I had been hoping (and suggesting, while being shot down by certain “experts”) the situation with the review of the US religious sisters’ leadership group LCWR was a little more positive than it looked. One reason was that when I sent my book A Report on the Sinsinawa Dominicans Today (a reform oriented work not geared toward a general readership, which can be read online or as a paperback) to the LCWR executive director Sr. Janet Mock (she has since been succeeded in that role by Sr. Joan Marie Steadman), I did get a reply and it was positive: “thank you so much for sending it to me” and “I really look forward to reading it.” I took her reply as sincere and was comforted by it.
My cover letter had made clear my strong valuation of and positive hopes for religious life, while highlighting in particular the problem (well known to anyone who studies contemporary religious life) of some religious sisters who refuse to regularly attend Mass, who redefine what the Eucharist is for them, express that they are at odds with and do not want to be part of “the institutional Church,” and who genuinely are not practicing Catholics, and stressing a request I had made to the LCWR in a previous letter about “Holy Wisdom Monastery” (an even graver situation of a former LCWR community truly falling out of ecclesial communion and becoming a non-Catholic sect): “Please help keep sisters Catholic and faithful.” I did not consider my hope unreasonable that Sister Janet’s positive reply reflected support for that goal by at least some key LCWR leaders.
The problem is real and most grave. If you would like to read the words of Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa who had seriously questioned communion with the Church, see the chapter from my book “Moving Beyond the Church?” part 1 What is Eucharist for me? and ESPECIALLY part 2 Relationship with the Institutional Church. That part 2 includes the sisters’ candid reactions to the original LCWR Doctrinal Assessment. I have prayed for them every single day and encourage others to do so. God is our loving Father and He is listening; I believe prayer is one of the best and most loving ways to help.
The final report on the LCWR doctrinal assessment states as an important settled matter “the essential understanding of LCWR as an instrument of ecclesial communion.” Read the report to see what else they say they have accomplished. Congratulations and thanks to the LCWR and to the 3 US bishops and the CDF (who also all received my book and each sent notes of thanks) for this important commitment to being experts in communion, which I read with relief.
The Vatican’s press release reports:
Following the meeting, Cardinal Müller said: “At the conclusion of this process, the Congregation is confident that LCWR has made clear its mission to support its member Institutes by fostering a vision of religious life that is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ and is rooted in the Tradition of the Church. It is this vision that makes religious women and men radical witnesses to the Gospel, and, therefore, is essential for the flourishing of religious life in the Church.”
There is likely to be skeptical, cynical commentary about this by people who say nothing is changed on the ground level. I didn’t stick my neck out on this issue to be cynical but desiring to see some real help for the situation because I love religious life. I do think that this is a very positive development. Positive things are being said and positive action now needs to continue to follow from it.
Phil Lawler of CatholicCulture.org gives his commentary on the announcement this headline: “The CDF says the LCWR is acting Catholic. And that’s news.” He gives the report somewhat faint, but realistic praise:
Now that the intervention has run its course, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, assures us of the Vatican’s confidence that the LCWR is “fostering a vision of religious life that is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ and is rooted in the Tradition of the Church.”
Again, shouldn’t you be able to take that much for granted? But in 2012, when this process began, you couldn’t.
Those statements from the two main parties do not guarantee that the Vatican intervention will prove successful. They do, however, demonstrate that the process was necessary.
The CDF’s Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR did not directly have to do with individual religious congregations like the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. Rather it assessed an organization which their leaders and the leaders of other women’s religious congregations belong to, and which affects the majority of US women’s religious communities through these leaders. The problems in religious life could not be totally solved by the CDF process; major challenges remain. But my conviction is that the situation has been helped by the CDF’s work with the LCWR. Now will it bear good fruit on an ongoing basis?
Here’s to religious sisters being experts in Communion with Jesus and His Catholic Church! Let’s lovingly keep up our prayers for the sisters.
p.s. I noticed that Sister Loretta Dornisch passed away during Lent recently. May her soul rest in peace. Amen. She had been an Edgewood College professor and a couple of her very peculiar books were reviewed in A Report on the Sinsinawa Domincians Today.