Vatican decision to review work of US nuns’ association sparks controversy
VATICAN CITY – Recent Vatican investigations of Religious women have created opportunities for growth through reflection and for dialogue with their bishops, two US bishops said after discussing the matter with Vatican officials.
Archbishop Michael J Sheehan of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Bishop Gerald F Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, told Catholic News Service on May 2 that they had discussed the Vatican’s recent order to reform the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) with officials from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
Archbishop Sheehan said that during the meeting, attended by bishops from Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Wyoming, who were making their five-yearly visits to the Vatican, “the point that was made was that although some people were unhappy with the decision to make corrections” in the LCWR, it would be “an opportunity for dialogue” between the Religious and the bishops.
Citing “serious doctrinal problems” revealed in an assessment originally ordered in April 2008, the Vatican announced on April 18 a major reform of the LCWR, a group which includes about 1,500 leaders of US women’s communities, representing about 80 percent of the country’s 57,000 Religious women.
The Vatican appointed Archbishop J Peter Sartain of Seattle to provide “review, guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work” of the LCWR and to ensure fidelity in conference programmes and meetings to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality.
Among the areas of concern were some of the most controversial issues of medical and sexual ethics in America today.
“While there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States,” the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said.
“Further, issues of crucial importance in the life of the Church and society, such as the Church’s biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching.”
The Vatican also found that “public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.”
According to the Vatican, such deviations from Catholic teaching have provoked a crisis “characterised by a diminution of the fundamental Christological centre and focus of religious consecration.”
The presidency of the LCWR later issued a statement saying it was “stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Because the leadership of LCWR has the custom of meeting annually with the staff of CDF in Rome and because the conference follows canonically approved statutes, we were taken by surprise.”
The LCWR later revised its initial statement, adding that “we were taken by surprise by the gravity of the mandate”.
Religious women in the United States also are awaiting the results of an apostolic visitation of their communities; the congregation for Religious ordered the visitation in 2008, particularly in light of the steep decline in the number of Religious women in the country. The visitation’s final report was submitted in December but has not been made public. - CNS