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Revisiting Laurie Brink's LCWR talk with Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter suggests that "the announcement Monday that Pope Francis had reaffirmed the doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious forces those on the left to reconsider their expectations." Winters thinks those who are dismayed should give the Vatican the benefit of the doubt: "Maybe there really are doctrinal difficulties at the LCWR. I gotta tell you, they lost me with that choice of a keynote speaker who wants to 'move beyond Jesus.'"

That line led to a flurry of "fraternal correction" from readers, according to Winters, who wrote a follow-up post today (though he forgot to include a link to the post that started the trouble). Winters now says he regrets his "inadequate characterization of Sr. Laurie Brinks keynote address at an LCWR conference" but, after reading the talk itself, has concluded that "it is even worse than my mischaracterization suggested."

I read Brink's talk (.pdf) last year, when the CDF's citation of it first surfaced, and I posted about it here at dotCommonweal. My judgment was that the CDF seemed to be badly mischaracterizing Brink's address, perhaps because they were misreading the purpose and character of the talk in general. I'd say Winters is making a similar error now.

I can't do much better in response to Winters's take on Brink's talk than to point to my own take all over again. And while I don't think her point of view, or her manner of expressing it, is beyond criticism, I do think that criticism ought to consider whom she was addressing and to what purpose. To be frank, I still feel somewhat uncomfortable picking over Brink's talk, given its original venue and purpose: to stimulate discussion among LCWR member congregations about the difficult choices facing them in an uncertain future. That Brink did not unequivocally denounce any life choice that would lead one away from Christ might be troubling to myself or Winters or the CDF, but this was not a catechetical lecture or a public statement of general belief or an address to pilgrims at World Youth Day. She wasn't addressing myself or Winters or Catholics in general, and she likely did not see the need to qualify her intentionally provocative remarks just in case someone looking for evidence of heterodoxy decided to examine them later. As I wrote last year, "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."I think how you read this talk says a lot about how you think about Catholic nuns. Brink was speaking to an audience of peers -- adult women who, let us remember, had all at some point gone through a serious process of spiritual discernment that led them to take vows dedicating their lives entirely to Christ and his church. That's what we mean, or what we should mean, when we refer in general to Catholic sisters, and when we think about their place in the church or the propriety of their speech we should remember that they are grownups and individuals with agency and complexity and not either obedient or errant children. Did Sr. Brink need to spell out explicitly for her audience that a renewed commitment to Christ and his church is the only orthodox path to holiness? I imagine she assumed her fellow LCWR members were aware of that basic premise of Catholicism.

One of the more pernicious trends in the intra-Catholic culture wars is the tendency to pit the "good" kinds of sisters against the "bad." This tendency cuts both ways, and either way it depends on a willingness to view nuns as symbols to be used to score points rather than as fellow adult disciples of Christ. Winters accuses Brink of making "condescending remarks about more traditional religious communities," but what he quotes reads to me as an entirely benign characterization of how such communities view themselves. "Are these more traditional women mere dupes of a pre-modern worldview?" Winters asks. He might have found his answer in the very section of Brink's talk to which he's responding: "They are not simply returning to a life before Vatican II, though outwardly it may appear to be so. They are retrieving structures, symbols and rituals that may have been discarded during renewal, because they feel that these will enable them to live their charism more faithfully in the 21st century." I see no condescension whatsoever in Brink's words and no reason to read them as other than sincere. In my experience, women religious of all kinds tend to be scrupulously respectful of other sisters, probably because they see them as they are: fellow women who have made the radical decision to devote their lives to being disciples of Christ in community. Sisters are on the whole much less invested than we laypeople are in scoring one order of nuns against another; they worry about fulfilling their own charisms, not disparaging others.

I'll tell you where I do see condescension: in the frequent commentary of not a small number of Catholics, almost always male, who see themselves as somehow qualified or even obliged to criticize, approve of, or sneer at the ministries, prayer lives, and of course the wardrobes of Catholic nuns in terms that (it seems to me) they would never apply to men. There are wise and foolish nuns; there are congregations I might like to spend time with and congregations I'd be more inclined to avoid. But what makes anyone think they can judge the depth of a woman's prayer life, her attitude toward the hierarchy, or her sincerity in following the will of Christ based on what she wears or how many people have joined her order lately? What makes any of us so comfortable in second-guessing the discernment of women religious when it comes to the governance of their orders and the vision and charism of their founders? Or, what makes some of us so uncomfortable with the spectacle of grown women having some autonomy to decide how they will live out their vows of service to the body of Christ? Catholics who have been inspired and challenged by the example of individual sisters, in education, ministry, or prayer, are rightly turned off by smug objectification of nuns even when it takes the form of praise. After all, it isn't just nasty remarks about radical women in pantsuits that carry this tinge of misogyny; it comes through in syrupy approval of the "good" kind of sisters, too. As if they're children to be patted on the head for the pleasing shape that their faithfulness takes.

Winters calls it "a damned shame" that the LCWR gave time to Brink's talk "because, as far as I can tell, the reason so many people love religious women, the reason our sisters touch the hearts of Catholics and non-Catholics so deeply is precisely because they have not moved beyond Christ but seek him out, day in and day out, among the poor, the afflicted, the aged, the ignorant, and the broken-hearted.... No amount of academic nonsense, spoken from someone wallowing in post-modern fads, should obstruct the Churchs hierarchy from recognizing the invaluable, Christ-centered work, that religious women do every day." Once again: Brink's talk was a challenge to member congregations to examine their approach to that invaluable work and to discuss how they can move forward in strength and integrity. Winters seems to think that the sisters' discussing such "academic" things is unseemly; they should keep doing that humble service work the rest of us like so much and, I guess, let someone else tell them how best to go about doing it. In which case, why have an LCWR at all?

But it can't be that Winters objects to the "leadership" part of the LCWR's mission, because -- after calling Brink's address "dreadful and alarming" (and just before calling it "faux-intellectual") -- he insists, "I believe with all my heart that women religious are just as much leaders of the Church as the bishops." This is not really a matter of belief: they're not. Not in the church in general, and not even in their own congregations. If the Vatican's investigation of the LCWR is at all valid, then it must be the case that Catholic sisters are not "leaders" on any kind of par with bishops. At best they are the kind of "leaders" whose internal discussions and deliberations must be policed by the church's actual leaders -- the bishops -- for their own good. They are leaders only until the real leaders remind them who's in charge. Even the sisters know that much.

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"Ill tell you where I do see condescension: in the frequent commentary of not a small number of Catholics, almost always male, who see themselves as somehow qualified or even obliged to criticize, approve of, or sneer at the ministries, prayer lives, and of course the wardrobes of Catholic nuns in terms that (it seems to me) they would never apply to men. "Amen!!!!

You've made many good points, Molly, here and in your earlier post on this issue. And I have nothing but the utmost respect for nuns, including the Dominicans who taught me in elementary school, and the three great-aunts who gave their lives to the Church. They passed away at ages 94, 96, and 103, respectively, and while they were traditional in many senses of that word, they also embraced the reforms of Vatican II with great zeal. With that as a preface, what bothers me about Sr. Brink's comments is the following line in particular: "Whos to say that the movement beyond Christ is not, in reality, a movement into the very heart of God? It would be one thing if Sister had said movement beyond the Church, with "Church" signifying institutional elements and structures. I think that nuns who are upset about leadership in the Church have valid grounds for their grievances. But Sr. Brink went beyond such concerns, IMO, when she spoke about "movement beyond Christ." That's not to say that people who aren't followers of Christ don't move into the "very heart of God," but I don't see how one can move beyond Christ and still identify as "Christian." Such movement, it would seem to me, would go far beyond the temporal issues involving leadership and structure in the Church.

Many histories of women's congregations have amusing (imho) tales of bishops' obsessions with nuns' habits, headgear, etc. They would write to the European motherhouses asking for dolls dressed in the habits. They would then concern themselves with details of veils, guimpes, cinctures, etc., etc. (And with every other aspect of the lives of the women they ruled.) I wonder what has become of the questionnaires the various communities were required to fill out and the reports of the investigators they were required to feed and house. Will the results of the inquisition be made known? (The distortion of Laurie Brink's speech is just one more of many examples of the abusive treatment nuns have been subjected to throughout their centuries of service to American Catholics. As the orders dwindle, the remaining sisters must make choices. To denigrate the decision making is unjust but typical.)

The bishops doctrinal assessment of the LCWR is online:http://www.usccb.org/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&pageid=55544 ,but I could not find the official response from the LCWR addressing the charges or correcting mistakes. Is there such a response?I was interested in your take, and I glanced at Sr. Farrell's address from last August. But if the LCWR have not officially addressed the assessment's main points systematically, it's difficult to approve of that.

"he insists, I believe with all my heart that women religious are just as much leaders of the Church as the bishops. This is not really a matter of belief: theyre not. Not in the church in general, and not even in their own congregations. If the Vaticans investigation of the LCWR is at all valid, then it must be the case that Catholic sisters are not leaders on any kind of par with bishops."Sigh. Unfortunately the English word "leaders" is extremely ambiguous from a Catholic perspective. I recommend some serious reflection about Jesus's advice "Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all."

Sometimes I wonder if we read rather too much into what may well be somewhat poorly chosen words.Properly speaking, it's impossible to move beyond Jesus because it's impossible to move beyond God.If the question is whether a movement outside the visible bounds of Christianity could be a movement into the very heart of God, which is how I read Sr Brinks, then I think the answer has to be yes, given everything Vatican II taught about the presence of God in other faiths.It's a sad day when the LCWR gets slapped down because a speaker at one of their meetings says what the Ecumenical Council taught !God Bless

Gender politics aside, is it the author's intention to suggest that the bishops should not have authority over religious orders? I just wanted to clarify her (the author's) meaning.

Whos to say that the movement beyond Christ is not, in reality, a movement into the very heart of God?I don't really know what this means. The prepositions seem contradictory: is it possible to simultaneously move "beyond" something and move "into the very heart" of that thing?

That Brink did not unequivocally denounce any life choice that would lead one away from Christ . . . .Did Sr. Brink need to spell out explicitly for her audience that a renewed commitment to Christ and his church is the only orthodox path to holiness? No, but merely failing to spell this out explicitly is not the fault that MSW identifies. As he points out, she goes quite a bit further in affirmatively claiming that "moving beyond Christ" was neither "better or worse" than remaining faithful to Christ. In other words, it's not that she failed to "unequivocally denounce" moving away from Christ, it's that she unequivocally endorsed such a move as equal in merit to any of the other 3 paths. Is MSW wrong? It's hard to see any other interpretation that could be placed upon the words he quotes, but perhaps I'm missing something.

I think that this issue between the LCWR and the Vatican has been seething for years, perhaps going back to 1979 when Sr. Teresa Kane said to Pope John Paul II in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception"As women we have heard the powerful message of our church addressing the dignity and reverence of all persons. As women we have pondered these words. Our contemplation leads us to state that the church in its struggle to be faithful to its call for reverence and dignity for all persons must respond by providing the possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries of the church."

Is it possible to find God without finding/knowing Christ?Does Christianity deny this possibility?

Bill Collier:You said youre troubled by this line in Sr. Brinks talk: Whos to say that the movement beyond Christ is not, in reality, a movement into the very heart of God? You add, Thats not to say that people who arent followers of Christ dont move into the very heart of God, but I dont see how one can move beyond Christ and still identify as Christian.Maybe identifying as a Christian will no longer be possible, but doesnt the Christian tradition say theres something even more important: being true to ones conscience, and to a conclusion which a conscientious search for truth has led one to even when that conclusion situates one outside Christianity? Need we be troubled by such a result?On this point, I always recall Simone Weils words:

Yet I still half refused - not my love, but my intelligence. For it seemed to me certain, and I still think so today, that one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. (emphasis added)Spiritual Autobiography, in Waiting for God

A year or two ago I read the talk also. Provocative, certainly. But I don't have a problem with women religious confronting provocative viewpoints. The institution may not want to talk about ordaining women (for example) and individuals may not want the taint of being in the same room with those who do. But these are adult women thinking adult thoughts. Not bishops' thoughts.Bishops and other clergy have been at odds with religious women as long as females have dared to emerge from the cloister as Poor Clares or Beguines or missionaries or teachers. For the CDF to earn my respect they should not only call out the positive witness to Christ given by sisters (as they honestly have), but also their own troubled history in dealing with them. In some sense, the LCWR dust-up is same ol' same ol'. Mother Guerin and Mary MacKillop and others like them are saints--declared saints--today. Their aggressors and persecutors are consigned to the trash heap of history, discredited and forgotten.I'd like to address one small point on the alleged contraction of women religious. The Hoge-Jewell study of young adult Catholics found that young men had far more attention as candidates for seminary or religious life than young women had to join a congregation of sisters. If recruiting is really so all-fired important to those outside of particular congregations, why not ask bishops and clergy if they know enough about women religious to discern the difference between cloistered and mendicant life, if they know women well enough to suggest one path or another that would be more suitable, and if they, in fact, do steer young persons to both.Finally, the last time I checked, the bishops were running on fumes in many places in terms of moral and theological credibility. Yet I doubt they would be as gracious if they were asked to submit to a similar investigation. Bishops mismanaging sex predators have helped to drive hundreds of thousands away from Christ. Laurie Brink, not so much.

I don't think the Vatican will ever be able to stuff women religious back in the box. There are some who like it there, yes, but the majority, like most Catholic lay women, are too aware of the frailty of the theology that's been used for centuries to keep them second class citizens of the church.

Kind of off topic, but I see Fr. Roy Bourgeois is going to ask Francis to reconsider laicizing him .... http://www.ajc.com/news/news/state-regional/expelled-priest-appeals-pope...

Most of us here are centering only on the words Beyond Jesus and missing Mollie's central point that women are clearly second class citizens in the church. So it should be repeated that even if we preface our post with such phrases as "I have the utmost respect for sisters", we may still be guilty of putting women down in the church. We must address the gender issue as well as the "Beyond Jesus" issue. The church leadership needs to be shaken up. Particularly the leadership which only champions orthodoxy over orthopraxy. Remember the CDF criticized the "over emphasis of social justice issues" by the LCWR. Suddenly we have a bishop of Rome who not only champions social justice issues but lives them. So Francis might be closer to the LCWR than we think. That does not mean that Francis should directly get into this fray. But his actions might say something else. Therefore, we might mind the words of the leaderships of the LCWR that they had a "meaningful discussion" which we hope will lead to more dialogue.

I would have liked to see a vigorous response from the LCWR. Are they, or are they not, sympathetic to the idea of "moving beyond Christ"? What is their position regarding the ban on discussions of women's ordination, or about the other issues raised in the report? To what extent is there an LCWR-wide position? Are they taking the view that "anything goes as long as one believes in it"? I took a look at the LCWR website. They are able to take resolutions on subjects such as carbon footprint or political issues, but I saw little about prayer or liturgy. Is prayer not the center of their lives? I find the lack of response to the assessment troubling. Is there no one in charge there? Or do they not want to face the problems head on? Or are they rejecting church authorities to the extent that they refuse to meet them on their terms? Or is it a strategy to just let individual reactions be expressed without giving them shape, to just let rumors float? Do they even recognize that there are problems?When I hear that some refuse to go to Mass because the priest is a man and they are feminists, I assume that it is extraordinary, but what happens then? Do others say sympathetically: "Yes, a change in the status of women in the church is long overdue, I understand your frustration, it's hard but you are brave", or do they say: "Christ is the center of our lives. Everything we believe in, including our defense of the status of women, derives from our love for him. We need the sacraments and cannot subject that to our feminist positions. Your priorities are misplaced. Christ comes first, not feminism", or do they say: "Whatever you think is right for you. It's your conscience" ? It's a problem, and how does it get solved? I am afraid that there is a lack of clarity - a lack of leadership!The speeches such as Sr Farrell's speech are fine for reflection, full of "I feel this" and "I feel that", but at some point there needs to be a firm conclusion on the part of the LCWR. I realize that most other people commenting here know religious sisters much better than me. I realize that there are plenty of individual sisters who exhibit determination, clarity of thought, and who are obviously rooted in the Gospel and the Church. But after looking at the LCWR website, I come away with a very mixed impression.

* Christ is the center of our lives. Everything we believe in, including our defense of the status of women, derives from our love for him. We need the sacraments and cannot subject that to our feminist positions. Your priorities are misplaced. Christ comes first, not feminism *The problem isn't between feminists and Jesus. Disagreeing with the hierarchy's stance on women doesn't necessarily say anything about the health of one's spirituality or relationship with Jesus/God.

Crystal, I was just laying out possible responses although I guess it's obvious which one I identify with. I think that it is an extreme overreaction to refuse to go to Mass because the presider is a man. I also think that such positions, that are surely the exception, must be dealt with. For example, they might decide that the Mass is where community is built, and that if someone who has access to it chooses not to go, then, after some period, they will have to leave the community. Or, for another example, the community might decide that going to Mass is not that important - but let them come out and say it! What kind of community do they form? What unites them? The vagueness of it all is a killer.

Maybe the community lets its members live out their spirituality in the way that works best for them as long as they're more of less doing their job and not hurting others. I can't imagine, for instance, a Jesuit community forcing one of it's members to go to mass if that person had a problem doing so. I'd guess that living together, socializing together, eating together, working together all would mean as much to being "community" as going to mass would. It's not the (religious version of) the army ;) iit's more like a family. I don't mean to say God isn't the important thing to a religious community, but you can't regulate from outside the personal relationship individuals have with God. But that's just my opinion.

" I cant imagine, for instance, a Jesuit community forcing one of its members to go to mass if that person had a problem doing so"I would hope that his superior would engage in serious discernment with the individual as to whether he still had a vocation to the Society of Jesus. As Pope Francis told the Cardinals: "without Jesus and his cross, the Church would only be a charitable NGO.

Claire,The LCWR owes me and you nothing on your point: "Are they, or are they not, sympathetic to the idea of moving beyond Christ?""What is their position regarding the ban on discussions of womens ordination, or about the other issues raised in the report?"Much of this has already been covered, and has been the subject of public statements over the past few decades. People who want to know need to ask and explore. THE LCWR is not obligated to rehash every time Mr Winters or some other Catholic celebrity wants to review old ground."Are they taking the view that anything goes as long as one believes in it?"Even the bishops haven't been exempt from this kind of thinking. But to ask a question in these terms implies one is expecting it."The vagueness of it all is a killer."Not to me. I've known and worked with women religious for decades. I trust the faith witness I have experienced.My sense is that for individuals, especially conservative Catholics, to fret and wonder. It is appropriate to harbor questions internally, and to explore those with people one knows. Less appropriate to transgress CCC 2478 publicly and contribute to an atmosphere of antaginism and suspicion.If a ministry colleague of mine, or a parishioner, were openly questioning the institution and/or the role of Christ I would enter into a dialogue with them. This whole affair has a context. People who want to understand, including bishops, are obligated to understand the political and historical context of tensions between people of good will who suspect sister and brother believers.

Todd, true, they owe me nothing, but consider this: if I were pope Francis and trying to acquaint myself with the situations, I could easily find a succinct summary of the CDF's view in their doctrinal assessment, but where would I go to find the LCWR's view?

I had the good fortune to spend a week at the mother house in St. Mary's, Indiana, to help my sister celebrate her 50th. anniversary as a Holy Cross Sister. Found myself at breakfast every day with the leaders of the order, who were in town for a meeting. I cannot say I have ever found that level of wisdom and maturity in an informal gathering of my fellow priests.The golden anniversay Mass was one of the most splendid, Christ-filled experiences I have ever had. As Molly said, these were adult women who had made an adult choice. Like my sister, they had re-evaluated that choice several times. The problem is, they took Vatican II seriously and followed its lead to re-evaluate the meaning of their religious lives in an amazing process of discernment that they re-do on a regular basis. The priests of my diocese never did such a risky thing. Our bishop and our presbyteral council have never been capable of such leadership.

Good post, Todd. ------To Claire:Perhaps an examination of the Program for the upcoming triennial Conference on the History of Women Religious will give you an idea of what nuns are thinking and writing about. http://www.chwr.org/PDFS/2013%20March%2022%20HWR%20program%20with%20fina...(There will be a forum on the LCWR on June 24th. Maybe the big-name presenters will address some of the questions raised by their critics.)

My apologies to women religious and to all women if any of my comments regarding the LCWR investigation have been condescending or even sneering. I do believe, though, that members of the church who are men do have a right to comment - in an appropriate and respectful way - on the words and deeds of religious sisters and their orders.

Agree, Jim, that men have a right to comment on the words and deeds of religious sisters and their orders, just as women have a right to comment on the words and deeds of religious brothers, ordained men, bishops, etc. Good editorial (imho) in NCR this morning: http://ncronline.org/news/editorial-vatican-lcwr-approaching-critical-cr...

"The problem is, they took Vatican II seriously and followed its lead to re-evaluate the meaning of their religious lives in an amazing process of discernment that they re-do on a regular basis. The priests of my diocese never did such a risky thing. Our bishop and our presbyteral council have never been capable of such leadership."William, this is an insightful comment. I'm sure it's pretty well-known that the process, and fruits, of the re-evaluation has come in for quite a bit of criticism (of male as well as femail orders). I would think that no bishop would permit diocesan priests to re-evaluate the meaning of their presbyteral lives without the bishop being an integral - and, realistically, directing - part of the process. Inevitably, this would be seen as a move to preserve power, and perhaps there would be an element of that, but it would also serve as an instrument to preserve and perhaps even strengthen communion. Do you agree?I don't know how that analogy would "work" for religious congregations, though. Bishops are priests themselves and have a formal role as the head of the diocesan priests. I am not sure what the equivalent would be for a religious congregation.

Claire: If you were Pope Francis, I'm sure you'd have access to the numerous reports that I suspect LCWR files prior to their annual visits to Rome.William: The diocese of Salt Lake City has been blessed by the presence of Holy Cross sisters for many, many years. Until relatively recently, they staffed the only Catholic hospital in the state. They used the money from its sale to fund a foundation that provides immigration counseling, and the staff for setting up centers for children of low income families to help with pre-school education. In my years as President of the Salt Lake Diocesan Pastoral Council, I valued the wisdom of the Holy Cross Sisters who served on the Council, who were willing to speak out on difficult issues, but in voices that were calm and reasoned. I continue to seek several of them out today. As I prepare for a talk this weekend to the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, I've been thinking about the numerous religious women who have blessed my life, including a few I've known through their professional lives as chemists and chemistry faculty members. Wisdom, personal self-sacrifice, and courage to face difficult changes are commonalities in all of them. (All, by the way, from communities represented in the LCWR.) I watched three of my great aunts struggle in the mid 60's as many in their community were leaving so I have a sense of the difficult changes that religious women were asked to undergo. One left, two stayed. That community is smaller, today, but still filled with wise women who devote their lives, their health, their creative energies to bringing others to Christ. When I visit my high school chemistry teacher, a member of this same community, who just retired at 92, I find a vibrant, if aging, group of women whose energy level belies their years. They are thinking of their future, not with anxiety, but with wisdom, faith, and trust in the Holy Spirit to guide them. Their faith and love has sustained me at difficult times in my life and continues to give me hope. I pray that the groundedness of Pope Francis in the love of Christ will express itself in the future in the LCWR review process. Let the sisters move out from this burden that saps energy and time.

"what bothers me about Sr. Brinks comments is the following line in particular: Whos to say that the movement beyond Christ is not, in reality, a movement into the very heart of God? It would be one thing if Sister had said movement beyond the Church, with Church signifying institutional elements and structures. I think that nuns who are upset about leadership in the Church have valid grounds for their grievances. But Sr. Brink went beyond such concerns, IMO, when she spoke about movement beyond Christ. "Bill Collier --You've nailed it. Sr. Brink is positing the possibility of a Christless Christianity. But did she mean that? I have to wonder if she had thought this "concept" through herself. The speech is a big muddle of mixed metaphors that don't always illumine. Maybe she's just not a very clear thinker. Maybe she's one of the many people who accept contradictions as both being true. True, she says that she's not actually choosing any of the options she presents, but she does present this as a reasonable option. She presents Christ as a limit to religious life. Hardly a Christian position. Shallow, shallow theology at best.

Worst case scenario: the LCWR walks. Bishops, over the next ten years are replaced. And some future will find refurbished an official channel of communication that the LCWR has served for the past half century.If the LCWR walks, it doesn't mean anyone is leaving the Church. It means that women will organize differently. The conferences will continue. The collaboration between orders will continue. Sisters will continue serving the Church as before. And the bishops will have cut themselves off from a source of fresh air.It looks to me like Archbishop Sartain is on the hot seat on this. And he probably knows it by now. This is very nearly 100% on the bishops. It's a good thing for them the opposition is American sisters and not the Temple Police.

Strange how many who have not read the speech still feel free to mischaracterize it and to defame Laurie Brink. Here it is: https://lcwr.org/sites/default/files/calendar/attachments/2007_Keynote_A... From p. 17:As one sister described it, I was rooted in the story of Jesus, and it remains at my core, but Ive also moved beyond Jesus. The Jesus narrative is not the only or the most important narrative for these women. They still hold up and reverence the values of the Gospel, but they also recognize that these same values are not solely the property of Christianity. Buddhism, Native American spirituality, Judaism, Islam and others hold similar tenets for right behavior within the community, right relationship with the earth and right relationship with the Divine. With these insights come a shattering or freeing realizationdepending on where you stand. Jesus is not the only son of God. Salvation is not limited to Christians. Wisdom is found in the traditions of the Church as well as beyond it.

Gene--I'm not personally troubled if a person on the basis of his or her conscience decides to move beyond Christ and to search for another entry into "the very heart of God." My lack of personal criticism would also extend to a group of persons, such as an order of nuns or priests, that makes a decision to move beyond Christ on the basis of their members' collective consciences. I respect such decisionmaking. My only point was whether such a person or group continues to be a follower of Christ if an alternative path has been chosen. I'm certainly no theologian, but to self-identify as a Christian means that one has made a choice that Christ is "the" way, truth, and life. My comment was not intended to put women religious down, as Bill M. seems to have construed my words. I believe I was clear that I think that women religious (and, in fact, Catholic women in general) have legitimate gripes with the male-dominated structure of the Church. I'm sure that my parish isn't the only one that wouldn't survive if it weren't for the herculean efforts of the female members of the congregation in a myriad of roles.As for Simone Weil, she is such an interesting almost-convert, or, perhaps better stated, non-baptized convert. Fr. Joseph-Marie Perrin, the French Dominican for whom she wrote Waiting for God, later recalled his religious, philosophical and personal interactions with her, as did her farmer-philosopher friend Gustave Thibon, in Simone Weil As We Knew Her. I think this very interesting book is available again in a reprinted version if you havent read it. ;)

Sister Brink quoted a nun who said that Jesus was always at her core but that she went beyond Jesus. This can be interpreted many ways with the emphasis on Jesus at my cor or otherwise on going beyond Jesus. The Vatican chose to emphasize the latter to suggest abandonment of Christ centered religious life. A non-cloistered religious woman goes beyond the cloister and beyond Eucharistic adoration to engage the world in a lived religious life according to the Sermon on the Mount and the Epistle of St. James (with Jesus at her core). Jesus condemned the religious hierarchy of his day who made the temple (Church) a den of thieves (read indulgences and Vatican Bank) and Jesus associated with "publicans and sinners."Thomas Aquinas went beyond the Scriptures and immersed himself in Greek and Arab philosophy to extract what was good and argue against what was he perceived as errors. The Holy Spirit and human intelligence are not confined to Papal pronouncements, Church doctrine and hierarchical discipline. For going beyond Scripture, Aquinas was twice condemned by the Bishop of Paris, Etienne Tempier, in 1270 and 1277. The Church has a most unfortunate record in political struggles throughout the middle ages, the Renaissance (HBO's "The Borgias"), extending down to the more recent hierarchical embrace of dictators (Argentina is the most recent example) and the wealthy and their abuse and abandonment of the poor and powerless in Europe and in Latin America as well as the persecution of, rather than engagement with, non-believers (from the Inquisition to Cardinal Ottoviani). Today the American Catholic Bishops appointed chiefly for their conservatism and rejection of Vatican II by the last two Popes have involved themselves in politics, closely allied with the Republican party, and have resorted to outright deception in framing health legislation in terms of religious liberty. The Church has been consistently anti-women and anti-gay. Do educated, decent Catholics who attempt to live in the spirit of the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount and believe in the teachings of Vatican II listen to the hierarchy any more. Unfortunately some are betrayed in their loyalty, but most are see through the lies. At one time women with a religious vocation formed voluntary associations like the Beguines which did not request the hierarchy to validate them. Of course, the hierarchy condemned what it couldn't control. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila were interrogated by the Inquisition. Today's nuns are one with St. Thomas and with St. Teresa. Let's be thankful for their courage.

It seems to me that this one speech by one nun is being held up as showing what is typical of all the nuns in the orders belonging to LCWC. But Sr. Brink is only one of them. If this speech is the worst that Rome has against the nuns, then shame on Rome for having publicly called them down. Shame, shame, shame.Winters is right. Nobody is above criticism, and there are some intellectually shallow nuns, as most of us can testify. But most are anything but shallow. Most are anything but unChristian. Shame on whoever is behind this kangaroo court.

It will be interesting to see if/how Archbishop Sartain, who has oversight over the LCWR, will react to the decision of the LCWR to honor Sr. Pat Farrell for her leadership through an exceptionally challenging time at their annual meeting this summer.The CDF Doctrinal Assessment noted the prevalence of certain radical feminism themes in the LCWR. What does that mean? (No bra burning I assume.) It probably means for the CDF the issue of the ordination of women has been espoused by some members. They have a big time problem with that but most of the sisters I know are too busy pursuing their ministries to the poor, marginalized, and sick to spend much of their energy on that issue.I have worked with sisters for many years. I have known sisters who have pursued advanced degrees, some in areas that were male bastions (law, medicine, doctoral degrees, etc.). They have done that, at some sacrifice, so that they can pursue new ministries that they have discerned with credibility and professionalism. That is what feminism has fostered and promoted over the past 50 years. To the best of my knowledge their communities and not the hierarchy paid for the cost of those degrees. To the criticism of speakers at the annual meetings of the LCWR who present ideas that are not mainstream in the Church, I might add: to be open to and to examine the ideas of those who think out of the box is a characteristic of educated people and does not mean acceptance.

For the record -- and I went over this in my post about the talk last year -- Sr. Brink does not say that you can move "beyond Christ" and still identify as Christian, or as a member of a Catholic religious order. She labels a group that moves "beyond the Church, even beyond Jesus" as "sojourning," and about that possibility she says:

A sojourning congregation is no longer ecclesiastical. It has grown beyond the bounds of institutional religion.... Religious titles, institutional limitations, ecclesiastical authorities no longer fit this congregation, which in most respects is Post-Christian.... [This is] a movement the ecclesiastical system would not recognize. A wholly new way of being holy that is integrative, non-dominating, and exclusive. But a whole new way that is also not Catholic religious life.... They are certainly religious women, but they are no longer women religious as it is defined by the Roman Catholic Church.

That passage likely have struck the CDF, or their informers, as insufficiently condemnatory. I think it's nonjudgmental by design, because of what the talk was supposed to do: describe the possible paths in respectful, neutral terms and let the sisters discuss the implications among themselves. In this case the terms she uses are rather positive, jarringly so, perhaps, if you're looking for an unequivocal statement about what Catholic religious life should be. But Brink does not or at least should not stand accused of suggesting that it's fine for Catholic sisters to move "beyond Jesus" and still think of themselves as Catholic sisters. In reality, she's saying just the opposite: have the courage of your convictions as a community, and if those convictions say you're not really part of the church, then don't go on pretending you are.

Bill Collier Thanks for what you wrote. Were not in disagreement. I hope it was clear, when I responded to your initial comment, that my doing so wasnt a way of saying I disagree with you. Rather, it was simply that there was something more which, I felt, needed saying.Thanks for the heads-up on the book about Simone Weil.

Fr. Imbelli,What I was trying to say was that a person choosing not to go to mass doesn't = that they don't have Jesus in their life. Sure, if a Jesuit didn't care about Jesus that would be a concern, but that wasn't the example Claire gave. The example was of a person who decided for political reasons not to go to mass.

Sr. Brink: "Its search for the Holy may have begun rooted in Jesus as the Christ, but deep reflection, study and prayer have opened it up to the spirit of the Holy in all of creation." (p. 17)Mollie --Here Sr. Brink speaks about "the spirit of the Holy" as being somehow beyond Christ. In other words, Christ is presented here as a limit. This is presented as if it's a valid interpretation of Church teaching, and people who go the Sojourner's route are being reasonable. But this view is clearly not consistent with Church teaching about the nature of Christ. The limited Christ is a straw man. True, a person who doesn't understand the rudiments of Church teachings about Christ might make think of Him as a limited creature, but I'v never ever known a nun to be that ignorant. So I don't see how Sr. Brink can possibly hold that this is a reasonable conclusion for some (ignorant) nuns to make. Yes, that conclusion could be made in good conscience -- if a nun is remarkably ignorant. But are there really any nuns that ignorant? If there are, then the Church is in even worse shape than I had thought.

In the past one looked to French bishops for relief from the crassness of anglophone ones. No longer! Cardinal Vingt-Trois's discourse at the opening of the bishops' conference in Lourdes seems to me a symptom of deep sickness in the French church. The demand for gay marriage he can only interpret as "the organized and militant invasion by gender theory especially in the educational sector, and, more simply, the temptation to reject any difference between the sexes, a refusal of difference, especially sexual difference, as a mode of human identification, an incapacity to accept that there are differences between people, rejection of the fact that people are not identical, not identical in their sexual identity and not identical either in their personality'. One can scarcely say that Cardinal Vingt-Trois has been mature and open in his recognition of the difference of gays and lesbians. His panic about an alleged "occultation of the difference between men and women" sits easily with contempt for the difference of sexual orientation, which the church has occulted for centuries, at an immense cost in human suffering. http://www.la-croix.com/Religion/Actualite/Discours-d-ouverture-du-cardi...

The Cardinal also claims that the French Government has suppressed debate (despite the countless hours of parliamentary time accorded to the opponents of the new legislation, who used this time to clown about in the most inane manner) and that polls showing popular backing for the new legislation are somehow a fake. This he characterizes as violence, and he thinks that violence will be a very understandable response to it. Already the Cardinal and Madame Barjot's words have been translated into street crimes. Barjot is a weird bedfellow for the Cardinal -- an erotic dancer who is better at coining slogans than at thinking -- her latest slogan is to the effect that President Holland has called for blood and blood is what he'll get. I do not see the Cardinal distancing himself from her hair-raising rhetoric.

"If you make the means of identification and difference in social relations disappear, that means that, by a psychological mechanism that we know well, one brings about a frustration of personal expression, and that the pressure of this frustration will issue one day or another in violence, in order to have ones particular identity recognized in opposition to official uniformity. It is thus that a society of violence is prepared. We see this already in the fact that the inability to accept a certain number of differences in social life results in the cristallisation of categorical demands by small groups, or identitarian subsets, who think they can win recognition only by violence. Our society has lost its capacity for integration and above all its capacity to make homogeneous the differences in a common project "For my part, I think that the law for marriage of homosexual persons shares in this phenomenon and will accentuate it in bringing it to bear on the most indisputable point of difference which it sexual difference, and will thus cause what I have evoked: the occultation of sexual identity as a psychological reality and the fermentation, the germination of a strong insistence on recognition of differentiated sexuality. This simple explanation is not grasped by a certain number of informed minds, who should however be worried about social peace in the years to come. That all means have been put in action to avoid public debate, including in the parliamentary process, can hardly mask the embarrassment of the promoters of the proposed law. To pass it by force can simplify life for a moment. That solves none of the real problems that will have to be faced in any case. To avoid paralyzing public life at a time when grave economic and social decisions must be made, it would have been more reasonable and simpler not to begin that process."

"That passage likely have struck the CDF, or their informers, as insufficiently condemnatory. I think its nonjudgmental by design, because of what the talk was supposed to do: describe the possible paths in respectful, neutral terms and let the sisters discuss the implications among themselves. "Mollie, I think your take on this is right. I can understand the frustration of church authorities who believe that what is really needed is some clear and heartfelt witness to the faith, and instead, what the leaders of these orders are being fed is this couched, studied neutrality. I can well imagine the temptation on the part of church officials to peremptorily insert someone into the next conference who will give witness to the faith. I expect that such a high-handed move would be counterproductive; but the temptation is all too human. I continue to think, though, that the hourglass of church authorities' patience will, at some point, run out. I think I've commented below previous posts on this topic that the church authorities, in their assessment, actually show restraint, and much more punitive sanctions are not beyond imagining. Now, with Pope Francis in Peter's chair, is the time for both sides to talk to one another in earnest.

If I were ever to be on trial in the Catholic court of public opinion, I would want to have Mollie Wilson O'Reilly as my chief defense attorney. She does her homework. She carefully qualifies her statements, but she makes her statements in straightforward language. Good for her.Now, I want to turn my attention to a somewhat different angle. Mollie @ 04/19/2013 @ 3:32pm has clarified what Sister Laurie Brink has said and what she did not say. I am not going to challenge Mollie's clarifications here.First, I want to say that Christians may become mystics. So far as I know, this point is not in dispute here or in Sister Laurie Brink's address.Next, I want to say that non-Christians may also become mystics.Is this point being disputed? For example, do some Christians think that only Christians may become mystics?Next, I want to discuss the possible implications of recognizing that non-Christians may become mystics, just as Christians may.If some Christians were to recognize that non-Christians may become mystics, just as Christians may, would those Christians who recognize this feel that they should give up and abandoned the entire Christian thought-world? Now, if for this reason such Christians were to abandon the entire Christian thought-world, then they would be moving beyond Jesus.But if some other Christians were to recognize that non-Christians may become mystics, just as Christians may, could they continue to claim to hold and embrace the entire Christian thought-world? Now, in the present discussion, we are discussing Catholic women religious. So could Catholic women religious recognize that non-Christians may become mystics, just as Catholics may, could they continue to claim to hold and embrace the entire Catholic thought-world?

I agree with Jim P. that the "church authorities' patience" will run out and the old men who rule the Church will apply "punitive sanctions" to the old women in religious congregations. Maybe the old ordained men who rule the church will punish the old lay women who have given their lives to the church by disbanding their congregations and forcing them to return to the world. (The histories of women's congregations, easily found in the divinity libraries at Catholic universities, are full of accounts of "punitive sanctions" applied to nuns by bishops and priests.)

Has it been shown that old women can do no wrong and old men can do no right? As I am on my way to becoming one of them, I have vested interest in this.

Mark:It's true( that old women can do no wrong and old men can do no right) but only for clergy and vowed religious women.

Priests and bishops have punished nuns by: 1) disbanding their communities; 2) driving them out of dioceses; 3) taking their property and money, including, in some cases, patrimonies brought from Europe; 4) withdrawing chaplains, thereby taking away the Eucharist; 5) forbidding them to communicate with sisters who left original foundations to form new (English speaking) convents; 5) etc.

Helen--Thanks, I will stay out of the clergy so that there's at least some hope for me! Of course, I can't help but think we have a few contributors here who may demur...Gerelyn--Let's stipulate that all that has happened, even, horror of horrors, the "etc." Can't a logical response be, "so what"? Is it not possible that, at least in some cases, the intent and the effect was to bring the nuns closer to God? Is it really true that vowed religious women can do no wrong, that they are above reproach? Is there a lesson to be learned that Blessed Mother Teresa was not punished so? If the clergy can learn humility from Pope Francis, are the nuns above learning the same from BMT?What I find most disheartening in threads such as these is that legitimate concerns about hierarchical quests for power are expressed by those who seem to want nothing more than some of that same power for themselves. Thus a statement such as, This [women religious being just as much leaders of the Church as the bishops] is not really a matter of belief: theyre not comes from a caste of mind that needs to be shattered.Have more powerful words ever been uttered than "Let it be done unto me according to Thy word"? Anyone who follows Christ leads the Church. Any person who does not have the faith that one necessarily follows from the other...well, does not yet have the Faith.

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