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Scott Appleby on the forced 'reform' of LCWR.

"These are mature Christian women, and to be placed in a kind of pen as if they were schoolchildren is humiliating and inappropriate.""Why have they done this? I dont' know."Watch here.


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Thanks very much, Grant, for posting this interview with Scott Appleby. Everything he says strikes me as right on the money.

As part of the forced reform, will the bishop-supervisor (or whatever his title is) force the LCWR to dis-invite certain speakers who have already been invited to speak at the upcoming LCWR conference?

Isn't it rather simple? In Catholicism, women are supposed to be submissive and subordinate to men. Wives are supposed to be subordinate to their husbands. Men are the leaders, women are the followers. Fathers are the heads of families, women and children must obey them. Gay men can't be priests because they aren't "father-like" and can't relate appropriately to men and women. God "himself" is a father, and (heterosexual) men are "godlike." Women are not godlike. There has been a shift in our culture that has recognized women don't have to be subordinate, and that they can be independent and self-sufficient. A certain amount of that has insinuated its way into the Church, and those in powerwho are all mendon't like it. So they are reasserting their dominance.I wonder if the parish where I grew up wasn't a tiny microcosm of the way the Church wants things to be. The nuns were extraordinarily deferential to the pastor and the other priests. Occasionally a priest would visit one of the classrooms, and the nuns acted as if the pope, or the king, had arrived. My mother taught one year at the school, and she found that the nun who was principal and ran the school was expected to make bricks without straw. The pastor gave her so little money to run the school that she tried to get extra funds by selling school supplies. I like to read the article Womanin the 100-year-old online Catholic encyclopedia for laughs, but unfortunately it's very telling. Take this:

The female sex is in some respects inferior to the male sex, both as regards body and soul . . . . If the two sexes are designed by nature for a homogeneous organic co-operation, then the leading position or a social pre-eminence must necessarily fall to one of them. Man is called by the Creator to this position of leader, as is shown by his entire bodily and intellectual make-up.

Once you've said something like that, an infinite number of howevers and on the other hands can't undo it. That, it seems to me, is Catholicism. That's why there can't be women priests. That's why nuns must be put in their place if they show too much independence.

Hi, David:I remember in grade school, sixty years ago, when Father would appear at the classroom door, Sister was quick to leave and let him take over. (Probably delighted to have a few minutes in the convent kitchen drinking coffee with the housekeeper Sister.) But how boring it was for us. Sister always had interesting stories to tell, but Father just made lame jokes and asked us if God could make a square circle. I realized that however poorly educated the nuns were, at least they knew something. They studied real subjects in summer school: history, literature, etc. Was/is the dislike of ordained men for nuns based on the difference in their education?The singling out of Sr. Laurie Brink seems abusive, even by the traditional standards. Hi, Grant: Hearing men discussing women is always interesting. (I wonder if the t.v. station tried to get nuns to comment on their treatment by "the Church", or if Dr. Appleby was their first choice.)Hi, Thomas: I'll bet the female speakers advertised for September will not be allowed to address the women of the LCWR. The CDF statement makes it clear that addresses to the women are of great concern to the men who will reform the organization. It also makes clear which topics are important. Maybe the nuns will be required to listen to priests speaking on homosexuality and abortion, if the September meeting should actually take place.

"Why have they done this? I dont know."It's not hard to figure out: too much tolerance for heresy and outright insanity (i.e., the upcoming keynote speaker Barbara Marx Hubbard).

In a long career in management, I've seen my share of companies that are in trouble. One common characteristic of such companies is a sort of lack of confidence that leads to a crack-down on any disagreement or dissent within its ranks. Healthy companies are places where there is a free flow of diverse opinions, and leadership that is confident enough to not only tolerate it, but to learn from it and grow the company. You can see lots of examples, for instance, in old line companies that either embraced the internet age, or tried to fight it. Or, in what is maybe the best example is IBM that completely changed both its business model and its culture.I wonder if this applies to the Church at this time. It seems to be flailing about, unsure of itself and therefore more doctrinaire and reactionary than ever, unable to cope with change and fearful of dissent and debate. This latest episode with the Nuns seems almost like some kind of tantrum.

Gerelyn: I don't think it was "abusive" for the CDF to single out Sr. Laurie Brink's 28-page 2007 exploratory paper that she wrote at the explicit request of the LCWR. The LCWR gave her explicit instructions about the kinds of things they wanted her to address. She addressed them. I've read her essay. But I don't see any great problem with it as an exploratory essay, which is what she was asked to prepare. So how would I characterize the CDF's singling out of her exploratory essay? Far-fetched. Nutty. Foolish.As more and more people go to the trouble to find her essay online and read it, the CDF is going to look more and more foolish for singling out her exploratory essay.Of course the CDF mentions certain other things in its document regarding the LCWR. But I've not seen any of the other evidence on which the CDF document is based.

Oh, Gerelyn, I am certain the local South Bend TV station actively excluded all manner of women from commenting on this story. You know how men are.

You assume the "local South Bend TV station" is run by men?

Isn't that the only explanation for the flagrant lack of a woman commenting about women, which, if I read you right, you believe is women's work?

Its not hard to figure out: too much tolerance for heresy and outright insanity . . .Studebaker,It seems to me Scott Appleby is not trying to answer the question why the Church did something, but why the Church has done this particular thing in this particular way.

Does anyone know or have an educated guess as to how many of the details of this brouhaha the Pope is likely to know? A billion people is a lot to keep track of, and I just wonder how much detailed information he gets about these cases? Does he know enough to realize how much such events contribute to the alienation of the laity and lower clergy? Sometimes I suspect that his minions just don't tell him exactly what is going on, and if they don't tell, he won't ask.

Thomas -- it seems disingenuous to say that Brink's lecture was merely "exploratory." The issue for most believing Catholics would include the following: 1) Brink wrote in a mocking tone of nuns who do things that used to be "anathema" to some nuns, one example of which is saying the Rosary. Those of us who try to say the Rosary occasionally for its spiritual value, not out of "acquiescence to others' expectations," may quite rightly bristle at Brink's dismissive tone towards prayer here.2) In complete contrast, Brink wrote in a fulsome and seemingly envious tone towards those who had left the Church. Not only did she not disagree with them at all, she praised them as "courageous women among us" who "very well may provide a glimpse into the new thing that God is bringing about in our midst." Well, maybe Brink is right in suggesting that -- maybe moving beyond the Church is indeed the way to God. But that view is most certainly not Catholic, and the CDF's action is every bit as surprising as it would be if Coke started looking into a department that had been hosting speeches (with no disagreement registered) about how "courageous" it would be to move beyond Coke and start selling Pepsi instead.

Studebaker: I've read Sr. Laurie Brink's exploratory essay very carefully, and I see no serious problems in it. Sorry.

"Isnt that the only explanation for the flagrant lack of a woman commenting about women, which, if I read you right, you believe is womens work?"------------If I read you right, you think commenting about anything is men's work. (I clicked on the current issue to see if things have improved. No. Of the fourteen named writers, only four are women.)

Recently, the Catholic bishops in the USCCB have urged their fellow American Catholics to join them over a two-week period before July 4, 2012, in a show of concern regarding freedom of religion.So will the recent action by the CDF regarding the LCWR help the American bishops attract American Catholics to their campaign regarding freedom of religion, or will the CDF action offend American Catholics and keep them from joining the bishops' campaign regarding freedom of religion?

Thomas -- you personally may have no problem with it, and you might even be right, but the point is that you can surely understand why people who actually believe in the Catholic faith would have a problem with it.

Ann Olivier: In light of your comment @2:29 pm, I would urge you to read Matthew Fox's book THE POPE'S WAR: WHY RATZINGER'S SECRET CRUSADE HAS IMPERILED THE CHURCH AND HOW IT CAN BE SAVED (New York: Sterling Ethos, 2011).

Studebaker: No, I do not "understand why people who actually believe in the Catholic faith would have a problem with it." Sorry.

Your failure to understand a simple point is odd. Perhaps you could try to explain yourself and actually come up with an argument. Specifically, why would people who believe in the Catholic faith (i.e., who really believe that the Church is what it says it is) not have a problem with someone who very strongly suggests that leaving the Church may be a better way to God for some people?

The LCWR knows that there are venues [stadia] in every town and city. If they 'build a program' the Catholics will come. I bet that many 'comebackers' will show too [New Evangelization?].....I suggest the the 2 weeks before July 4th. The 'other' plans are not finalized or appropriate.

You seem close to not understanding the principal of non-contradiction. For example, if I think that democracy is better than dictatorship, then I must necessarily disagree with someone who says that dictatorship is better than democracy. By extension, it's almost inconceivable that I would be happy with someone who doesn't actually say that dictatorship is better than democracy, but who dances right up to the edge of saying it by talking about the "courageous" people who have "moved beyond democracy" by choosing dictatorship.

After reading the Doctinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, I feel great sadness for the wonderful Sisters I have known. I think Scott Appleby's comments above and in the video interview are certainly on target. I also read the essay written by Sr. Laura Brink and find it hard to imagine that educated men would see it as something other than an exercise to lead religious orders to more discussion of their goals and plans for the future. To censure or prevent that kind of discussion seems rather silly - every organization needs to re-evaluate its mission and develop goals if it is to continue to make a positive impact. I have often wondered about the collective thinking of the U.S Bishops over these past few years and have silently questioned where they have chosen to focus their efforts. I think it would be in the best interests of the Bishops to stop and listen to the voices of the committed faithful at this time. Reports such as this Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR appears to seek to humilitate good and faithful women who have dedicated their lives to loving others as Jesus did. As someone who greatly benefitted from being educated by wonderful Sisters, I want those Sisters to know that the work they have done and the examples they have set have been instrumental in my life and the lives of many others with whom I come in contact. I want these Sisters to know that they are appreciated and supported as they continue to discern next steps in their community lives of faith.

On the same subject, here's Carol Marin in the Sun Times: quote:

Yes, if you thought things could not get more surreal or insulting for the women of the Catholic Church, you may have underestimated the lengths the Curia will go to alienate American Catholics from a faith they love and from a hierarchy that has compromised much of its moral authority.

She puzzles about the silent bishops, too: "Surely, there are thoughtful bishops who recoil at what the Vatican is doing here. Why they dont speak up, I will never know."

Thomas and Studebaker -- Okay, I'm confused. Are you both talking about the same thing? Is not the issue about Orders, or Communities of Nuns leaving the Church organizationally rather than individually leaving the Church spiritually (renouncing) ? Or have I misread?

I thought Prof. Appleby gently noted the abusiveness of this Visitation". He also very gently noted the Church doesn't want second class women(women do so much), but I think they really do or at least have minimal ideas about women and feminism.I don't think the Profesor's remarks will cut any ice with the hierarchy just as the letter from Notre Dame faculty asking to have Bishop Jenky removed from ND's board get anywhere.The hierrachy (despite all the revelations of how horribly it handles sex abuse and jbruns is right: the organization is deeply unhealthy) thinks it's sacrosanct and when it says something, noone should criticize.BTW, if Stu thinks he's the voice of the Church, that's "outright insanity" -more of the encapsulated thinking that blankets our hierachy.

(And a side note: anybody beside me intrigued at how many of the photos of sisters in stories of the crackdown depict fully-habited women? Kind of a reportorial blunder, I think, given the circumstances...)

Uh oh, I'm confused again. As best I can tell faith is a thing with which we are born, likely divine in origin, nature and purpose. Mostly. Nurtured well it grows well. Nonetheless, I believe we all can agree we have more than a little experience in watching it grow in spite of less than ideal nurturing. Just more slowly but often with more determination. Religion is a thing we learn. Mostly. Perhaps it can be successfully argued it is a bit less divine in origin, nature and purpose. It is such a truly grand thing I simply cannot know.I believe we can all agree each generation is more "spoiled" than its predecessor. It seems altogether unavoidable. While I do, on occassion, agree this generation may well be successful in setting a new land speed record in that arena I do not believe a rejection of all authority is the goal. Perhaps it is largely a very old story. An attempt to define the recognizable attributes of a useful authority in order to recognize them when in their company in hopes of learning a useful thing or two.Furthermore I cannot convince myself that either race or gender are sufficiently reliable attributes to allow a person much comfort when attempting to identify useful authority. As attributes go, they are quite simply to easily recognizable, even by children.I am opposed to neither tradition nor to structure. I have no idea whatever how we would survive much less find the time and energy to assist each other without them.To the extent my opinions cause distress in any way whatever of someones religous beliefs, I apologize. I simply know too little to understand how my opinions would alter another person's faith.

Lisa, a complex question, I think. Did you ever run across this video? Quite interesting ...

When appeals to authority fail, pull out the "heresy" card and wave it for all it's worth."There is no heresy or no philosophy which is so abhorrent to the church as a human being. " Letter to Augusta Gregory (1902-11-22), from James Joyce by Richard Ellmann (1959) [Oxford University Press, 1983 edition, ISBN 0-195-03381-7] (p. 107)"Heresy may be the result of poor timing. " Jaroslav Pelikan, "The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine", Vol I, "The Emergence of Catholic Tradition."

Surely, there are thoughtful bishops who recoil at what the Vatican is doing here. Why they dont speak up, I will never know.Lordy, Miss Scarlet: they don't know NUTHIN' about birthin' no babies - or have the stones to break ranks until or unless they are retired.

It's quite ridiculous that a couple of the commenters here are using the word "heresy" in reference to these vowed religious, these women living consecrated lives. We should all be such heretics.

Grant @ 2:23: do you think that male clerics would tolerate women in an official capacity commenting about and investigating them in the manner being imposed in this case?Actually that is a dumb question on my part because you will NOT see women put in a position to have this kind of questioning and investigationing authority over male clerics of any stripe.

Prof. Appleby's comments made his point effectively in terms carefully calculated to get through to the Bishops. Good luck to him. They are a tough audience to reach. St. Brink's "exploratory" (Right, Thomas Farrell!) group dynamics teasers were aimed at women used to open-ended collaborative exercises, and ready to respond appropriately to her technique of leading them through discussion of a series of less than ideal alternative future directions before presenting her preferred option-- one it is hard to imagine its CDF critics could fault. That is, if they had a clue about the way to read the piece.

Sorry, line 3 above should be "Sr." Brink. No need to be premature...

Lovin the typos ;-)

What can people and parishes do to show their support for religious sisters? Here are a few random thoughts:- inserts in the parish bulletin expressing gratitude for the work done by the religious sisters and giving some concrete local examples- collections for the religious sisters' retirement funds- honoring them as opportunities arise (at my parish on Holy Thursday a religious sister had her feet washed by our pastor)- inviting religious sisters (rather than priests) to give theological reflections at the next parish retreat or at Lent next year.Any other ideas?

"Any other ideas?"Yes, drop a note in your Sunday collection plate to inform the bishop that if he doesn't publicly condemn this Vatican witchhunt, you *will continue* to divert your contributions to the sisters' retirement programs.

"[The hierarchs] are a tough audience to reach."Yes, but I keep on a' tryin' to reach these guys here and elsewhere.God knows, these fellas in their reds and purples could benefit from my input.

studebaker,Sr Brink address had this to say about the Rosary:

They are taking seriously Pope John Paul IIs call to pursue holiness first above all else. They are putting on the habit, or continuing to wear the habit with zest. They are renewing pious practices such as adoration and the Rosary. They are returning to the classroom.

That sounds pretty respectful to the Rosary to me.God Bless

Chris -- you need to read the whole passage. Let me annotate it for you:

Some have attended to their reality and are making choices that a generation ago would have been anathema to their members. [IF YOU LOOK UP THE WORD ANATHEMA, YOU'LL SEE THAT IT IS NOT A TERM OF PRAISE. KEEP THIS IN MIND: SHE'S GOING TO DESCRIBE THE ANATHEMA CHOICES THAT ARE BEING MADE.] These groups are recognizing the changing atmosphere in the institutional Church [TO PEOPLE LIKE SR. BRINK, THAT IS NOT A COMPLIMENT], the reneging on the promises of Vatican II [SAME: NOT A COMPLIMENT EITHER], and the seemingly conservative [SEEMINGLY? ANYWAY, NOT A COMPLIMENT] young adults interested in pursing a life of holiness through the profession of the evangelical counsels. They are taking seriously Pope John Paul IIs call to pursue holiness first above all else. They are putting on the habit, or continuing to wear the habit with zest. They are renewing pious practices such as adoration and the Rosary.

So saying the Rosary is at the end of a list of things that "seemingly conservative" nuns (whatever that means) are doing that would have been "anathema" to older nuns. Irene: Its quite ridiculous that a couple of the commenters here are using the word heresy in reference to these vowed religious, these women living consecrated lives. We should all be such heretics.No, what's ridiculous is your assumption that just because someone is a vowed religious, she can say anything imaginable and it automatically can't be heresy. Well, if suggesting that people who have moved out of the Church and "beyond Christ" are moving closer to God isn't heresy, then nothing is. That isn't consistent with anything that a Christian of any sort would say. Even the most tenuous of Christians ought to have expressed at least a tinge of sadness that some people felt the need to abandon Christianity altogether. Brink doesn't even say that much. Instead, she just keeps waxing eloquent about how leaving Christianity was "a choice of integrity, insight and courage," and how the people who make that choice "will also become a great nation, for women and men are hungering for their leadership, insights and inspiration."Look, I can understand why some people are not Catholic or Christian, and why they would agree with Sr. Brink's glowing praise of those who leave Christianity. What I don't understand is putative Catholics who profess to be unable to figure out it's odd, to say the least, to see a nun being so effusive in praising those who had left the Church.

"Any other ideas?"--Some orders have magazines. Write an article about a teacher you remember and what was so special about her. If the order doesn't have a magazine, write to the superior about the Sister and she will post it on the bulletin board. The Sister will get a lot of attention and will write to you, thanking you for the letter and complimenting you on your good memory of her good stories, special skills, etc.If the Sisters you loved most are dead, send a memorial contribution to the order. Some orders publish yearly magazines with the names of the Sisters and the names of those who donated gifts in their memory. Seeing a particular Sister's name may jog the memories of other alumnae and inspire them to send money, too. Since many orders have merged, this is a good way to ensure that the deceased members of a smaller group that joined a larger group will not be forgotten.Become an Associate, or Oblate, or Third Order member of the congregation that means the most to you. Write an op-ed piece for your local paper about the nuns who meant the most to you.

Refuting the claim that NETWORK are insufficiently concerned about abortion, here's an extract from their statement on health care reform showing that abortion is very much a key concern for NETWORK:

Healthcare Reform Law and NETWORK ValuesHere are some of ways the new healthcare law reflects NETWORKs healthcare values. Under the new law, healthcare is: ...Pro-life Maintains existing law on abortion -- no federal funding of abortion and no federal sponsorship of abortion in any form Requires healthcare plans that offer abortion services to segregate funds so that no federal subsidies can be used for abortion. An annual audit will ensure that this is done Ensures that healthcare exchanges have at least one plan that does not offer abortion coverage Maintains existing law on conscience protection for healthcare providers. could argue with the prudential judgment the good sisters have made on the specific provisions of healthcare reform, but the facts seem to be that abortion is a key issue and a core value to NETWORK.The more one looks into the criticisms leveled at LCWR, by studying the actual LCWR documents, the less they seem to be firmly based in reality.God Bless

Mr. Studebaker- You have questioned whether other commenters were Catholic because they were critical of our bishops. Wouldn't it be fair, then, to also ask that of someone who is so critical of our religious sisters? I don't know what's heresy and what's not; I'm not an expert. But I know these women have sacrificed a lot to follow Jesus and they have dedicated their lives to the Catholic Church. Can you say the same? I can't, which is why I think it would be a little arrogant for me to question their fidelity.

Stuart's comment about Sr. Brink's talk is, I think, actually very important for unpacking part of what is going on in the conflict between the bishops and the sisters who are in leadership in the LCWR. He is pointing to the question of limits, which a community has to have in order to define itself. Several commenters here have noted that Sr. Brink's talk was exploratory, and intended to tease out discussion. True enough. I felt the essay savored of the academy, which is her work environment and intellectual milieu (she teaches at CTU). For some of her listeners and some of the commenters here, the academy is a familiar and comfortable milieu. The average American sister has more higher education than the average bishop, if I'm not mistaken. Now it's a fairly standard gambit in the classroom to put out there several scenarios and push your students to think their way into alternative thought-worlds by means of discussion. The student is expected to find her place on a spectrum of opinion, freely. The exercise is aimed at both broadening the mind, and developing a sense of one's own views by articulating a position with which others are free to disagree. Intellectual freedom is presumed. Outcomes are not predetermined.The bishops, however, are completely unlikely to see the subject matter of religious life in this way at all. They are far more likely to regard the academy with suspicion than with trust, to regard intellectual freedom as a very secondary value, and to prize above all the coherence of the community which they (at least nominally) govern. The bishops are not altogether zany to rank internal Church coherence higher than individual freedom or the liberty of religious communities. It's their lookout, so to speak, and to expect them to do otherwise isn't altogether reasonable. There are situations -- and this may be one of them -- where that pressure must be resisted. But it ought to be understood, just as the sisters' actions ought to be understood, and not merely despised.Alas, the remedies of skeptical review, condemnation, and control from outside, all falling with a heavy hand, seem likely to fracture the situation further rather than pull people together.

Studebaker --Can't you even imagine that someone might have a different conception of "the Church" from your conception? If you can, can't you also imagine that a person leaving the Church might do so because she/he has concludee that it is not really the Church established by Jesus?. In other words, can't you imagine someone leaving because her/his conscience (such as it is) demands it? Sr, Brink sees the Madison nuns as being precisely in such a situation, Do you think, unlike Sr. Brink, that the Madison nuns *shouldn't* have left? As I remember, you have more than once counseled people here on this blog to leave the Church (as they understand it). So what's the difference between you and Sr. Brink?

Gerelyn --Speaking of magazines, if you know a bishop (or don't know a bishop) send him a subscription to Commonweal :-)

cant you also imagine that a person leaving the Church might do so because she/he has concludee that it is not really the Church established by Jesus?.As I said, I certainly can imagine those people's beliefs. What I can't imagine is the confusion experienced by people who seem not to understand why the Church itself might disagree with those beliefs.

Do you think, unlike Sr. Brink, that the Madison nuns *shouldnt* have left? Right, without knowing more about the situation, I think they should have had a more thorough conversion to their original vows. As I remember, you have more than once counseled people here on this blog to leave the Church (as they understand it). So whats the difference between you and Sr. Brink?Um, not exactly. I did wonder whether two people who described the Church in terms reserved for a false religion were Catholic; one never replied, and the other seemed indignant that I would even dare to imply that she didn't belong to a religion founded on lies. Oh well. Anyway, I'm not telling them to leave, and if they left, I certainly wouldn't speak about their decision in envious tones (there's a distinction from Brink for you).

If my parent was an alcoholic child abusing pervert with an inflated ego, I'd speak of that person in very harsh terms.I couldn't "unparent" them, however--the blood kinship can't be eliminated. I also distinguish words of harsh contempt for those who have hijacked the Church and words directed at Mother Church herself.