More than 5,600 U.S. religious sisters have signed a letter asking for civil discourse in the presidential campaign. The letter was to be sent Aug. 8 to the candidates of the Democratic, Republican, Green and Libertarian parties as well as their vice presidential running mates and the chairs of their respective parties.
Book review - Published by Orbis in September, Transformational Leadership: Conversations with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is a collection of 18 interviews that will interest not just members of women religious' communities, but anyone in leadership seeking to act faithfully as an agent of transformation in challenging, changing circumstances.
There is a restless peace among women religious. The Vatican and the congregations of women religious in the United States have completed the apostolic visitation process initiated by the Vatican. Some people will continue to debate the terms of the settlement between LCWR and CDF, but sisters are moving to other issues. Sisters were passionately involved in other issues before and during and these events. But before we squander this moment, it would be a loss not to seek its fullest meanings, its learnings. What can we discover in these events? What we will take with us from this crucible? How do we navigate an environment relatively free from conflict between the official church and women religious in the United States?
Analysis - The Catholic church has much to learn from the recent encounter between the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which recently concluded an investigation into the sisters’ theology, procedures and program choices.
The announcement six years ago of an apostolic visitation of United States congregations of women religious caused a stir among many sisters. This attempt by the Vatican to exert unwanted control posed a threat to the identity and mission of the congregations and initiated a crisis. However, a good number of the congregations faced the challenge head on with a response reminiscent of the swarming behavior of starlings.
Women religious in the United States have often led the way in calling for a more open conversation regarding controverted teaching, but they have done so not out of a disregard of the great tradition, but based on their wealth of pastoral experience. The move of women religious to the margins of society came long before Pope Francis made this pastoral option a central feature of his papal program.
This year’s gathering of leaders of congregations of women religious in the United States marks the first public discussion of two controversial Vatican investigations. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious is planning its annual assembly for Aug. 11-14 in Houston, Texas. Last year’s gathering was held under the cloud of both an apostolic visitation and a doctrinal assessment. Both investigations, however, ended in the past year with no findings of serious wrongdoing and with much praise for women religious and the work they do.
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) spent three years in private conversations with the bishop-delegates of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which led to a joint final report in April 2015.\ Sister of Loretto Jeannine Gramick suffered more than a decade of Vatican investigation because of the ground-breaking, heroic ministry she co-founded. Comparing her experience with that of LCWR, Sister Jeannine states that she believes that LCWR “chose the path of secrecy and self-silencing” because they offer no details of their conversations about the CDF’s charges and because she believes the joint final report will constrain them.
Commentary - While I feel deep sympathy for the personal toll suffered by the leaders of LCWR who went through the doctrinal assessment and mandate from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I also feel deeply troubled by the structural implications of the settlement. I believe the two main pillars of the church’s bureaucracy have been maintained. There is still secrecy and there is still self-silencing.
Commentary - The LCWR experience is a 21st-century story and the latest version of this “uneasy alliance” that American sisters have negotiated and finessed, both within the church and in secular society where male, hierarchical authority and gendered politics have usually defined the terms and set the parameters of power, status and leadership.
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