Robert Mickens of the Tablet and Sandro Magister of Chiesa are reporting the names of the men behind the investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. You’re going to recognize a few. First, Magister:
The inspection [of LCWR] had been urged above all by some cardinals of the United States, both of the curia and residential [i.e., those who live in Rome], with direct knowledge of the “problematic” orientations of the LCWR.
Cardinal Franc Rodé, prefect of the congregation for religious until the end of 2010, had given the go-ahead to a rather hostile apostolic visitation of the LCWR. But after, on January 4, 2011, he was replaced by Brazilian cardinal João Braz de Aviz, a focolarino [member of the Focolare movement], and even before that, when the American Redemptorist Joseph W. Tobin became secretary of the same congregation, the apostolic visitation continued and concluded in a much more conciliatory manner.
This changing of the guard at the top of the congregation for religious was not at all to the liking of the cardinals from the United States residing in Rome at the time – Levada, Raymond L. Burke, James F. Stafford, Bernard F. Law, John P. Foley – so much so that none of them attended Tobin’s episcopal ordination at Saint Peter’s Basilica on October 9, 2010.
That’s extraordinary. On Magister’s telling, those American cardinals were so disappointed with the decision to appoint Tobin — an outsider who didn’t want the job and freely admits to “ranting about the curia” — that they couldn’t be bothered to attend his ordination to the episcopacy. (I wonder who attended Cardinal Law’s 2004 appointment as archpriest of St. Mary Major. His retirement ran silent.) Imagine their surprise when soon after a nun was appointed undersecretary for the congregation — and one who doesn’t usually wear a habit, just like those troublesome LCWR nuns. Those American cardinals must have seen the writing on the wall. Under new management, the apostolic visitation of the LCWR seems to have gone precisely nowhere.
Unlike the doctrinal investigation, which was run by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Levada. As Mickens explains, the CDF had been looking into the LCWR for quite some time:
By the late 1990s, [conservative U.S. bishops] began taking their complaints about the sisters to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome. The CDF, under the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, even issued a doctrinal warning against the organisation in 2001, though the last remnant of a more conciliar group of US bishops was able to stave off any direct Vatican intervention.
The saga entered a new phase in 2005 when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope. He quickly appointed the then Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco to his old post as CDF prefect. Significantly, the soon-to-be Cardinal Levada was also chairman of the doctrinal committee of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). According to sources in Rome and Washington, his successor at the conference’s doctrinal office – the then Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut – was the man who formally petitioned the CDF to launch the current doctrinal investigation of the LCWR. Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced to resign as Archbishop of Boston in 2002 because of his perceived mishandling of the clerical sex-abuse crisis, was reportedly the person in Rome most forcefully supporting Bishop Lori’s proposal.
Both Cardinal Law and Archbishop Lori (he was appointed to the prestigious see of Baltimore in March) have long supported women’s religious orders that have distanced themselves from the LCWR. Cardinal Law, 80, staffs his residence in Rome with the Mercy Sisters of Alma (Michigan) and Archbishop Lori, 61, helped set up several traditional communities of sisters during his tenure in Bridgeport (2001-12). All these communities, marked by their loyalty to the hierarchy, belong to the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), which broke away from the LCWR in 1992.
Incidentally, Cardinal Law was a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious when it launched its own visitation – separate from the CDF investigation – of women’s communities in the US. According to news reports, that project was at least partially funded by the Knights of Columbus, a wealthy fraternal order of Catholic men for whom Archbishop Lori has been supreme chaplain since 2005. Under the leadership of an influential Washington lawyer and former Reagan White House official, Carl Anderson, the knights have increasingly backed conservative causes and routinely make sizeable donations to the Holy See.
How sizable? According to its 2010 tax filing (.pdf), the Knights of Columbus donated about $1 million to the Vatican. But the Knights of Columbus doesn’t cut checks just to Rome. In 2010, the organization gave close to $2 million dollars to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. And it donated $25,000 to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is spearheading the legal challenges to the contraception mandate; and $50,000 to the Federalist Society. It will be interesting to see the 2011 totals. (Of course, the Knights of Columbus also donate generously to humanitarian relief efforts.) But back to Mickens:
Mr Anderson is a member or consultor of several Vatican offices, and one of the five-man board of directors for the so-called Vatican Bank. His close association with the Vatican and Archbishop Lori, and the archbishop’s own determination to bring the LCWR into line, should not be underestimated.
After appointing Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo (Ohio) to conduct the initial phase of the controversial investigation of the Leadership Conference, the CDF has now asked Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to lead phase two. He heads a three-man team (which includes Blair [and Paprocki of Springfield Illinois]) to reform the organization or, in the CDF’s sanitised words, “to implement a process of review and conformity to the teachings and discipline of the Church.”
Gee, when you put it that way, it almost sounds fun. Mickens concludes: “This is the Vatican team entrusted with reforming the LCWR — three men considered to be rising stars in the American hierarchy. Each has said he has accepted the mission for the good of the church.” That sentiment was echoed by Santa Fe Archbishop Michael Sheehan, who recently explained that while some people have had a tough time understanding Vatican decrees, including the imposition of the new translation of the Missal and the censure of the LCWR, accepting them “is a small price to pay for our unity with our mother church.”
Perhaps Archbishop Sheehan is on to something. American Catholics have not forgotten how long it took bishops to wake up to the sexual-abuse crisis they created. And now they see that the Vatican took just three years to determine that it had no other option but to put 80 percent of U.S. nuns — whose average age is seventy-four — into receivership, an effort led in part by Cardinal Bernard Law. That decision has unified a good deal of Catholics all right — against Rome.