LCWR moves forward in dialogue with Vatican
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has entered into a "conversation" with Archbishop Peter J. Sartain concerning a Vatican-led reform of the organization.
The organization's national board met in St. Louis Aug. 11 for a two-hour meeting with the Seattle archbishop, who has been charged with overseeing the reform of the canonically recognized group. Their meeting took place after the conclusion of the LCWR's annual assembly, held Aug. 7-10 at the Millennium Hotel in Downtown St. Louis.
In an Aug. 13 statement, the LCWR board said it was able to openly and honestly express concerns and feelings to Archbishop Sartain about the doctrinal assessment, conducted by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and which calls for the LCWR's reform. An eight-page report issued by the CDF cited significant doctrinal problems associated with the group's activities and programs and has called for a strengthening of Church teaching in areas such as abortion, euthanasia, women's ordination and homosexuality.
"The archbishop asked for assistance from LCWR to learn more about the conference and about the members' experience and understandings of religious life," according to the LCWR statement. The board is expected to meet with Archbishop Sartain again in the fall. The reform, according to the Vatican assessment, is expected to be completed within five years.
LCWR's outgoing president, Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, said during an Aug. 10 press conference in St. Louis that assembly participants "expressed the hope of maintaining LCWR's official role representing U.S. women religious in the Catholic Church." The group's membership includes 1,500 leaders of religious communities. They represent about 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in the United States. The Vatican also canonically recognizes another group for women religious, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious.
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."
Women religious who attended last week's assembly spent time in closed-door sessions discerning the Vatican's assessment. Sister Helen Flemington, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet and member of the St. Louis Province leadership team, was among those who participated in the discernment. She described the process, which included prayer, discussion, speakers and silent reflection, as "a very holy experience."
"I felt like the solidarity at the individual tables and within the group was just growing in deep reverence and deep faith all week," said Sister Helen.
At the end of the assembly, the sisters took an individual vote on whether the LCWR should enter into a dialogue with Vatican representatives about the doctrinal assessment. Sisters were asked to hold up one of three cards -- green for support, red for objection and yellow for an abstention from voting. From her vantage point, Sister Helen said she saw a "sea of green," with only a few yellow cards displayed around her.
"When the vote was taken, everyone at (my) table was elated about where we were going and how we planned to get there. I felt like most people who left that room were totally happy about the work and pleased with what the Holy Spirit helped us come to."
"My hope is that we can have meaningful dialogue with Archbishop Sartain and (the other) delegates from Rome, and that it's really dialogue and not just pronouncements. We want to stay at the table because we love the Church."
In an Aug. 10 statement, Archbishop Sartain shared his profound thanks for the many contributions of women religious and in particular, the "unique gifts" of the LCWR.
"I remain committed to working to address the issues raised by the doctrinal assessment in an atmosphere of prayer and respectful dialogue," Archbishop Sartain said. "We must also work toward clearing up any misunderstandings, and I remain truly hopeful that we will work together without compromising Church teaching or the important role of the LCWR. I look forward to our continued discussions as we collaborate in promoting consecrated life in the United States."
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