully to decide the future course for the organization.

Farrell’s comments come just hours after LCWR, which represents some 80 percent of U.S. women religious, issued its first official statement in reply to a highly critical doctrinal assessment of the group issued April 18 by the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

The LCWR reply said the Vatican assessment followed a flawed process and charged that it has caused “scandal and pain throughout the church.”

The Vatican assessment mandates the sisters’ group revise its programs, affiliations, and statutes and places it under the direct authority of Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain who will serve officially as the “archbishop delegate,” giving him wide-ranging authority over the group.

In today’s interview, Farrell, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis based in Dubuque, Iowa, addressed the outcome of this week’s board meeting, explaining what she plans to say to Vatican officials during conversations in Rome, and whether the sisters’ group is considering leaving the church’s official canonical structure to reform itself as a non-profit organization.

Following is that interview, lightly edited for context.

Was there a sense of direction that might have changed at any point during the meeting?

There’s a number of issues that we talked over. And the tone changed in different conversations, but some of the overall things were that we want to speak the truth. We want to respond with integrity. We want to address what really has seemed to us as some misrepresentations of LCWR and of our life in the document that came from the CDF.

And we want to make sure that as we go forward we do not compromise the incredible solidarity we have among ourselves and that we move according to our procedures of gathering the impressions and the input of our members so that we always speak with one voice.

We would also, I think, would like to address issues that seem to us to be sort of an unfair representation of us and our lives, and we want to do so in a way that ultimately contributes to the good of religious life for ourselves and around the world, and for the good of the church.

The statement released this morning, while measured, also uses some stronger language -- using phrases like it’s a “flawed process” that resulted in the Vatican order. What sense was there among the LCWR board that the group needed to answer the order firmly?

I think, first of all, that we want to set the record straight and have an opportunity to have our understanding of ourselves and our issues represented truthfully. And so far the only statement that has been made public has been from the Vatican.

The prior discourse that we had in this whole doctrinal assessment was always held in confidence. We did have some back and forth written communication. And the verbal communication was more with Bishop Blaire, who was overseeing the process in the name of the CDF in the United States.

So this was really the first public statement that has been made about that. And it clearly represents the Vatican viewpoint. And before we say anything more about our own version of things, we want to have that conversation first with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In the statement, you also say that the Vatican order has caused “scandal.” What is the nature of the scandal as you see it? How are you defining that?

I think the inference that many people could draw from the publication of the Vatican document is that we are unfaithful, that we are not in communion with the church. We really do not see ourselves in that way.

However, there are genuine questions that we bring -- the conversations that need to happen. And I think the outpouring of support that has been manifested across the country is another manifestation of that. There are conversations and questions that need to happen that are also shared by a lot of the laity of the church.

The insinuation that I think many people could draw from reading that Vatican document is that if we raise those questions, we’re unfaithful to the church. That’s not true. And I don’t think that’s really fair. I think, in fact, that that is a sign of our deepest faithfulness to the church -- questions that the people of God need to raise, that we need to talk about together in a climate of genuine dialog.

The climate isn’t always there. And we’re in a bit of a delicate position with this because we do want to faithfully raise questions of concern, but we do not want to do it in a way that further polarizes. And that’s a tricky path to walk.

You’ve mentioned you’re planning to go to Rome to meet with Archbishop Sartain and Cardinal Levada. What do you expect focus of those conversations to be?

From our side of the conversation, we want to clarify what we think are misrepresentations of LCWR and of women religious in the United States. And from there, we don’t know how that conversation will unfold.

It really is a continuation of the initial conversation we had when we had our appointment on April 18 with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. And we deliberately gave very little response then because we did not want to do anything off the top of our head without consultation, first of all with a broader section of our membership, and without some thoughtful, prayerful consideration.

This is a continuation of that conversation, in which we’re ready to speak more of our genuine response. And we think that needs to happen first with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

You mean you want to bring them into the conversation and not just be talking with Archbishop Sartain?

Well, the document came from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. And statements about us came from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. So we think that’s the starting point. And Archbishop Sartain will be present.

Coming off the board meeting, what sense is there among the sisters that you’d be comfortable subjecting your programs to review by three bishops?

Cleary this is an outside control. We would rather not have that.

Again, how this all unfolds is something that we will do together with our membership. And we will take one step at a time and see in conversation to what degree we can enter into this process with integrity.

That’s a question that no one of us is going to determine alone. That will be an unfolding process with the 1,500 members of LCWR.

At this point, what kind of support has the idea of LCWR becoming non-canonical garnered? What’s the conversation on that like?

Again, that’s something we can’t respond to without further consultation with our members. But the option always is there.

But it’s very important for us as well to be at the table in the conversations within the church that we think need to take place. But we also, I think, are interested in seeing whether it’s possible to create the climate of dialog that will allow that to really happen.

On that climate of dialog, what has conversation with Archbishop Sartain been like so far?

You know, we’ve had very, very little contact. We met with him officially when we were in Rome. He happened to be there also on his ad limina visit. And we had a very lovely, “getting to know you” conversation and that’s pretty much what it was.

If you had Pope Benedict in front of you and you could say or ask or tell him anything on this score, what would it be? 

We would love to sit down with you personally and talk about this.

What are you saying to sisters who are approaching LCWR and saying they don’t understand, or they’re really hurt by this? How are you responding to people’s feelings?

That’s an easy one. We’re all hurt by this. I’m not sure any of us understand. It’s a very important conversation to have with each other, so we can get past the strong feelings about this and see what is the most helpful kind of response that we can give.

But it’s not just the sisters out there. It’s the national board, it’s all of us. This has deeply saddened religious women around the United States.

You mentioned earlier the show of support by people coming to vigils and the like. What do you say to people who want to show support for sisters at this time?

I think what they can do that is most effective is to, on their part from wherever they are, to also enter into the most open and honest dialog that’s possible for them to have in their local church with their local bishops and other people.

The document actually calls for a renewal of LCWR, but our hope is that out of this and out of broad dialog with bishops and laity there could come some renewal for the church in the United States. And that would be something we would all have to help create together.

We also just want to express our deep gratitude to people around the country and around the world that have shown such immeasurable support for LCWR.

[Joshua J. McElwee is an NCR staff writer. His email address is]

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LCWR Board Meets to Review CDF Report

Leadership organization’s response to the
Vatican order will be determined in August

June 1, 2012


Washington, DC -- The national board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) held a special meeting in Washington, DC from May 29-31 to review, and plan a response to, the report issued to LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The board members raised concerns about both the content of the doctrinal assessment and the process by which it was prepared. Board members concluded that the assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency.

Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission. The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.

The board determined that the conference will take the following steps:

The board recognizes this matter has deeply touched Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the world as evidenced by the thousands of messages of support as well as the dozens of prayer vigils held in numerous parts of the country. It believes that the matters of faith and justice that capture the hearts of Catholic sisters are clearly shared by many people around the world. As the church and society face tumultuous times, the board believes it is imperative that these matters be addressed by the entire church community in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, and integrity.

Contact: Sister Annmarie Sanders, IHM – LCWR Director of Communications - 301-588-4955 (office) - 301-672-3043 (cell) -

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Bishops' move against women religious a hard sell, indeed

Thomas C. Fox

National Catholic Reporter
June 5, 2012


You can bet that in the eyes of the Vatican, its Monday condemnation of the book Just Love by Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley has nothing to do with other recent and not-so-recent actions taken against U.S. Catholic sisters. 

No, the move against Farley, one can hear the officials saying, stems solely from an independent investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith that began about three years ago.

It needs to be seen simply as that, an investigation into one wayward book.

That it comes a mere six weeks after the very same congregation issued a highly critical doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the single most prominent voice for U.S. Catholic sisters, is coincidental.

That the Vatican critique of Farley's book, which tarnishes her as a Catholic moral teacher, comes a month after the congregation placed LCWR in receivership with the intent to diminish its independent voice is not to be viewed as related in any way.

Or at least, that's the way I think the Vatican would have it.

No, the prelates would have us believe their three-year investigation of the Yale theologian's book and their three-year investigation of U.S. women religious communities, the works of two separate congregations, have nothing to do with each other.

After all, the left hand inside the Vatican doesn't always know what the right hand is up to.

And then there's that other doctrinal critique of a book by another prominent Catholic sister and theologian, St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, a professor at Fordham University. The Farley and Johnson matters are separate, I can hear the prelates say. 

After all, the condemnation of Johnson's book was not the work of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but rather, that of the U.S. bishops' doctrine committee, a group of half a dozen men, which found her work similarly inconsistent with Catholic doctrine, even undermining the Gospels.

If, indeed, I am right and this is what our prelates want us to believe, they are going to find it a hard sell.

Given these cumulative actions, it's near impossible for anyone with half a brain to not think our bishops and Rome are frightfully afraid of our Catholic sisters and are trying as they might to keep them closely tethered to their staffs and miters.

What's going on? Why the fear? Why these repeated efforts to re-establish a blind obedience to the hierarchy more associated with the Middle Ages?

Who among our sisters, their supportive laity or in popular media does not find in the actions of our bishops hints of undeniable misogynists?

Why is it that each episcopal move against a consecrated woman or group of consecrated women follows secret episcopal meetings and correspondence? Why the darkness?

Why is it our bishops find it so difficult to deal with the women as equals? Yes, we play different roles within the church. But aren't we all fundamentally equal by right of our baptisms? And haven't the sisters, just like the male religious and clergy, given their entire personal, ministerial and professional lives to the church? Doesn't this account for something?

Why is it our prelates refuse sit together around a table in a room with the sisters and discuss issues with them respectfully, God forbid, as might be so expected of Christians? Of inhabitants of the 21st century?

We are not envisioning the kind of discussion that comes at the end of secret conversations, papers and investigations by the men, but rather, the kind that happens before any of these are first set in motion.

Don't our bishops realize that some of the things they are saying to and about women, consecrated or not, only distance them further from women -- the very ones whose unstinting service to the people of God in their homes, parishes, schools, youth programs and so many other places are the very backbone of the body of Christ?

A lot gets written these days about the weakened credibility of our bishops, but nowhere are such comments more applicable than when we find our bishops speaking about women, sexual ethics and reproductive issues.

Who in their right mind today would give credence in such matters to any group of men that willfully excludes all women from its innermost deliberations? What a handicap this is for our church. In a world that needs clear moral voices, we can only lament this diminishment.

And as women worldwide become more educated, this disability will only get worse.

The single strongest action our Catholic hierarchy could take to fight abortion would be to ordain women as priests. Doing so could set our church on the journey to level the gender terrain, edge us into the 21st century and begin to re-establish lost Catholic authority on reproductive issues.

But instead of promoting women, instead of promoting platforms for our most visible and credible women, our women religious, our bishops appear determined to tear them down -- and themselves in the process.

Try to find a Catholic today who doesn't think the Vatican critique of LCWR said more about the men than the women. 

As Boston College theologian Lisa Sowle Cahill put it when she learned of the Vatican action against Farley: "The timing of this intervention is incredibly and ironically bad. The U.S. bishops, and at their instigation the Vatican, are already attracting an enormous amount of negative press over their prosecution of the American nuns. They have just thrown another log on the fire."

Cahill zeroed in on one of the core differences between the guiding concerns of the bishops and Rome on one hand and Just Love on the other when she noted, "A huge concern of the book is gender-based violence and sexual oppression of women worldwide. ... They receive nary a mention in the Notification, which seems to find masturbation more important."

The issues on which the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith focused "reflect nothing so much as the polarizing 'culture wars' now consuming the internal politics of the U.S. Catholic Church," she said.

I hope and pray some episcopal guardian angels quickly awaken the men to perceptions widely held (and spreading) among Catholics. Among these are that the bishops' moves against the women religious are intended:


It is truly difficult to imagine there are not at least a few bishops who cringed when they learned the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had decided to critique the Farley book. The wise among them must know that, if nothing else, the action would bring worldwide popular attention to a book that until now has largely had a more restricted audience of academics and students in college or graduate courses on religion and sexual ethics.

The Spirit works is at work in a universe of Her own making.

While the Vatican might claim it has no grand scheme to put down our U.S. women religious or to limit their influence while so many others are listening to them with great admiration, the sum effect of the Vatican actions argues an opposite case.

And, thus, our bishops face a hard sell; a hard sell, indeed.

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Franciscan Friars Back American Nuns in Vatican Spat

Daniel Burke

Religion News Service
June 7, 2012

The brothers have come to the sisters’ defense.

Leaders from the seven Franciscan provinces in the U.S. publicly backed a group of American nuns on Thursday (June 7), calling a Vatican crackdown on the women “excessive.”

The Franciscan friars are believed to be the first Catholic religious order to voice support for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious since the Vatican announced a full-scale makeover of the group in April.

The Vatican said the LCWR, which represents most of the nation’s 57,000 nuns, does not adequately advocate against gay marriage, abortion and women’s ordination.

The Vatican’s “doctrinal assessment” also faulted the sisters for sponsoring conferences that featured “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Noting that many members of LCWR belong to female Franciscan orders, the friars pledged solidarity with the sisters and called the Vatican assessment “excessive, given the evidence raised.”

The sisters have been wrestling with complex contemporary issues, the Franciscans said, and those deliberations should not be equated with disobedience to Catholic doctrine.

“The efforts of LCWR to facilitate honest and faithful dialogue on critical issues of our times must not result in a level of ecclesial oversight that could, in effect, quash all further discernment,” the Franciscans said.

Catholics since the Middle Ages have disagreed about how to apply church doctrine to public policy, the friars argued, and seldom were those disputes deemed “equivalent to questioning the authority of the Church’s magisterium."

Many church observers suspect the Vatican crackdown was at least partially a response to prominent Catholic sisters' support for President Obama’s health care overhaul, despite bishops’ objections.

“Rather than excessive oversight of LCWR, perhaps a better service to the people of God might be a renewed effort to articulate the nuances of our complex moral tradition,” the friars said.

The LCWR itself has called the Vatican’s assessment “unsubstantiated” and a source of "scandal and pain."

LCWR leaders will meet on June 12 in Rome with Cardinal William Levada, the former archbishop of San Francisco who now heads the Vatican’s doctrine office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Daniel Burke writes for Religion News Service. Via RNS.

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