Archbishop Carlson to address LCWR assembly in St. Louis next week; sisters to discern Vatican assessment
Recent attention to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is expected to increase as almost 900 women religious will converge upon St. Louis for the organization's annual assembly Aug. 7-11 at the Millennium Hotel Downtown.
In April, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced a major reform of the LCWR, which has more than 1,500 members of U.S. congregations of women religious. They represent about 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in the United States. It currently holds a canonical status that is granted by the Vatican.
The announcement was made at the end of a four-year doctrinal assessment of the LCWR. An eight-page report indicated that the reform was needed to "remedy significant and longstanding doctrinal problems connected with the activities and programs of the LCWR," according to Toledo, Ohio, Bishop Leonard Blair, who conducted the assessment and wrote about it in his diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Chronicle.
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson will deliver the opening greeting at the assembly Tuesday evening, Aug. 7. In an interview with the Review, he said he is fully aware of the recent controversy with the LCWR. In light of the dialogue between the Holy See and the LCWR the archbishop said, "I think it is very important that we don't politicize this, but rather that we do it within the community of the Church."
The archbishop said he understands some local Catholics might be upset that the assembly is being held in St. Louis and perhaps be confused by some of the content to be covered. However, he noted that his "style for 42 years as a priest and 28 years as a bishop has been one of dialogue. I find that an effective way to be a man of the Church and to live out the Gospel."
His presence at the assembly, he said, "would only indicate my love for the Church, and my hope that the concerns of the Holy See — which I support — and the memory of the wonderful religious who have helped me during my earliest days as a child, help to resolve the challenges which exist at this time."
The Review requested an interview with LCWR president Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, and executive director Sister Janet Mock, CSJ. Sister Annmarie Sanders, IHM, associate director of communications, said that the organization was not granting interviews, but she responded to several questions submitted via email.
In her response, she stated that the LCWR was "pleased that Archbishop Carlson will be present at the opening of the assembly," adding that the LCWR officers have gotten to know the archbishop through his role as chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. In that role, he has a certain responsibility for meeting with the groups that represent clergy and religious. Those also include the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) and the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), both of which also hold canonical statuses with the Vatican.
The LCWR said that it would be discussing the CDF's assessment during the assembly. Its members were sent materials pertaining to the assessment and were encouraged to read the documents in preparation for the assembly.
The LCWR said by email that "participants will have several sessions where they will engage in communal contemplation on the CDF mandate and speak with one another about next steps that LCWR might take regarding it. We will see where that process leads the participants and if there is agreement at the end about what next steps the members wish to take together."
This year's keynote speaker at the assembly will be Barbara Marx Hubbard, an author, speaker and educator who holds a belief in conscious evolution. She will speak on "Mystery Unfolding: Leading in the Evolutionary Now."
The LCWR, in its written reply, said that Hubbard was invited to speak "in order to gain some perspective on the context of the world in which women religious are living and ministering. LCWR is interested in hearing Dr. Hubbard's understanding of the rapid shifts occurring in the world today so that the leaders can reflect on the role of and call to women religious in light of what Dr. Hubbard offers."
Details of the dialogue between the CDF and LCWR have been coming forth, following a meeting the two groups had in Rome in June, which was followed up by a statement from the LCWR and and interview with Sister Pat Farrell on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" program.
Sister Pat said that the conflict between the two groups essentially boils down to whether one can "be a Catholic and have a questioning mind," she said in the July 17 NPR interview.
"One of our deepest hopes is that in the way we manage the balancing beam of this position we're in, if we can make any headway in helping to create a safe and respectful environment where Church leaders, together with rank-and-file Catholics, can raise questions openly and search for truth freely with very complex and swiftly changing issues that we face in our day," she said.
"That would be our hope," she added. "But the climate is not there."
About a week later, Bishop Blair of Toledo also appeared on "Fresh Air." In the July 25 interview, he responded to Sister Pat's call for dialogue by saying: "If by dialogue they mean that the doctrines of the Church are negotiable and the bishops represent one position and the LCWR presents another position, and somehow we find a middle ground about basic Church teaching on faith and morals, then no. I don't think that is the kind of dialogue that the Holy See would envision.
"But if it's a dialogue about how to have the LCWR really educate and help the sisters to appreciate and accept Church teaching and to implement it in their discussions and try to hear some of the questions or concerns they have about these issues, then that would be the dialogue," he added.
On June 14 in Rome, after the meeting between LCWR officials and CDF prefect Cardinal William Levada, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle said the Vatican-ordered reform was not directed at individual women religious nor is it a statement on the general quality of religious life today.
"The impression is given that the Holy Father or anybody involved is saying something negative about religious women in the United States, which is not the case," said the archbishop, who was appointed by the Vatican to oversee the reform.
Some information in this article was provided by Catholic News Service.
Timeline of LCWR
1956: The Conference of Major Superiors of Women was founded as the sole canonical conference for U.S. superiors of women religious.
The Conference of Major Superiors of Women is restructured and changes its name to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
Some nuns who disapprove of LCWR’s new directions create a new organization, the Consortium Perfectae Caritatis. In the early 1970s the consortium seeks recognition from Rome as an alternative conference to
1974: The Vatican Congregation for Religious calls representatives of the two groups to Rome to try to sort
out differences and improve dialogue. The Vatican rules that LCWR will remain the sole canonical conference for U.S. superiors of women religious.
March 1989: At a Rome summit, Cardinal James A. Hickey of Washington gives a talk on the “crisis” in U.S. religious life. He says women who do not belong to LCWR “desire some representation with the Holy See.”
Fall 1991: A group of superiors, led by Carmelite Mother Vincent Marie Finnegan, decides to form a new council that will receive canonical recognition from the Vatican.
June 1992: Cardinal Hickey and Mother Vincent Marie jointly announce that the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious has been approved by the Vatican.
April 2008: Toledo Bishop Leonard P. Blair Vatican is named by the doctrinal congregation to carry out a “doctrinal assessment” of the “activities and initiatives” of LCWR.
April 2012: Vatican announces major reform of LCWR, citing “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life.”
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