Report on LCWR Meeting With the CDF at the Vatican

June 12, 2012

Sister Pat Farrell

The president and executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) met with a Vatican official and an American archbishop in Rome this week to see if they could resolve differences in perspectives that resulted from the Vatican’s demand that the leadership group reform itself.  The nuns’ support of LGBT issues, including New Ways Ministry particularly, were part of the Vatican’s critique of the organization.

Sister Pat Farrell, president, and Sister Janet Mock, executive director, met with Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, who was appointed to direct the LCWR’s reform.

Sister Janet Mock

According to LCWR’s statement after the meeting, the nuns stated that they were able to communicate their message:

“ ‘It was an open meeting and we were able to directly express our concerns to Cardinal Levada and Archbishop Sartain,’ said Sister Pat Farrell.”

The National Catholic Reporter article on the meeting quotes from the Vatican’s statement, which seems to indicate that Rome has not backed down on any of its original demands:

Archbishop Peter Sartain

“According to canon law, the Vatican said, the LCWR ‘is constituted by and remains under the supreme direction of the Holy See in order to promote common efforts” and cooperation.

” ‘The purpose of the doctrinal assessment is to assist the LCWR in this important mission by promoting a vision of ecclesial communion founded on faith in Jesus Christ and the teachings of the church as faithfully taught through the ages under the guidance of the magisterium,’  the Vatican said.”

Cardinal William Levada

The NCR article quotes Sister Farrell as saying:

“We are grateful for the opportunity for open dialogue, and now we will return to our members to see about the next step.”

The meeting comes after almost a month of discussion and commentary on the issue, as well as an outpouring of support for the nuns from Catholics across the U.S.

Last week, the first religious community of men, the Franciscan in the U.S., issued a statement of support for the sisters. In an open letter to the nuns, the Franciscans said:

“We write. . . as a public sign of our solidarity with you as you endure this very difficult moment.  We are privileged to share with you the journey of religious life.  Like you, we strive in all that we do to build up the People of God. . . .

“. . .your gift to the Church is not only one of service, but also one of courageous discernment.  The late 20th century and the beginning of this century have been times of great social, political and cultural upheaval and change.  Such contextual changes require us, as faithful members of the Church, to pose questions that at first may appear to be controversial or even unfaithful, but in fact are asked precisely so that we might live authentically the charisms we have received, even as we respond to the “signs of the times.”  This is the charge that we as religious have received through the “Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life” from the Second Vatican Council and subsequent statements of the Church on religious life.  We believe that your willingness to reflect on many of the questions faced by contemporary society is an expression of your determination to be faithful to the Gospel, the Church, the invitation from Vatican II and your own religious charisms.  We remain thankful for and edified by your courage to engage in such reflection despite the ever-present risk of misunderstanding.

St. Francis

“Moreover, we are concerned that the tone and direction set forth in the Doctrinal Assessment of LCWR are excessive, given the evidence raised.  The efforts of LCWR to facilitate honest and faithful dialogue on critical issues of our times must not result in a level of ecclesial oversight that could, in effect, quash all further discernment.  Further, questioning your adherence to Church teaching by your “remaining silent” on certain ethical issues seems to us a charge that could be leveled against many groups in the Church, and fails to appreciate both the larger cultural context and the particular parameters of expertise within which we all operate.  Finally, when there appears to be honest disagreement on the application of moral principles to public policy, it is not equivalent to questioning the authority of the Church’s magisterium.  Although the Catholic moral tradition speaks of agreement regarding moral principles, it also – from the Middle Ages through today – speaks of appropriate disagreement regarding specific application of these principles.”

Sister Simone Campbell

One of LCWR’s greatest supporters has been Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, the executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby.  In an article in Canada’s National Post, Sister Campbell identifies what she sees as the biggest difference between the Vatican and U.S. nuns:

“It’s a clash of monarchy versus democracy. It’s not about faith. It’s culture.”

But her analysis doesn’t stop there.  She also points out some other important differences which may be causing the rift:

“We’re a bit more vibrant than the European folks. . .

“I don’t know anything the bishops are saying is true. I don’t think we’re radical feminists. We now have advanced degrees, often more education than the bishops have, which makes the bishops nervous.

“What irks the bishops is that ordinary people look to Catholic sisters for their moral perspectives and find us credible teachers. We understand the complexity of life. When you can live in the Vatican without engaging in real people in pastoral settings it’s way easier to be black and white.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Support Our Sisters: Pray at a Vigil!

May 28, 2012

Tuesday, May 29th, will be marked by prayer vigils across the nation in support of religious communities of Sisters, as their Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) face sanctions from the Vatican, announced last month.  Since support of LGBT issues, particularly support of New Ways Ministry’s programs, were a main factor in the Vatican’s sanctions, Bondings 2.0 is strongly encouraging people to attend.

Waterloo, Iowa, vigil, May 22, 2012

NunJustice.org, a website dedicated to actions in support of the Sisters, has a complete list of vigils, along with times, locations, and contact information.  Please check the dates as many of the vigils have been taking place throughout May, and although most of the locations will be culminating in a final vigil on May 29th, not all will.    The website’s description of the vigils:

“Stand in solidarity with those who acknowledge women religious as pioneers of social justice, advocates for peace, and women of dignity. “

NunJustice.org also suggests other actions people can take to support the Sisters: Petition, Write, Share Photos, Pledge.

In addition, New Ways Ministry has also suggested writing letters of encouragement to women’s communities.

According to the schedule on NunJustice.org, the following cities will be hosting vigils on May 29th:

Albany, NY

Anchorage, AK

Austin, TX

Bardstown, KY

Boston, MA

Claremont, CA

Cincinnati, OH

Chicago, IL

Clovis, CA

Columbus, OH

Hebron, CT

Indianapolis, IN

Lansing, MI

Little Falls, MN

Louisville, KY

Los Angeles, CA

Mt. Prospect, IL

New York, NY

Oakland, CA

Omaha, NE

Pittsford, NY

Portland, OR

Providence, RI

Raleigh, NC

Rockford, IL

Roseville, MI

Sacramento, CA

San Diego, CA

San Francisco, CA

San Juan, TX

Santa Rosa, CA

Seattle, WA

Sedona, Arizona

St. Louis, MO

Stockton, CA

Tempe, AZ

Toledo, OH

Washington, DC

Waterloo, IA

 

The following cities will have vigils later in the week:

May 30th    Bloomington, IN

May 30th    Cleveland, OH

May 31st       Sedona, AZ

June 3rd       St. Cloud, MN

 

Whether you can attend a vigil or not, please keep the Sisters in your prayers during this critical time in their lives and in the life of the Church.

–Francis DeBernardo

 

 

 


Message to Nuns: ‘Be Not Afraid’

April 23, 2012

The initial news cycle centered on the Vatican’s attempted suppression of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the leading organization of U.S. nuns, seems to be dying down.  However, make no mistake: the story is not over! The most important piece of it is yet to come:  How will the nuns respond to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) decision to place an archbishop in charge of their conference, in effect, displacing the women’s leadership of themselves?

At New Ways Ministry, which has had its own encounters with the CDF, it is clear that the recent statement from this hierarchical office is designed to silence dissent by instilling fear, not only from the LCWR, but from other sectors of the church, too.  The Vatican no longer has a Grand Inquisitor to physically torture or jail people it calls “dissenters,” so the only tool left to silence them is fear.

We have seen this time and again at New Ways Ministry.  Whenever the Vatican makes a strong statement against LGBT people, one of the most widespread reactions and responses from church people is to be afraid.  Yes, there are many who express anger and outrage, but many, many more respond quietly by silencing themselves, afraid that if they speak out that they, too, will experience the wrath of Church authorities.

Fear, however, is not the full story.  I believe that though church authorities might be instilling fear through their actions, there is another reality present in these situations.  I believe that when fear is present,  God is calling us to courage.  Though it may seem that the LCWR has few options at this juncture (see the posting about canon law guiding this case), they do, in fact, have the option to respond courageously, relying on God’s power instead of the power of human beings–themselves or their oppressors.

When the CDF tried to suppress Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, by telling her that she could not do pastoral work with lesbian/gay people and that she could not speak about the Vatican’s investigation of her ministry, she responded with a simple statement filled with eloquent courage, “I choose not to participate in my own oppression.”

Those who see the injustice of the CDF’s attempt to suppress LCWR need to respond with similar courage.  Now is not the time to be afraid, worried, or despairing.  We must rely on our God who promised to be with us and guide us in our times of need.  The only thing we can ever change is ourselves and our responses, not other people or situations.  We have the choice at this juncture to respond with courage.

The LCWR leadership has announced that they will be consulting their members, the heads of women’s religious communities around the country, as to how to respond to the CDF announcement.   One thing that ordinary Catholics  can do is to exercise a ministry of en-courage-ment by writing to the leaders of nuns’ communities that we know and love, and letting them know that they have the support of Catholics in their time of need.   We need to let our Sisters know that they are not alone, and that the Catholic people stand courageously in solidarity with them.  If we want LCWR to respond with courage to this situation, we must en-courage the Sisters that we know and love.

(If you do not know the names and addresses of the leaders of the community of nuns who have ministered to you, ask a local nun for their contact information or call/email New Ways Ministry, and we will help you get that information.  New Ways Ministry phone: 301-277-5674; email: info@NewWaysMinistry.org .)

You don’t have to write a long letter.   Just let the Sisters know that you are praying for them, that you are grateful for their ministry, that you want them to continue to be prophetic, and that you will support them.

In doing so, you will be spreading one of Jesus’ most consistent Gospel messages:  “Be not afraid.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Previous Bondings 2.0 posts on the CDF-LCWR story (with some of the links each post contains):

1) April 18:  Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns; New Ways Ministry’s Response
Links: Associated Press article; CDF document.

2) April 19:  Sister Joan Chittister & Sister Simone Campbell Respond to Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns
          Links: National Catholic Reporter (NCR) article; Religion News Service article by David Gibson; New York Times article.

3) April 20:  Can There Really Be “Collaboration” Between the Vatican and LCWR?
          Links:  Cardinal Levada’s letter; NCR article on how LCWR learned of the Vatican’s action; NCR article on canon law relevant to the case.

4) April 21:  Support for U.S. Nuns Spreads Quickly Among Catholics and Others
Links:  Online petition in support of nuns; New York Times editorial supporting nuns; U.S. Catholic magazine analysis of CDF document.

5) April 22: Comments on LCWR Action from National Catholic LGBT Organizations
Links:  MSNBC interviews with New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick and DignityUSA’s Jeff Stone; Washington Post article.


Comments on LCWR Action from National Catholic LGBT Organizations

April 22, 2012

Commentary on the Vatican’s attempt to control the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) continues to make headlines, as more Catholic religious leaders offer their thoughts on the April 18th announcement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Two New Ways Ministry representatives and a DignityUSA representative have appeared in major media on the issue in the last few days.  Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry co-founder, appeared on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell show along with Jeff Stone, DignityUSA’s director of media relations.  In that interview, Sister Jeannine stated:

“We women come from a different conception of  ‘church’ from the Vatican.  We are following. . . the Second Vatican Council which was in the 1960’s talked about the ‘church’ as a community.  And in a community, people disagree. But in a totalitarian institution, there is no disagreement.  This is the clash that we are seeing.”

Jeff Stone

Jeff Stone commented:

“The highest law of the Catholic Church is the law of conscience.  Pope Benedict himself has spoken eloquently about it. Even if you find your conscience is in disagreement even with the words of the pope, you are obligated in your conscience to follow your conscience.”

You can watch the entire interview of these two leaders by clicking here.

In a Washington Post article entitled “American nuns stunned by Vatican accusation of ‘radical feminism,’ crackdown” Sister Patricia McDermott, RSM, New Ways Ministry advisory board member and President of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, struck a similar note to Sister Jeannine, in noting that women and men in the Church have different approaches:

Sister Patricia McDermott

“McDermott said the connection between priests and nuns has been weakening. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, she said, ‘the mutuality and respect was extraordinary, feeling we were all in this together.’

Today, she said, different approaches to a changing society and the role of the church means ‘that sense of hospitality, many of us would say, is growing dimmer.’ ”

Sister Julie Viera

In the same article, Sister Julie Viera, IHM, (who is not associated with either New Ways Ministry or DignityUSA) observed that though nuns take a vow of obedience, that vow is clearly defined:

“[O]ur vow of obedience applies to God . . . it doesn’t reside in a bishop, a body of bishops or even the pope. For us, that sense of obedience has to do with listening deeply to the call of the spirit.”

These commentators join a host of others, including Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, renwoned Catholic author, and Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, executive director of NETWORK, who have already criticized the Vatican’s directive.   You can read about Sister Joan’s comments here, and Sister Simone’s comments here and here.  For New Ways Ministry’s statement, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Support for U.S. Nuns Spreads Quickly Among Catholics and Others

April 21, 2012

The attempt this week by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to control the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the leading national organization of Catholic nuns in the U.S., is being widely criticized by Catholics and others, as people across the country start to express outrage at the decision and support for these women of faith.

A group of Catholics concerned about the religious sisters have organized an online petition at Change.org which has already attracted over 4,000 signatures in less than two days.  The petition’s text:

“On April 18, 2012, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) launched a crackdown on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an umbrella group that represents more than 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in the United States.

“We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). We are shocked by the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s recent crackdown on nuns in the United States. The mandate forced upon LCWR, which threatens their works of justice, is a prime example of how the hierarchy in the Roman Catholic Church misuses its power to diminish the voice of women. We value the prophetic witness of women religious and appreciate their commitment to social justice. “

You can access and sign the petition here.

A New York Times editorial supports LCWR and nuns’ ministries, pointing out that the Vatican’s accusations are

“. . .a misreading of the very fine work in schools, charities, prisons and impoverished neighborhoods being done by about 60,000 nuns across the nation.

“These nuns and their leaders continued to bolster the reputation of the Roman Catholic Church even as it suffered one of its greatest scandals in the sexual abuse of schoolchildren by rogue priests and the cover-ups by diocesan authorities. . . .

“It would be a tragedy, far beyond the church, if their fine work and their courageous voices were constrained.”

Bryan Cones, managing editor of U.S. Catholic offers an insightful analysis on the magazine’s blog.  His conclusion:

“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.’ ”

Sister Simone Campbell elaborated on that idea in an interview with National Public Radio.  Commenting on what might have motivated the Vatican’s leaders to take such an action, she said:

“. . .it looks like from the outside that they are not used to strong women who took the urging of Pope Pius XII very seriously. Pope Pius XII urged women religious – way before I was in the community – to be educated in theology, to get educated in advanced degrees.

“So we took him seriously, and we did it. The leadership doesn’t know how to deal with strong women. And so their way is try to shape us into whatever they think it should be, not realizing that we’ve been faithful to the call this whole time.”

Responding to a line of questioning as to why the Vatican and U.S. nuns’ differ in their approach to issues, including lesbian and gay issues, Sister Campbell stated:

“There’s certainly an experience difference. We as Catholics believe our experience informs our faith and our faith informs our experience. It’s – how can I say this? When you don’t work every day with people who live on the margins of our society, it’s much easier to make easy statements about who’s right and who’s wrong.”

PreviousBondings 2.0 posts on the LCWR case:

April 18, 2012: Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns; New Ways Ministry’s Response

April 19, 2012: Sister Joan Chittister & Sister Simone Campbell Respond to Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns

April 20, 2012: Can There Really Be “Collaboration” Between the Vatican and LCWR?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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