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Moving beyond the Church? The CDF and the LCWR

The CDF's "Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious" is, in my reading, rather short on evidence of the LCWR's urgent need for reform. One of the few concrete examples given is a keynote address (pdf) delivered by Laurie Brink, OP, at the 2007 LCWR assembly:

The Cardinal [William Levada] offered as an example specific passages of Sr. Laurie Brink's address about some Religious "moving beyond the Church" or even beyond Jesus. This is a challenge not only to core Catholic beliefs; such a rejection of faith is also a serious source of scandal and is incompatible with religious life. Such unacceptable positions routinely go unchallenged by the LCWR...

Was Sr. Brink rejecting core Catholic beliefs in her address? The Elizabeth Johnson affair has made me skeptical of such claims, so I decided I ought to read her talk for myself.The subject of Sr. Brink's address was the various ways congregations of women religious might confront their futures. After each section, there is an invitation for the sisters present to discuss the points raised among themselves, and I must say, reading it, I felt like I was eavesdropping. It wasn't addressed to me, and their discussions should not be constrained by what outside observers might take out of context. But now that the CDF has made it a matter of general interest, I'm glad I read it. I found that the section referred to above was not at all what the CDFs description led me to expect. I also found that the rest of the address was relevant to the CDF's concerns in a number of suprising ways.

What, Sr. Brink asked her listeners, can a congregation of women religious do with the difficult realities of shrinking membership, aging members, and so forth? She described four possible paths that congregations might take -- but first she laid out the goal any such congregation should have in mind:

We have lost our prophetic place on the margins, having gravitated toward the middle of society and fallen off the edge of the Church. The stories in Scripture can provide a compass by which we reorient ourselves so that we may more enthusiastically seek holiness, enliven our charisms, and pursue the Mission of Jesus.

That sounds an awful lot like what the CDF says the LCWR and its member congregations ought to do: "The work of any conference of major superiors of women Religious can and should be a fruitful means of addressing the contemporary situation and supporting religious life in its most 'radical' sense -- that is, the faith in which it is rooted."

Let's skip forward to the section of Brink's address the CDF quotes, very briefly, in its assessment. The third option Brink describes is "Sojourning," in which a congregation "moves away from the center." (She has just defined the center as "the Mission of Jesus" and "the Church as Tradition, the Church as Sacrament, the Church as Hierarchy and the Church as People of God"). "A sojourning congregation is no longer ecclesiastical," she says. "Religious titles, institutional limitations, ecclesiastical authorities no longer fit this congregation, which in most respects is Post-Christian." In other words, some groups of sisters might decide that their differences with the Catholic Church -- their distance from the "center" -- require them to cease to define themselves as operating within that Church. Brink doesn't recommend this option or say that she hopes anyone will embrace it. She says it's one of the four possible choices a congregation might make, something I don't think is in dispute (and something I don't think was news to any of her listeners). Remember that she was not talking to elementary school students, but to fellow members of religious congregations, whom she was inviting to frankly consider what sort of choices and commitments lay before them as communities.

The following, I grant you, is the sort of thing that justifiably makes orthodoxy antennas buzz: "Who's to say that the movement beyond Christ is not, in reality, a movement into the very heart of God?" The CDF's main beef with this talk and what it represents about the LCWR, as far as I can make out, is that, from the CDF's perspective, this is not a rhetorical question. Their answer is: "Who's to say it? You are, in your capacity as leaders, and if you don't say it, Rome will have to do it for you." They don't want the LCWR to be offering up topics for discussion and hoping that its member congregations will, in a spirit of prayerful discernment, arrive at a decision consistent with the heart and mind of the Church. They want the LCWR to clearly inform its members what such a decision would look like. These are competing notions of leadership, and which is the more appropriate is something the officers of the LCWR will have to work out with their new episcopal partners.

But don't stop reading there and come away with the idea that Sr. Brink thinks anything goes in the world of Catholic sisters. She goes on to clarify that such a movement beyond Christ would be "a movement the ecclesiastical system would not recognize...a whole new way that is also not Catholic Religious Life." Her example is "The Benedictine Women of Madison... They are certainly religious women, but they are no longer women religious as it is defined by the Roman Catholic Church. They [chose] as a congregation to step outside the Church in order to step into a greater sense of holiness. Theirs was a choice of integrity, insight and courage."

If that sounds to you like Sr. Brink is praising people for stepping away from Christ, ask yourself how it's any different from what critics of women religious (or any other progressive Catholics) have said all along: if you don't like it, why don't you leave? If you can't assent in obedience and faith to what the Church requires, shouldn't honesty motivate you to stop calling yourself "Catholic"? We've all heard it; some of you have said it. (Don't do it here at dotCommonweal, by the way.) But if you are tempted to quote from this address as evidence that the LCWR is leading souls astray, you'd better make sure you've never helpfully suggested that anyone "step outside the Church" rather than work out their discomfort from within it.

The final option Sr. Brink enumerates is the one she endorses personally: "Reconciliation is not the only choice," she says, "but it is my choice, because it is also my church."

If there is to be a future for women religious that upholds our dignity as reflections of the divine equal to that of our brothers, respects our baptismal promises, and honors our commitment to the Mission of Jesus, we must first be reconciled with the institutional Church. Such an effort will cost us dearly.

The address is from 2007, before the investigation of LCWR or the visitation of religious communities in the United States was announced. But what Sr. Brink says in this last section feels quite relevant, and I wonder whether it wasn't this part that really got the CDF's attention.

Are we not victims of patriarchy within our society and church? Have we not -- individually and corporately -- felt the heavy hand of church politics? Has not the rigidity of the hierarchy set a poor example for its priests, who, formed in a spirit of domination and dogma, become not servants of Christ but stalwart soldiers of the Vatican? And therefore, as vocal victims, arent we the best ones to extend an invitation to be reconciled?...These words must first begin with the address, "My brother bishops..." Until we as congregations of women religious initiate a process of reconciliation with our ecclesiastical brothers, we cannot hope to have much of an impact elsewhere.

I don't see that the reconciliation process has gotten very far since then. But I sincerely wish the sisters and their brother bishops every success in seeing it through.

P.S. I am indebted to Bryan Cones at U.S. Catholic for the link to Sr. Brink's address, and his take on the CDF's brief against the LCWR is worth reading.

Update (4/24): Fr. Francis Clooney has done a careful reading of and response to Sr. Brink's talk at America's "In All Things" blog. Read it here.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an associate editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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"But dont stop reading there and come away with the idea that Sr. Brink thinks anything goes in the world of Catholic sisters. She goes on to clarify that such a movement beyond Christ would be a movement the ecclesiastical system would not recognizea whole new way that is also not Catholic Religious Life. Her example is The Benedictine Women of Madison They are certainly religious women, but they are no longer women religious as it is defined by the Roman Catholic Church. They [chose] as a congregation to step outside the Church in order to step into a greater sense of holiness. Theirs was a choice of integrity, insight and courage.After reading this extra paragraph I come away with the idea that Sr. Brink thinks that stepping out of the Church is indeed a wonderful idea!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer towards reflected on the concept of a religionless Christianity which is similar in some respects to the reflections offered by the sisters on their experience within the Church (however that is defined) and however they live that definition out in their corporate and individual lives.I think the sisters should be applauded for having transparent and open dialogue and reflection on how to live out their consecrated lives in a way keeping with their vows and commitments.They are not skulking around like the cardinals in the Vatican and the myriad of ecclesiastical leaders who systematically and criminally frustrated the seeking of justice by victim of priest predators.If (and that is a big IF) they discerned that there was a need for some correction, the Vatican did not need to engage is this kind of melodramatic action to articulate it. They should have chosen the path of dialogue and more quiet engagement.

The second last paragraph of the Bryan Cones article referenced in the post gives a motive for the CDF's not choosing the path of dialogue and quiet engagement if they felt there was a need for correction."When you boil it all down, the CDFs complaints are trumped up, giving the U.S. bishops the excuse to act against a relatively independent Catholic voice that they dont likeand 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.

"the Vatican did not need to engage is this kind of melodramatic action to articulate it. They should have chosen the path of dialogue and more quiet engagement."George - perhaps they should. But I think what has played out is what almost inevitably plays out in an unequal power relationship characterized by deep mutual mistrust. Both parties, in my opinion, share responsibility for working to restore trust. Perhaps the new arrangement mandated by the CDF is actually an opportunity to lay some of this groundwork. Sisters and bishops will need to work together whether they want to or not.

Once again I am relying upon your tolerance of my ignorance. That's not humility. I have as much arrogance as most. It seems to me the jist of this entails a group of fellows picking a fight with a group of women. Remarkable wise fellows and remarkable tolerant women. OK. But, I gotta tell you, either this group of fellows have precious little experience in the all too often outcome of poorly conceived adventures or they are indeed following a voice awfully few of us unremarkable fellows hear. It is more than little likely this will not go well.

I think we scare them.They kinda scare me, because they yelled a lot in elementary school and it's not easy to completely let go of the old perceptions and relationships. But my generation will be the last who has that residue of memories and experience. My children, all of whom have attended church all of their lives and most of whom have a Catholic school background, probably have never met a single religious sister. My younger children, I'm almost certain, don't know what a nun is. The sisters' decline in numbers will render them irrelevant to most of the church. It's probably happening already.For my children's generation, the people from the institutional church with whom they've had personal contact will be really old white priests, younger foreign priests with poor to adequate fluency in English, and deacons. And a lot of lay women.

A few comments:1. Sr. Brink says explicitly that she asks her questions and says some things for the sake of discussion, but some are not consistent with the teaching of Rome nor are they all necessarily her own opinions either. 2. What Sr. Brink seems to think is the purpose of both the Church and religious congregations is the increase in the holiness of their members. For her both are essentially means to a personal end. I don't think that is the main value of Church membership. The Church is a complex of ends which includes individual holiness. In apparently putting personal holiness above other ends I think she is very much like some of the old-fashioned nuns who viewed the orders themselves (and the priesthood) as intrinsically better means to holiness than secular vocations. Vatican II, of course, rejects this notion.My point is not that Sr. Brink thinks orders are superior for developing holiness. My point is that for both her and some of the other nuns holiness is what is to be pursued, wherever it is to be found. I object because the end being a Christian is to love, and though love results in a personal state of holiness, one's own state is not the goal of love, it is a result of it. 3. Her premise -- that one should go where one's holiness is more likely to increase -- is the basis for her approving the nun of Madison, who, she says, went outside the Church to as a means to increase increased holiness. 4. I can see where the CDF does not find Sr. Brink's view of the Church entirely consistent with its view of the Church. The Church is not just for making individuals holy, though it is that among other things. (No, it's not entirely consistent with mine either.)

Ann, Sister Brink says"that we may seek ...holiness, enliven our charisms and pursue the Mission of Christ." It seems to me that she is talking about their work in the world, their mission and charism of their particular religious order. and not just personal holiness. Holiness and following Christ is foundational but does not exclude active work in the church (world).

Comparing Sister Brink's presentation with the case of the vapours it gave the CDF, I am really startled by how out of it our leaders are. Do the bishops, at their annual meetings, never sit around and discuss "what-if" propositions? Do they merely proceed serenely from Roman edict to Roman edict without ever discussing them, examining alternatives or blue-skying new propositions?I don't know of any successful organization that does not do such things. I am afraid now that I am in an organization that doesn't.

Tom Blackburn: For the sake of discussion, let's say that the bishops at their annual meetings do NOT ever engage in the kind of exploratory thought processes that you have described and that Sister Brink herself has engaged in in her presentation.For the sake of discussion, let's also say that the guys in CDF do NOT.Now, if the guys in charge do NOT engage in such exploratory thought processes, do you think that those guys will have problems understanding Sister Brink's thought processes in her presentation?

Stuart Buck, in light of your recent penchant for inviting fellow Catholics to "move beyond the Church," so to speak, I am afraid I must ask you to refrain from publishing your writing in this forum while I conduct a doctrinal investigation. Given your stated agreement with the CDF's censure of a few phrases from Sr. Brink's address, I know you will appreciate the necessity of this request.

Thomas Farrell: Yes, that is what I thought I said: That it looks as if our bishops and the CDF never do the exercise of thinking of hypotheticals, what-ifs, alternative approaches and the like. The CDF reacted to the kind of paper that typically is commissioned to get the discussion started and keep it going as if it not only had never conducted such an exercise but had never even heard of such a thing and couldn't believe anyone would have the temerity to do such a thing.In simpler terms, they reacted like a bunch of people who never took their eyballs off their navels.

"My children, all of whom have attended church all of their lives and most of whom have a Catholic school background, probably have never met a single religious sister."Hi Jim- My 12 year old daughter has become friendly with a couple of Sisters of Charity through the work they do in our community. I am really grateful my daughter knows these women, I think they make terrific female role models. (And regarding foreign priests, we have a visiting Nigerian studying here who my 8 year old adores; she keeps wanting to go to Confession to talk to him and I have to always try and figure out which Mass he's celebrating so I can take her to it). I think we're all touched and inspired by different people- that's why we need both the Mother Angelicas and the Sister Brinks and the Benedictine Women of Madison. We should be embracing of all of it, I think, not just the subset we personally identify with.

As a P.S. to my earlier comment (and I'll proofread this more carefully), I once spent a morning and part of an afternoon in an imaging-the-future session set up by a bishop who attended for the day. One of the presenters later became a cardinal, and I am pretty sure the other one eventually was a bishop. There were things said that day that probably would cause alarm bells to ring all over the modern CDF. The bishop has gone on to his reward in heaven, but I shall tightly seal his name behind my lips lest the modern CDF, with its usual excess of caution, order his body exhumed and condemned posthumously.

Re religious women being rendered irrelevant, there are still more sisters (~57,000) than priests (~ 41,000) in the U.S. A change in the constraints of married clergy and womens ordination would change both for the better.

Irene, I agree, and I think it's wonderful that your daughter has connected with the Sisters of Charity. There is an order of religious sisters who live in community in our area - they're great, and a couple of them used to work in our parish, but for whatever reason none of them do now. Now you've got me thinking that I should take my children to their next open house.

Tom Blackburn: I apologize if I misunderstood your first post. However, I would point out that you did say that you were "startled" (your word). So in effect, the point of my rejoinder was to say that you shouldn't be "startled."Nevertheless, I am happy for you that you did at one time know a Catholic bishop who evidently could think outside the box, as they say. Good for him! Good for you that you knew him!However, the current crop of Catholic bishops are not capable of thinking outside the box, as they say.In my estimate, the current bishops are not capable of thinking much at all.

I was disheartened while reading Sr. Brinkers speech. It started with her seeming acceptance of Sheldrakes post-modern theory that humans cannot find 'one obtainable Truth' which permeated her entire talk. That lead her to commend the choice of the Benedictine Women of Madison, who left the Church, as exhibiting 'integrity, insight and courage'. She lauded 'holiness' but 'faithfulness' to God was entirely lacking.If the Church, in all its manifestations including the religious life of nuns, does not exist to lead us to a faithfulness in a one true God, then it becomes just like any other human institution. No wonder the hierarchy acted; if anything, I wonder why it took so long.Btw, to me, 'beyond' connotes 'out'

Re Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK's comment I think we scare them, it's much more than being scared because nuns used to yell at us. Let's reiterate a couple of the comments in this thread, like George D's one about the nuns "having transparent and open dialogue and reflection on how to live out their consecrated lives in a way keeping with their vows and commitments" and Thomas Farrell's idea that the bishops don't typically engage in "exploratory thought processes." The thing that threatens the bishops, I think, creatures of autocracy as they are, is that people would actually do this. An autocracy is a power structure. One is obsequious to one's superiors and demanding of obedience from one's subordinates. The thought of people actually having dialog, of letting the power of faith-based rational ideas shape the path forward, of admitting that the path forward might be unknown, of the process being trusted and the outcome not controlled, has got to send autocrats screaming into the night. I think this is the real reason the bishops are going after the nuns. It sends a frightening message by presenting a living model of how the Church could operate if it so desired. (And this doesn't even approach the idea that it's women creating the model.)We all know how much baloney we hear every week in sermons. In the last Christmas Day sermon I heard at my parish, the pastor told us that the meaning of Christmas was "surprise." Really. And yet no one from the CDF showed up despite the obvious heresy involved.Yet the CDF, this group of about sixty people and staff, charged with responsibility for the faith and morals of the entire Catholic world AND the sexual abuse crisis, focuses on some convention speeches and nunly whiffs of feminism? I don't think so. The motivation is other than that. Nuns, over the years and mostly under the radar, have created a means of organizing themselves at the community and national level in a way thats based on dialog. The bishops are thus about exterminating this very real threat - the existence of a living, Catholic, yet non-autocratic organizational model and voice. As Bugs Bunny used to say, You know, of course, this means war.

Regarding Sr. Laurie Brink's presentation - first of all, Mollie, thank you for your summary and analysis - it strikes me as quite even-handed and fair.If the content of her presentation really is the root of the problem, and if it was so egregious that it warranted a CDF investigation(!), then I would think that the CDF (or the congregation that is responsible for religious life) would deal with her as an individual and through her particular religious order, as we've seen happen a number of times with other religious who have fallen afoul of Rome over the years.Sr. Brink's presentation seems to be, not the problem itself, but rather the precipitator (perhaps one of several such precipitators) of the problem that the CDF is actually addressing. My take is that the CDF is faulting the LCWR in this instance, not Sr. Brink. The fault seems to be that LCWR let her presentation stand without any correction or comment. And so it is the LCWR that is the subject of investigation here.The Holy See seems to be telling the LCWR here, in effect, 'Among the many roles you need to play is to be the preserver and disseminator of a baseline of Catholic doctrine and truth for the religious congregations you serve. This is why canon law calls for us to approve your organization and its charter documents. We don't think you've been fulfilling this role as well as we'd like you to, and so we are going to help you.'Please note: this is my description of what I think is going on. I am not a full-throated supporter of the investigation nor this outcome. In fact, I think both are tragic. I would much rather see the bonds of communion between the LCWR and American women religious, and Rome, be so strong that open and trusting communication would address whatever problems arise. It seems to me that these bonds have been atrophying for many years now. I hope that American religious sisters are examining their own history and consciences, because in truth I think they do bear some responsibility for this atrophying. Cathleen Kaveny has made a number of salient comments in dotCom over the years about problems and dangers of engaging in prophetic discourse. I would suggest, as respectfully as I'm able, that these cautions would apply to American women religious as well as to the rest of us. I fear these women, or at least their national organization, are reaping the fruit of years of prophetic discourse. There are passages from Sr. Brink's speech that exemplify this type of discourse. Please note: I am not arguing that women religious, or any women, or anybody, should be silent, or much worse, silenced.

And re a warning on nuns exercising "a relatively independent Catholic voice" the bishops might not like, I couldn't help but notice the following. Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association offered an alternative Catholic voice in the national debate on the health care bill. It passed in March of 2010. The Elizabeth Johnson smackdown on a book published in 2007 occurred in March 2011, after a "yearlong" investigation. This indicates it began, wow, right after Sister Carol Keehan spoke out. Very curious timing. As Chicago's first Mayor Daley used to say, don't get mad, get even.

Jim Pauwels has stated his description of what he thinks is going on.So I would like to offer my description of what I think is going on.Under the leadership of the Polish pope and now the German pope, the Catholic bishops are carrying on an omni-directional war against any and all perceived adversaries (i.e., persons) and any and all perceived adversarial positions (i.e., ideas). One of the centuries-old traditions that the Catholic bishops aim to maintain in the Roman Catholic Church and in its teachings is male patriarchy and male dominance. The Catholic bishops are not likely to give up their religious zealotry in their omni-directional war.

I think we should be grateful Rome is bothering to try to reform the group. This at least keeps it somewhat relevant, and possibly alive. Given its demographics, it seems it would have been much easier to let sleeping dogs lie, as they say, and let the group naturally die out.My curiousity was peeked by a quoted paragraph from a US Catholic article above, especially this sentence: "giving the U.S. bishops the excuse to act against a relatively independent Catholic voice that they dont like". What, pray tell, is a "relatively independent Catholic voice" mean, especially in the context of religious orders? That makes no sense to me.

Now I am getting really depressed. So many people commenting here are treating Sister Brink's presentation as if it were a learned paper thrown like pearls before a bunch of ignorant lay swine or something. She was stimulating, for heaven's sake, not explicating! You don't "correct" a stimulator. Everybody comments, and if there is a referee blowing whistles on any comment that goes "out of bounds" -- as some of you seem to think there should be -- the comments (and the whole project) will get stuck at the starting gate.

I'm glad that Jim and others recognize the wonderful work many nuns continue to do and notably iIwould add things like Network (which should raise hackles on the righ tand may have helped push this forward as a conclusion.)I think Bruce's(whoever he is) notion of faithfulness" really means absolute loyalty and as I've read his posts here and elsewhere, means if you don't like the marching orders, get out approach.Which makes me think Jim is right about this - in the future we'll see a very different Church with less nuns and more foreign priest here.But it strikes me that it wil be the smaller."purer" Church led by (cultic clericalistic)men who wil continue the traditions of keeping women in their place.As NCR's quoted canon lawyers noted yesterday, the deck is stacked against the nuns in this. (I could go on here about the governance evils canon law makes possible.)The voices of diminishing moderation will probably counsel the nuns to remember Teilhard and Courthney Murray and hunker down in silence for a better day to come.But that was then and this is now with a changed picture of the role of women.And consequently the dynamic in play here (as in "religious liberty") is about power.One can argue about how "reasonable" audits are, but it can and often is a power tool and going back to Rode et al -isn't how this got off the ground? -it's very much about power and its uses.Meanwhile in the doings in Phiully, Ireland, etc. the old boys network continues to lose credence even as they weild the tools of power - awful!

Jeff Landry: If, according to you, there can be no "relatively independent Catholic voice" (independent of the Catholic bishops), then it seems to me that COMMONWEAL should cease and desist. After all, the lay Catholics at COMMONWEAL should not, according to you, be acting as though they are a "relatively independent Catholic voice."

What would religious orders look like on an "organizational chart" of the Catholic Church? Do the heads of religious orders report to the pope?

Jeff, to answer your question "What, pray tell, is a relatively independent Catholic voice mean, especially in the context of religious orders? That makes no sense to me."Consider Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association. Her organization came out in favor of passing the health care law because in her opinion it did not increase the opportunity for abortion. The USCCB came out against the health care law because they felt it did. The health care law passed. She and the Catholic Health Association are not under the direct control of the USCCB. They are a relatively independent Catholic voice.

PS the Catholic Health Association is not a religious order but I think the analogy holds.

I'm reminded of the words of Paul to the Galatians: "For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery....For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love." For Paul the zealous Jew to set aside the law in the name of "faith working through love" was an act of tremendous courage, working beyond the structures of religion as he'd known it. The best of the religious women I know (and I know a bunch of good ones,) are truly free in this Pauline sense. That inner freedom is what scares the CDF, istm. Faith, in its deepest sense, is about freedom to love and do the works love invites. In my time I've heard all kinds of people in the Church afraid to speak what they believe to be true--recently we've seen that no (active) bishops dare speak against the Republican wing of the USCCB, gay priests (30%? 50% of all priests?) are afraid to speak against Church teaching that makes them illegitimate in the eyes of Rome, teachers in schools are careful to rein in their thoughts lest someone report them to the bishop, lay people practice contraception but are afraid to openly challenge the teaching that they just ignore, women called to priesthood don't name their vocation so that they can at least minister in some way in the church."For freedom Christ set us free." Here's to the religious women who dare to speak. Like everybody, their utterances aren't the final word come down from heaven. (I suspect Sr. Brink might be mortified at her bold and thoughtful address being used as a cudgel against women religious.) They can be wrong, silly, short-sighted, or just off-base, like the rest of us, even our bishops. But at least there are some--Chittister, Schneiders leap to mind--who are free enough in Christ to stand up to those who think that following Christ is just a new yoke of slavery.

I'd like to add an HT to Fr, Jim Martin who thinks that at this time we should speak up about all the wonderful things our nuns do for us, our Church and our country.

"What would religious orders look like on an organizational chart of the Catholic Church? Do the heads of religious orders report to the pope?"David, I'm hoping someone else jumps in to answer your question. I don't completely understand all of the "church visible" stuff, but I think that "org chart" may not be the right metaphor in this case - I think it's like asking, "Where does Notre Dame appear on the org chart of the Catholic Church", or "Where does Catholic Charities appear". I think of religious orders as being entities unto themselves that exist in communion with the church. I'm sure there are provisions in canon law that formally attach them to the institutional church, although I can't speak to the specifics. The large, multi-diocese/multi-national orders do attach to the Holy See, but they also attach at the local level to individual bishops and dioceses for some matters, and to their own religious order management apparatus for other stuff. I believe there are a lot of religious orders that are pretty local - they may exist within the bounds of a single diocese. Whether they need to be 'certified' by the Holy See, or if the bishop's 'certification' suffices, I'm not sure. Here in Chicago, there is an order of priests that quite literally attaches to the boundaries of a single parish, St. John Cantius - I've read that members of this order can't leave the parish grounds without permission. Anyway, hopefully - I mean, I hope - someone can explain it all.

Tom B., Thomas F. -- Your hypotheses for discussion are right on in my view. Note that the kind of thinking you discuss is unnecessary if one confidently begins with conclusions firmly in hand. Furthermore, to some, it is repulsive and potentially frightening if it is seen as possibly leading to an idea that one should (or must) modify a valued existing view or practice to survive. A bit of courage and humility in the face of ignorance is required to try the exploration and assessment you mention. The episcopal ensemble is self-reproducing in its nature, reinforced by selection, formation, experience, esprit de corps, and authority. There is little evidence there of the capacity and courage to ask where are we now, where are we going, where do we want to go, and how do we get there in the world in which we expect to live tomorrow. Those who ask such questions about what the bishops see as solely their province can only be seen as threats to the proper order of things. To the extent this applies, the LCWR problem is less a matter of demonstrated malfeasance than of perspective, which may be more difficult to reform than programs and workbooks.

The discussion is even showing up on Facebook, in comments made by my daughter's twenty-something friends:"I heard an interview with their head nun on the radio last night. She's like, we're not straying from the Calling. If the vatican dudes were on the ground trying to help the poor and marginalized every day, they would see that we're doing exactly the right thing by helping. Also, that women are always the first ones to get it and the men only come around later to what's right. I was like snap! You're gonna get in trouble and it's awesome!"

Irene @ 9:55. Certainly you could find a more palatable example of a conservative woman religious than "Mother" Angelica! If she is their best example, it's Laurie Brink 100% of the way.I was educated through 8 grades by LB's congregation (Sinsinawa Dominicans) and have found them to be one of the least stereotypical groups of nuns around.

Jeanne, bearing in mind the hot water into which I may now be putting myself...I have two daughters myself. Both bright, pretty, outspoken, stubborn, good hearted and, from my long view of this world, young. I believe your daughter is very much on the mark except, perhaps, for the "always" part.If I may I suggest a significant bit of the challenge these fellows face is due largely to forgetfullness. Hopefully temporary in nature. As I understand it one of the extensive requirements of becoming a nun is the willingness to forgo forever, but for an occassional moment's contemplation, the option of bringing a child into this world. It may well be argued that not all but rather most of these women do so in some combination of choice and calling. Whatever the reasons I believe a wise fellow would be helped to seriously consider the signficant level of conviction and the stunning ability to stay focused living such a decision I suspect requires.

Jeanne:the question I have is whether being "on the ground trying to help the poor and marginalized every day" gives you the right to trash Catholic doctrine and reject the apostolic authority of the bishops (like those nuns in Madison, say). After all, philanthropy and spiritual pride are perfectly compatible, and in fact often go together.

"St. John Cantius Ive read that members of this order cant leave the parish grounds without permission."This is a joke, correct? Do tell us that this is a joke!

I anxiously await Commonweal's explanation of how this little speech is in perfect conformity with Catholic doctrine and is not worrisome at all.

I think Bruces(whoever he is) notion of faithfulness really means absolute loyalty and as Ive read his posts here and elsewhere, means if you dont like the marching orders, get out approach.Not get out Bob, get in line.The hierarchy may be a bunch of scoundrels, just like the rest of us followers, and I'm sure its been the same over the last 2000 years. But I believe Christ is somehow, someway herding all us sheep and goats in the right direction and has chosen and is guiding these scoundrel shepherds to accomplish that task. And the calling disciples have is to a love of Christ which expresses itself through a service to the poor, etc. To me, all the discussion about old boy network, power etc, is just a distraction.

Carlo, the LCRW are not the nuns in Madison. The LCRW are not trashing Catholic doctrine. My pastor was, by saying the Christmas, rather than being about the Incarnation, was about "surprise." The actions of the CDF strike me as bizarre for the very reason that in no way could they comb through every single utterance of every single Catholic priest and nun on the planet to "correct" it. Yet they managed to find a problem with some convention speech in 2007 and are making a spectacle of themselves as a result.

MightBe: Hmmm! Married priests with families, married nuns with families??? Married women priests with families??

Thank you, Jeanne @ 1:11 pm, for that refreshing perspective.One seldom-mentioned aspect of celibacy for those who truly practice it is that they never hear the hopes and fears, the enthusiasms, and the untested wisdom of their own children. Maybe a gain, maybe a loss.But they are the future of the Church as well as of everything else.

It is our destiny to extend our grasp, to reach beyond what is currently ours and to take from the other. The first paragraph of Sr Brink's 2007 speech contains the above description of the missionary impulse that once inspired many forms of the religious life. An issue for religious today is how that missionary impulse can be expressed in non domineering, humble language. IOW how can religious still "reach beyond" without stealing from others. This "reaching beyond" drove Catholics beyond Christendom into Africa, America, Asia, etc. Her comments on going beyond Christ and beyond Church need to be read in that context, which the CDF apparently did not understand. Religious have always gone beyond as an integral part of their vocation.More broadly, the CDF report seems not to understand the context of the LCWR. The leaders of religious communities oversee the discernment of vocations and their implementation. In that context, discovering someone does not have a vocation to religious life is as much a success as discovering that they do. So the decision by a group to leave religious life is a success, or at least not something that should be condemned. That is the type of decision faced by leaders of religious communities all of the time, and the open nonjudgmental attitude is the fruit of their experience.Finally, women religious have not been ordained. Dominicans like Laurie Brink may have a mandate to preach, but others do not. It would have been inappropriate for them to apply theology, as I am sure they were told repeatedly. So it seems spectacularly obtuse to condemn them for not teaching about women and ordination. If you want them to entrust them with the teaching of Church doctrine on that level, ordain them. That is what ordination is all about. If you will not entrust them with that leadership position, then do not condemn them for not exercising it.

I realize too late that my last paragraph above means that children who never come into existence because their parents are celibate are the future. Please do not take that as a prophetic statement.

The real issue isn't Sr. Brink's speech. That's a convenient smokescreen which provides comments--taken out of context--that can be twisted to seem scandalous. In my reading of the statement from the Vatican that was released yesterday, the real issue is that the LCWR and their members are not declaiming loudly enough against the "hot button" issues the U.S. bishops choose. Instead, the sisters are working steadily, faithfully every day with the actual people faced with these issues. I pray that all the women religious at this time hold in their hearts the passage from yesterday's reading from Acts, "We must obey God, rather than men." The CDF is acting more like the members of the Sanhedrin who feared for their power and their understanding of "the God of our ancestors" than the apostles.

Anonsters has a point. I haven't read the speech in question yet, but what kind of organization has Barbara Marx Hubbard as the keynote speaker at their Annual Assembly?

It's not just Sr. Brink. This is the headline speaker for their upcoming conference:

Jim McKay @ 3:05 pm says, "Finally, women religious have not been ordained. Dominicans [i.e., members of the Order of Preachers founded by Dominic] may have a mandate to preach, but others do not. It would have been inappropriate for them to apply theology, as I'm sure they were told repeatedly."It is correct women have not yet officially been allowed to be ordained priests in the Roman Catholic Church, including of course women religious.However, for a good number of years now, Catholic women have been allowed to earn doctoral degrees in theology and Master's degrees in theology, including lay women and women religious.As a matter of fact, women with doctorates in theology are allowed to teach theology courses taken by men who are studying for ordination to the priesthood.So if women religious have studied theology and earned graduate degrees in theology, why would "[i]t be inappropriate for them to apply theology" (whatever it means to "apply theology")?

The men who dislike old white-haired women in general and nuns in particular and Barbara Marx Hubbard VERY particularly should point out what it is in the speech (at Thomas's blog) that is so threatening. Is there anything they can counter? Anything they can disprove? Anything farther out than belief in invisible beings who follow rules set down by theologians? Ranting about "heresy" is worse than anything Barbara Marx Hubbard or Jamie Manson or Tom Fox could ever say. For pictures of the old white-haired woman who has the bishops shaking in their buskins, click here:

David Nickol @ 12:00 pm asks, "What would religious orders look like on an 'organizational chart' of the Catholic Church? Do the heads of religious orders report to the pope?"The Catholic Church can be described as a decentralized organization, but with a kind of centralized authority structure in the Vatican.As you may know, at the current time, there is a legal dispute going on in the United States regarding the Catholic bishops. The legal dispute centers around whether or not the bishops are employees of the pope and the Vatican. The Vatican lawyer claims that the bishops are not employees of the pope and the Vatican. The other lawyer claims that the bishops are employees of the pope and the Vatican, because the other lawyer wants to implicate the pope and the Vatican in a lawsuit that he is bringing in the priest-sex-abuse scandal.Now, having said this much, I would point out that all bishops in the Roman Catholic Church are required to report to the pope periodically. I think it's once every five year.However, at the present time, there is a problem with the mandatory reporting of the bishops, because the pope apparently does not have enough time to meet with each individual bishop for any length of time during each bishop's visit to the Vatican.I rehearse all of this to say that I have never heard that all the heads of religious orders are required to report to the pope periodically, as all the bishops are required to do.However, there is an office of the Vatican that is charged with oversight of religious orders, which may include some kind of periodic reporting from the heads of religious orders.

I don't know anything about Barbabra Marx Hubbard, but even if she were not a good keynote (or even a really bad keynote), or even if she were one of a long series of bad or silly keynotes, I think it would be really excessive for the Vatican to takeover the Sisters' Coalition for that reason.

Please note that I have not suggested that there is nothing at all to criticize about the LCWR or its member congregations. I'm not interested in presiding over a hunt for incriminating evidence not cited by the CDF. The subject of this post is the CDF's "Doctrinal Assessment," specifically its criticism of Sr. Brink's address, and the content of Brink's speech itself. If and when the CDF expresses its thoughts on Barbara Marx Hubbard, we can discuss that. Topic please.

Rejoice with my wife and me. The U. S bishops and the Vatican have finally identified a major source of all the ills that affect U. S. Catholicism. It ain't the sex scandals. It ain't financial irregularities. It ain't indifference to the poor. It's THE NUNS.

Yes. Instead of thanking them, they investigated them. Instead of apologizing for the investigation and declaring a Year For Nuns in which to celebrate their contributions, they decided to bludgeon them, to take the traditional abuse to a whole new level.

Thanks Mollie for your informative clarification of Brink's speech. No question Rome is reacting to the complaints, which Brink acknowledges are accurate, about Rome's continuing inquisition. As some have pointed out here the people have to straighten out Rome which acts like an Empire rather than the Body of Christ. Why else would they keep using words like Supreme Pontiff, Legate, Prefect, Coat of Arms and celebrate Charlemagne who gave the pope more power. In a church which allowed the perverted founder of the Legionnairres to build his own burial monument in Rome and did not act until it could not escape the truth, the continual inquisition of people who question the morals of Rome is shameful. The model is St Paul not Charlemagne or Boniface VIII in leading the church. Paul always worked with persuasion and example and resorted to tougher measures as an exception rather than the rule.It might be a good idea to review the general beginnings of religious orders. Generally they are founded with the intent to renew and reform the church. Rome welcomes them as a shield for its own deficiencies and excesses. Eventually, Rome censures them and limits their work and uses them for its own ends. This has happened in our time with the Charismatic movement which Rome has squeezed most of the spirit out of it.Even the Vatican's defenders here acknowledge them as scoundrels. Hope they get the message.

Since psychologizing is permitted --I suspect that the American bishops are not only afraid of the nuns, they're envious of them. The bishops realize that if the laity has to choose between supporting the nuns or supporting the bishops, the vast majority of us will choose the dear nuns every time. No, we don't think that all of the nuns are all-wise, nor are all of them total sweetness-and-light. But generally they have earned our respect and our gratitude. Sadly, most bishops have not.

NightmaresImagine if the CDF was reading dotC comment boxes and lifting some choice quotes out of it. My goose would be cooked. One day my pastor (and yours) would suddenly say to me (and you), out of the blue: "I received a letter from the CDF/the bishop. I need to talk to you. There are some serious issues. I would appreciate if you would refrain from coming up to communion until we've had a meeting."Imagine if the editor of "America" was asked to resign again, and if Fr Martin, who is way too outspoken for his own good, suddenly went missing. No more public appearances! No more blogging! What's wrong with him? Oh, he had some kind of breakdown and is taking a sabbatical in a Carthusian monastery for an indefinite duration.Imagine if all institutional Catholic associations with Commonweal suddenly ceased. What happened to Fr I? He has decided to focus on his teaching. What happened to Fr K? He has decided to focus on his chickens. By the way, where's Cathleen Kaveny? Right after her trip to the Vatican last month, she came down with some strange throat disease and can no longer talk. She's on sick leave for a few months. I don't see John McGreevy's name any more in the list of contributors? He is busy working on a new book about the beauty of monstrances and perpetual adoration.Imagine if NCR Online led to Error 404 Page not found. -What happened to the National Catholic Reporter? -The what? -The National Catholic Reporter.-You mean, the National Catholic Register?-Um, I don't think so.-You must be confused. There is no and there has never been any National Catholic Reporter. But here's a link to the National Catholic Register, for your perusal!

Fear, folks, and nothing but fear. That's what this is about. These men are in bondage to fear and apparently know little of the freedom of God's children. I am on record in support of total freedom of thought and expression in a group like the LCWR, even as I might disagree mightily with one or another of their ideas, or speakers, or proposals, etc. If every Catholic group must automatically restrict itself to being a megaphone for unreflected and stagnated "Church teaching"----teaching which is apparently so flimsy and attenuated that it cannot withstand lively discussion and questioning----then why bother? And when the group is entirely comprised of the very ones whose questions, because they have no official voice, are even more urgent and compelling, then the reaction of fear and power-lust will be swift and severe indeed. These actions on the part of the CDF are void of love and humility. They are "worldly" in the worst sense of the word: the actions of despots, not servants.

One thread, at least, of a silver lining: every time these befuddled guys pull something like this they bring the noxious scandal of their abuse to fresh life. That is a VERY good side effect. And let's not forget how the CDF has pretty much twisted itself into various pretzelly shapes to win back the SSPX folks. Discussions, dialogue and---heaven forbid!---even a few compromises. Nothing like being the favored children, eh?How can anyone continue to respect these men????

Jeanne:it is certainly not a matter of monitoring individual people. The LCWR is a well-defined organization with well-defined activities: conventions, official statements, programs. In principle they may well trash Catholic doctrine if they want to, and the CDF may well feel that they need to correct them. My point is that I would not dismiss that possibility just because nuns do good works etc. That has exactly nothing to do with it.

Bill Mazzella:you seem to suffer from what Von Balthasar called the "anti-Roman" complex. It is a great book, you should read it...

Thomas Farrell @ 4:30 raised an issue I tried to sidestep.My understanding is that there are two parallel magisteria: the academic and the clerical. The academic works by the rules of the academy, which Mr Farrell describes in his note. The clerical is distinct, but related. It is teaching "not as the scribes and pharisees teach, but with authority." Membership is conferred by ordination, though others participate at their own appropriate level. Leaders of women's communities, as leaders, have authority; if that authority is used to teach, it becomes the clerical magisterium but without ordination.

Agree that the Bryan Cones article linked in the opening post is worth reading. Depressing.

I find it of note that Mollie doesn't want to address the Barbara Marx Hubbard speech and wants to focus on this one example of Sr. Brink, even though the "Doctrinal Assessment" says, explicitly, "Addresses given during LCWR annual Assemblies manifest problematic statements and serious theological, even doctrinal errors. . . . Such unacceptable positions routinely go unchallenged by the LCWR . . ." The 2012 assembly, and its keynote speaker, is very much "on topic," even if the OP wants to pretend otherwise. The use of Sr. Brink was merely an illustrative example, which is patently clear from the text of the Assessment (e.g., during a 22 April 2009 meeting "Cardinal Levada confirmed that the doctrinal Assessment comes as a result of several years of examination of the doctrinal content of statements from the LCWR and of their annual conferences"N.B.: that does not say "comes as a result of reading Sr. Brink's speech").

Here is a real curiosity .Pau Ryan is speaking at the invitation of the College Republicans at Georgetown this coming Thursday. Four bishops have challenged his distortion of Catholic social teaching. And yet no bishop has challenged Georgetown on the invitation of this speaker. The President of the university has not offered a reasonable explanation of why someone opposed to Catholic socials teaching is now speaking at the oldest Catholic University in the country. What are we to on clue from this scenario?

To conclude* Auto corret is awful.

all kinds of people in the Church afraid to speak what they believe to be trueI believe a lot of things are true. Unfortunately, that does not make them true. In my estimation, its a lot more work to find Truth, and its very hard to know It without doubt.

Pau Ryan is speaking at the invitation of the College Republicans at GeorgetownBarak Obama spoke there as well....

After reading Sr. Brink's speech more carefully, I can now in good conscience conclude that it's both worse than I thought it was going to be and better than I thought it was going to be. That said, I think Mollie (OP) does not represent the speech very accurately in her comments. There are other things in the speech I can see the CDF grimacing at (not only, but not least Sr. Brink's explicit adherence to postmodernism, which, she says, is "the wholesale critique of modernity and its reliance on objectivity and western assumptions that there is one obtainable 'Truth'"), but I want to take issue with Mollie's characterization of the speech, beginning with:In other words, some groups of sisters might decide that their differences with the Catholic Church their distance from the center require them to cease to define themselves as operating within that Church.This is a simple misreading of the speech. The "four options" aren't simply options vis-a-vis the Catholic Church. They're options vis-a-vis Jesus Christ. I quote from p. 8: Each of these options is dynamic in relation to the center, which for us as Christians is the Mission of Jesus. For us as Catholics that center is further surrounded by the Churchthe Church as Tradition, the Church as Sacrament, the Church as Hierarchy and the Church as People of God. As we look at these four options, Im suggesting that each one makes a move in relationship to the Church and more deeply in relationship with the Mission of Jesus.Notice that "the center" is "the Mission of Jesus," which for Catholics "is further surrounded" by the Church. But the true center is Jesus. And Sr. Brink makes it clear that her "four options" each "make[] a move . . . more deeply in relationship with the Mission of Jesus," not just the Catholic Church. Mollie's disarming of the speech on that front fails. Mollie says:Brink doesnt recommend this option or say that she hopes anyone will embrace it. She says its one of the four possible choices a congregation might make,This also attemps to disarm the speech by reading out of it critical sections, not least the opening section (after the introduction) on Sr. Brink's "lens:" postmodernism. Sr. Brink says:Not one of the four is better or worse than the others. The difficulty lies not in the directions themselves but in getting the congregation as a whole to discern together the best approach and to commit together to that end.The Sojourning (i.e., away from Christ) option "is [no] better or worse than the others." She finds no difficulty with that option itself. The difficulty is just getting your congregation to commit to that as a congregation, if that's the direction you choose. If you choose another direction, the difficulty remains: getting your congregation to move in that direction together. There is no Truth to the matter. If, after reflection, your find yourself called away from Jesus Christ, so be it, that's just as true as moving closer to Christ.The Sojourning option is not about women "working outside the Church," as Mollie suggests. It's about women, as religious communities, abandoning Christianity altogether. Sr. Brink couldn't be more explicit about it when she references the four options again on p. 28:And if our corporate identity is vague with some members opting out, some members acquiescing, some members leaving Christianity all together, and some members desirous for peace and reconciliation, what are we together anyway?Sr. Brink, describing what these "Sojourning" women's new vision entails, says on p. 18: "Jesus is not the only son of God." She then says that these "courageous women among us . . . very well may provide a glimpse into the new thing that God is bringing about in our midst." So Sr. Brink not only recognizes, as a descriptive fact, that some women may be abandoning Christianity altogether, but she says that this option, which is neither better nor worse than any of the others, may very well be the next step in God's revelation to humanity. (I hope commenters don't need me to point out how fundamentally opposed that is, not only to Catholic doctrine, but to Christianity in general.)Finally, just a brief comment about Mollie's claim that Sr. Brink and the CDF have different models of leadership. Mollie says:The following, I grant you, is the sort of thing that justifiably makes orthodoxy antennas buzz: Whos to say that the movement beyond Christ is not, in reality, a movement into the very heart of God? The CDFs main beef with this talk and what it represents about the LCWR, as far as I can make out, is that, from the CDFs perspective, this is not a rhetorical question. Their answer is: Whos to say it? You are, in your capacity as leaders, and if you dont say it, Rome will have to do it for you. They dont want the LCWR to be offering up topics for discussion and hoping that its member congregations will, in a spirit of prayerful discernment, arrive at a decision consistent with the heart and mind of the Church. They want the LCWR to clearly inform its members what such a decision would look like. These are competing notions of leadershipI find this deeply ironic, given that on p. 28 Sr. Brink says:If we continue to feed Indecision, it will cause our imminent decline. If we do not make a decision about who we are and who we want to be, the decision will be made for us. You are the leaders of your congregations. You have the grace of the office and the Spirit of God rests clearly and firmly on your shoulders. Religious life was never meant to be a democracy. Not every sister will agree with you. But it is your holy task to provide vision and direction for your congregation. Make the hard choices.Sure sounds to me like she's advocating that the leaders of women's religious communities deploy what to Mollie is "the CDF's leadership model."

"declaring a Year For Nuns"This is a fine idea. Have any of the "Year of the ____________" been "Year of Religious" yet?

It's late and foggy and so am I. Once again I find I cannot adequately express my gratitude for finding a place so filled with genuine humor and useful insights. Such luck!I believe what I am now going to ramble on about is at least somewhat related to the topic at hand. I just finished watching a fellow named Michael Mukasey give a speech on CSPAN. The topic of his speech was the threat of Islam. Yes, I omit details. The venue was a group of "Republican" attorneys. Yes, again I omit details. The fellow introducing Micheal gave the usual complimentary remarks that including...wait for it....stating Michael was "an infallible moral compass". To my utter amazement Michael did not even blush.I simply cannot grasp how a fellow so educated, so experienced, with such easy access to many well schooled in all the remarkably challenging and diverse fields of logic, law, and ethics can with such ease and feigned erudition feel so comfortable hiding the value of humility in so much convoluted details as his speech contained.I'm a big fan of guys. Gotta be. I am one. But I don't believe I am alone in suggesting I literally cringe at the possiblity of hearing one more middle aged, highly educated fellow assume the podium on national televsion and not even blush at the mere suggestion he is an "infallible moral compass".

"Imagine if the CDF was reading dotC comment boxes and lifting some choice quotes out of it. "Claire - this is not so very far-fetched. dotCom seems to have a relatively high profile. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that there are some church leaders - particularly the younger ones - who do read such things. And other people report to church leaders things that they read in a forum like dotCom. What we do and say in public can easily have repercussions.My former pastor has pulled me aside before to talk about comments about the parish that I've had published in an online forum. The clergy who frequently post and comment here are pretty open about who we are and which dioceses and institutions we represent. How we conduct ourselves in public reflects on those entities, and they have what seems to me a legitimate expectation that we represent them positively. In my case, it is much the same with my employer for my "day job" - it expects me to represent it in a way that does it credit, and reserves the right to discipline me for what I would post in any online or social media forum about the company, its products, its customers, etc. I would imagine your employer may have analogous expectations for its employees.If I was the pastor of a contributor or commenter to dotCom, and I was to read public comments about the person's spiritual struggles or her anger and disgust at the institution, I might reach out to that person - certainly not to withhold communion! - but to see if we could talk, to see if I can help her somehow.

I used to take the Southerner train to go off to school at Catholic U. The coffee on the train was great, and one afternoon I made my way to the dining car when it was supposed to be closed and conned the conductor, who was a total stranger to me, into sharing his coffee break with me. We got to chatting, and he told me a sad story about the failure of his niece's marriage. He told enough specific detail (not including names) for me to realize that she was someone I knew.Another time a friend of a friend in Indiana or some place far away told my friend a sad story about another couple's failed marriage, again without naming names. My friend repeated the story to me, and, yes, again there was enough very specific detail for me to realize that the husband in the marriage was also friend of mine.Moral: never assume that your stories won't end up where you think they won't. Coincidences do happen.

Claire: Unlike Jim Pauwels, I find your suggestion that CDF might read dotCommonweal posts and go after certain individual people (such as you) who posted certain statements to be extremely far-fetched. Your suggestion sounds to me like you've been reading George Orwell's famous novel "1984" and imagining that dotCommonweal is part of a totalitarian regime similar to the one that Orwell portrays in the novel. I don't think CDF is going to come after you. The IRS, maybe. But not the CDF.However, I agree with Jim Pauwels' suggestion that perhaps somebody at a more local level might take note of your statements and want to discuss them with you.

Thanks to "Anonsters" for the careful analysis of the talk (@10:47 p.m. above). I suspect it brings us closer to the heart of the CDF's concerns, not merely about the talk, but about a pattern it may reflect.I found it all the more pertinent, since I read it after Morning Prayer today where the Scripture passage is Romans 14:7-9:"None of us lives as his own master and none of us dies as his own master. while we live we are responsible to the Lord, and when we die, we die as his servants. Both in life and death we are the Lord's. That is why Christ died and came to life again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living."

Jim: I would never have a reason to say anything negative about the institution I work for, because everything about it is great (to the Brown administrator who might be reading this: see? You have nothing to worry about coming from me!)Ann: That's never happened to me. You're more sociable than me: the more connected you are, the more likely that something like that is going to happen. You know - 6 degrees of separation, and the small world phenomenon!Thomas: Aha! You recognized the novel I was thinking of as I was writing those lines! The "Church has always held that ..." statements, irregardless of subject matter, always make me think of the Ministry of Truth, and the religious nuns' interactions with the CDF certainly smack of a totalitarian regime. Why, in the current atmosphere, anyone would want to join orders and subject themselves to that kind of bullying is beyond me. But hopefully Abp Sartain will be less ruthless in his re-education of Sr Brink than O'Brien with Winston Smith.

Anonster: I printed out Sister Brink's paper and read it carefully. I am sure that I read it as carefully as you did. Moreover, I am sure that I am better educated than you are in the relevant matters Brink discusses, and I am sure that I could construct a more cogent critique of her paper than you have, if I were inclined to do so. However, I am not inclined to construct a critique of her paper because I understand her purpose in her presentation to be exploratory. In other words, I have no problem with somebody setting out to make an exploratory presentation of the sort that she makes. In short, I do not go around writing critiques of admittedly exploratory presentations.However, I hesitate to respond to your most recent statement regarding Brink's paper because of the sheer length of your statement and because of the number of different points you make.In the future, if you want to post a statement of such length and make as many different points in it as you do in your most recent statement, I would urge you to sub-divide your statement with numbers or letters of the alphabet: for example, (1), (2), (3), etc., or (A), (B), (C), etc. If you were to do this, then we could peg our responses to specific points of discussion by referring to your number or letter.Now, you have also criticized Mollie's opening statement. Fine, you've gotten something off your chest, as they say.But do you want Mollie to respond to your different points of criticism of her statements?If you would like for her to respond to you, please consider how the lack of numbers or letters in your lengthy message will make her task of responding to you somewhat cumbersome. She will have to quote one point of criticism and then respond to it. However, because of the sheer number of your points of criticism, such a way of responding to you will probably quickly become a lengthy and somewhat cumbersome response.Now, if you used the cut-and-paste on your computer to post your most recent statement, I would urge you to go back to your computer file and insert numbers or letters to sub-divide your statement and then post the revised statement, so that it appears to be more suitable for people to respond to.

Fr. Imbelli, what do you think is the heart of the CDF's concerns? My intent is only to evaluate the concerns, or rather one concern, that the CDF named in its report. And I find what the assessment says about the talk itself to be off-base. Do you think what they really meant to say was something different? "Anonsters," I think you're presuming some motivation on my part that is not there. And it seems to me you're rebutting things I never said, or restating things I did say fairly clearly.

The Sojourning option is not about women working outside the Church, as Mollie suggests. Its about women, as religious communities, abandoning Christianity altogether.

Precisely. I don't know what makes you think I am trying to conceal that fact. Sr. Brink says, pretty directly, that she can imagine that a group of sisters might decide that they no longer accept Catholic teaching, or even Christian teaching, as central to their identities or mission as a community. In that case, the honest thing for them to do would be to stop calling themselves Catholic sisters, since - in the CDF's words - "such a rejection of faith is...incompatible with religious life."The CDF expresses its dismay that such an assertion would go uncorrected by the LCWR. I'm afraid I can't see what needs correcting. Surely the CDF would not deny that adults sometimes stop believing in Christ. And surely the CDF would not want those adults to go around denying Christian doctrine but nevertheless calling themselves Catholic sisters. Quite the contrary, I should think. So, would they prefer that the situation never be brought up at all, even in a talk that, as many others have noted, is meant to promote discussion and discernment? That seems unrealistic.

Alan C. Mitchell: I would conclude from the scenario that you have described that academic freedom is a value that the (lay) president of Georgetown University values highly. Good for him! He even allows student organizations to benefit from the value of academic freedom at Georgetown University.George Bernard Shaw famously said that a Catholic university is a contradiction in terms.It looks to me like the president of Georgetown does not agree with Shaw.Incidentally, the president of Georgetown also publicly defended Sandra Fluke's right to criticize publicly Georgetown's policy as a Catholic university not to offer contraception coverage in the insurance made available through the university. So the president of Georgetown really does not agree with Shaw's denigration of Catholic universities.

Thomas FarrellI am not al all opposed to academic freedom since I benefit greatly from it. I was trying to point out the irony of the situation in view of the fact that some bishops come down on Catholic colleges and universities for inviting speakers that they think do not represent accurately Catholic teaching. Ryan appeals to Catholic social teaching to justify his budget, and yet he misrepresents that teaching. Shouldn't someone raise an eyebrow? I was not advocating that he ought not be allowed to speak, but maybe there should be a clarification about why he is allowed to speak, even it if is simply saying that it falls under academic freedom. Tom Reese's letter at least points out that Ryan does not accurately represent Catholic social teaching in his budget rationale.

An analogy. If your marriage is experiencing difficulties, is it legitimate, when discussing it, to put all options on the table, refraining from any value judgment for the duration of the discussion? Options may include separation, divorce, living together without having sex, open marriage, etc., as well as more traditional options oriented to strengthening the marriage bond. Or should divorce only be alluded to as "you-know-what" or "that-which-must-not-be-named"?Is the willingness to have a discussion in such a radically open manner, a manner that would make many people deeply uncomfortable, a sign of serious problems, or is it just a mode of operation to try to discern the truth? Are some people uncomfortable because of a secret fear that, once value judgment are suspended and potential prejudices firmly set aside, then people risk seeing that there truly is nothing wrong with you-know-what? Doe the willingness to face those scary options upfront signal a certain hope that the truth will prevail? Is it courage or is it foolishness?

Alan C. Mitchell:With all due respect, I see no good reason why there should be a statement about why representative Paul Ryan is allowed to speak at Georgetown University. In my estimate, it would be ridiculous for the president of Georgetown to publish such a statement.When I was an undergraduate at Saint Louis University, the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri, the student government arranged to have the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speak on campus as part of the speakers series sponsored by the student government.Later on, the executive vice president of SLU told me that it was the first time that a Baptist minister had ever been allowed to speak on a Jesuit campus.However, the president of SLU did not issue a statement saying that while the Jesuits may not accept King's Baptist religion, they were willing to allow him to speak on campus because of their commitment to academic freedom.

"I find it of note that Mollie doesnt want to address the Barbara Marx Hubbard speech and wants to focus on this one example of Sr. Brink, even though the Doctrinal Assessment says, explicitly, Addresses given during LCWR annual Assemblies manifest problematic statements and serious theological, even doctrinal errors. . . . Such unacceptable positions routinely go unchallenged by the LCWR . . . The 2012 assembly, and its keynote speaker, is very much on topic, even if the OP wants to pretend otherwise."------------Agree. I think the upcoming speeches by Barbara Marx Hubbard, Tom Fox, Jamie Manson, et al. should be considered as carefully as the Brink speech. I hope Mollie or another contributor will open a thread to allow a discussion of the speakers invited to address the LCWR in September.(I received a private e-mail asking me what I meant by "Thomas's blog". Yesterday, two posters provided links to a speech by Barbara Marx Hubbard, and I was referring to them. One was Anonsters at 2:04, and the other was Thomas L. McDonald at 4:18, directing readers to his blog.)

Condemning a group like the LCWR for having heterodox speakers or entertaining radical ideas is to commit the same error as condemning a theology text because it is not the Catechism. This is what the US bishops quite unintelligently did to E Johnson's latest book. And maybe, just MAYBE if there were some bishops around who were not only vibrant theologians but also life-giving preachers who could actually converse (two-way!!!) with goodhearted intelligence about the real stuff that people are dealing with and answering their REAL questions...sorry, caught myself fantasizing again...For those who support such power-plays as the CDF vs the LCWR, what is to be gained by it? Who will be helped to know God better because of it? How in God's precious, holy name does it reflect the Gospel? Do you care about what happens to these Sisters? Or is the security apparently won by "Father Church" when the CDF "disciplines the bad girls" worth the suppression of conscience and truth?And to Robert: not quite sure why that Scripture seemed so germane to you...are you saying that the CDF's actions are fitting in that it reminds the LCWR that it is "not its own master"? Is the CDF "it's own master"? What is your point?

Mollie,Thanks for your question. Here is what I take to be the heart of the concern:"On the doctrinal level, this crisis is characterized by a diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration which leads, in turn, to a loss of a constant and lively sense of the Church among some Religious. The current doctrinal Assessment arises out of a sincere concern for the life of faith in some Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. It arises as well from a conviction that the work of any conference of major superiors of women Religious can and should be a fruitful means of addressing the contemporary situation and supporting religious life in its most radical sensethat is, in the faith in which it is rooted."The talk you consider was highlighted as but one manifestation of that concern.Certainly that concern can be fruitfully addressed without the insinuation that the Holy See was disparaging the magnificent contribution of American religious both now and over two centuries (as some commentators, here and elsewhere, have done).As you know, the CDF document begins by explicitly acknowledging this:"The Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contribution of women Religious to the Church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years."May I also recommend the wake-up call sounded by Luke Timothy Johnson concerning a "Christological collapse" in contemporary Catholicism. His article, "On Taking the Creed Seriously" may be found in a volume I edited: "Handing on the Faith: The Church's Mission and Challenge" (Herder 2006).

I think some of the misunderstanding between the CDF and the women religious reflects deeper gender difference with respect to relationship with Christ and the Church.It seems to be that the sisters are reflecting on their relationship and their lived experience with the Church, their communities, in a way that is qualitatively different than the CDF suggests that the relationship needs to be defined.At issue is the relationship with the Church and Jesus and Sr. Brink is discussing, in an intimate way, the nature of how some of the sisters have interpreted their relationship in their experience at this particular moment in time. As Mollie said it feels like we are eavesdropping and although it is a public document it was about the intimacy of their relationship and experience which was shared publicly.The second issue has to do with the implications of some of those interpretations and actions with respect to their status in the Church.It seems to me that the silent message from the CDF is "thou shalt not feel and talk that way". It is a bit late for that. The conversation is already happening and is happening all over.Obviously, the CDF and the congregation and the whole Church as an interest in the relationship. But this whole thing needs to be approached as a relationship and not an imposition of policy which reflects defensiveness and fear.Here is an analogy from a married life. One of the couples says that they are no longer satisfied in the marriage, that they feel constrained and think that one possibility is to explore outside the marriage. The solution to the problem is not to pull a Count Karenin (from Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina) and say that marriage is a sacrament instituted by God for the preservation of the family.It is instead to share feelings and look to see how the relationship can be improved. But the important point is that the two talk about it privately or with a trusted confidant interested in the relationship.So here the CDF took the wrong route based on the investigation. They should have adopted Rabbi Gamaliel's saying in Acts: If this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.

Re Jim Pouwwels' 4/20 11:46pm comment:You speak of your employer's making sure that you do not say anything inconsistent with the company like is troubling if it is applied to the Church. Do bishops set a "company line" when they adopt positions on public policies? Who are the "employees?" Are Catholic universities and their administrators subject to the bishops "company line" in such matters? Must we not make some distinctions that would set some limits to what issues bishops can require agreement or silence? Then a second issue. If the bishops have a complaint about what some Catholics, religious or lay, say or do, how do they deal with the "offenders?" It's one thing to express forceful and explicit disagreement. It's quite another thing to denounce or question a person's character. So far as I can see, the occasions when ecclesiastical condemnations are in order are few and far between. Clarity of explanation, not disciplinary crackdowns, are, except for matters of moral turpitude, almost invariably in order.

If the concern of the CDF really is about a Christological collapse in contemporary Catholicism, one has to ask why priests and bishops have not been targeted. They are the ones who are specifically ordained to celebrate the liturgy and to preach. How many priests actually still believe in the Real Presence? I can't tell you how many liturgies I've attended where it is painfully evident that this is not the case (e.g., blather and chit chat from the altar, treating the altar like a talk show stage, bringing up the little kids to "watch" the Consecration, etc. etc.). This is the source and summit of Christian life. Nuns are not in charge of it. Focusing on convention speeches and alleged feminism on the part of the LCRW is not only unjust to them and a massive waste of time, it avoids the real crisis.

Robert Imbelli @ 10:48 am says to Mollie, "The talk you consider [by Sister Laurie Brink] was highlighted as but one manifestation of that concern [expressed by the CDF]" "about a diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration" -- to quote the CDF statement.Yes, to be sure, Sister Brink's paper was indeed advanced as but one manifestation of the alleged problem alleged by the CDF regarding an alleged diminution in Christological focus.However, when I examined Sister Brink's paper, I did not find it cogent or convincing to say that it is one manifestation of the alleged problem alleged by the CDF regarding an alleged diminution in Christological.In short, the evidence (Brink's paper) does not support the CDF's claim (about an alleged diminution in Christological focus).Ah, but what about the other evidence? I have not examined the other alleged manifestations of the alleged diminution in Christological focus.

I would venture to say that those religious (individual or communities) who are members of the LCWR who feel that their faith---their Christological center----is threatened by such membership, should join the other group representing religious life (CMSWR). They are the good girls; they dutifully submit to everything Rome says. Father Church loves them. Lots of vocations, lots of security in "the family" of the Church, away from the scary, godless world. Thinking for yourself and asking hard questions of the magisterium not allowed. Wondering why women cannot receive one of the Sacraments not allowed. Simple dress in solidarity with----not separation from---other people not allowed (surely a true badge of fidelity to Jesus who, to the people of his time, seemed/looked like everyone else). Love of religious titles----Holy Father, Excellency, Grace, Father, Mother Superior---encouraged to the hilt (again, truly reflective of the Gospel). Sweetly smiling contempt for the children who are rejected by Father Church, of course. They pity you and will "pray for you". Criticism of bishops who have aided and abetted child predators, lied about it and wasted lots of money given to the church by God's people----never. It's the big bad world, not the Temple, that needs cleansing. Insistence on the maleness of God---even as the Church teaches that God is beyond gender---well, that error IS OK. Obsession with Mary as "proof" that the Church loves women---of course (poor Mary----even she is not allowed to be herself)! Good works? Of course, but only as long as they coincide lockstep with "what the church teaches". Needless to say, this would exclude things such as providing condoms to women who are being forced into sex with men who have HIV, just as an example. I say: we all belong and have a right to be loved and heard. When this does not happen and certain (many!) of the baptized are ignored, suppressed or marginalized in favor of a conservative clique, then it is no wonder some may lose the center. After all, when those representing the center insist that they have the right to not listen, not ask, not wonder, not even approach you with a modicum of humility and respect for the gifts that the Holy Spirit may have given you, then who needs that? The Christ presented by the church MUST be a Christ who is for all the baptized, and not the fake, docetic Christ who barely resembles the Jesus of the Scriptures and whose idea of "who's in and whos's out" is pretty clearly expressed in Matthew 25.

Corrected last sentence: "...Jesus of the Scriptures, whose idea..."Omit the "and"

"Condemning a group like the LCWR for having heterodox speakers or entertaining radical ideas"I don't think this is precisely what is going on. For one thing, this CDF report, and the program it inaugurates, does not strike me as amounting to a condemnation. I've used the word "reform" to describe what I think is going on, and I continue to think it's the best descriptor. Nor do I think that the the speakers and the ideas, in and of themselves, are the heart of the problem. The Holy See can discipline speakers and writers individually, if their speeches or works are perceived to warrant it. The problem seems to be that the LCWR allows the speakers and the ideas to stand without any response. Jim McK mentioned, in one of these threads, that silence on difficult and controversial issues, such as male-only ordination, may be all we can ask of religious sisters. I don't say that's wrong. But silence is also ambiguous. It may very well be taken to mean assent. And, really, the LCWR is not being silent on these issues: it is sponsoring these speakers who are not being silent - they are speaking out. Sponsorship usually implies some level of complicity.It may be that if either of two alternative dynamics were in place, perhaps the LCWR wouldn't be receiving this treatment. One of those alternative dynamics would have been for LCWR to not remain silent in the face of presentations like Sr. Brink's, but to invite someone else to offer a response, one that might even incorporate rebuttals of some of Sr. Brink's specific points. This is, I think, a pretty conventional procedure, and could be done with civility and respect. The other alternative would be to not sponsor speakers who would deliver radical or heterodox content. Personally, I would tend toward the first alternative, but it seems to me that either or both could be acceptable.

Here's an interesting thought experiment. In order for the Society of Saint Pius X (i.e., the Lefebvrites) to be welcomed back into the Church, the CDF requires that the SSPX will accept into its organization a bishop who has authority over the SSPX in five areas, including:Revising SSPX statutes;Reviewing SSPX plans and programs;Creating new programs for the organization;Reviewing and offering guidance on the application of liturgical texts; andReviewing SSPX's affiliations with other organizations.Reasonable?

"Reasonable"?Yes, but that's the problem.If Rome wants SSPX back within the fold, then Rome must suck up to this outfit.

"Re Jim Pouwwels 4/20 11:46pm comment:"Hi, Bernard, if you don't mind, let me mention that I've noticed that when you address me in a comment, you usually address me by my full name (understandable, since more than one Jim comments here) - and without fail, you misspell my last name. If it were Nunz, whose spell-checker apparently is permanently disabled, I could well understand it :-). It's spelled "Pauwels". The name is of Flemish extraction, where I'm told it's actually a fairly common name. Here in the US, we pronounce it the way you tend to spell it :-). Perhaps a real Fleming would have some subtle differences in pronunciation. At any rate, I hope you don't mind my mentioning it, but it is a bit jarring to see one's name consistently misspelled. I recognize that it isn't an intuitive spelling for an American. In the days before email became common, I used to spend half my time at work spelling it over the telephone."Do bishops set a company line when they adopt positions on public policies? ""Company line" is a somewhat negative term, I suppose, but bishops do have an expectation, or at least a fond hope, of corporate solidarity among all of the Catholics under their pastoral care, and I don't think that's always unreasonable. That expectation certainly is evident in many of the communications that have been disseminated regarding the contraception mandate (What is the phrase? "We can not, we will not ..."). And I think at least a residual sense of that solidarity continues to live among Catholics, particularly those who came up in the old, thick Catholic culture. It seems to have been awakened for at least a brief time, surprising virtually everyone, when the contraception mandate first came to public notice.Bishops, at least mine, also have much higher expectations that their own clergy will toe the line. They could call us on the carpet for egregious offenses against the 'company line'. It's never happened to me nor anyone I can think of offhand. There are some loose cannons among the Chicago clergy (I don't consider myself one of those), but we tend to be a rather independent lot in general.Regarding universities and their employees: that seems to me a somewhat different situation, because of the American tradition of academic freedom. Certainly, any bishop's expectation would need to be balanced with that expectation of freedom. Since we're talking about religious: they seem to me to be yet a different case. In most/all cases, they are not in the same relationship to a bishop that a diocesan cleric is. Religious "belong" to their religious order, not to the local bishop, although religious are able to operate in a particular diocese with the bishop's permission/cooperation, so he does have some influence. In at least some ways, the religious' obligation of loyalty/solidarity is to his/her order in the same way that a diocesan cleric's is to his bishop. This is why, in the sex-abuse scandals, when we look at complicity by religious superiors, abuse by religious is a somewhat different case than abuse by diocesan clergy or employees; the diocesan bishop may not be the chief villain in the former cases.

Jim Pauwels: What in the world are you talking about in your most recent remarks regarding Sister Brink's paper?Frankly, I think you are out of your depth, as I think others who have posted messages on this thread are. You do not understand her paper. There is no need for any formal response to any of her points because she has presented all of her points as exploratory in spirit.So what should a supposed respondent say? Should a supposed respondent say, "No, we should not explore this possible way of thinking? And then presumably go on to say why not.

Here's NETWORK Exec. Director Sr. Simone Campbell on the crackdown: zinger: "When you don't work everyday with people who live at the margins of our society, it's so much easier to make easy statements about who's right and who's wrong," Campbell said. "Life is way more complicated in our society and it's probably way easier to be 8,000 miles away in Rome."She concludes: "This won't tear us apart," she said. "It makes us mad; it makes us upset. It may makes us wonder about where on God's green earth all this is going and why in God's green earth might this be necessary but we're faithful."The timing of the crackdown so soon after Keehan, et al., supported Obama, is too close to be accidental. I imagine that absent some clear provocation, the documents expressing concern might have languished on some hierarch's desk. Or were they just waiting for an excuse to slap down those uppity women? I still think the problem for the magisterium is having a credible, powerful group of Catholic women speaking up on their own.Istm that much of the energy around forms of consecrated life these days (understanding "consecrated" both including and beyond the evangelical counsels,, that is,) involves groups like the various volunteer corps, (many of whose participants would like a longer-term commitment--maybe not life-long, but longer than a year or two,) oblate programs (whose participants generally far outnumber the novices in the orders that sponsor them,) groups of the "new monasticism," etc. These are generally not single-sex groups, not life-time commitments, and not demanding permanent celibacy. They tend to emphasize social justice and/or spirituality rather than doctrinal positions.The question becomes whether, and how, these groups will be related to the magisterium. Given that this is how people under Rome's control are treated, why would new groups seek closer ties to the institutional church?

Jim: point well taken, but to my mind, reform here probably means conformity with certain things that the LCWR is t likely to be able, in conscience, to do. One example is the necessity that the group openly support the barring of women from ordination. I doubt that this can be complied with. A recent NCR article points out that, from the position of canon law, the LCWR has little recourse except to conform with whatever the CDF demands or else seek non-canonical status. The latter choice, it seems, will be the likely path, but it's as good as forced extinction. I certainly agree that presenting counter-arguments and opposing points of view in their agendas could be a good thing for the LCWR to do, but the fact that they don't do it doesn't bother me at all, nor do I think it is any reason to elicit a reform "from above.". As with so many struggles in today's church, these are at least two layers here: whether or not a group needs "reform," and the quality/credibility of the authority imposing such reform. I can assure you that I probably would disagree with a good deal of the stuff that LCWR speakers present, if I were a participant. But I will defend their right to present it, especially since those who want it squelched are not particularly stellar at understanding or representing that "Christological center" the CDF is so exercised about. If these men would simply, in all honesty and integrity of heart, ask themselves some very hard questions about why there is such discontent and agitation in the church and such anxiety over questions of authority----without at once rushing to judgment that those who question them are simply unbelieving rebels who are intending harm---then maybe we could have the type of conversation that would of itself engender true reform, of the WHOLE church, not just the ones whom the authorities feel need reforming. The fact that there is no substantive conversation---in charity, as brothers and sisters, subject to the one Lord Jesus Christ----proves to me that the men in charge are operating out of fear, instead of that strength, wisdom and love that their office requires.

Thomas Farrell --Wrong. My godmother used to be chaplain at the Louisiana state prison for women. She was an extreme liberal (among other things she gave Communion to Protestants and lesbians), and somebody or bodies reported her to Rome, which then reported her to her bishop, who then removed her from her ministry. Don't tell me she needed to be removed. The point is that it wouldn't be at all surprising if the Curia is watching you.

Janet (et al.), just as I'd object to nasty characterizations of the LCWR congregations, I must object to disparaging generalizations about the sisters who belong to the CMSWR. Your characterization strikes me as very unfair. And further intra-Catholic rivalries are the last thing we need.

While it is too early to look for answers, important questions about future USCCB roles are raised for those inclined to consider alternative futures, including the likes of Sr. Brink. Note the first need stated when the CDF Assessment (p.7) concludes "it is clear that greater emphasis needs to be placed both on the relationship of the LCWR with the Conference of Bishops, and on the need to provide a sound doctrinal foundation in the faith of the Church ". Proposing a proper doctrinal foundation may be the easy part. An early step is taken In the Assessment Mandate for Implementation (p.8): "In order to ensure the necessary liaison with the USCCB (in view of Can. 708), the Conference of Bishops will be asked to establish a formal link (e.g. a committee structure) with the Delegate and Assistant Delegate Bishops." Presumably USCCB and the Delegate on behalf of the Holy See will develop details in light of USCCB experience and priorities and the CDF mandate for the future of the LCWR. Sr. Brink offered one view of the obstacles in her projected consequences of reconciliation, her fourth option for exploratory thinking (p. 26) and her preference in 2007. She said " The mission of Jesus will not be completed by your hand. The hierarchys abuses of power, shameful behavior and deafness to your cries for equality will not be eradicated because of your efforts. This move toward reconciliation and healing is only the beginning." Five years have passed without evident reconciliation involving US nuns, bishops, and/or representatives of the Holy See. In 1966, the Index of Prohibited Books (20th Ed.) was abolished by Paul VI. It sounds to me as if there is a strong desire in some to, in effect, bring it back suitably digitized and expanded to protect the Catholic Faithful once again. I cannot imagine anything in the 21st century that would do to Catholics what the Index theoretically did, whether the author is Sr. Brink or Paul Ryan or anyone else.

There are many many histories of women's congregations that make it clear why silence and secrecy are poison for nuns. It's particularly interesting to read all the available histories of a particular congregation to see how the nuns' understanding of their own past evolved. The history written in the 1890s for the golden jubilee, e.g., will be very different from the centennial version. And the newest scholarly one will provide the complete story, supported by documentation. In many cases, a congregation's history was hidden from the members. A good example would be the IHMs. Sisters were kept in ignorance of the name and race of their foundress and of the origins of their order for nearly a century. are many examples of the harm done to nuns by the bishops who ruled them. In some cases, when an order split, the members of one house were not allowed to speak to or correspond with the sisters sent to the new house. As years went by and the silence continued and the misunderstandings hardened, the two branches of the original congregation would not speak on the rare occasions when they met. (At an NCEA convention, e.g.)A bishop would overturn an election and put in place the superior of his choice. The nuns would not be allowed to discuss the traumatic event. A bishop would kick an order out of his diocese and keep their property, sometimes purchased with their patrimonies. A bishop would bring postulants to an order and install them without the consent of the community. There was no recourse. No discussion was allowed. If anyone objected, she could be dismissed, or, in the case of a superior, removed from office, or sent away to live as a prisoner in another convent. The bishops could, and did, refuse to appoint a chaplain, thereby making the sacraments unavailable to nuns who failed to be submissive enough (or white enough).The histories contain countless examples of the abuse nuns suffered in the past -- distant and not so distant. That their discussions today should be misrepresented (see Cones) is a continuation of the traditional treatment. Those who enable the abuse are complicit.

Mollie: Though my point wasn't to disparage (and certainly not to disparage any indivdual Sister in any congregation), I do not believe my characterization is inaccurate. I have experienced first-hand the intransigence and chilly non-responsiveness of women from the CSMWR communities and I do believe that their basic structures engender a facile immaturity in their members, even to the point of refusing to think for oneself as adults should. These are, in fact, the "favored daughters" of the church (which in its exercise of authority is, to me, much more like an abusive father than a loving mother, hence my use of "Father Church"). Like the men who so favor them, they refuse to engage is serious conversation with others who differ from them and assume that those others do not love Christ, etc., because they question the shenanigans of Cathoilc officialdom. That this group was, in fact, formed in reaction to the LCWR is telling...most of all, my main point is that all of the baptized belong and should be lived and treated equally; there should be no favorites. Are there exceptions within these orders? Are the sisters who might talk openly and respectfully with someone like me? I must assume so. But I imagine they are few and far between...

"And maybe, just MAYBE if there were some bishops around who were not only vibrant theologians but also life-giving preachers who could actually converse (two-way!!!) with goodhearted intelligence about the real stuff that people are dealing with and answering their REAL questionssorry, caught myself fantasizing again"Janet --It used not to be fantasy at Catholic U. Shortly after Vatican II, in 1968, as I remember, Hans Kung was invited to speak at C. U. The rector scotched the invitation. To its eternal credit, the whole school (except the education department) was so incensed that that everyone -- faculty and students -- went on strike. Shut the school down for days. The rector was removed from office, but a more diplomatic flunky was appointed. In my opinion the school has gone downhill ever since. The School of Philosophy even has an "Advisory Committee" of non-philosophers (AWWK!) to offer their non-competent advice. Sheesh.Moral: do not despair. The wisdom of the official Church waxes and wanes. Sometimes the official Church isn't wise, sometimes it is.CAUTION: ALWAYS distinguish the official Church from the Holy Spirit. (Now there's a topic for a thread or two or three or ten . . . )

Despite nice word, and "careful analysis" submitted anonymously, I think the Sisters and Sister Brink (as was noted in the NPR interview) speak out of a different experiential set than the CDF leaders..I also think they try to live the"Christogical center" every day, serving the needy, often directly.They need tp be ;istened to and heard, not talked down to ("to get in line"as bruce rightly describes the puerile top down Church approach.)I further agree that the CDF leaders have not much to say critically of the right in the Church, though many faithful and THOUGHTFUL Catholics don't agree with their approach.As to speakers, I think adults should be able to listen to whatever points of view, orthodox or heterodox, to understand and see how such views fit or don't fit experientially.Finally, I think this still goes back to Rode et al, and,as Brice correctly noted to get in line wsith the puerile distinctive Church.Very sad and - divisive!PS. though we don't usually agree, as I'm not interested in putting a best face on policy maker decisions, I can spell Jim.

Bernard ---There is a common misperception of what the classic notion of academic freedom entails. (I"m thinking of Newman's great defense in "The Idea of a University", a view which is essentially that of the AAUP. See also the Scholastic method which requires that conflicting be presented.) In the classic theories it is *required* that the academic present *all* sides of a disputed issue, and the academic must present it fairly. In the Middle Ages this was *encouraged* by the Church itself insofar as the Scholastic method was the usual means of argumentation.For hundreds of years now the Church did not subscribe to this theory (see the Index of Forbidden Books), and many of the secular universities tolerate a teacher presenting only his/her own views. In other words, true academic freedom is not typica of American universities. And the universities have sufffered for it. Students graduate having heard only one side of matters of fundamental importance to them, and when by chance they do hear of a conflicting view what they are presented is only ridicule and scorn. (I"m sure you know all this, but I daresay there are people on the blog who haven't heard of this before. Sigh.)

Ann: Good to hear from you. I do not despair, but I must parallel something you say: since the pontificate of JPII, the official Church has "gone downhill ever since."If a bishop is a flunky, he will offer nothing to the hurting people except to monkey what the Vatican is already saying...if he is not a flunky, he will be silenced. Neither option seems that good to me :(Anyway, Christ is risen and he alone is Lord and Teacher. That's what I hope in!Happy Easter?

Also, Mollie: I would unequivocally support any sort of freely given presentations, etc., by the CMSWR folks and would defend their right to do such, no matter what Father Church said. But it seems rather moot, since they probably run all their stuff by someone before they present it and are unlikely to come up with anything Father Church didn't approve.

Fr. Imbelli --About being "one's own master"==The text says that God is our master. It doesn't mention the CDF. I do not deny that the CDF has a real and necessary function in the Church. However, its judgments are the judgments of fallible men, some of whom do not tell the truth. Consider Cardinal Levada, the current head of that dicastery. He lectured his fellow bishops about the necessity of protecting the victim's, yet he is notorious for stonewalling victims in his own archdiocese. Why should I trust anything this man or his own appointees say? Why should I accept such a person as my "master" in any sense of the word? And why should the nuns?Yes, this *ought* to be said.

Here's a source about how Cdl. Levada treated victims: Jenkins might want to comment on this.

P. S. There's more on this at bishops accountability.

"Frankly, I think you are out of your depth"Nope; I spelled my name correctly and I stand by that.I do note, though, that you've voted yourself the smartest guy on the blog, and although I'm sure I don't breathe your rarefied air, I'll keep thinking about stuff and posting occasional comments about it."So what should a supposed respondent say?"Oh, gee, I dunno, mebbe something along the lines of, "Here's why this might be a bad idea ..."

,Carlo Lancellotti"you seem to suffer from what Von Balthasar called the anti-Roman complex. It is a great book, you should read it"Carlo, better than being anti-Christian. VB lost his courage when push came to shove as did others at the time as they sold out. I understand that you gladly ally yourselves with those who chopped heads, guillitined and burnt at the stake; all for the Church of Dogma. More importantly, I am still waitng for your first post of substance. Bob Imbelli, The quote you give below can just as well be applied to your friends at the Osservatore Romano. And you know it. None of us lives as his own master and none of us dies as his own master. while we live we are responsible to the Lord, and when we die, we die as his servants. Both in life and death we are the Lords. That is why Christ died and came to life again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

OOOPS! I meant that question mark to be an exclamation point!!!!! HAPPY EASTER!!! God bless and save us in this mess of a church...By the way, Ann and Bill, I Lready asked Robert why that particular Scripture in ths context...let's hope he answers :)

"The problem seems to be that the LCWR allows the speakers and the ideas to stand without any response."Jim P. ==Sr. Brink says explicitly that she is presenting the four alternatives *for discussion purposes", though she mentions that she has chosen reconciliation. The whole idea of the speech was to inspire thinking about various thoughts. That's the CDF's problem: thinking about various thoughts. The current CDF would never have made it in 13th century Paris.

Jim P. --When you talk about "solidarity" with your bishop, I'd calll it tribalism. That is, it is his and your view that one should not disagree with one's in-group lest one be considered "disloyal". But loyalty is not the same thing as truthfulness. And as I'm sure you'll agree, our required loyalty is to the truth as we see it. True, sometimes it's prudent not to say everything we are thinking. But I think that those occasions are mainly a matter of not hurting feelings unnecessarily. However, in considerations of ultimate truths I don't think there are many such occasions. And there are times when we *must* speak out. Maybe we could have a thread on this topic: when must we remain silent? when must we speak out?

Both a person inside the Church and a person outside it may suggest to a Catholic that the honest thing for her to do, given what she believes and what she doesn't believe, would be to leave the Church.But neither a person inside the Church nor a person outside it should not be in a hurry to say this, given how hard it always is to know what honesty requires someone else to do. When a person inside the Church does say it, he or she should say it with sadness -- should be genuinely sad about having to say it. Any hint of "good riddance" is contrary to the Gospel.What a person inside the Church cannot say without making a nonsense of the creed is that one might find greater holiness by leaving the Church. If this is true, then the Church is not what it pretends to be.Thomas Farrell,(A) It is bad manners, and not very persuasive, to tell people how much better you could do what they've tried to do if only you had a mind to, or to brag about your superior education, or to tell those with whom you disagree that they are out of their depth.(B) It is silly to preempt or respond to a critique by insisting that the thing critiqued was "exploratory." One is perfectly free to explore the weaknesses and troubling implications of an exploratory inquiry.(C) Please refrain from instructing other commenters how to format their comments. Format yours the way you like and hope that it catches on.

"What a person inside the Church cannot say without making a nonsense of the creed is that one might find greater holiness by leaving the Church. If this is true, then the Church is not what it pretends to be."But, Matthew, it often happens these days that those "inside the Church" do not have clear or full enough or accurate understandings of what the Church claims to be. Most everyone agrees that catechesis since the 70's has been less than adequate to meet the times. That being so, when those people speak of "the Church" they mean something quite different from what the official Church means by the term. In other words, it is not a case of the Church not being what it pretends to be but of "the Church" meaning something different to those who in good conscience find it necessary to leave.(I'll be quiet now. I promise.)

Ann: no "being quiet" allowed!!! :)

" Fear, folks, and nothing but fear. Thats what this is about. "Fear, and ....Power: One of the attributes of power is that it gives those who have it the ability to define reality and the power to make others believe their definition. William Sloan Coffin "Power is nothing more than the intemperate protrusion of the egomaniacal heart. Since all egomaniacs are insecure to their frightened cores, they thus wield power barbarically so the world will not find them out. " Dennis Lehane, The Given Day.

"There are many many histories of womens congregations that make it clear why silence and secrecy are poison for nuns. "For those who like to listen, rather than read, "Now You Know Media" has an excellent 2009 6 CD collection of 18, 25 mlnuted talks, entitled "The History of Women Religious in the United States" by Margaret Susan Thompson, PhD, Professor of History at Syracuse U.Warts are neither exploited nor glossed over.

None of us lives as his own master and none of us dies as his own master. while we live we are responsible to the Lord, and when we die, we die as his servants. Both in life and death we are the Lords. That is why Christ died and came to life again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.Ann, of course, the "we," "us," "our," is directed to all the baptized, the whole people of God: laity, religious, ordained! We don't belong to ourselves any longer, for we are the Lord's, redeemed in his blood, nourished by his body! Why in the world would you think that "master" referred to the CDF? In the unlikely event that my first comment might be twisted to suggest this, my second comment concerning "Christological collapse" should have made my meaning abundantly clear.Jesus is "the Way the Truth and the Life" or, if you prefer Rahner's more abstract phrasing: "the Absolute Savior." He is the Master -- none other.Matthew,"Any hint of good riddance is contrary to the Gospel." Indeed, as the Lord himself said in sorrow: "will you too go away?""What a person inside the Church cannot say without making a nonsense of the creed is that one might find greater holiness by leaving the Church. If this is true, then the Church is not what it pretends to be."That may well be; but one eviscerates the Christian Creed entirely if one cannot confess: "for us and for our salvation, the one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, became man."Even before the Creed, Paul said it with sadness to the Galatians (Gal 1: 6-10); and John said it with sadness to his community (1 Jn 2:18-25)We are so immured in ecclesiocentrism that we risk perishing of thirst without the life-giving waters that flow from the Christic Center, the Rock who is Christ.

Jim Pauwels, I really am sorry that I have misspelled your name so often. I'm a poor typist, but that's no excuse. Getting names straight is an elementary courtesy. Thanks for calling my mistakes to my attention.

Would suggest reading this article by Sr. Sandra Schneiders. It helps counter the "supposed" idea that the CDF has focused on the Christological/Christian Creed errors of Sr. Laurie (a mis-read and interpretation of what she said): points:- "One of the most pernicious and characteristic aspects of these episodes is the pervasive appeal to a supposed obligation to blind obedience to hierarchical authority as the legitimation for clerical control, and even abuse, of women Religious. This neuralgic issue of the meaning of obedience is central to the current investigation and it is important to realize that it is not new, not precipitated by late 20th century developments in American society or the post-conciliar church, and not likely to be settled by heavy-handed exercises of coercive power."- "Jesus prophetic ministry of word and work was not merely a threat to the particular domination systems of Rome and Jerusalem. It was a fundamental subversion of domination itself as the demonic structure operative in human history. The incarnation was Gods revelation in Jesus that God is not a supreme power controlling humanity through fear of damnation or extinction, nor the legitimator of human domination systems, but One who has chosen loving solidarity unto death with us to free us from all fear and bring us into the liberty of the children of God. "Jesus was the end of all domination systems, all systems of salvation by the power exercised by a few over the many. No such system, political or religious, could ever again claim divine sanction. Analogously, it is not very complicated, or illuminating, to figure out that womens religious Life is being used as a symbolic scapegoat in the power struggle in the contemporary church between the promoters of the renewal initiated by Vatican II and a program of tridentine restoration. Nor is it difficult to identify who have vested interests in the outcome of that struggle."If you take the time to read between the lines, it appears that the CDF has been influenced by certain US bishops who feel threatened. Given the outcome of the Rode investigation of all women religious in the US, one wonders why this "other shoe" has fallen? Do certain folks in the curia and the USCCB never learn?

I do agree with what the gentleman wrote who posted today, 04/21/2012 - 5:50 pm .

Bill:a post of substance would try to explain why the vision of the Vatican you proposed in your previous post is provincial and simplistic. But it would also be a waste of time, since you seem to be quite firm in your prejudices...

Fr. Imbelli,I don't think that "master" literally refers directly to the CDF any more than you do. But in the context of this discussion, the de facto "master " we're talking abut is the CDF -- it acts in the name of the pope who acts in the name of God. The CDF has the de facto power to make accusations tin the name of the official Church (God's official spokesman), to call members of the Church on the carpet and to silence them, and it even can recommend that they be excommunicated. It is, so to speak, the pope's overseer.But since Christ has offered us no promise that the CDF will always act with the veracity or justice of Christ HImself, it follows that we should not defer to it (in Jim P.'s phrase "toe the line") as if it were Christ Himself, as if the CDF cannot err or be unjust. It seems to me that those who demand blind obedience from the faithful are the ones who have displaced Christ, the Center, with counterfeit Christs, i.e., themselves.

ANN: you are totally right on here!!! This is the whole issue: who really represents Christ, and can any of us truly claim that we always, everywhere and unimpeachably represent him, his mind, his attitudes, his heart? No sinner can make this claim...and there are no non-sinners in the Church. It is, in fact, claiming an absolute power to represent Jesus Christ prefectly and infallibly that, as you say, is an egregious loss of the Christological center. Even when we are acting from heartfelt conviction and purity of heart, our understanding of God's great mystery will always be partial, provisional, somewhat "dark" (in the Pauline sense). So as a fundamental stance of humility in the face of this inescapable truth, dialogue with our fellow Christians is mandatory. Each of us, no matter how learned or intensely involved in thinking about the content of the Creeds, is still believing and acting from our own personal experience. That does not mean that there is no objective common ground, but we must never forget that misunderstanding is always a real possibility and that any human language (including the language of a Pope or Council) is necessarily incomplete and that God is always "ever-greater" to use a favortie phrase of Von Balthasar's. Couple this with the complete lack of consideration of the experience of women----including their experience of vocation to sacramental ministry----and we really have all we need for a perfect storm of complete misunderstanding and mutual suspicion. So a top-down reaction is perhaps the most dangerous---even lethal---action in this situation.

Gosh!!! Make that "prefectly" into "perfectly"!!! I am NOT a fan ofnthe iPad when it comes to word processing :)

Lest we forget: the still unresolved and largely unrepented evil of bishop-priest abuse of minors and the vulnerable makes this all the more tragic. These men are barking up the wrong tree (and I'm not sure the dog analogy is particularly off-base here). Benedict-Ratzinger and all those who support such actions will, in fact, have their smaller, purer "church", but it will be interesting to see how they will be dealt with at the final judgment for their shepherding skills and their evident corruption, seeing how they are intent on driving so many away by their actions and attitudes. So they get their cozy little conclave where everyone obeys and agrees in proper hierarchical order: monarchial pope and his princes, the bishops, then the priests (who are, after all, transubstantiated), then the dutiful religious who do all the grunt work, then the "laity"----those non-experts who have pledged allegiance to the pope. In the religous and laity "tiers," women are always and forever subordinate. Of course. I mean, isn't THIS WHAT JESUS WANTS AND HOW HE BEHAVED?????? My God, can someone please show me where this sort of setup is present in the Gospels? Re: my characterization of the CMSWR above: just read a few background pieces on how this all started: women religious coming together at Stonehill College and provoking the "Vatican investigation of the "other" religious. Ah, now I remember! So I my characterization stands.How can anyone claim to love and worship the living God of Jesus Christ and not bebputraged by these things??????

I need to move away from this for now as I find my joy and confidence in the Lord Jesus being stifled and threatened by the sadness and frustration of what is going on in this latest action by the hierarchy...before I go, I want to commend to all interested a brilliant lecture presented as part of Boston College's Church in the 21st Century Initiative. It impressively and most articulately outlines the central issues of authority in today's Church. I have listened to it over and over is a gracious, but respectfully hard-hitting view of the situation...I believe it is available in print, vidoe and audio forms, and the link is here:, I have cut and pasted what I think is a very profound description of what the church should be, in the context of what it usually isn't (at least under these last 2 popes). I can't figure out how to bold or italicize the parts of this text that I find so compelling (the second paragaph is simply breathtaking)...the whole thing is worth reading (again and again)... "Spending time, as I do, with people on both sides of the Reformation divide, I find strict parallels between the temptations to which either side is prone. Protestantism is tempted to bibliolatry, and Catholicism is tempted to ecclesiolatry. Both are forms of idolatry that involve some sort of grasping of security where it is not to be found. This grasping ends up by evacuating the object grasped (whether the Bible or the church) of meaning, turning it instead into a projection of the one grasping. The nonidolatrous approach is when we allow ourselves to be reached and held by a living act of communication from One who is not on the same level as either Bible or church, but of whose self-disclosure those realities can most certainly become signs. A sure sign of a pattern of desire locked in grasping is the speed with which we collapse into invidious comparisons such that we acquire our identities over against others in our own group, rather than receiving them together patiently from the one calling us into being. As a Catholic I am fully committed to the notion that, the Word having become flesh, the living act of communication is an ecclesial one, made available through bodily signs. In addition, I take it for granted that the church is prior to me, and that if something is church teaching, it is true. The presumption is on there being some sort of truthfulness at work in the stated teaching until it becomes clear that this is not the case. The real question for me, as a Catholic trying to think toward the future, is this: we know that we have only one Magister, the Incarnate Word of God, and that the authentic teaching office in the church is not above, but serves, this Living Word. Furthermore, this Living Word has chosen to address us at a level of fraternal equality, making of us his brothers and sisters who have only one Father, God, and are not to call anyone else our father. So, how do we hold fast to the experience of Jesus teaching us in and as church as we become aware of how often the bishops, those who have been consecrated sacramental signs, seem to allow the richness of the faith to become secondary to culture-war imperatives, institutional self-interest, and the search for corporate approval? I think that reimagining the ecclesial shape of Christ teaching in our midst, exploring the sort of act of communication genuine divine teaching is, and understanding better the relationship between the Teacher, those taught, and those charged to be signs of truthfulness is going to be one of the real challenges of the next generation."Commonweal Web Exclusive, 03/06/12Brett Salkeld's Interview with James Alison, "Theology as Survival"One more thing before I go: I am on record as standing in complete solidarity with the Sisters of the LCWR and do not/cannot support and action taken by the CDF against them in any way. Might check in again sometime later, but need to walk away from this now. God bless and protect all of us in these dangerous times.

Janet: your comment of 4/21 12:40 pm was wonderful. I would just comment on this: "the men in charge are operating out of fear, instead of that strength, wisdom and love that their office requires."Perhaps there is an element of fear, and many other emotions besides. To my mind, though, the overriding issue is mutual distrust. If the two parties can find a way to build deeper trust, then the fear (which no doubt also is mutual) might subside, and strength, wisdom and love might be able to take deeper root in the relationship. Istm that a lot depends on how Archbishop Sartain works with the women of LCWR. I know nothing about him, but if he has some humility, a collaborative spirit and a welcoming disposition, it may not turn out to be a disaster.

Jim, re fear -se the Scott Appleby thread.

" - since you seem to be quite firm in your prejudices "And yours are beliefs, right?I guess it depends on whose ox is being eaten.

"But since Christ has offered us no promise that the CDF will always act with the veracity or justice of Christ HImself, it follows that we should not defer to it (in Jim P.s phrase toe the line) as if it were Christ Himself, as if the CDF cannot err or be unjust. It seems to me that those who demand blind obedience from the faithful are the ones who have displaced Christ, the Center, with counterfeit Christs, i.e., themselves."Indeed.I'm reminded of scripture scholar Raymond Brown's observation:There are debates about what is meant by this binding/loosing [in Mt 16:19]. Is it the power to forgive/not forgive sins (as in John 20:23) or to teach what must be observed, with the result that Peter is the chief rabbi? That this section follows a warning against the teaching of the Pharisees and Saducees [Mt 16:5-12] may tilt the odds in favor of the latter, and notice that in [Mt] 23:13 the scribes and Pharisees are criticized for locking the kingdom of heaven to human beings. Brown reminds us that Jesus later tells Peter, Get away from me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my way [Mt 16:23] (Raymond Brown, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT, ABRC/Doubleday, 1997, fn 40, p. 189). I'm not inclined to take the CDF's pronouncements "as gospel".In fact, I'm not inclined to take B16's words "as gospel" either!!!

Does anyone have access to the discussion/documents by which LCWR was set up in 1956? That was the era of the Sister Formation Movement, a principal result of which was the formation of "juniorates," a period following first vows in which, e.g., young women were able to pursue college degrees, rather then immediately entering the classroom and acquiring the training over 20+ years of summer school classes.It was the period before Vatican II!What was proposed in the documents setting up LCWR, how does it reflect the limited vision of the period, and how adequate is it for an accurate evaluation of what LCWR has been doing in the last decade or two?

This PBS NewsHour video clip featuring a debate between two theologians does a nice job summarizing the differing points of view on this issue. HT Matthew Cantirino on First Thoughts.

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It may be a bit late, but i'm writing from Italy, and it takes a bit to find the piece. I've read Sr Brink's 2007 keynote after trying to understand what is going on between CDF and LCWR. My point of view is somehow an outsider's, I presume. I found the keynote frankly bold, as it offers 4 possible chances in evolution. Some may differ from schismatic to heretical, but it was in 2007 an academic field of discussion, where you have tu presume even 'ad absurdum'.But what i found in the keynote even more interesting than the 4 paths is the cultural background that uderlies all of them.1. Brink shows an importance of the subjective point of view that goes beyond the personal view upon an item everybody masters, but underlines the importance of the personal point of view even without trying to know: the questions about who ever was John Paul 1st or Paul 6th for example, or about who ever cares about latin mass or Vatican 2nd. What I read here is that truth, even historical truth, is not something somebody has to study to understand present. It's just like saying: ok fols, that's all gone, what should we care about those oldies....It shows a cultural implant that recognize reality only as an immanent situation, ''it is as you see it'', and not a result of consequences on a long run. I would say istant-reality vs time-generating reality. Problematic, according to me.2. A personal sensation of Sr Brink that all what she experienced from Patriarchal Church is mainly shameful, dishonorful, fruit of neglection, as the women condition in the Church is related only to humble or, at the best, aid services, while men rule. It doesn't convince me for simple hystorical reasons. Saint women recognized as saint in the Church exist as many as men, and this means that at least after death there hasn't been historically so much misoginia, and many of them were strong characters, not so docile and subservient to men, as Joann d'Arc and Therese of Avila, not exactly the portrait of humble and silent passive women....It doesn't convince very much because among the 'Doctors' of the Church, historically you find Catherine of Siena, Therese of Avila, Therese of Lisieux and soon Edith Stein, who are recognized for their giant intellectual gift (that should sound odd if we consider literally woman's role in the church according to St Paul). I hope things can improve for a positive role of nuns inside the Church, because just the history of the Church shows that.3. I think we should remind that until 30 years ago even the western world was mainly a male world in all the nations, and that the Church structure was partly fathered by the same culture, and it had to deal with it. And if you exclude today the western world, roughly 1 billion people, there's still a 5 bilions people world that expresses a male oriented society. Not just because the rest of the world is sexist, but because it's still a world of farmes, blue collars in heavy industries and warriors, where to be male means to phisically protect and to phisically work, more than women. I think that the Church, that is catholic, i.e. ''universal'', referred to all people and all cultures, still has to move with caution without provoking rejects, because its decision are made not only for the west, but for Middle East , and Asia, and Africa. This means that a change of woman role iside the Church wil be progressive, but slower than wished in the West. Brink's keynote is heavily western minded, I'm a bit afraid she misses the whole.4. Is Brink's keynote maybe sexist?. The problem with women condition is due, I presume, to the sexual polarisation the Church happened in the last 30 years, just while the society got more egalitarian in regard to sexes. Two opposite paths, that means that Church hasn't been prociclical to society. It has happened sometimes before, no panic, and there's been a reason for that, not so easy to recover.Until the WW2, men who served in the clergy were a strong minority among the men. This means that there was such an abundance of male vocation, that the standard life of a religious man wasn't inside the clergy, but the friar. Friars and nuns lived a simple life of aid and service, each separated in their own convents, and a sexual division of duties couldn't be called out so strongly as today. What happens in a period of few male vocation is that almost every friar is a priest for need, and this means that almost all religious men can have today a career up to bishopry and a voice to speak, while nuns don't.The presumed only aid and service role of nuns was simply shared with friars until 30 years ago, and then it was not such a problem. I see this as a gift of a bad demography and of an even worse faith decline, more than an objective statement.5. I find very bold from Sr Brink to choose the 4th path. I appreciate this a lot. The Church has always changed deeply its organisation model in history, since the first comunities in the Roman Empire, up to middle age social anarchy, then again in Renaissance to strenghten rules against the monarchies, then again in contemporary world going back to plain people. Never made such a fuzz of it, because change of organisation roles in the Church are always needy, to better serve Christ and His people in their age, but change has to be slow, as you have to modify roles and structures without touching the Faith Deposit, and sometimes it's a hard skill to recognize what is human habit and what is God's revealed Truth. They even changed at least 4 times the election modalities of the Popes, when necessary.6. Because of this inevitable caution and subsequent slowness, the Holy Spirit may inspire the change through movements in the Church, it happend so many times since St Benedict up to St Francis and even today....but these movements have to wait as the widowess who keeps knocking on the Judge door, in obedience but keeping knocking. So, if You know that the wait is necessary but that doesn't mean to renounce, you will be fortified by the Spirit. It could even happen a long resistance to change, not only to preserve the Faith Deposit but also for a trivial human inertia of men in power, as it partly happened in 15th century with the Council of Trent, that had to wait for more than a century to begin, due to political and conservative inertia, and it began when it was too late to recover Luterans.''Waiting in obedience but keeping on knocking'' is just a christian virtue, because we don't know the times of Holy Spirit for the whole Church. Movements must learn to stay ready pray, ready to confront but ready to pardon. Just what Luther decided not to do.

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