LCWR keynote speaker's remarks on evolution, cocreation cause concern

Updated at noon on Aug. 9.

Barbara Marx Hubbard told those attending the Leadership Conference of Women Religious Aug. 8 that the meaning of using power for good came to her after reading "The Phenomenon of Man," a book written by 20th century French philosopher and Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

In that book, she learned how Teilhard discovered God in evolution and the entire evolutionary process as being inspired from within. Over time, Hubbard said, "I found myself shifting from my role as the procreator towards the role of cocreator."

Humanity is at a critical tipping point, where we face either extinction or evolution, said Hubbard, who spoke to some 900 women religious attending the Aug. 7-11 assembly. At the start of her talk, Hubbard was escorted into the hotel ballroom and led to the stage, surrounded by women religious who swayed as they held brightly colored scarves and sounded a set of chimes.

Women religious, Hubbard told the group, are the "best seedbed for evolving the world and the Church for the 21st century."

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However, much of what Hubbard — a believer in the new age movement of conscious evolution — spoke about raised concerns for a priest who is an expert on the new age movement.

Father Mitch Pacwa, SJ, author of "Catholics and the New Age" and contributor to a Vatican document on the new age movement, said there is a flaw in thinking that we as humans become cocreators within the

He said: "The word 'create' means to make something out of nothing. This is a power that belongs to God alone. And we cannot evolve into having the divine power to make something out of nothing. What we creatures do is reshape the material that God has created."

It's this kind of problematic philosophy that has led the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to announce a major reform of the LCWR. The announcement was made at the end of a four-year doctrinal
assessment and included an eight-page report, detailing the need to remedy significant doctrinal problems associated with the group's activities and programs.

Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, who conducted the assessment, wrote in his diocesan paper, the Catholic Chronicle, of several other examples of concerning activities conducted by the LCWR over the years. They

• In her LCWR keynote address in 1997, Sr. Sandra Schneiders, IHM, proposed that the decisive issue for women religious is the issue of faith: "It can no longer be taken for granted that the members [of a
given congregation] share the same faith."

• Ten years later, in an LCWR keynote speech, Sr. Laurie Brink, O.P. spoke of "four different general 'directions' in which religious congregations seem to be moving." She said that "not one of the four is
better or worse than the others." One of the directions described is "sojourning," which she says "involves moving beyond the Church, even beyond Jesus. A sojourning congregation is no longer ecclesiastical. It
has grown beyond the bounds of institutional religion." This kind of congregation "in most respects is Post-Christian." She concludes by characterizing as "a choice of integrity, insight and courage" the
decision to "step outside the Church" already made by one group of women religious.

• Fr. Michael H. Crosby, OFMCap, a keynote speaker at the joint LCWR-CMSM assembly in 2004, lamented the fact that "we still have to worship a God that the Vatican says 'wills that women not be ordained.' That god is literally 'unbelievable.' It is a false god; it cannot be worshiped. And the prophet must speak truth to that power and be willing to accept the consequence of calling for justice, stopping the violence and bringing about the reign of God."

• The LCWR's Systems Thinking Handbook describes a hypothetical case in which sisters differ over whether the Eucharist should be at the center of a special community celebration. The problem is that some of the sisters object to "priest-led liturgies." The scenario, it seems, is not simply fictitious, for some LCWR speakers also mention the difficulty of finding ways to worship together as a faith community. According to the Systems Thinking Handbook this difficulty is rooted in differences at the level of belief, but also different mental models—the "Western mind" and the "Organic mental model." These, rather than Church doctrine, are offered as tools for the resolution of the case.

• LCWR speakers also explore themes like global spirituality, the new cosmology, earth-justice and eco-feminism in ways that are frequently ambiguous, dubious or even erroneous with respect to Christian faith. And while the LCWR upholds Catholic social teaching in some areas, it is notably silent when it comes to two of the major moral challenges of our time: the right to life of the unborn, and the God-given meaning of marriage between one man and one woman.

The doctrinal assessment itself characterized the crisis, on a doctrinal level, as a "diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration which leads, in turn, to a loss of a 'constant and lively sense of the Church' among some Religious." The goal of the assessment, it said, was for a "renewal" of the LCWR.

It is during this assembly that the sisters will discern the Vatican assessment and decide what steps, if any, they will take in response to it. The LCWR leadership is expected to announce the results of the sisters' discernment during a press conference Aug. 10. at the end of the assembly, the national board of the LCWR is expected to meet with Archbishop Sartain in St. Louis to discuss the outcome of the assembly's

Assembly participants have been participating in the discernment process in the afternoon sessions. Those meetings are closed to the media.

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