Can There Really Be “Collaboration” Between the Vatican and LCWR?

The Vatican’s document announcing that an Archbishop Delegate has been placed in charge of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) concludes with a paragraph which begins:

“It will be the task of the Archbishop Delegate to work collaboratively with the officers of the LCWR to achieve the goals outlined in this document, and to report on the progress of this work to the Holy See.”

The letter from Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which accompanied the decision’s announcement, states in its opening paragraph that the action was taken with the goal of

“. . .fostering a patient and collaborative renewal of this conference. . . “

One wonders how “collaborative” such work will be, however, since the very announcement of this decision was handled in such a one-sided way.   In a statement released yesterday, the LCWR presidency (comprised of President, Past President, and Vice President) said they were “stunned” by the public announcement, which came without any advance notification even though these three leaders were at the Vatican itself on the day news of the decision was released to the press.

A National Catholic Reporter (NCR) article reports on how the LCWR leaders learned of the Vatican’s decision:

“[LCWR] sent an email Thursday to the heads of each of the congregations it represents, explaining how the group became aware of the news.

“That email, obtained by NCR, says LCWR leadership was in Rome to meet Wednesday with members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding the doctrinal assessment. When the leaders came to the meeting, the congregation had already communicated with the U.S. bishops’ conference news of [Archbishop Peter] Sartain’s appointment, the email states.

“Additionally, the email says LCWR membership was told during the meeting that news of the appointment would only be shared Wednesday at the bishops’ conference internally and not with the general public in order to give the group time to communicate with its leaders.

” ‘When we met with Cardinal (William) Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on April 18, where we received the assessment results, CDF’s communication had already been sent to the USCCB for release at noon,’ the email states.

” ‘We understood that the documents would be put on USCCB’s members-only web page,’ it continues. ‘Consequently, we had hoped to communicate the conclusions with you ourselves. That was not possible.’ “

Another NCR article explains the background of the church’s canon law in regard to the Vatican’s decision and discusses the options which LCWR has for making a decision about its future:

“. . .experts say the options available to the group [LCWR] are stark.

“Ultimately, several canon lawyers told NCR, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has two choices: Either comply with the order or face ouster as a Vatican-recognized representative of sisters in the United States.

“What’s more, the lawyers say, LCWR has no recourse for appeal of the decision. . . “

The two canon lawyers quoted in the article,Oblate Fr. Frank Morrisey, professor of canon law at St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, and Jesuit Fr. Ladislas Orsy, visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC, explained why appealing the decision does not seem feasible:

“Morrissey said part of the problem regarding the question of whether the sisters can appeal the decision is the fact that, when a decision comes from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ‘there’s no appeal except to the Doctrine of Faith itself.’

“While Morrissey said the LCWR ‘could always ask’ the congregation to reconsider its own decision, he doubted the congregation would be willing to re-evaluate, considering the number of the meetings that have already been held on the matter since announcement of the investigation in 2009.

“The situation regarding the chances of appeal is so dim, Orsy said, that no canon lawyer would advise LCWR to spend time even trying to prepare a case to present.”

One of the reasons that the Vatican undertook the doctrinal assessment of LCWR was because the hierarchy was concerned about the sisters’ support of  lesbian/gay issues, including support of New Ways Ministry’s programs, in particular.  Background on the Vatican’s decision, as well as New Ways Ministry’s response, can be found in the previous two days’ Bondings 2.0’s blog posts which can be accessed here and here.  Both contain links to primary documents and other news sources.

The Vatican’s failure of communication with LCWR in announcing the decision and the one-sidedness of any “appeals” process does not bode well for any true “collaboration” between the two groups.   There can be no collaboration when one side holds all the power, especially if it does not act honorably and fairly.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry