Half-truths and innuendo about the Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Today’s news stories about the “renewal” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are already taking at face value the claims of the CDF that the LCWR is somehow doctrinally deficient. The actual CDF statement, however, is little more than a tissue of misinformation, misrepresentation, and innuendo that does a profound disservice to these religious women.

Misinformation: Once again the CDF statement invokes Dominican Sister Laurie Brink’s 2007 keynote address to the LCWR on the future of religious life. In it she notes that some religious have made choices “involv[ing] moving beyond the Church, even beyond Jesus.” The CDF document sees that statement as a “cry for help,” but it is clear in Brink’s lengthy keynote that she is doing nothing more than describing one option some religious have taken since the Second Vatican Council. Taken as a whole, her talk is a wholly appropriate reflection for adult religious women talking about the future of their way of life. Read it yourself.

Misrepresentation: The CDF statement singles out for withdrawal the LCWR resource Systems Thinking Handbook, which describes a method of analysis to be used, for example, in dealing with conflict. The CDF complains that this method, instead of church teaching, is presented as a solution to a disagreement in a particular congregation about whether to celebrate Eucharist at an anniversary celebration. (The event was on a Saturday; the regular motherhouse Eucharist followed on Sunday.)

The CDF’s “problem,” however, was with a case study that applied the systems method in the handbook; there was another case study about prescription drugs, for God’s sake. LCWR wasn’t proposing a solution to the problem; it was presenting a wholly appropriate case study that might be pertinent to its membership.

Innuendo: Throughout the document, the CDF accuses LCWR of dissent from magisterial teaching; silence on abortion, euthanasia, and homosexuality; support of women’s ordination; and the big bugaboo of “radical feminism.” With such grand accusations, justice demands some explicit examples, but all the CDF offers is LCWR’s failure to rescind a 1977 statement made by its then-leadership “rejecting” Paul VI’s declaration Inter insigniores on the reservation of priestly ordination to men. Why the current LCWR leadership should be expected to do this 35 years after the fact is beyond me, but the fact that Pope John Paul II’s Ordinatio sacerdotalis has replaced Inter insigniores should make the point moot.

When you boil it all down, the CDF’s complaints are trumped up, giving the U.S. bishops the excuse to act against a relatively independent Catholic voice that they don’t like—and a warning to others (perhaps such as Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association) not to offer an alternative Catholic voice in the national debate. Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK said it best, I think: “I think we scare them.”

This action against LCWR is at best an abuse of authority; at worst, it looks like bullying. Either way, it’s conduct unbecoming, and scandalous treatment of women without whom the church in the United States would be far less than it is today. 

About the author

Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones is a writer living in Chicago.