After weeks of silence, the board of the LCWR today issued a response to the Vatican crackdown on their organization and they signaled that they weren’t going to go quietly:
Board members concluded that the assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency. Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission. The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.
The LCWR board says that its leaders will travel to Rome for a June 12 meeting with CDF chief Cardinal William Levada and Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain, who is acting as Rome’s point man in the LCWR makeover.
In my piece at Religion News Service, I note that while the nuns have no ecclesiastical authority to wield in the negotiations, the Vatican is not enjoying a great stretch, credibility-wise, and the attempted crackdown has not been popular among U.S. Catholics.
The LCWR’s board statement also makes a point about the outpouring of support the sisters have received, and concludes:
As the church and society face tumultuous times, the board believes it is imperative that these matters be addressed by the entire church community in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, and integrity.
Zing. The Vatican seems to have taken note of the popular support for the nuns as well. The other day, Pope Benedict XVI praised the work of the U.S. nuns, and in an essay posted today at America magazine, Archbishop Sartain goes on at great length about the longstanding service of women religious in the U.S.
Sartain reiterates the Vatican’s concerns but strikes a generally positive and diplomatic note, it seems to me. The archbishop doubled down on that tone in a statement issued at the end of the day in response to the LCWR statement:
Both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and I are wholeheartedly committed to dealing with the important issues raised by the Doctrinal Assessment and the LCWR Board in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, integrity and fidelity to the Church’s faith. I look forward to our next meeting in Rome in June as we continue to collaborate in promoting the important work of the LCWR for consecrated life in the United States.
The Holy See and the Bishops of the United States are deeply proud of the historic and continuing contribution of women religious – a pride that has been echoed by many in recent weeks.
America also has a response to Sartain by Christine Firer Hinze, a professor of ethics at Fordham University, who wrote that “the dangers of talking past one another, stalemate or alienation are high.”
Finally, I would finish my recommended reading list by pointing to Joshua McElwee’s interview with LCWR president Sr. Pat Farrell, who said that in raising doctrinal and theological issues the nuns in her organization have also been reflecting a wider conversation among Catholics in the church — one that often finds no other outlet in officialdom.
Sr. Pat also had interesting things to say to Laurie Goodstein at the NYTimes:
“Even large sectors of the church itself have legitimate concern and want to continue to talk about the place of women in the church, and rightful equality between men and women,” said Sister Farrell, who is a member of the leadership team of the Sisters of St. Francis, of Dubuque, Iowa. “So if that is called radical feminism, then a lot of men and women in the church, far beyond us, are guilty of that.”
All in all, I wonder if the pushback by the LCWR combined with the popular support for the nuns and the Vatican’s travails — and a genuine commitment to a spirit of collaboration rather than confrontation — might help defuse the tensions much as happened with the wider, parallel Vatican investigation of religious life in women’s communities.