The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the American nuns’ organization that was censured by the Vatican earlier this year in part because of their support of LGBT issues, met in St. Louis this past week to discern what their response to the hierarchy’s critique would be.
On Friday, Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, president of LCWR, announced that the nuns’ group will continue to dialogue with church officials about the situation. The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) summarized Sister Farrell’s statement:
“Reading aloud from a prepared statement, which came after approval from the 900 sisters gathered at the assembly, LCWR’s president, Franciscan Sr. Pat Farrell, said LCWR membership wanted to use the occasion of the Vatican order ‘to explain to church leaders LCWR’s mission, values and operating principles.’ ”
NCR explained how the Sisters’ outlined what their next steps will be:
As part of the Vatican’s mandate, LCWR has been ordered to place itself under the authority of an ‘archbishop delegate,’ Seattle’s Archbishop Peter Sartain.
“LCWR national board is expected to meet with Sartain in St. Louis Sunday for about two hours. The focus of that meeting ‘will be on beginning to process with him and see how that unfolds,’ Farrell said at a press conference.
“The LCWR expect ‘open and honest dialogue’ with Sartain that ‘may lead not only to increasing understanding between the church leadership and women religious, but also to creating more possibilities for the laity and, particularly for women, to have a voice in the church,’ the statement said.
“ ‘Religious life, as it is lived by the women religious who comprise LCWR, is an authentic expression of this life that must not be compromised,’ it said.
“ ‘The assembly instructed the LCWR officers to conduct their conversation with Archbishop Sartain from a stance of deep prayer that values mutual respect, careful listening and open dialogue,’ the statement said. ‘The officers will proceed with these discussions as long as possible, but will reconsider if LCWR is forced to compromise the integrity of its mission.’ ”
Sister Farrell explained to NCR her hopes for the discussion between the LCWR national board and Archbishop Sartain:
“Asked what she hopes to receive in dialogue with Sartain, Farrell said LCWR wants ‘to be recognized and be understood as equal in the church.’
” ‘And really we do want to come to the point of having an environment … for the entire Catholic church to search for truth together, to talk about issues that are very complicated. And there is not the environment right now.’
“The Vatican’s critique of LCWR said the Vatican congregation identified a ‘prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith’ in the group’s programs and ‘corporate dissent’ in the group regarding the church’s sexual teachings.
Farrell said during questioning from the press that ‘dialogue on doctrine is not going to be our starting point.’
“ ‘Our starting point will be about our own life and about our understanding of religious life,’ Farrell continued. ‘And the documents, in our view, misrepresent that.’ ”
Sister Farrell expressed hope that dialogue “may lead not only to increasing understanding between the church leadership and women religious, but also to creating more possibilities for the laity and, particularly for women, to have a voice in the church.”
During her Presidential Address to the LCWR meeting, Sister Farrell offered the Sisters’ leaders six ways forward in their continuing discussions with church officials: through contemplation, with a prophetic voice, through solidarity with the marginalized, through community, non-violently, and by living in joyful hope.
She closed her address by stating:
“We stand in the power of the dying and rising of Jesus. I hold forever in my heart an expression of that from the days of the dictatorship in Chile: ‘Pueden aplastar algunas flores, pero no pueden detener la primavera.’ ‘They can crush a few flowers but they can’t hold back the springtime.’
The Nun Justice Project, a coalition of Catholic groups supporting the LCWR, issued a statement praising Sister Farrell’s remarks and LCWR’s response:
“Today, the sisters stood in their integrity and, once again, responded to the needs of the people,” said Erin Saiz Hanna, spokesperson for The Nun Justice Project and Executive Director of the Women’s Ordination Conference. “As a young woman of faith, I find hope in their statement for the role of women in our church, and that dialogue is possible.”
“We commend the sisters on their prayerful discernment and response to the Vatican,” stated Jim FitzGerald, spokesperson for the Nun Justice Project and Executive Director of Call To Action. “Their actions speak to their faithfulness and the reasons why Catholics across the country support them.”
The Nun Justice Project is comprised of American Catholic Council, Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church , Call To Action, Catholics for Choice, CORPUS, DignityUSA, Federation of Christian Ministries, FutureChurch, New Ways Ministry, Quixote Center, RAPPORT, Voice of the Faithful, WATER: Women’s Alliance for Theology Ethics and Ritual, and Women’s Ordination Conference.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry