I was not aware of the organization, “Wisdom’s Well,” till I read today’s WI State Journal article by religion reporter Doug Erickson (the Diocese also now has a statement). But I am pretty well aware this is the tip of the iceburg of new-agey and religiously-indifferent activity of (some) Sinsinawa Domincan Sisters. 2 Sisters and 2 laywomen were banned from giving talks, teaching or doing spiritual direction on church property. I think this took courage from our good bishop, since past experience suggests he’s probably in for yet another wearying fit by upset liberals. He doesn’t let that stop him from protecting his flock, and he deserves all our gratitude.
Two longtime Madison nuns who lead an interfaith spirituality center have been banned by Madison Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino from holding workshops or providing spiritual direction or guidance at any Catholic churches in the 11-county diocese.
Sisters Maureen McDonnell and Lynn Lisbeth, both Sinsinawa Dominicans, have diverged too far from Catholic teaching, according to a confidential memo sent Nov. 27 to priests on behalf of Morlino. A copy of the memo was leaked to the State Journal. [the diocese now has this memo online as well as a synopsis of the diocese’s concerns]
Two other women connected to the interfaith center, called Wisdom’s Well, also have been banned as part of the same action. [according to the diocese, one, Beth O’Brien, is an oblate of “Holy Wisdom Monastery” the heretical formerly Catholic s0-called “ecumenical” organization; the other, Paula Hirschfeld, is a a former Sinsinawa Dominican who got herself ordained a Zen Buddhist priest.]
The memo says Morlino has “grave concerns” about the women’s teachings, specifically that they “espouse certain views” flowing from such movements as “New Ageism” and “indifferentism.” The latter, according to the memo, is “the belief that no one religion or philosophy is superior to another.” [also of concern was panentheism]
The women “may not share an authentic view of the Catholic Church’s approach to interreligious dialogue,” the memo said.
Brent King, a spokesman for the diocese, said three other potential parish guest speakers, all male, have been banned “in recent years.” The women are not prohibited from attending Mass or, if Catholic, from receiving communion, King said. Asked whether they could contribute to parish life in other ways, such as reading Bible passages from the pulpit or chairing a church committee, King said that would be up to individual priests.
My personal experience as a former fallen away Catholic religious progressive, deeply involved in a then good-sized online interfaith community called “Street Prophets”, was that religious indifferentism tends to be non-negotiable “dogma” among religious progressives. It was outrageous to them to suggest that all religions aren’t equally true and good! They didn’t particularly believe in objective religious or moral truth.
So what sort of things is “Wisdom’s Well” up to? On their website they are proud of a newspaper article from last month:
Founded in 2006, Wisdom’s Well (then Wisdom’s Well Spirituality Center) was created to respond to “a need in the Madison area for adults who were yearning for a deepened spirituality and a connection with others who were also seeking more meaning in their lives,” says staff member Beth O’Brien, a Benedictine oblate. [in fact she is an oblate of Holy Wisdom Monastery, where the nuns obtained release from their vows and voluntarily gave up the Catholic status of the monastery, upon which Bishop Morlino forbade Mass to be said there so people would not be confused since it used to be a Catholic Benedictine monastery. They now hold a lay-led “eucharist” on Sundays, attended by fallen-away Catholics and protestants] (The other staff members are Lynn Lisbeth and Maureen McDonnell, Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa.)
Programs embrace a wide spirituality rooted in Christianity, but honoring other spiritual paths as well. The focus would be on contemplative prayer, “a way of deepening our connection to God, the Divine, Source, Love,” says O’Brien who serves as a Spiritual Guide. Contemplative practices include sacred chanting, yoga [Hindu practice], Tai Chi [Taoist practice], walking a labyrinth, and meditation. “Such practices,” she explains, “have the ability to transform your relationship with yourself, improve your relationships with others, and enrich your relationship with the world around you.”
Wisdom’s Well’s interfaith approach reflects the great diversity of spiritual and religious practice in the greater Madison community, explains McDonnell, “and also a number of people who are really searching for a spirituality that goes beyond the religious tradition they grew up in.”
For Catholics, our true spiritual life is specifically within the context of practicing the Catholic faith and the Sacraments and has to do with tending the life of grace, growing in Faith, Hope and Charity. The perennial and universal Catholic spirituality taught by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church is consistent with this; practices of other religions or new age practices do not add anything necessary that Catholic spirituality lacks, but put the person at risk of spiritual and doctrinal confusion. True contemplative prayer is an immense grace–and it’s not obtained by doing trendy techniques or practices, but is a gift from God. Although I’d say there are some sincere contemplative souls who are on their way toward Jesus and His Catholic Church (I myself was led back to the Faith after I’d long fallen away, by the contemplative prayer teachings of St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila, both Doctors of the Church), “contemplative” spirituality that wanders astray from sound Catholic practice and the sound teaching received through the Catholic Church, goes astray from the Truth, astray from Jesus, Who is God, the object of contemplation.
On Sr Lynn Lisbeth’s page about spiritual direction, she gives a strong statement of religious indifferentism, that seems characteristic of “Wisdom’s Well” and certainly does substantiate the diocesan claims about a lack of fidelity to the Catholic understanding of authentic interreligious dialogue:
INTERFAITH Spiritual Direction recognizes the unity of spiritual experience underlying the diversity of religious expressions of faith-wisdom traditions and spiritual practices. This exploration welcomes a wide variety of religious traditions as well as those who come to spirituality outside the personal experience of a “church” background or membership.
In today’s global society and Earth’s ecological state, we can decide and discover how to respect our differences as assets, not view them with suspicion. We can learn to cooperate for the common good and not just stay on our own side of the street and hope “others” do the same. We can create the future together by how we daily choose to live HERE and NOW. We can connect what we believe with how we live. We can explore our interfaith world not in theory, but with people!
This was just how we thought on that progressive interreligious website “Street Prophets”. Members of various religions came together there for common cause: progressive politics! Even when politics is not the explicitly articulated focus, religious progressives’ indifferentism is oriented toward working together for a utopian social vision. In reality that was the primary “religion” all my interreligious friends had in common, so everyone discarded (or put in parentheses) any conflicting moral or truth claims of their faith–in the name of “peace & justice” and “the common good”… as defined by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. The point was to organize the “diversity of faith-wisdom traditions” to implement Progressivism, the new universal secular “religion”.
The 2 Sinsinawa Dominicans and 2 lay women have simply been barred from being speakers, teachers, or spiritual guides at Catholic churches, and don’t seem to be under any kind of censure. Publicity materials for “Wisdom’s Well” are now disallowed at Catholic parishes. The “Wisdom’s Well” nonviolence study sessions in progress at St James Parish are now being moved to another location. I realized while reading their website that I recently saw their “prayer packets” and “prayer squares” (whatever that is) for sale at the Blessed Sacrament Parish Christmas Market. I found those puzzling, and was disappointed the pickings were so slim in terms of authentically Catholic Christmas presents at Blessed Sacrament Christmas Market, but those things are not necessarily banned.
I think Bishop Morlino’s action about this can help set boundaries, and help parishes to have the bishop’s authority to point to when they have to say “no” to something similar. The surrounding culture is full of new-age “spiritual not religious” meanderings, and Catholicism offers something different, authentic and trustworthy.
The Sinsinawa Dominican prioress told the reporter that there hasn’t ever been a restriction like this before against their members’ ministry in parishes. There shouldn’t have to be. I hope the Sinsinawa Dominicans will consider attending more closely to the sound doctrinal formation of members. How about the Year of Faith guidance to all of us, to read the Catechism and the Vatican II documents.