LCWR agrees to enter into “conversation” with Vatican
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has chosen to enter into a "conversation" with Archbishop Peter J. Sartain concerning a Vatican-led reform of the organization.
LCWR's outgoing president, Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell, made the announcement to the media at an Aug. 10 press conference at the conclusion of the organization's annual assembly at the Millennium Hotel Downtown. The assembly, which drew about 900 participants, included time for liturgy and prayer, speakers and business meetings.
"Recognizing that this is a time of historic challenge for the Church and for LCWR, the participants expressed the hope of maintaining LCWR's official role representing U.S. women religious in the Catholic Church," Sister Pat said in a prepared statement. The LCWR, whose roots go back to 1956, is canonically recognized by the Vatican.
Sister Pat was flanked by past LCWR president Dominican Sister Mary Hughes and incoming president Franciscan Sister Florence Deacon as she read the statement to reporters.
The LCWR's national board will meet with Seattle Archbishop Sartain for the first time on Aug. 11 in St. Louis for a two-hour meeting. Sister Pat said it will be the first time the group has really had a chance to sit down and talk to the prelate, who has been placed in charge of overseeing the Vatican-led reform of the LCWR. The work, according to the Vatican assessment, is expected to be completed within five years.
Sister Pat told reporters that "we are charged to enter into a process of dialogue," however, matters of doctrine will not be the LCWR's starting point. Rather, they will start with "our own lives and our understanding of religious life." She also said the LCWR would reconsider if it's forced to "compromise the integrity of its mission."
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In April, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced 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. The Vatican said the reform also was warranted to ensure LCWR's fidelity to Church teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women's ordination and homosexuality. Archbishop Sartain has been appointed to oversee the reform of the LCWR.
A portion of the assembly was dedicated to discerning a doctrinal assessment issued in April by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Security was present in order to keep media and other non-members out of the closed-door sessions. During the four-day assembly, the sisters have described the discernment process as including small group discussions, prayer and reflection as well as time for individuals to speak to the entire group.
Sister Pat said in her statement that assembly participants indicated that "their expectation is that open and honest dialogue may lead not only to increasing understanding between the Church leadership and women religious, but also to creating more possibilities for the laity and, particularly for women, to have a voice in the Church."
Earlier in the morning, Sister Pat gave a nearly 40-minute presidential address, in which she cited several suggestions for navigating the shifts that women religious — and the wider Church — are experiencing. She said that as the sisters move forward, the tools obtained through centuries of religious communities can serve as a "compass" to them. She went point-by-point, explaining in depth how these shifts can be navigated through contemplation, a prophetic voice, solidarity with the marginalized, community, non-violence and joyful hope.
Sister Pat said the Church and society at large have much to learn from solidarity with the marginalized — which is a hallmark of the service many women religious have given in their ministries. That work, she said, puts "us in touch with the truth of the human condition." Sister Pat, who has spent years working in the missions in Latin America, began to tear up as she continued: "The experience of God from that place is one of absolutely gratuitous mercy and empowering love." She excused herself as she stopped to cry.
In her address, Sister Pat said it would be a mistake to make "too much" of the doctrinal assessment, but also an error to make "too little" of it. She said it wasn't the first time religious communities have "collided" with the institutional Church, including examples such as Venerable Mary Ward and St. Mary MacKillop, both of whom experienced opposition from within the Church and have now found their way to sainthood.
"What would a prophetic voice to the doctrinal assessment look like?" asked Sister Pat. "I think it would be humble, but not submissive; rooted in a solid sense of ourselves, but not self righteous; truthful, but gentle and absolutely fearless," she said. "It would ask probing questions. Are we being invited to some appropriate pruning, and would we be open to it? ... Does the institutional legitimacy of canonical recognition empower us to live prophetically? Does it allow us the freedom to question with informed consciences?"
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