President of LCWR Addresses Global Gathering of Catholic Sisters

florencedeaconIn Rome on May 4, the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Sr. Florence Deacon, addressed 800 leaders of women religious throughout the world.

“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.

We questioned the process the Vatican used to draw its conclusion and we wondered if the outcome might have been different if there really had been regular dialogue between church leaders. What we did was, in response to this, 900 of us gathered last year in a three-day meeting in an atmosphere of prayer and discernment to determine how we would respond.

The members asked us for open and honest dialogue to increase understanding between leaders and us, to create more possibilities for the laity, especially women, to have a voice in the church, and to interact with the bishops from a stance of deep prayer that values mutual respect, carefully listening, and open dialogue. We have continued to do this over the course of the past year, meeting with the bishops to try and get to know each other and build trust. We will be meeting with them again later, at the end of this month. We’ve invited both Archbishop Sartain and the papal nuncio to our assembly this year.

We met with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith again two weeks ago in our annual visit to them. And at that time, they began again by affirming our works. They understand that we do education, social justice, social work very, very well.

However, they said that the new pope is committed to continuing the renewal of LCWR. What we found interesting was CDF, when they met with Pope Francis, put out a press release after that time and there was no mention of LCWR being discussed in that press release. It mentioned two other issues that were discussed.

This makes us wonder how much actually was brought up to the pope. I doubt if he followed us very closely when he was in Argentina. We wonder if he was told much at all, and we assume he would have, if told anything, it would have been as written in the report of the assessment.

So we’re not really sure what it meant that he’s reaffirmed the continued renewal. …” —Sr. Florence Deacon, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Read the whole speech.

Read more from the National Catholic Reporter’s LCWR head to global sisters: ‘serious misunderstanding’ with the Vatican

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