When Vatican bishops issued a report condemning nuns, including the tens of thousands represented by their superiors in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, for “radical feminism” and ordered disciplinary action, all hell broke loose.
This must be heartbreaking for the many great priests and nuns and good Catholics everywhere to watch. I think of someone like Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, one of the most honorable people I’ve ever met. [Ever been to his beach house, Sally? — RD]
What were the crimes of these devout ladies? Well, they supported the White House over health care reform, lining up against the bishops. Big mistake. Then they had the audacity to compromise with President Obama on the issue of birth control mandates in employers’ health-care programs. Finally, they have not been outspoken enough on gay marriage and abortion.
That’s pretty much the line I’ve seen from the secular media on why the Vatican cracked down on the feminist nuns. I know this will come as a shock to you, but if you read the actual Vatican document, a very different picture emerges. What did the Vatican object to with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious? Here, from the Vatican report, are the three main reasons the Church opened the investigation in the first place:
1. Addresses at the LCWR Assemblies. Addresses given during LCWR annual Assemblies manifest problematic statements and serious theological, even doctrinal errors. The Cardinal offered as an example specific passages of Sr. Laurie Brink’s address about some Religious “moving beyond the Church” or even beyond Jesus. This is a challenge not only to core Catholic beliefs; such a rejection of faith is also a serious source of scandal and is incompatible with religious life. Such unacceptable positions routinely go unchallenged by the LCWR, which should provide resources for member Congregations to foster an ecclesial vision of religious life, thus helping to correct an erroneous vision of the Catholic faith as an important exercise of charity. Some might see in Sr. Brink’s analysis a phenomenological snapshot of religious life today. But Pastors of the Church should also see in it a cry for help.
2. Policies of Corporate Dissent.The Cardinal spoke of this issue in reference to letters the CDF received from “Leadership Teams” of various Congregations, among them LCWR Officers, protesting the Holy See’s actions regarding the question of women’s ordination and of a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons, e.g. letters about New Ways Ministry’s conferences. The terms of the letters suggest that these sisters collectively take a position not in agreement with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. It is a serious matter when these Leadership Teams are not providing effective leadership and example to their communities, but place themselves outside the Church’s teaching.
3. Radical Feminism. The Cardinal noted a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR, including theological interpretations that risk distorting faith in Jesus and his loving Father who sent his Son for the salvation of the world. Moreover, some commentaries on “patriarchy” distort the way in which Jesus has structured sacramental life in the Church; others even undermine the revealed doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture.
About that first issue: here is a link to Sr. Laurie Brink’s 2007 LCWR address. You really should read it. It contains material like this:
As one sister described it, “I was rooted in the story of Jesus, and it remains at my core, but I’ve also moved beyond Jesus.” The Jesus narrative is not the only or the most important narrative for these women. They still hold up and reverence the values of the Gospel, but they also recognize that these same values are not solely the property of Christianity. Buddhism, Native American spirituality, Judaism, Islam and others hold similar tenets for right behavior within the community, right relationship with the earth and right relationship with the Divine. With these insights come a shattering or freeing realization—depending on where you stand. Jesus is not the only son of God.
Brink made this statement in the context of describing how various communities of women religious (= nuns) are dealing with the overall collapse in their numbers. You cannot be the Vatican and read something like this, in which jettisoning the fundamental belief of Christianity — that Jesus Christ was uniquely God-Man — and not wonder what the hell is wrong with these nuns. Whatever they are, they aren’t Catholic in a meaningful sense, not if they reject Jesus Christ. By the way, here’s a bit from a John Allen piece in the (liberal) National Catholic Reporter, on new research:
One sign of which way the winds are blowing: Just one percent of women’s communities belonging to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, known for having a more liberal outlook, currently have more than 10 new members in initial formation, whereas a robust 28 percent of communities belonging to the Conference of Major Superiors of Women, known for being more conservative, have 10 or more members in the early stages of membership.
So, Rome is faced with a wholesale collapse in numbers of American female religious orders, and it sees unmistakable signs that the leadership of these orders are teaching radical heresy, including denying basic dogmas that define the Christian faith, and denying basic dogmas that define Catholic ecclesiology. As the Vatican document said:
The Assessment’s primary concern is the doctrine of the faith that has been revealed by God in Jesus Christ, presented in written form in the divinely inspired Scriptures, and handed on in the Apostolic Tradition under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium.
The investigation found that the LCWR communities reject, as part of their internal formation process, basic, non-negotiable Catholic teaching, such as the idea that a validly ordained priest is required to celebrate the Eucharist. The Vatican also found that these nuns don’t teach the fullness of Catholic social and moral teaching, not when it conflicts with cultural liberalism:
On June 25, 2010, Bishop Blair presented further documentation on the content of the LCWR’s Mentoring Leadership Manual and also on the organizations associated with the LCWR, namely Network and The Resource Center for Religious Institutes. The documentation reveals that, 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. Further, issues of crucial importance to the life of 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. Moreover, occasional 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.
In other words, the nuns — not laypeople, but consecrated Catholic women — are missing in action on the battlefield. And, they are acting in an insubordinate way toward the bishops on the teaching of faith and morals.
Read the Vatican document yourself. That’s what this is about, not some dinky-butt, Sally-Quinnious, theologically illiterate political nonsense. You cannot claim that what the LCWR was up to was not theologically radical. Do people really expect that the Vatican can turn a blind eye when nuns have grown so theologically corrupt that many of them no longer seem to believe, much less preach or teach, the Catholic faith? I’m not Catholic, but boy, is this investigation and finding overdue. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it’s far too late to do much about it. Those liberal congregations, as the research John Allen reported indicates, are on their very last legs.
I don’t mean to pick on Sally Quinn exclusively here, but her commentary was a prime example of the mainstream reporting and commentary on the controversy that I’ve read. I’ve learned by now not to take the MSM seriously when it reports on religion, and I figured there was a lot more to this story than what I was reading. But it was only when I read the actual Vatican document last night that I realized how massively skewed the US media take was. You don’t have to agree with the Vatican necessarily, but you cannot be intellectually honest and maintain that this was a sexist, politically motivated witch hunt. There are extremely serious issues of doctrine and conduct at issue here. As Thomas McDonald points out, the New Age bizarro the LCWR has lined up to be its keynote speaker teaches off-the-charts crazy stuff, from a Catholic point of view — and yet the entire LCWR summer conference is centered on these themes.
Again, to assert that the Vatican has no reason to care about this, and no right — indeed, no responsibility — to speak out is to be intellectually dishonest. Roman Catholicism is not whatever anybody who identifies as a Roman Catholic says it is.