Is NCAN a “front group” for LCWR?

I posted yesterday on Sister Donna Quinn, OP and her publicity group NCAN attacking the Little Sisters of the Poor and others suing the government for their religious freedom vis a vis the HHS mandate.

The National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN) is a front group for radical feminism, the sexual revolution and the Culture of Death. It is led by Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Donna Quinn who has volunteered as an abortion clinic escort until the 2009 intervention of Cardinal George, and told a 2012 Planned Parenthood gathering, “For those women sitting with us today who have chosen abortion, I believe in your decision. I firmly believe.” Her aversion toward Catholicism, Holy Mass and the male priesthood is such that she fumed in 2011 “I am violated by the continual use of sexism through the use of the word Eucharist,” complaining that in the Sinsinawa community event planning “one of the first items covered is to hire a male priest to lead us in prayer every day… I know I am boycotting this time.” Last year when Bishop Paprocki did an exorcism service during the signing of the IL “same sex marriage” law signing that Sister Donna planned to attend she apparently did not want to be delivered from the forces of hell: “How far do I have to stand at the signing so this man’s magic wand of exorcising won’t touch me?” she wrote to her sisters. You don’t even have to be Catholic to realize there is not much about Sister Donna that resembles what a nun is supposed to be about. The National Coalition of American Nuns claims 2000 members, but it is quite certain that not all of those are religious sisters; the group accepts anyone who wants to be a member regardless if they are a sister or whether they are Catholic.

But are they a “front group” for the larger and more liberal of the two religious sisters’ leader conferences in the US, the LCWR? This is the assertion today of Fr John Zuhlsdorf. He compares NCAN to the Viet Cong, who were terroristic zealots, a front group advancing the cause of Communism in Vietnam. “NCAN says openly what the leaders of the LCWR can’t say openly. Consider NCAN a front group,” Fr Z argues.

LCWR rather famously intentionally avoids all mention of abortion. And they’re interested in universal healthcare but entirely avoid the topic of the HHS mandate. I personally confronted the head “nun on the bus” Sister Simone Campbell on the matter in June of 2012; she would say only “It’s complicated” and wanted to avoid me. LCWR was critiqued for their refusal to bear witness to the Church’s moral teaching on abortion in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 2012 Doctrinal Assessment for LCWR. They continue to be silent about the abortion holocaust, and this silence is indeed wrong.

Progressive political alliances are one very significant reason for the silence. But I believe the most operative reason for their silence is first of all because LCWR, and for that matter the Sinsinawa Dominicans, are so divided that they could not declare one way or the other without some members getting vocal that they don’t agree. Within the Sinsinawa Dominicans, Sister Donna’s appears to be a minority opinion about direct abortion, but avoiding this topic is a way of keeping the peace in a group where “follow your conscience!” is the law but the importance of Catholic conscience formation in keeping with the Church is overwhelmingly rejected. Even when the congregation had to publicly rebuke Sr Donna back when Cardinal George called her on her abortion clinic escort activities a few years ago, there were in fact at least one or two sisters piping up internally that they were upset the prioress and council were declaring to the world that (quoting from the public statement) “Sinsinawa women are called to proclaim the Gospel… we support the church’s teaching regarding the dignity of life… we do not engage in activity that witnesses to support abortion” without even taking a vote among members. But these were in the minority. Another Sinsinawa Dominican rightly said at the time to the community’s email list, “If any Sinsinawa Dominican cannot subscribe to that, it is a problem.”

Views may be relatively more mixed about contraceptives. Some Sinsinawa Dominicans do agree with the Church’s moral teaching about that. On the other hand Sister Donna is not the only one who has voiced hostility toward religious freedom rights to refuse to participate in such sins, and at least one Sinsinawa Dominican sister who is a physician has admitted she’s supported women using contraceptives over many years in her medical practice. One Sinsinawa Dominican who appears to hew more closely to Catholic teaching wrote to her sisters in 2012 that she had asked Donna to stop bombarding her inbox with messages about “reproductive rights”: “The congregation has not ever initiated or carried on a conversation on the issue of reproductive rights. We did not chose to speak on that issue at our recent Chapter.” I would imagine this could also be said of LCWR. I doubt they  have a consensus, even secretly, that they believe in contraception and the HHS mandate.

What about leadership? The current Sinsinawa prioress actually organized a drawing to send two “lucky winner” sisters to attend a 2012 Call to Action conference at Sinsinawa congregation expense, so one suspects she is unlikely to be willing to challenge any member over any such issues. This congregation and its leadership experiences itself as being at odds with what they call “the institutional Church.

As for the LCWR, its leadership did include the Holy See’s representative Archbishop Sartain in their national meeting last year, and while some of the very simple requirements of the CDF such as ceasing to distribute the “Systems Thinking Handbook” went un-acted-upon for a long time, I was astounded just now to find that the “Systems Thinking Handbook” now seems to be absent from their website. This is the link where it used to be. I have not seen this noted or remarked upon anywhere, but I think that even though this may seem a small thing it is a  good thing and may very well suggest some good will on the part of LCWR. Sister Janet Mock, executive director of LCWR, in fact replied when I sent her my book A Report on the Sinsinawa Dominicans Today, congratulating me on writing a book about women religious, and said she would read it. While one senior cleric suggested to me that this means “she hasn’t read it yet,” on the other hand my concern and orthodox point of view (and my constructive intentions and attitude of charity) were  clear enough from my cover letter, and so LCWR’s reaction to me gives no reason to be discouraged. The topic of the latest Occasional Papers suggests they haven’t become a completely different organization yet, not remotely, but I am willing to keep praying for LCWR, trusting that the reform team of Archbishops Sartain, Paprocki and Blair are very good men who are very motivated to try to help religious sisters, and wait and see.

Some sisters indeed support abortion rights, usually quietly. Sister Donna is the exception to the rule. But most simply put the issue in parentheses. My impression is actually that most don’t disagree with the Church that abortion kills a person and is wrong. There are quite a few more orthodox groups of sisters that are absolutely devoted to the cause of human life, the Sisters of Life being among the most noteworthy in their pro-life activity. And I think people should also know that even within the Sinsinawa Dominicans it is not absolutely unknown for a pro-life sister to pray outside an abortion clinic, for instance I know of at least one who used to do so in Austin, Texas. But in too many religious congregations, most just don’t stand up for the lives of the unborn in any way. It is a soft abandonment of the truth of the matter rather than a hard rejection of it, even if the effect is the same toleration of noisy publicity groups like NCAN that claim to represent sisters while promoting the whole agenda of the culture of death.

So, back to the question… is NCAN a “front group” for LCWR? My own answer is: there needs to be pressure on LCWR to stand for the truth, but the claim that NCAN is a front group doesn’t follow from the facts I have. NCAN speaks for some portion of those involved in LCWR or its member orders, as well as the many NCAN members who are not sisters and some who are not Catholic. NCAN is arguably a front group for hell. I think it is overreaching to suggest they speak for LCWR. Sinsinawa does not deserve to be off the hook though by any means. Sadly, very sadly, Sr Donna is not hindered or censured in any way when she continues to post all manner of NCAN announcements on the Sinsinawa Dominican congregation email list, SinsinOP, so they have no plausible deniability whatsoever about knowing what she is up to. She continually advocates for her views to other sisters and tries to get them on board with dissident activities. Who will compel them to put their Catholic house in order?

We need to continue praying for LCWR’s cooperation with the reforms the Holy See has called for. Truth and charity are needed. As for the Sinsinawa Dominicans, I have wanted very much to inspire priests to have the heart of Fr Mazzuchelli, their holy founder, toward the sisters he founded.

Some friends have proposed a novena for the conversion of Sister Donna. I am thinking of what we should do, and I am thinking maybe a Pentecost novena to the Holy Spirit not only for her but for all the sisters. And for ourselves. We need truth in charity and charity in truth or else we do not good. Come, Holy Spirit.

[Update: Fr Z repeats his view in a second post on the topic, in which he appreciates a worthwhile NC Register article by Ann Carey. Fr Z says: “Reminder: I think the ultra-looney NCAN, pro-abortion, contraception, women’s ordination, etc., is doing and saying openly what the LCWR would like to be doing and saying, but can’t.  NCAN serves as a front group for the LCWR.” Here is my comment which Fr Z did not let through moderation on his blog:

LCWR is a divided group infected by relativism, that won’t stand for important Catholic principles essentially because there is intense internal disagreement as well as compromising political alliances, but the truth is NCAN speaks for their “mad” wing, not for them all. Ann Carey knows this. I want to see LCWR and its member orders and the sisters themselves deeply reformed, not labeled and despised by identification with the most extreme and least Catholic among them. I’m praying for their true good and the mercy of God toward them. I wrote a book on the problems in Sister Donna’s order and I’ve prayed for priests to have the heart of their holy founder Father Mazzuchelli toward them and want their salvation.]

[Second Update: I sent Ann Carey an email; I excerpt from her response: “Yes, I think it is too sweeping a statement to say that the NCAN is a front group for LCWR.  I think the women involved in NCAN are too self-centered to front for anyone…. That said, I think criticism of the LCWR is valid when directed at the corporate stands the group takes that are contrary to Church doctrine.” Certainly!]

One Response to Is NCAN a “front group” for LCWR?

  1. […] Organization of ‘c’atholic Dissidents – Fr. Z’s Blog Is NCAN a “Front Group” for LCWR? – Laetificat SDG Reviews ‘Noah’ – Steven D. Greydanus, The Daily Reg Noah […]

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