Rome & Women Religious

In the memorable opening lines of the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the bishops proclaimed their solidarity with “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age.” One of the most pressing hopes of the age has been the struggle to achieve equal rights and treatment for women, and the council fathers also spoke to that concern. “Where they have not yet won it, women claim for themselves an equity with men before the law and in fact,” they wrote. “Now, for the first time in human history all people are convinced that the benefits of culture ought to be and actually can be extended to everyone.”

October marks the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the council. Of course, no women participated in those momentous deliberations, although a few were allowed to observe the second session. If a third Vatican council were convened tomorrow, there would still be no decision-making role open to women. Since the council, women have made great strides in every kind of secular endeavor. They have also been ordained as priests and bishops in churches that long resisted such reform. Juridical authority in the Catholic Church, however, remains firmly in the hands of men. Whatever position one takes on the ordination of women, the idea that it is essential to God’s purposes that the exercise of authority in the church be reserved to men alone defies reason. 

Historically it was the God-given superiority of men that justified excluding women from the priesthood. When that explanation became an embarrassment, others were proffered. Now the church teaches that it must follow the example of Jesus, who chose only men as his apostles, and that, because of their physical resemblance to Jesus, only men can act symbolically in persona Christi. Most American Catholics find these explanations unpersuasive. It is possible, of course, that the magisterium is right, and that those living in societies that place such a high value on equality cannot appreciate the importance of distinct gender roles in the church’s sacramental economy. It may be that ineligibility for the priesthood is not itself a denial of women’s “equity with men.” But the church still uses that ineligibility as a reason to exclude women from positions of authority, and this creates a serious credibility problem for the church’s leadership, especially when it comes to issues dealing directly with women.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s recent censure of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for “serious doctrinal problems” raises a number of familiar, if troubling, questions. The LCWR, which represents most American nuns, exists to provide support for the work sisters do for the poor, the imprisoned, the ill, and the marginalized, and to give the various religious communities a corporate voice. As part of the CDF’s action, the LCWR will be put into a kind of receivership under Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain—essentially suppressing what little autonomy the group has had. Its statutes will be rewritten and speakers for LCWR meetings will now be vetted. The sisters were specifically reprimanded for speaking out in opposition to positions taken by the U.S. bishops but also for keeping “silent” about church teachings on ordination and same-sex marriage. Is silence now considered a form of dissent? Are women religious not even allowed to determine the priorities of their own ministries?

This isn’t about whether everything done under the LCWR aegis is immune from criticism. Feminism has certainly had an influence on the group, and most women religious probably do disagree with the church about women’s ordination. Yes, on occasion New Age spiritualities have gotten a hearing. Yet much of what the LCWR does looks like very smart and sensible women carrying on apostolic activities and preaching more successfully by action than most of the clergy and episcopacy do by word. The LCWR, like the church itself, is a diverse group, and the CDF offers no evidence that the women are unduly influenced by “radical” feminism. It might even be said that the LCWR has faced the same challenge as the bishops and met it better—namely, maintaining community and solidarity, dialogue and conversation, and encouraging innovation, creativity, and risk-taking in service to the gospel.

The CDF action is certain to be a pastoral disaster, another instance of the hierarchy acting in an imprudent and counterproductive fashion. All Catholics should support the effort of the bishops to preserve and pass on the fundamentals of the faith, and correcting doctrinal error is part of that process. But wouldn’t the bishops be more effective in that task if they did not confuse disagreement about public policy with doctrinal dissent—and if the experience and judgment of women were given an honored place and a decisive role in the church’s governance?

Related: Letters, September 14, 2012
Cross Examination, by Sister X
Missing the Mark, by Sister Y

For more coverage on dotCommonweal, click here.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

I will believe that the Roman Curia only has a theological concern about ordination when it begins to take affirmative action to become an equal opportunity employer and hires many women in order to release clergy for parish sacramental administration which the curia claims only males can do.

I will believe that the pope believes in the fundamental equality of men and women when he signs a simple document assuring that half of all future papal electors are female.

If the principal job of cardinals is to elect the pope, then I hope every public appearance of the pope sees a large sign saying.


Any religion, alas any institution, which has sruvived through the centuries and the vagaries of history, gradually adjusts to changing technologies and demogrpahics.  Most institutions, however,lag behind those changes and often pay a hefty price for the tension built between what it needs to be and what it was.  Conservative roots benefits most societies by allowing a more paced becoming to assist its members in the rush coping with a world where everything seems to be changing.  

Currently change would seem to be the essence of the times.  And our Church provides us with a temple to rest a bit  while the world whirls around us.

Unfortunately, response to changes can be delayed for just so long.  Many children of Jesus receive inadequate pastoral help because archaic policies limit the numbers of sheperds tending the sheeps.  When I travel through South America or read  trends affecting Brazil, the nation with the largest Catholic population worldwide,  I rejoice to find brothers and sisters from  other Christian or Mormonic religions bringing the confort of the Lord´s message to our brethrens.  I only wished our women priests added their sacramental wisdom to our ordained priests,where saints walk among them, but where one also finds many  tired, overworked or just wasted.

Depriving the sacraments of our Church, because our leaders honestlly believe  the will of Jesus  opposes  women bringing his saving message to the desperate multitudes  seems to be extreme.  But fortunately, if the Church  finds itself trapped by dogmatic limitations to deliver His  message, others are there to bring His peace and joy. 

What a waste of time, what a submission to power equation long obsolete.  Ironically, like Mother Church has done  throughout its complex becoming, it will adapt to meet the needs of the children of God, to bring the ever yound pastoral message.  It will do so again...but how many souls will suffer in darkness because the light will not shine on them?

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord, All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.

To you alone, Most High, do they belong, and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,

In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

Let´s pray and illuminated by the Holy Spirit find a way to honor our duties as the Children of the Sun of God.

Does anyone know if the Roman Curia reads Commonweal or the postings that follow various articles?

On the one hand, reason would argue that someone or some office in the Vatican is responsible for reading the "signs of the times", to the extent that widely published Catholic magazines or journals discuss such issues. I do know that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the CDF) does watch, like a hawk, many Catholic Theological Journals, like Theological Studies (TS). With respect to this prominent journal, the CDF has  directly intervened over the fact that this Jesuit journal either published an essay that was opposed to a church doctrine, or did not publish an reply essay to defend a teaching that was criticized, especially the many facits of sexual ethics. Thankfully, TS tries to find that center line that helps it to be faithful to its academic freedom and respectful of the Church.

It is indeed a sad commentary that the Roman Curia appears acts the way it wants, regardless of any criticiism or even in ignorance of criticism and the sensus fidelium.

The "head" of the Church, as in the Pope and Roman Hierarchy, does not believe that they are detached from the "body" of the Church.  They don't believe that they are not listening. They believe their own narrative that they are acting and governing as Jesus would act and govern because they listen to the Holy Spirit who will never lead them astray of the truth and the good. Unfortunately, what Jesus promised was that the Holy Spirit would not lead astray His Church (the pope, the clergy, theologians and the laity as His Church). I also want to emphaze that this means both men and women, in particular women religious.

Nevertheless, we the Church press on because the Spirit of God is persistent, persuasive, and gives us the wisdom and fortitude to strive to make a small contribution of moving the conversation forward, even if it is one small step at a time. A time will come when there will be a leader in the likes of John XXIII, that will get things right.

This has the makings of a pyrrhic victory for Rome and the USCCB.

I'm not qualified to argue the relevant doctrinal issues, and i won't try to do so.  But, in the minds of most (Catholic and non-Catholic alike), the sisters have enormous credibility, while that of the Church leaders has taken a huge beating.  The USCCB has decided to make a very public and overt foray into US Presidential politics, and the present actions against the sisters will serve to lessen the effectiveness of these political efforts.

The spectacle of a group of men of dubious reputation giving marching orders to a group of women of stellar reputation fails the smell test, esoteric doctrinal details notwithstanding.

- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

I second the sentiments in the article, though I am a bit bothered by the mention of feminism immediately after the admission that the LCWR is not immune to criticism. Perhaps it was unintentional. But feminism is a sign of health, not a matter for suspicion. Anyone who knows anything about feminism (evidently not Rome) knows that its vision is a holistic one of women and men collaborating as equals. The response to the unraveling fiasco has been, in some quarters, the cry of solidarity, "We are all nuns now!" May I suggest that "we are all feminists now" too?

You have written an excellent and thoughtful editorial.  At one point you say "the idea that it is essential to God’s purposes that the exercise of authority in the church be reserved to men alone defies reason."

I would put it more strongly.  It not only defies reason, it also defies faith.  The idea is an idolatry.  Idolatry is the word used when a construction of man is proffered as coming from God.

In the next paragraph, "it was the God-given superiority of men that justified excluding women from the priesthood.  When that explanation became an embarrassment, others were proffered," you identify this construction of man.  But the idolatry is likely to continue until the Vatican finds a theological frame of reference that explains how the Holy Spirit led them astray (another idolatry).

Fortunately, such a frame of reference is a possible outcome from God's "book of nature," the cosmos, based on what we have been learning over these last fifty years.  It turns out that it is an unfolding and living reality, not a clockwork.  But perhaps a "sense of the faithful" may crystallize on the matter before a theology catches up with practice.

As a women and a Catholic, I fail to understand why this can’t be seen for what it is, a “salvation” issue opposed to an “equality” issue.   The Vatican is no more “out of step” than the Mother of God was for not throwing a temper tantrum when she wasn’t ‘chosen’ to be a priest. 

Last time I checked, omission was still a serious sin right up there with pride.  Among other things, the nuns are clearly “in omission” of the full teachings of the Church, from whom they took vows of obedience.  Consequently, they put not only their souls in jeopardy, but many to whom they witness (or not). 

If we really loved the nuns in an agape kind of love, we would want only what God wants for them, their salvation.  The actions of the Vatican are simply the “tough love” of Jesus Christ. 

This “soup kitchen catholic” stuff is getting a bit old, really.  By that I mean, do or don’t do whatever floats your boat, but IF you work in a soup kitchen, all is well!  That phony agenda-driven rhetoric might work on some, but never on those who keep their eyes on Christ and His teachings.

To quote the highest creature (did I mention a female?), in world and salvation history, the Mother of God, “Do whatever He tells you.”

It appears to me that 'equality of the sexes' in the US is largely defined as treating women the same as men.  This editorial largely follows this line of thinking.

But I believe true equality between the sexes does not mean being treated identically or the same.  It's being treated equivalently but consistent with their differing human natures.  For example, why do we encourage women to first have a career and then have children; later pregnancies are contrary to the basic biological function of their bodies.  


I have read that a LCWR speaker has talked of maybe having to "give up Jesus."  Some of them have asked "who Jesus Christ really is?"  They want to be called Catholic, but question the heart of Catholic Doctrine.  I am thankful that the Holy Father has put LCWR under "receivership."  They are no less dangerous to our faith than the unaccountable Legionnaires of Christ.  In both cases members did much good and had much support.  But good deeds in themselves are not an imprematur.  "By their fruit you will know them."  The Lesbian lifestyle is not good fruit; neither is it beneficial to teach false doctrine.  These are only the tip of the iceberg.  Catholic nuns are the last column in the army of radical feminists; it is sad that they have chosen to be so.  But we do have orders of nuns who faithrully embrace Church Doctrine.  Instead of wasting energy defending what is indefensable, we should support those women who deserve it.  I know a more than 80-year-old nun, Sr. Ellen Conway, who for years has ministered to the imprisoned in Pero.  When relatives sent her a mattress a few years ago - to replace the board on which she slept - she responded with a note, saying thank you on behalf of the family to whom she presented the mattress.  I thank God for Sr. Ellen.  He will also address LCWR through the legitimate channels of our one, true, holy Catholic Church, which they disdain.

Clyde:  you hit the nail precisely on the head:  IDOLATRY.  This truth ame to me full-force and in a life-changing way (after years of denial) when I heard a priest preach that ordination is a form of transubstantiation.

Patricia:  It is interesting that the only "tough love" ever doled out by our Lord Jesus was to MEN who were hypocrites and power-mongers (including those among hos own disciples).  Not a whit of evidence that Jesus ever struggled like this with the women who loved and were faithful to him :)

"To quote the highest creature (did I mention a female?), in world and salvation history, the Mother of God, “Do whatever He tells you.”  "

Are you trying to equate any male cleric of any level with the He attributable to the quote?  A little heresy there perhaps?

I think there are a bunch of multi-layered issues---perceived by the hierarchy as threats---comprising the reasons for the LCWR crackdown.  However, I believe that the question of the ordination of women---and the LCWR's willingness to look at it and question the institution's position---lies at the very center of it all.  I want to say more when I have time, but for now will just post this link to an excellent biblical defense for the ordination of women that also serves as a salutary slap to the arrogance of RC:  RC claims that Anglican Orders are invalid, yet we rush in to make sure that the Anglicans understand how grievous it is that they ordain women.  See what a threat it is?  Even in other churches, even those whose orders the hierarchy dismisses as null and void!!  Bishop Tom Wright is a brilliant historian of the first-century and NT scholar; he is hardly a liberal and is certainly not a "radical feminist."  Here is his (co-written with Bishop David Stancliffe) rebuttal to Cardinal Walter Kasper's intervention regarding the ordination of women to the episcopacy.  Very worthwhile, and far more substantive than any argument I have seen proffered by the RC defenders of the barring of women from the priesthood:

a few more notes to Patricia:

Questioning the institutional church's denial of a Sacrament to HALF the baptized---simply because God created them female in the Divine Image---is not quite the same as having "a tantrum."  do you really think it is?  


Those women who experience a call to ordained ministry are, in fact, doing what you recommend:  they are "doing whatever Jesus tells them."  He has called them; they are trying to respond.  So it is the "authorities" who are refusing to do what Mary recommends.  

Holy moly.  Here's another reason to be grateful.  I am not one of those bishops.  There have always been and always will be aspects of their lives I envy.  The stew in which they have now settled is not one of them.

Patricia: If you would, please click on the link referencing Tom Reese and Stephen Colbert and listen to their conversation.  Having done so, who do you believe expresses the most useful notions of Christianity?  As I am certain you would predict, I am defining useful as expressing the least amount of arrogance.  That Christianity be useful to mere mortals is important, isn't it?

Just some random thoughts/questions: 

1.  Is the LCWR merely a "megaphone" for the bishops, or is it a distinct body, concerned with the life and sustenance of its membership and the vitality of religious life as they understand it?  If the latter, do they have the right and/or responsibility to explore whatever seems appropriate by way of ideas, etc., to further their discernment?  If the former, then why exist at all?  The church also has the CMSWR, and they are happy to be what the bishops say religious should be and do what the bishops want religious to do.  This is possibly why the canon lawyers have said thet the LCWR will probably have to submit to the CDF's determinations (or should we say "pre-determinations?) or else remove themselves from canonical status.  In my view, the latter will be a very dangerous thing for the church---for women, for religious life and for the church's global witness. 

2.  Are women and men, in Christian anthropology, truly equals?  Are both equally created in the Divine Image and equally recreated in Christ Jesus?  In the order of grace, is there a reason why the "matter" of a redeemed woman's human person---her body, spirit, reason, will, etc.,---does not have the capacity to receive the grace of ordination?  If there is a reason, and if at the same time men and women are truly equals in the order of grace, then where is the deficiency in the redeemed female? 

3.  Even if we were to posit that the Lord's Eucharist was an "ordination" ceremony (I do NOT posit this!), are we certain that there were NO WOMEN present?  Or, if Jesus had had the gumption (or bad manners) to invite the women disciples (including his mother, who we know was in the vicinity of Jerusalem), did he send them to a different room while he "ordained" the men?  Doesn't any of this strike anyone as beyond ridiculous?  Yet this is often how those in favor of denying Orders to women tell the story.  Absurd. 

3.  To those who support refusing the Sacrament of Orders to women:  how are you CERTAIN that this is not yet just another example of sexist exclusion seen throughout the centuries---i.e., women as chattel, women as inferior in all ways and good for only childbearing, women denied education, women denied the vote, women denied professional advancement, women denied credit, jobs, equal representation under the law, etc., etc., AD NAUSEAM?  Can you be certain of this, especially when the church's own history is not exactly exemplary with regards to women's equal dignity with men in Christ?  Are you at all suspicious? 

4.  In a church where all deliberative authority is held by clergy alone in various degrees, are there significant gifts and insights missing from the exercise of that authority because there are no women allowed?  It's interesting to see conservatives tout all the unique, special gifts that women have yet not be bothered at all  that those gifts are missing from the authority structure of the church.  I am on record as not agreeing that women and men have entirely separate gifts based on gender; we may have tendencies and strengths, but I have seen all of the gifts manifest in all sorts of ways that cross the gender line. Still, the feminine presence is missing, and the more the nay-sayers extol women's "specialness," the further they stick their foot into their own trap.

5.  Are there any women here who are offended that the last pope took it upon himself-----all alone---to write an encyclical on WOMEN?  As if women---half the race; half the church!---are a topic to be defined and delineated and put in a box (or a booklet)???  Preposterous in its arrogance, no matter how glorified the words are.  I call it the "talking about us without us," syndrome. 

6.  Church as Bride and Christ as Bridegroom:  this one is fairly worn out but it is also dragged out by those who want women to be denied one of the Sacraments.  A few thoughts:  it is ONE image of the Church; it is poetic, limitedly useful, and certainly was not central in the earliest centuries.  But if we must reference it, here are a few questions:  are the non-ordained men of the church supposed to see themselves as "feminine" before God?  Do they really conceptualize themselves as Christ's "bride"?  And, if males are subsumed into the "feminine" symbol of church, why can't women be subsumed into the "masculine" symbol of Christ the Priest?  Why doesn't it work both ways?   

7.  For me, on the record:  the glorification of Mary does NOT help women and does not encourage their sense of equality with men in the order of grace.  Best read on this:  Elizabeth Johnson's Truly Our Sister:  A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints. 

8.  As far as some Religious "moving beyond" Jesus:  first, Sr Laurie Brink's talk is not recommending this, only describing this as a reality in the lives of some Sisters.  Second, be careful how you interpret "beyond Jesus":  I have met a certain "Jesus" preached by arrogant, sexist men, and it is a Jesus I want nothing to do with, either.  There is a certain parallel here with some careless uses of "atheist":  sometimes people who claim to be atheist are rejecting a false image of God---an image that has damaged them, scandalized them, etc., and image distorted by those who present it.  There are plenty of "Jesuses" out there that I, a faithful Christian woman who believes wholeheartedly every word of the Creed and believes that God's Word is truly in Scripture, would never give allegiance to.  Can you imagine what a boy raped by a priest---Mr "alter Christus"---might end up thinking of Jesus?  I am not saying that Laurie Brink was describing this phenomenon, but it is worth thinking about as a possible perspective.  And yes, I can see Sisters "moving beyond" the Jesus presented by the institutional church for a lot of reasons. 

Bye for now :)

Bravo, Janet!!!

I second the Bravo for Janet!! 

Before I read Janet's comments, I thought about asking the following question, and it still remains a good question.

"If the LCWR will submit to the CDF determinations, what will come of this, other than another example of the inordinate and misguided power and authority of the magisterium?" 

This event will likely go onto the list of other events that demonstrate that the Roman Curia continues to drift further away from the sensus fidelium, theologians and women religious (and some enlightened clergy).  

I don't know what is more damaging to the Church of Christ: a resistant LCWR in the likes of the Austrian Priest's Iniative, or the submission to authority. The latter will not hasten any revision in Church doctrine or ecclesiolgy that will eventually happen in the long term. In the short term the former will likely speed the revision most Catholics pray for. Most Catholics do not want insurrection, but enlightenment. Standing up for one's belief for Jesus and His Gospel, as an act of reason and virtue, is not insurrection or disobedience to the truth. 


"In the U.S., a strong pipeline of female senior executives means a larger pool eyed by recruiters," wrote Joann Lubin and Kelly Eggers in "More Women Are Primed to Land CEO Roles," [TheWall Street Journal, April 30, 2012]. Nuns as CEO-level leaders in the Catholic Church?....not a chance if the Vatican has its way



The Pope and other members of the hierarchy have no fear of being replaced by women religious, many of whom are likely much more qualified for Church leadership than  they are. No need for glass ceilings either—the oppressed nuns are simply kept in the Church basement.


But fear they must. Margery Frisbie asks: "What if women broke away from the Church?" ["L'Osservatore Chicago: What if women broke away from the Church?" The Chicago Catholic News, April 30, 2012,].   


To better understand the Vatican's penchant for subjugating the nuns to male authority, see the appended piece, "They Took Leadership and Incurred Wrath," by Ken Briggs, author of the 2006 book Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church's Betrayal of American Nuns.

Ken Briggs article was published May 1, on National Catholic Reporter Online at



In the living of our lives, we are each called to act "in persona Christi." Translating that transcendent obligation into secular terms—the priesthood as an equal opportunity employer—makes me uncomfortable. My discomfort is not theological. It is aesthetic.

Does a female priesthood not dehistoricize and dematerialize the historic Jesus? Does it not leave us with an indistinct cosmic Christ, a vaporous, shape-shifting mirage? I do not pretend to know the answer. Not at all. I only know that in my mind's eye a female priest appears as a woman in drag.

Hi, Maureen:

What is the difference between a woman acting "in persona Christi" in her everyday life and her being able to act the same way at the altar?  JESUS is the only true Priest; the clergy are ministers of this priesthood.  The Mass is a narrative, asking God to remember what God has done for us in Jesus and asking God to make that present to us now.  Why must the minister be male in order to do this?  Can't God hear the prayer of a woman in that same place?  Also, in your schema, the non-ordained men of the church would be "in drag," too, wouldn't they, since they are, according to the traditional idea, members of the "Bride"?  I don't know any Christian woman who seeks to do away with the maleness of Jesus, but I know plenty who want to break through the idolatrous notion that his maleness is what saves us.  "What is not assumed, is not redeemed,"  so said the Cappadocians.  Well what is assumed in the Incarnation is humanity in all its fullness, one constituitive part of which is gender.  If the maleness of Jesus is emphasized as "saving" in and of itself and in a privileged way, then women are not saved.  One more thing:  the church teaches that all people, including women, have the right to pursue their God-given vocations.  No one has a "right" to the priesthood in the same way that one would have a right to a job based on equal qualifications, etc (your EEO reference).  But each Christian does have a RIGHT to have his/her vocation tested and tried and affirmed.  That is church teaching.  Unfortunately, the age-old and idolatrous association of Jesus Christ with the human clergyman is what causes such discomfort and apprehension about somehow "attenuating" the reality of Jesus in the way you describe.   

I would like to hear your reply to my questions about the order of grace...if you care to respond.  Thanks. 

Further to my remarks above, there follows an e-letter sent by my wife Judy and I to our friends and family: Dear Friends and Family, Here for your reference and action is a summary of our view of what's going on re: the Vatican's inquisition of U.S. women religious. Your special attention is called to the opinion pieces in the notes. If you have not already done so, please consider supporting the sisters by signing the petition at Best wishes, Frank and Judy-----------------------------Recent Vatican Pronouncements: Abominable distractions


By Frank and Judy Splitt

April 30, 2012

On April 6, The Wall Street Journal reported: "Pope Benedict denounced priests who have questioned church teachings on celibacy and the ordination of women."


Next came the crackdown on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR)by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. See

"Vatican orders LCWR to revise, appoints archbishop to oversee group,"


These pronouncements bring to mind Andrew Sullivan’s April 9, 2012, Newsweek article.  See “The Forgotten Jesus,” at

The issue’s cover boldly proclaimed "Forget the Church Follow Jesus."  An editorial comment stated: "Christianity has been destroyed by politics, priests, and get-rich evangelists. Ignore them, writes Andrew Sullivan, and embrace HIM."


What are Catholics to make of these goings on and coverage in the national press? We offer a few thoughts for consideration:


1. Heed retired Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's call for a total reexamination of Catholicism in his March 28 talk at Chicago's Newberry Library. See “Bishop: Total re-examination of Catholic faith, culture needed,” at 


2.  Note the message in Brian Terrell's article on the genesis of the phrase "filthy, rotten system.” "It is unfortunate that Dorothy Day's famous words have been distorted over the years by the loss of a crucial detail --- that they were directed at the church she loved with all her heart, even as it was so often a scandal to her,” wrote Terrell.


3. Learn more about the Leadership Conference of Women Religious at


4. Consider the different points of view expressed in opinion pieces by Elizabeth Scalia, Carol Marin, Maureen Dowd, Nicholas Kristof, and Margery Frisbie, to wit:


“A three-year inquiry ends with a sharp but measured assessment of unorthodox religious practice in the U.S.,” wrote Scalia in "The Vatican's Corrective to Liberal Catholics," The Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2012,


 “Surely, there are thoughtful bishops who recoil at what the Vatican is doing here. Why 

they don't speak up, I will never know.," wrote Marin  in  "Vatican waging a war on nuns," The Chicago Sun Times, April 22, 2012,


 “While continuing to heal and educate, the community of sisters is aging and dying out because few younger women are willing to make such sacrifices for a church determined to bring women to heel,” wrote Dowd in  “Bishops Play Church Queens as Pawns," The New York Times, April 28, 2012, 


 “They were the first feminists, earning Ph.D.’s or working as surgeons long before it was fashionable for women to hold jobs. As managers of hospitals, schools and complex bureaucracies, they were the first female C.E.O.’s. They are also among the bravest, toughest and most admirable people in the world. In my travels, I’ve seen heroic nuns defy warlords, pimps and bandits. Even as bishops have disgraced the church by covering up the rape of children, nuns have redeemed it with their humble work on behalf of the neediest,” wrote Kristof in “We Are All Nuns,” The New York Times, April 29, 2012,  “I can’t separate Church and nuns in my mind. I never dreamed I might have to. And yet, with the Vatican throwing down the gauntlet to American sisters, for the first time in my life I feel in my gut what breakaway parts of the Church went through when they separated from Mother Church. What if the unthinkable happened? What if women broke away from the Church?” wrote Frisbie in “L’Osservatore Chicago: What if women broke away from the Church?” The Chicago Catholic News, April 30, 2012,


We believe the Vatican’s pronouncements are no less than abominable distractions from the real problems in the Catholic Church—stark reminders of how power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. 


It is our view that the Vatican is simply out of touch with the spirit within the People of God.  The Vatican's focus on sex, family planning, celibacy, and its ban on the ordination of women rather than a focus on the common good, unjust wars, and the death penalty puts the institutional church above the care the People of God. 


We believe women religious are the true servant-leaders in the Catholic Church who will catalyze a new age of enlightenment when the Catholic Church abandons its top-down, father-knows-best modus operandi and returns to the guiding principles of Vatican II.


Perhaps Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle who has been assigned to crack down on the climate of “corporate dissent” at the Leadership Conference for Women Religious will learn a thing or two about collegiality when he deals with educated women who form thoughtful opinions and engage in serious dialogue on the really important issues facing the Church and the world it serves.


We close with a quote and a request.


The quote is from Bishop Robinson's Newberry Library talk that gets right to the point: "The pope and the bishops have lost credibility, and it is only the People of God who can restore it to them. If the church is to move forward, these painful lessons (from its sex abuse scandal) must be learned, for this is an issue on which to leave out the People of God has been positively suicidal." 


If you agree, our request is to support the sisters by signing the petition at 

To Frank Splitt: On the petition page to which you link, the following is listed prominently as the top signature on the petition:  Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan

This so-called "Archbishop" certainly has a right to sign the petition, but I don't think it helps the cause to list him as the most prominent backer of the support movement:

(scroll down the page a bit and read his biography).

- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

Just to clarify, since I know at least one person has misunderstood me when I have said this before: 

When I said that the Mass is a "narrative," I meant the actual linguistic form; the traditionalists act as if it's a first-person account, maintaining that the priest, "in persona Christi," must then be male---i.e., as if the Mass is Jesus speaking to God the Father in front of us.  But it isn't that at all:  it is a narrative of the people speaking to God (and the minister on their behalf) ABOUT Jesus.  And I don't know why a female couldn't do that just as adequately or appropriately...The tradtitional construal suggests that the words "this is my Body/Blood" are in the first person, but they are not:  even at that point, we are telling God what Jesus said, not pretending that the priest is saying it about himself.  I just think we need to look more maturely at the whole dynamic.  I LOVE Jesus---everything about him, including his maleness!  But it is something that I think the men who run the church have used too long to exclude women and keep all the control and authority for themselves and have really caused harm.  Certainly not the way of Jesus!!! 

I am so impressed and humbled by the display of theological and (church) historical sense in these comments, particularly from Janet. I'd just like to add a couple of observations/ questions that I have been pondering as a result of this LCWR controversy. One is, is it not possible that by denying women the sacrament of holy orders, Rome has set up a situation in which thwarted women religious have unconsciously turned to avant garde (or actually heretical, though I am not learned enough to judge whether in fact whatever views these anonymous sisters have are "heretical") theological views out of sheer frustration for their inability to lead in the Church? And before someone tells me that there are many women leaders in the Church (and there are), full leadership is not possible when the authority bearing offices are reserved for men, by which I mean the episcopacy and the priesthood. Maybe these views could be addressed by at least re-opening the question of the priesthood and at least listening to these women? And the other question I have is to ponder what would happen if in fact the Holy Spirit inspired the Holy See to open up the priesthood to women? Is the charge made that the Apostolic Succession would be broken if that happened? If that is the concern, is the quality of the faith determined by the gender of him/her who passes it down? I used to know something about heresy, and I'm not sure if that almost genetic view of the transmission of the faith falls under that category, but if it doesn't, it surely should, because that is a strange, strange idea.

Hi, Daniel:  Thank you for stating so clearly what I have been thinking and have tried to express before, probably clumsily:  there are many, many people in the church---not women only---who feel compelled to search for other ways to imagine God's reality that "are beyond" what the institutional church presents because that image is so oppressive, so NOT life-giving, so very unlike what the Jesus of Scripture is like.  It is sad and tragic when the search leads people to something that cannot be said any longer to be an authentic Christian faith, and yes, there are Sisters whose experience has led them to this.  The answer, it seems to me, is not censure or hostile takeover of a group, but first, and above all, a humble questioning on the part of those who claim to have all the insights and all the authority: Why don't people find what we are saying to be compelling and life-giving the way we do?  Why is there such struggle and why does it always come to our having to "crackdown" on other believers like this?  Are we missing something?  And they need to really SEARCH the Scripture, too, which it doesn't seem apparent that they---the "authentic teachers"---are doing.  Yes, there will be people who will eventually lose their Christian faith and fall away from the Church; I am sure that the spiritual abuse buried within each act of clergy sexual abuse has caused this for many victims, for example.  And then there are others who simply lose their faith for whatever reasons known to God alone.  But when you have an enormous group of dedicated people---like the Sisters and the millions of "lay" people who are hurting and angry about the way authority is exercised in the church and who are desperate to stay faihful in a structure that oppresses and harms in its arrogance----then it's time for the authorities to step back, examine themselves and start to take stock of their responsibility in this mess.  This is precisely what is NOT happening; I am on record as thinking that the response of the pope and bishops, as a body, to the sexual abuse scandal was shockingly inadequate and I have lost all trust in these men as authentic teachers of anything, and most especially as teachers of the Gospel of repentance, conversion and salvation.  So I am not sold on any action they take against other members of the Body of Christ and will pretty much come to the defense---in principle---of anyone they attempt to censure, especially those whose lives exemplify the teaching of the Gospel (vs the institutional) Jesus.  If I could say one thing only to the assembled body of pope and bishops ( and I certainly have more than one thing to say!!!), it would be simply this: "REPENT AND BELIEVE in the Gospel".  For I am convinced, when I read the Gospel, that it is these men who have "gone beyond" Jesus and left him behind in order to protect their own interests or indulge their own fears.  They need to be converted, and the revelation of the sex abuse scandal, to me, was God's great act of mercy toward them a salutary wake-up call.  Unfortunately, they did not respond.  So all they have left now is their naked power masquerading as "authority" and their tendency to bully others masquerading as a desire for "dialogue."

Still further to my previous comments, here are a few more items for consideration:


"I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed."—Mary Flannery O'Connor, from a letter to her friend, 1955


“A story has it that Napoleon once told a cardinal he could destroy the Catholic Church with his fists, in an instant, if he wanted to. The cardinal laughed and said, ‘We clergy have been trying to destroy the church for eighteen hundred years with our sins and stupidity but haven't come close. What makes you think you can do better?"’—Michael Leach, from Why Stay Catholic (Loyola Press. 2011)


In May 1430, Joan of Arc was captured by the Burgundians and sold to the English. After months of imprisonment, she was tried at Rouen by a tribunal presided over by the infamous Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais. She was condemned to death as a heretic, sorceress, and adulteress, and burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. She was nineteen years old. Some thirty years later, she was exonerated of all guilt and she was ultimately canonized St. Joan of Arc in 1920, by Pope Benedict XV.—Reference Catholic Online(


I find it ironic that the feast day of St. Joan of Arc falls on May 30 – during the May 29 - June 1, 2012 time period when LCWR’s national board will begin its discussion of the conclusions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s doctrinal assessment and the implementation plan put forth by that Vatican office.

Isn't it our right as Catholics in being and acting as Christ to question, to wonder and to dialogue about all matters?  Radical Feminism is about equality and about hearing the message of Christ from the other side of humanity, not just one-sided.  It is about fulfilling our call to be all that we can be in the light of the Gospel as fully integrated human beings.

I continue to blog and say that half of humanity has been silent and missing from the table for the entire era of Christianity.  We all, men and women alike, have been cheated from hearing what the 'other' half has to say and how we interpret the Word without being relegated to third person epithets as if we cannot articulate our own selves as thinkers and carriers of our baptismal calling.  Again, I say Mary has kept all this in her heart for way too long and she can no longer remain silent about matters that concern all of humanity and its healing and empowerment, so we can share the table and partake as full memebrs of this Church that I love and that is struggling in so many ways into a new paradigm of Christ's wonderful reversals that make us all think and feel beyond ourselves to the mystery that will forever baffle us and challenge us beyond any understanding.  The LCWR walks in the true state of grace.



In his May 13, Washington Post opinion piece[1], E. J. Dionne, Jr., writes:


      Do the bishops notice how often those of us who regularly defend the church turn to the work of nuns on behalf of charity and justice to prove Catholicism’s detractors wrong? Why in the world would the Vatican, apparently pushed by right-wing American bishops, think it was a good idea to condemn the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the main organization of nuns in the United States?

      The Vatican’s statement, issued last month, seemed to be the revenge of conservative bishops against the many nuns who broke with the hierarchy and supported health-care reform in 2010. The nuns insisted, correctly, that the health-care law did not fund abortion. This didn’t sit well with men unaccustomed to being contradicted, and the Vatican took the LCWR to task for statements that “disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops.”


Revenge? It could very well be that revenge against the many nuns who broke with the hierarchy played a part, albeit a very small part, in the Vatican’s statement. It is all the more likely that the predominant part was played by the ultra-conservative forces that have been and still are working to reverse John XXIII's call to “…reestablish the principle of shared authority with all the church's members…in the biblical phrase `People of God’—a community of believers moving forward with humanity…” 


Leading the forces to undo Vatican II’s vision of a collegial, less hierarchical church with increased lay involvement and revert to a pre-conciliar, strictly male-led, authoritarian church were Paul VI [2], John Paul II [3, 4], and Joseph Cardinal Rat zinger (now Benedict XVI)[5].


A caveat: Reading the noted references could lead to depressing thoughts about the Catholic Church if one forgets that WE ARE THE CHURCH.  Also, reading Michael Leach's Why Stay Catholic? (Loyola Press, 2011) can serve as an antidepressant.




1. E.J. Dionne Jr., "I’m not quitting the church," The Washington Post, May 13, 2012,


2, Giovanni Franzoni, " Vatican II: Lost and betrayed'" Iglesia Descalza, September 19, 2011,

     Franzoni, a former Benedictine abbot, Catholic theologian, and eyewitness to Vatican II, offers reflections at the 31st Congress of the Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII in Madrid, Spain.


3. Penny Lernoux,  People of God, The Struggle for World Catholicism, 1989. 

      Toward the end the author's tragically short life (January 6, 1940 – October 9, 1989) she focused on the clamping down on dissent by John Paul II and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI). The book was based on years of research in Latin America and the United States. Lernoux described John Paul II's attempt to fortify an authoritarian model of the church as an effort to restore pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism. The book documented the church's dismissal of scholars who questioned John Paul II's papacy. It also dissected various groups struggling for control of the church.

     Joshua McElwee aptly titled his review of this book "A document of Vatican II's undoing," [NCR, May 11-24, 2012].A highly recommended 1995 book review by Dale Wharton can be accessed at

4. Gary Wills, Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit, Doubleday, 2000.

      See Chapter 7, "Excluded Women, for John Paul's 1979 "Mary was not a priest."response to then  LCWR President Sister of Mercy Theresa  Kane ' public request that "half of humankind be included in al the ministries of the church."


5.  Matthew Fox, The Pope's War: Why Ratzinger's Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved, 2011. 

      Fox's provocative book covers three decades of corruption in the Catholic Church, focusing on Josef Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI,  providing insights from his 12-year, up-close-and-personal battle with Ratzinger. He traces the historical roots of degradation in the Church and offering a new way to understand why Benedict XVI is now mired in crisis as Pope. 

     Insights into Fox's thinking can be obtained via a two-part interview for NCR by Jamie L Manson as follows: Part 1: Former Dominican sees church's demise as blessing in disguise, Mar. 26, 2012, (, Part 2: Matthew Fox talks obedience and courage, young adults and the church, Apr. 02, 2012,  (

While quitting the Church is not for me, I personally know, love and respect several women who have concluded that they just do not have the energy to remain in the Roman Catholic Church. Two are nuns. These women see the Pope, Curia, and Bishops as rigid, thriving on control, and inspiring no hope for change. It is my personal reading that, because these woman are highly educated, articulate, with an ample amount of wit, and very intelligent, out of fear Rome will never confront them in person. We are all sinners, and that includes the Roman Catholic Hierarchy who seem too often like the hierarchy of the Gospels; it seems clear to me that over sacred time and space these women share that frustraion of Jesus.

I don't believe that the CDA condemned, as stated here, the LCWR! 

Rather, the truth is, that after nearly 40 years of dialogue ( about the same length of time that the Israelites wandered all over the desert) the CDA has exercised both compassion and authority in requesting that those religious orders involved renew their theological formation programs bringing them in line with Church teaching. It is giving them an additional 5 years to complete this request.  Of course, some of the more egregious leaders have spoken and said they might consider leaving rather than conform. They are of course free to do this and sad though it always is when members choose to leave the Body of Christ it may perhaps make for a more unified Church and a healthier Church overall. if they follow through with this

God bless you, E.J.Dionne, for voicing my sentiments so well:  first, that I cannot abandon the church to the narrow-minded conservative sect whose members would push me out, and second, that many of the church's positions, on abortion, on birth control, on social justice, would be more credible (and no doubt more nuanced) if the voices of women were included in decision processes.  The nuns in particular are faith-filled women who have dedicated their lives to the call of the gospel and done so far more credibly than the church hierarchy.  The United States bishops would do well to embrace their contributions and begin an honest dialog about how men and women can join forces and work together answering Jesus' call today. 

On a more spiritual level, it seems to me that the crux of the matter is that at least some of these Sisters are no longer prepared to follow Jesus in Holy Obedience, and remember they have made vows to that effect. The CDA did acknowlege and praise the great and good works these women (and indeed their predecessors) have done. However their whole 'raison d'etre' is to be dedicated to Christ, and any apostolate should flow from that consecration - the apostolate should never be an end in itself. For at least some of these Sisters the apostolates have either become an end in themselves, or indeed become totally incompatable with orthodox catholic doctrine and teaching e.g. escorting women going in for abortions or actively encouraging homosexual relationships rather than assisting them to lead holy and chaste lives to name but two examples. Some have engaged in neo-paganism or have been actively engaged in other faiths and have therefore ceased to be pracising catholics, whilst other groups have become non-canonical and left the Church whilst claiming to remain catholics. This is what needs to be addressed, and indeed this is what the CDA is trying to do.  

Abortion and artificial (as opposed to natural family planning) contraception, are not open to discussion - Church doctrine is very clear on these issues.

As far as ordination for women is concerned - that too has been clearly dealt with.

I would challenge those who think that obedience to the Church disempowers them...obedience and union with the Living God is the most empowering and liberating life changing experience.  Did St Therese of Lisieux or St Catherine of Sienna appear disempowered, or Mother Teresa of Calcutta... 

maryclare:  obedience to Jesus is nit the same as obedience to the men who make up the institutional Church.  To think otherwise is idolatrous.

When catholic nuns are reluctant to publicaly proclaim the sanctitiy of human life from conception-then this is more then a disagreement about policies;this goes to the heart of christian theology and ethics[We're made in God's image by God hence life is sacred and good and killing one life for the sake and benefit of another life is a betrayal of that  faith.]  In not whole heartedly proclaiming the taking of life inside the womb evil and unacceptable-their silence is a matter of docrinal import.When [i read in this forum] a nun invoke the concept intimacy -of mother and gestating fetus-to entertain the possibility that that intimate relationship may allow for the mother to choose to end that intimate relationship-then  -christian and human ethics - has been corrupted. That the concept intimacy-which normally suggests love and compassion of one for another-comes to mean the right to murder another-then something is morally rotten in the society of nuns who could think and express such an inversion of human and christian ethics.

The Sisters I know proclaim the sanctity of human life in all they do; where they seem to differ radically from the bishops (who are apparently obsessed with sins that they themselves cannot commit) is their refusal to isolate abortion and contraception from the other, dire "life issues" they confront in their myriad ministries, especially those working directly with very poor women and children.  If the bishops had the courage to go into the slums and squalor of the world and spend some time actually relating to some actual, precious "lives," they might not worry so much about what the Sisters are not saying and be challenged and converted by the prophetic power of what the Sisters are DOING.  The bishops and pope need to be disabused of one of their most cherished illusions:  Christ's Body, the Church, was established to reflect the mind and heart of God, not as a megaphone or platflorm for their own narrow, often thoughtless and shallow views.  For a wonderfully refreshing look at a bishop who DOES, indeed, go to the slums and squalor where his people live (and who as a result takes a very different stance from the "magisterial" one on condom-use in AIDS-ravaged South Africa), check out this video:

By proclaiming the sanctity of life by their good works while remaining silent about the evil of abortion-the Catholic nuns have earned the esteem of the  prochoice popular culture.They have chosen in effect to attempt to serve two masters;Christ and the Church and the prochoice popular culture.The vatican is stepping in to tell them-I hope- that the sanctity of life is not limited to abortion but has to include taking a stand against abortion. 

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment