Franciscan brothers back sisters in dispute with Vatican. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the umbrella body that represents some 45,000-80 per cent of-U.S. Catholic nuns, met with Vatican officials on June 12 to express their concerns about the recent doctrinal assessment report on the LCWR.
The report, released on April 18 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), criticized the sisters for having radical feminist tendencies and showing insufficient fidelity to church teachings on such issues as abortion, women’s ordination and homosexuality. It demanded sweeping changes to LCWR’s leadership and activities. Led by Sister Pat Farrell, a Franciscan nun and LCWR president, the organization issued a June 18 press statement about the Rome meeting, which seems to have been an uncomfortable one. “While the LCWR officers…were able to express their concerns during the meeting with openness and honesty, they acknowledged that the meeting was difficult because of the differing perspectives the CDF officials and the LCWR representatives hold on the matters raised in the report,” the release said.
The statement also took issue with the public claims by some Vatican officials and U.S. bishops that the CDF assessment is not a reflection on all U.S. Catholic sisters but only on their LCWR leaders. The LCWR countered that “the actions of CDF are keenly felt by the vast majority of Catholic sisters who have elected, and therefore feel a close identity with, their leaders.
It pointed further to the many statements and gestures of solidarity from men religious and from conferences of Catholic sisters in other countries, as well as the supportive letters and petitions from thousands of lay supporters worldwide.
In late May, for example, the seven provinces of the Order of Friars Minor in the U.S., a Franciscan organization representing 1,250 religious men, sent an open letter of support to American Catholic sisters. In it, the brothers said: “We write, at a time of heightened polarization and even animosity in our nation and our church, with deep concern that the recent Vatican doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious may inadvertently fuel the current climate of division and confusion. We write, too, as a public sign of solidarity with you as you endure this difficult moment.”
The LCWR press statement noted that such shows of support “indicate that many others are also concerned about how to live as people of faith in the complexities of these times,” and said that “the concerns they have shared with LCWR will be part of the conference’s discernment of its response to the CDF report.” The matter will likely be at the top of the agenda at the LCWR annual assembly in August.
Commenting to CNN on the dispute, Sister Maureen Fiedler, host of the radio show Interfaith Voices, said the CDF assessment indicates that Rome is returning to a “dictatorial, non-collaborational and pre-Vatican II model” of operation. She said the assessment contradicts the spirit of Vatican II’s commitment to eradicating inequalities between women and men in the church.