Thank God for Catholic sisters! Sing along.
“Serious misunderstandings” exist between Vatican officials and Catholic sisters, said the head of the U.S. sisters’ group that was ordered to place itself under the review of bishops.
Deacon’s 20-minute address was LCWR’s most public statement to date of their relations with the Vatican. Women religious around the world are watching closely how the process between the Vatican and LCWR moves forward.
“It’s had a huge impact in Australia,” Mercy Sr. Catherine Ryan from Australia told the National Catholic Reporter. “We watch it very carefully because the LCWR … has huge significance for our lives,” said Ryan. “I don’t see that the religious women in Australia are any different than the religious women in America.”
Here’s an excerpt from Sr. Deacon’s address:
“What this assessment shows is that there is serious misunderstanding between officials of the Vatican and women religious, and the need for prayer, discernment, and deep listening.
We determined that we would do this negotiation outside of the glare of the media and we turned down thousands of requests. We could have been on every news program on every major channel in every part of the world if we would have said yes. Continue reading “President of LCWR Addresses Global Gathering of Catholic Sisters”
The historic meeting of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in St. Louis, MO, is drawing to a close.
Sr. Pat Farrell gave her concluding address as she ends her time of service as LCWR’s president. As the body that represents 80 percent of Catholic sisters in the United States reckons with how to respond to a harsh rebuke by the Vatican, Sr. Pat offered this perspective. This is what religious wisdom looks like:
Taking the stage to a standing ovation, Farrell said that “some larger movement in the church … has landed on LCWR.”
A key question facing LCWR, she said, is “What would a prophetic response to the doctrinal assessment look like?”
“I think it would be humble, but not submissive,” she continued. “Rooted in a solid sense of ourselves, but not self-righteous; truthful, but gentle and absolutely fearless.
“It would ask probing questions. Are we being invited to some appropriate pruning and are we open to it? Is this doctrinal process an expression of concern or an attempt to control?
“Concern is based in love and invites unity. Control through fear and intimidation would be an abuse of power.
“Does the institutional legitimacy of canonical recognition empower us to live prophetically? Does it allow us the freedom to question with informed consciences? Does it really welcome feedback in a church that claims to honor the sensus fildeum?”
Farrell also said that it would be a “mistake” to make “too much” of the mandate.
“We cannot allow it to consume us,” she said. “It is not the first time that a form of religious life has collided with the church, nor will it be the last.”
“The doctrinal assessment suggests that we are not currently living in an ideal ecclesial world,” Farrell continued.
Yet, she said, the sisters also “cannot make too little” of the Vatican’s move. It’s “historical impact,” she said, is “apparent to all of us.”
Ending her remarks with a reflection on the Gospel parable of the mustard seed, Farrell showed an image of mustard plants growing in a field, saying the seed is “uncontainable” and “crops up anywhere without permission.”
Comparing the seed to the spirit of God, she continued: “We can indeed live in joyful hope because there is no political or ecclesiastical herbicide that can wipe out the newness of God’s spirit.”
Ending with a Spanish phrase she said she learned while ministering in Chile during the military dictatorship there, Farrell said: “They can crush a few flowers, but they cannot hold back the springtime.”
As Farrell left the stage, the audience of about 900 stood slowly, clapping for some three minutes and shouting in affirmation. …
Read the whole National Catholic Reporter article.
Also, in St. Louis Beacon: With prayer and iPads, Women Religious consider response to Vatican
Also, in St. Louis Review: LCWR Sisters discuss complexity of dialogue (really nice photos here)
Among those guests are a number of representatives of national and international Catholic institutes, including a number of heads of international federations of religious orders, a representative from the Latin American Confederation of Religious, head of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, and more.
On Sunday, after the official ending of the assembly, LCWR’s national board will meet privately. Part of that session, according to LCWR president Pat Farrell, will include a meeting with Archbishop Peter Sartain, one of the “guides” assigned to LCWR, “for the very first conversation that really he’s had with us in any official way” so that “we can communicate with him something of a direction that comes from this group,” said Farrell. Here’s an excerpt from a recent National Catholic Reporter article by Joshua J. McElwee.
The much-anticipated gathering of 900 U.S. Catholic sisters who make up the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) opened here Tuesday night with song, prayer, and references big, small, and in-between to the Vatican’s attempted take-over of the group.
References to the Vatican’s critique of the group, which came in an April 18 announcement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, came early in the two-hour event, with LCWR president Franciscan Sr. Pat Farrell telling the assembled that “we don’t have to remind you that our gathering this week is an historic time in the life of this organization.”
The opening of the annual assembly of LCWR, which represents some 80 percent of U.S. women religious, also included a welcome by St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson and details about how the group’s members would discern steps forward during the gathering, which continues through Friday night. … — Joshua J. McElwee, National Catholic Reporter
Today, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the U.S. begins a week of contemplative discernment in St. Louis, MO, to “reason together” about how they will respond to the Vatican’s crackdown on their organization and their work.
We have an opportunity to watch two starkly different modes of leadership at work. The Vatican uses a command-control model aimed at maintaining homogeneity and the status quo. The Catholic Sisters communities draw on a more ancient model that develops shared leadership, communal shaping of vision, and is agile enough to address the “signs of the times,” as well as remain resilient amid diversity.
Not only are U.S. Catholic laity watching and praying for the LCWR this week, but so are Catholic orders and laity around the world. Your prayer this week will be greatly appreciated (LCWR prayer)
Below is an excerpt of my latest column in Sojourners magazine, addressing these issues:
The Presumption of Equality by Rose Marie Berger
…These Catholic sisters represent an unbroken, cohesive expression of faith in the history of American Catholicism and in women’s presumption of equality, completeness, and active moral agency both under law and under God—a presumption that is a shining light for women around the world. The sisters might have once shared accolades for faithful servant leadership with their brother priests, bishops, and cardinals, but over the course of nearly 30 years of unfolding pedophilia scandal and blasphemous mob-like cover-up, the laity has learned to look to the sisters alone for examples of Catholic gospel witness and Christian maturity, strength, and just plain grit.
But let’s not sideline this issue as “a Catholic thing.” We don’t get off that easy. The struggle over women’s authority runs right through the denominational diaspora of the body of Christ.
“Christian churches have long been ambivalent about us,” wrote Protestant female theologians in a letter of support to the women of LCWR. “Women’s roles have been embraced in private, not public forums. Women leaders are affirmed as long as they are seen, but not heard (at least too much).” And as long as what the women say doesn’t contradict male authorities.
Even in Christian denominations that ordain women to leadership, too often they are forced to operate as second-class citizens. Women pastors don’t get called to prominent congregations; they’re not allowed to prioritize the most urgent needs in their parishes; and they face constant friction. Time and again, we see the ideas of men described (and funded) as “entrepreneurial,” “innovative,” and “bold,” while women’s initiatives are “unorthodox,” “suspect,” and “back-burner, support-staff kind of thinking.”
“The plight of the powerless is familiar to the women of the church,” continue the Protestant scholars. “We, however, do not believe that authorities in any church should take away women’s power to determine for ourselves a vision for our ministries and vocations.” Many women—and men—have raised questions similar to those asked by Catholic women religious. Did God plan for an exclusively male priesthood or did it form as a result of the sin of misogyny? Do our baptismal vows anoint girls into the fullness of ministry as “priest, prophet, and king” in Christ or do they not? Is providing for the poor, the outcast, the sick, the prisoner, and the foreigner at the core of the gospel message or is it not?
“What we see in this struggle is not a lack of our sisters’ integrity and authentic witness to Christian faith,” the open letter continues, “but a struggle that has been too familiar for all women of faith—a struggle over authority and who should have the power to define true faith.”…
Rose Marie Berger, author of Who Killed Donte Manning? is a Catholic peace activist and a Sojourners associate editor. Read the whole article here, the September-October 2012 issue of Sojourners magazine.
Professor emerita at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., and a member of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Monroe, Mich., Schneiders is speaking to a much larger audience than only nuns. For any Christian who is passionate about living the gospel and makes sacrifices to follow that call, Schneiders can help you understand your role in modern America.
For faithful women clustered around the cross and active in The Way, whatever your denomination, Schneiders has something to say to you about internal authority, mutual freedom, life in tension.
Schneiders recent speech titled The Future of Religious Life is addressing themes in the American Catholic church, but it conveys more broadly. Below is one section I found helpful in my own thinking, but I hope you’ll read and be encouraged by the whole article.
Increasingly, religious women have taken their expertise into ministries that, while still in continuity with those of the past and arising directly out of their communities’ charisms, are not ones most Catholics tend to associate with “the Sisters.”
Schneiders grouped them into four “clusters”:
*Social justice ministers focused on systemic or structural change, whose “theological glue” tends to be Catholic social teaching. These include social scientists, activists, lawyers, political and community organizers, economists and sociologists, urban farmers and legislators.
This week as seen a bizarre split in Catholic allegiances on passing the health care bill. On Monday, 15 March, U.S. Catholic bishops, who have been a strong, clear, and powerful advocate for health care reform have backed off from it over concerns that the language written by pro-life Dems Ben Nelson and Bob Casey doesn’t go far enough in preventing federal funding for abortion.
The bishops announced that they must “regretfully hold that it must be opposed unless and until these serious moral problems are addressed.” Yesterday, Catholic commentator E.J. Dionne wrote in his Washington Post column:
Yet on the make-or-break roll call that will determine the fate of health-care reform, bishops are urging that the bill be voted down. They are doing so on the basis of a highly tendentious reading of the abortion provisions in the Senate measure. If health reform is defeated, the bishops will have played a major role in its demise.
What a shame! But, where the Catholic bishops have dropped the banner, American Catholic sisters have picked it up.
Sister Carol Keehan, President and CEO of the Catholic Health Association (the largest Catholic health organization in the country, representing 1200 Catholic health facilities and 800,000 employees), issued a statement (The Time is Now for Health Reform) on Monday, maintaining support for the health care bill and explaining how the current provisions will work:
The bill now being considered allows people buying insurance through an exchange to use federal dollars in the form of tax credits and their own dollars to buy a policy that covers their health care. If they choose a policy with abortion coverage, then they must write a separate personal check for the cost of that coverage.
There is a requirement that the insurance companies be audited annually to assure that the payment for abortion coverage fully covers the administrative and clinical costs, that the payment is held in a separate account from other premiums, and that there are no federal dollars used.
In addition, there is a wonderful provision in the bill that provides $250 million over 10 years to pay for counseling, education, job training and housing for vulnerable women who are pregnant or parenting. Another provision provides a substantial increase in the adoption tax credit and funding for adoption assistance programs.
Two days after Sr. Keehan’s statement of support for the health care bill, more Catholic sisters representing hundreds of communities sent letters to Congress also in support of passing the health care bill.
NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, headed up by Sr. Simone Campbell, released the text of the letter they delivered to each member of Congress on St. Patrick’s Day. NETWORK represents 59,000 Catholic sisters and more lay Catholics.
We write to urge you to cast a life-affirming “yes” vote when the Senate health care bill (H.R. 3590) comes to the floor of the House for a vote as early as this week. We join the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA), which represents 1,200 Catholic sponsors, systems, facilities and related organizations, in saying: the time is now for health reform AND the Senate bill is a good way forward.
As the heads of major Catholic women’s religious order in the United States, we represent 59,000 Catholic Sisters in the United States who respond to needs of people in many ways. Among our other ministries we are responsible for running many of our nation’s hospital systems as well as free clinics throughout the country. …
The health care bill that has been passed by the Senate and that will be voted on by the House will expand coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans. While it is an imperfect measure, it is a crucial next step in realizing health care for all. It will invest in preventative care. It will bar insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It will make crucial investments in community health centers that largely serve poor women and children. And despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions. It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments – $250 million – in support of pregnant women. This is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.
Of course, as all this plays out, conservatives against health care reform — including Americans United for Life, which is running a $350,000 ad campaign aimed at eight Democratic lawmakers who supported the Stupak-Pitt’s amendment which prohibited federal funding for abortion and allowed individuals to purchase private insurance that may or may not cover abortions — are cranking back up their machines and may be strong-arming behind the scenes to push House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (also a Catholic) toward the “deem to pass” or “self-executing” option.
CHA president Sr. Keehan wrote for Sojourners last November. I appreciated her clear, concise, and profoundly educated approach when she said:
“Health care must respect and protect human dignity from conception to natural death. In that spirit, coverage for everyone is a moral imperative and a matter of social justice.”
Once again, I’m proud to see Catholic women leading the way toward sane and humane governance and policy.
I was very happy to see that both the Sacramento and Portland-OR Catholic newspapers printed the letter below in support of American Catholic sisters and asking the Vatican to discontinue its investigation.
I was doubly happy that this letter was written by my own parents! In addition to themselves as signatories, 30 others also signed in support.
Any Thought Given to a Year for Women Religious?
To the Catholic Sentinel (Portland, OR):
When Pope Benedict proclaimed the year for priests, the Vatican began an investigation of American Catholic Sisters. The investigation lacks collegiality, subsidiarity and transparency, core values of the Vatican II Council. The investigation is an insult to the Sisters and to American Catholic lay people.
American Religious women, in struggling with the needed reforms from Vatican II, offered vision in examining our Catholic Christian roots. They instilled their charisms of faith, vision and courage and empowered us all to be advocates for peace and justice. They became our witnesses of discipleship and faithfulness. They, too, truly deserve our gratitude and support.
The emphasis from Rome, “Praise the Priests, Investigate the Sisters” illustrates the disparity in our church.
We have much to be thankful for the good and faithful priests who bring us the Eucharist. They deserve our fullest appreciation.
They are reeling from the sordid actions of a few, about 4.5 percent over the past 50 years, including bishops, who perpetrated and covered up the scandals. Financial settlements have cost dioceses, American Catholics, and their insurance companies $1 billion.
The Sisters and we lay people deserve better. We pray the Pope will cancel the investigation of the American Religious women and proclaim a Year of the Sisters.
John and Barbara Berger
This is part five of a five-part essay by Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Sandra Schneiders on the meaning of religious life today. The series is published in the U.S-based National Catholic Reporter. In this part Schneiders, professor of New Testament Studies and Christian Spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, offers a conclusion to her essay on prophetic ministry and the nature of true Christian obedience. (See my earlier post on Tom Fox’s interview with Schneiders here, and Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.) The quotes that I highlighted and my set of questions are at the bottom of the post.
Religious Life is Sharing Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection (Part 5 of 5)
We can now see the parallel between the two-level analysis of the execution of Jesus and the two levels of the struggle between U.S. women Religious and the Vatican. At the surface level Jesus was executed to put a stop to his “stirring up the people” which threatened the status quo of the Empire and the Temple. But at the deepest level, although “they knew not what they were doing,” the officials were trying to neutralize the radical revolution Jesus was introducing into their “world.” Jesus was initiating, by his prophetic words and works, a “new creation,” totally at odds with the satanic domination systems in power not only in political and religious institutions but in the human race as a whole. He was inaugurating and inviting people into the Reign of God, into a regime of endless and unconditioned compassion that would overflow into and empower a new form of justice based not on retribution and coercive power but on forgiveness of sins and inclusion in the all-embracing love of God. The Resurrection was God’s “yes” to Jesus’ work and “no” to the murder that tried to stop it.
Since Jesus, the Reign of God is “loose” in this world, working its painful way through the witness of saints and martyrs toward its full eschatological realization. The “powers” of this world are still at work to prevent this realization but, as Jesus said to his disciples on the eve of his death, “Have confidence; I have overcome the world.”
When we get down to the deeper levels of the question with which this essay began, “Why are Religious, of all people, being investigated by the Vatican?” we can discern the same two levels. At the surface level Religious are being threatened because they have been “upsetting the (patriarchal) order” of the Church as institution in which the hierarchy has its position of power. But they are calling into question not only absolute male power over women (which was not invented by and is not restricted to the Church) but also the necessity of understanding the Church itself as essentially an institution based on sacralized power. Religious, by their community life, are aligning themselves with the ecclesiology of the Church as People of God expressed in Lumen Gentium, a discipleship of equals, within which they are both exemplars and facilitators but also in solidarity with those to whom they no longer wish to be “superior” or “elite.” They are gratefully living among their lay sisters and brothers the oneness of the Body of Christ. This ecclesiology is no threat to the community Jesus gathered around him but it is a threat to an understanding of Church as a sacralized empire. It goes back to Jesus, not to Constantine.
But this Body of Christ, which we are, exists not just for the Church itself but for the world which God so loved. It is not a place of privilege or power, a sanctuary of the perfect, but the effective presence of Christ in the world in service of all those for whom Jesus died and rose. This is the vision of the Church in the world that came to marvelous expression in Gaudium et Spes.
The struggle between Religious and the hierarchy is really, at its core, a struggle over the nature of Religious Life itself which is necessarily determined by how one understands the Church in its relation to the world. Is this life a job corps of submissive workers carrying out hierarchically assigned and supervised institutional Church tasks designed to bring all people into the Roman Catholic Church and into subjection to its leadership? Or is Religious Life a charismatically grounded, prophetic life form in the Church called by God to the ever ambiguous task of discerning how the Gospel, the good news of the Reign of God, can be made salvifically operative in the concrete and confusing situations in which believers must live their Christ-life today in witness to all peoples of the infinite loving-kindness of our God?
This is part four of a five-part essay by Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Sandra Schneiders on the meaning of religious life today. The series is published in the U.S-based National Catholic Reporter. In this part Schneiders, professor of New Testament Studies and Christian Spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, explores the tasks of those who choose to live a prophetic life. Religious life, says Schneiders, has been called a prophetic life form both in official documents and in spiritual writing almost since its inception. The meaning of this affirmation, however, is often unrealistically romanticized or left so piously vague as to be useless. (See my earlier post on Tom Fox’s interview with Schneiders here, and Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.) The quotes that I highlighted and my set of questions are at the bottom of the post.
Tasks of those who choose the prophetic life style (Part 4 of 5)
Religious Life has been called a prophetic life form both in official documents and in spiritual writing almost since its inception. The meaning of this affirmation, however, is often unrealistically romanticized or left so piously vague as to be useless. In the current situation [Vatican investigation of American Catholic sisters] in which the nature of ministerial religious life as a prophetic life form in the Church is in public contention it would be helpful for us, as a church in general and as religious in particular, to clarify the meaning of this affirmation.
First, it is the life form, not the individual religious, that is characterized as “prophetic.” Just as entrance into an enclosed monastic community (often called a “contemplative order”) does not make one a contemplative, and there are many genuine contemplatives who do not enter monasteries, so entering religious Life does not make one a prophet and there are many prophetic figures who do not enter religious Life. However, different life forms in the Church offer corporate witness (corporate as in “organic,” not as in “corporation”) to particular dimensions of Christian life in which all the baptized are called to participate. All are called to contemplation, to fidelity and fruitfulness, to prophetic witness. But certain life forms, such as enclosed monastic life, matrimony, or ministerial religious life raise one or another of these dimensions to particular visibility by their corporate living of this charism. So what follows makes no claims that all ministerial religious are prophets or that religious life has any monopoly on the charism of prophecy in the Church.
However, the life form as corporate witness to the charism of prophecy does (or should) explicitly challenge its individual members to the exercise of this charism and empower, support, and promote their fidelity to this charism. The felt call to prophetic ministry and the gifts of spirit, mind, and heart for the exercise of such ministry, therefore, should be factors in discerning a vocation to religious life.
At certain times in its history, religious life has been so caught up in a hyper-institutionalized and over-clericalized understanding of Church and ministry, and of itself in that framework, that many Congregations lost sight of this vocational criterion. They preferred candidates who were compliant and docile. The less experienced and competent, the more girlishly romantic about their calling, that they were at entrance, the better, since they were more easily “formed” for submission. Most congregations today prefer candidates who have a sturdy sense of self developed through education and work experience and sufficient maturity to live and work well outside a “total institution” environment. Such candidates are more likely to grow into a truly prophetic ministerial identity and spirituality.
Second, some can be tempted to label “prophetic” any kind of protest that is extreme, conspicuous, or stubborn, or to claim the title of “prophet” for anyone whose ideas or behavior are questioned by authority, no matter how reasonably. The truly prophetic are typically very reluctant to call themselves prophets. They know well their fear in the face of conflict and the high cost of putting themselves in the line of fire of angry officials. Furthermore, they recognize the need to receive seriously and incorporate responsibly institutional authority’s positions and concerns into any discernment that influences other people, in or outside the Church. Again, discerning between the genuinely prophetic stance and mob fanaticism, between courage and arrogance can be very difficult. It requires prayer, communal consultation, testing, and a humble willingness to consider seriously all reasonable and respectful disagreement with one’s position.
The Inaugural Vision or Prophetic Call
Religious life begins, both corporately and individually, in an experience analogous to the inaugural vision of the Old Testament prophets and of Jesus himself. Although the literary form of the biblical narratives of prophetic calls convey the substance but not necessarily the historical details of these experiences, all these texts indicate that the prophetic vocation is not undertaken on one’s own initiative. Nor is one appointed to it by human beings. The call comes from God, often to one who feels frightened, unworthy, or incompetent. Even Jesus is clearly sobered by the dimensions and evident dangers of the life to which he is called. God’s call to him is powerful and compelling, but Satan’s opposition is both real and dangerous.
Religious orders begin, typically, in the charismatic experience of one or more founders who feel impelled to give themselves to God and God’s work, almost always in response to some historically pressing need. Subsequent members respond to a personal call to join the founders in this divinely-originated enterprise. The ensuing process of mutual discernment for later candidates is designed to test the “fit” between the prospective member, the foundational charism, and the historical shape that the order has taken since its founding.
Religious orders, then, are not the creations of the ecclesiastical institution (although it makes certain regulatory provisions regarding the living of the life, approves rules, and exercises some supervisory or protective functions in regard to approved institutes [L.G. VI, 45]), any more than the Old Testament prophets were appointed by Israel’s kings or priests or Jesus by the Temple officials. In fact, those who functioned as “court prophets,” who “worked for” the king or priests by telling them what they wanted to hear or leading the people to submit to their rulers when God spoke differently through the true prophets or “the signs of the times,” were quintessentially “false prophets.”
Religious Life, then, is a charismatic life form, called into existence by the Holy Spirit, to live corporately the prophetic charism in the Church. It is not a work force gathering recruits for ecclesiastical projects and it does not receive its mission nor the particular ministries of its members from the hierarchy. Congregations, in the exercise of particular ministries within dioceses or parishes, are bound by the applicable local directives and must work collaboratively with the ordained leadership. But this does not put the Congregation or its members “under” the bishop or clergy. This is especially true of “exempt” Congregations which minister across ecclesiastical boundaries.
When members of the hierarchy get panicky about the decline in numbers of religious they reveal a serious misunderstanding of the nature of the life. No Congregation “needs” more members than are actually called to it by God. There is no optimal or minimum size for orders or length of their lifespan. Some orders have never had more than a few dozen members and others have thousands. Some are centuries old and others have had a very brief history. The purpose of the life is not to perpetuate particular Congregations nor to staff Church institutions; it is to live intensely the witness to the Gospel to which the Congregation is called and for as long as it is so called. As long as an order and its members are able to live religious life according to its own founding charism and approved constitutions intrusion by ecclesiastical authority into its internal affairs is not only unwarranted; it is unjustifiable and counter-productive (see e.g., Canon 586).