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CDF prefect tells U.S. nuns they were wrong to honor Elizabeth Johnson.

Last week, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, rebuked representatives of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, for giving an Outstanding Leadership Award to Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, "a theologian criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in that theologian’s writings." He called that decision "a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment"--that would be the one that looked like little more than investigation by Google.

Mueller couldn't bring himself to actually use Johnson's name, but everyone in the room knew that he was referring to a 2011 "critique" of her book Quest for the Living God that was published by the doctrinal committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Committee on Doctrine really disliked the book. You can tell because they claimed it "completely undermines the Gospel." But the committee's case was rather weak. It seemed to rest on false assumptions about Johnson's intent--especially on issues related to feminism, which led me to wonder whether committee members had actually read the book. They didn't even invite her to discuss their concerns before publishing their broadside. And when Johnson responded at length to the critique, the bishops on the committee replied by repeating themselves. All in all, not the finest hour for the USCCB Committee on Doctrine--and it probably would have been better for all involved if the entire episode was forgotten.

But here comes Cardinal Mueller, prefect of the CDF, to remind the LCWR that they should have known better than to provoke his criticism by daring to honor one of the most honored theologians working today. He refers to the alleged "gravity" of the "doctrinal errors" of Johnson's "writings"--which makes it sound like her entire body of work is suspect--but he doesn't name them. And neither, really, did the Committee on Doctrine. Their statement vaguely mentions "errors," but mainly it's concerned with "ambiguities." The only "error" it identifies is methodological. But as Johnson herself noted, the committee misunderstood the nature of the book, which is a work of theology, not catechesis.

Mueller knows he's tough-loving: "I apologize if this seems blunt, but what I must say is too important to dress up in flowery language." Best not to mince words. For the head of the CDF to repeat the canard that Johnsons "writings" suffer from grave doctrinal errors does a great disservice to a great theologian. Mueller is in charge of the CDF now. He's not a professor delivering a critique at a conference. If he's going to claim that a theologian's writings are doctrinally deficient--he ought to show his work, not sloppily dismiss them in an aside.

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Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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What about his other "rebukes"?About the CDF's concern over "a focalizing of attention within the LCWR around the concept of Conscious Evolution*" for example? 

Are they also to be seen as "sloppy"?  

*Whatever the hel, er I mean, heck that is.

Has she taken a public stand in favor of  the legalization of the   taking of innocent human life ,in the womb? If she has then she is indeed undermining  the Gospels and the  Christ centered teaching of the  Catholic Church  regarding the theology of the inviolate ;cannot,ethically, be violated by the individual or the state- sacredness of human life, which accords with the 5th commandmant.

Catholic theologians under Vatican investigation:  Hans Kung, Gustavo Guitierrez, Charles Curran, Leonardo Boff, Edward Schillebeeckx, Karl Rahner, Matthew Fox, Ernesto Cardenal, Raymond Hunthausen ... and now Elizabeth Johnson.  Sounds to me like Elizabeth is in good company!

This is all more about putting down and silencing a woman's voice by a bunch of aging hierarchs with very grumpy prostates.  

This is what evolutionary extinction sounds like.

Is this the same CDF that spend months upon months in painstaking, hair splitting, minutiae relative to doctrinal disputes with the SSPX that has supported and supports holocaust denying bishops and members, SSPX priests who flirt with pro-Nazi sentiments and attitudes? They have been descirbed as anti-Semitic and reject the better part of the Second Vatican Council.

Is this the same CDF that spent decades concealing and minimizing the serial rapist Marcial Macial?

 I apologize if the above seems blunt, but it is too important to dress up in flowery language.


You have to split hairs when dealing with doctrine.Otherwise you have no Catholic doctrine.It may not be pleasant,as doing so is fodder for much ridicule and criticism  but someone in the church has to do it.Over time it can make real difference in the world;the difference between a people, a society, that supports abortion, the death penalty, pre-emptive war,etc. for example, and a society that  does not.

... and what does Pope Francis think? I don't know the workings of all of this, but it surely seems contrary to the spirit that he's been generating. This may become a symbol of either his impotency in the face of the Curia or his own doctrinal rigidity inspite of his personal warmth. Either way, this is not the way to win friends and influence people. And I'm sure Gerhard Mueller may not care, but I'll be that Pope Francis does.

Regarding  religion; any statement beyond "Gods exists"; or [later in history] "God exists", is splitting hairs- in- the- weeds- minutiae.


My point is that the Bishops did not even invite Elizabeth Johnson in to clarify nor did the CDF spend marathon sessions in the office with her pouring over her texts. They did for the SSPX.

As far as I know, the CDF did not spend hours in dialogue with the LCWR but they did with the SSPX who harbour some questionable views to say the least.

If the process around how these things (meaning notations and findings against groups, speakers, and theologians) is not clear, it should at least be fair or have the appearance of fairness. This process had none of that.


@ rose-ellen caminer:  Does it surprise you that the same CDF [a.k.a. Holy Office of the Inquisition] harrumphs around splitting hairs about how Elizabeth Johnson "completely undermines the Gospel," while it never found the time to condemn Marcial Maciel of the Legion of Christ and thousands of other bishops and priests for the wanton rape and sodomy of children?

What "real difference in the world" do you think the CDF made for all those sexually abused and exploited children in the face of their assaults at the hands of Catholic priests?

Was Ratzinger as the head of the CDF one of those people who ["someone in the church has to do it"] when he successfully intervened to amend the infamous US bishops' Dallas Charter so that hierarchs and religious communities would have impunity from any investigations by review boards; who tried to limit the definition of what is a "minor" to boys under 16 y.o. and girls under 14 y.o. so that prepetrator priests who victimized older children were not the only subjects for possible sanctions by review boards; and who essentially rendered review boards toothless mainly because they had women members on the review board?

What kind of "society" sacrifices the innocence of children on the altar of clerical political hegemony?

The Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, best summed-up all the hair-splitting when he said that the Vatican looked at the world through "the gimlet eyes of a canon lawyer."

David Pasinski,

I very much doubt Pope Francis is interested in "winning friends and influencing people." 

On the contrary, the Pope has shown that he has little patience for, and therefore, has bluntly criticized those who spew the Gnostic nonsense.

And I for one am actually curious to hear what LCWR might say about the Cardinal's charge about the whole Conscious Evolution nonsense that LCWR is accused of promoting. Just what exactly did these LCWR people hope to accomplish by inviting someone like Barbara Marx Hubbard to their assembly? Just how does this "concept of conscious evolution" relate to and advance the mission of LCWR? 



This is typical of ultra-conservative Muller, who has been having a runjing battle with German bishops (Maex ... over communion for those divorced/remarried (Muller ...  He  has what I think are some icky ideas on what marriage is supposed to be  ...

There was an article at The Tablet by Hans Kung with this on Muller ... ...


In a long guest contribution in Osservatore Romano (23 October 2013), Müller demonstrated his ultra-conservative stance by corroborating the exclusion of remarried divorcees from the sacraments who, unless they live together as brother and sister (!), are ostensibly in a state of mortal sin on account of the sexual character of their relationship.

As Bishop of Regensburg, Müller, as a clerical hardliner who provoked numerous conflicts with parish priests and theologians, lay bodies and the Central Committee of German Catholics, was as controversial and unpopular as his brother bishop at Limburg. That Müller, as a loyal supporter and publisher of his collected works, was nevertheless appointed CDF Prefect by Papa Ratzinger, surprised people less than the fact that Pope Francis confirmed him in office quite so soon.

And worried observers are already asking whether Pope Emeritus Ratzinger is in fact operating as a kind of “shadow Pope” behind the scenes through Archbishop Müller and Georg Gänswein ..."

I can't understand why Francis chose him to be the head of the CDF.


I think we have to be careful about equating Cdl. Mueller's thoughts on this matter with Pope Francis'.  Remember when Mueller tried to sieze the conversation on communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.  I don't recall ever hearing Pope Francis endorse Mueller's views.  He is playing his usual game here trying to control the conversation. 

Oops.  I was writing tmy post as you were posting your fuller version, Crystal.  But you can see I agree with you fully.

I think the LCWR's only mistake was in actually meeting with Mueller. I imagine they did it because it was some kind of requirement, but, really, what good could come of it?  I think they're close to a place where they don't have much more to lose vis-a-vis the CDF. 



La plus change...  Oops, Je mehr die Dinge ändern, je mehr sie gleich bleiben.

So what's new.  Be glad yopu don't live in Connecticut where our newly appointed archbishpp (by Pope Francis) is one of the Inquisators

From Monday through Saturday, morning and afternoon, Pope Francis keeps a very heavy schedule of meetings (audiences) --- individuals, small groups, large groups. Today the Pope met with the leaders of the US Conference of Major Superiors of Men. Has a meeting with the Pope been scheduled for the representatives of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious during their time in Rome?

Good article Grant.  You did omit pointing out that Mueller is the creator of all the warped and sick reasoning why women cannot be deacon or priests.  I read Sr. Johnson's book and all of the correspondence between her and the USCCB.  I found "Quest for the Living God" to be an outstanding theology book.  I think the criticism was entirely political and was done in order to silence a woman theologian.  Sr. Johnson quotes the feminine side of God from Scripture and did a couple of good backhanded swipes about the bishops.  There is nothing heretical about that.  For my part, it was the final straw.  I can't swallow the hypocrisy and discrimination any further.  After 50 plus years of being a Catholic, I have left the Church.  One day these men will stand before God. I hope He/She asks them:

"Why didn't you use all of the gifted people I gave you to further my Kingom?"

In an excellent post, Crystal pointed out that this is nothing new with Muller. Remember that Francis sent two encouraging letters to Hans Kuns. Kung got nothing from JPII in his 27 years of office. When asked by Spiegel whether this is the beginning of a "Catholic Spring?"  Kung replied: "It's already here, but there is the same risk of setbacks and counter-movements as there have been with the Arab Spring. There are powerful groups in the Vatican and the church around the world that would like to turn back the clock. They're worried about their privileges."

So it may not be Muller alone but others. Spiegel asked Kung about Muller. Here is the text: 

"SPIEGEL: But Francis has also reconfirmed Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, a hard-liner, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's watchdog and enforcer on issues of accepted doctrine.

Küng: I could imagine that Benedict strongly campaigned for keeping Müller in the position. But the litmus test will be whether the new pope continues to allow him to play overseer of the faith and grand inquisitor."

So much going on here. Is Muller's group waiting to see how Francis reacts. Francis is a very deliberative person. Muller's other remarks have to a certain extent gone under the radar. Muller does not tell the Leadersip of the nuns that Francis directed him. He merely refers them to an address Francis gave.

Francis is a very deliberative person. I doubt if he will remove Mueller. But the tone towards the Nun's leadership might suddenly change. Interesting that the Nun's leadership had no comment.

Maybe Beth Johnson will get a call from you know who!



Guess I will have to try and get "The Quest for the Living God" through interlibrary loan to see what all the fuss is about.  So far I haven't read of anything that ought to get it on the Index (sort of sounds like they resurrected it).  One objection seems to be that Dr. Johnson images God as being present in creation. I thought that we believed that God is both immanent and transcendent.  Another objection is her discussion of "Conscious Evolution".  Which I don't know anything about; however the definition I found is, "Conscious evolution suggests that humanity can choose advancement through co-operation and co-creation or self-destruction through separateness and competition." Which seems true enough and would only be a problem if one left the grace of God out of the equation. There is a lack of specificity in the critiques.

BTW, has anyone read her new book, "Ask the Beasts"?

I've not read any of her books, but saw this video lecture by her  -  "An Ecological Inquiry:  Jesus and the Cosmos"

Crystal calls Mueller an "archconservative" and a "clerical hardliner" to the enthusiastic agreement of many other commenters above. This makes me wonder about the terms of comparison by which this judgment is made. From the attempts to isolate and smear Mueller as a public enemy, it sounds like the CDF ordinarily is a liberal body that approves of dissenting positions, which has suddenly and inexplicably been given a prefect plucked from the far right wing. Well, of course that's not the case.

There are truly archconservative persons who rose to promienence under Benedict XVI. They have labored mightily to roll back the liturgical reform. Mueller, on the other hand, has spoken out in support of the liturgical reform -- in no uncertain terms -- to the utter dismay of the traditionalists. 

In his capacity as head of the CDF, Mueller was responsible for overseeing the negotiations with the Society of Pius X. Under his leadership those negotiations came to an end without their demands being met. The SSPX hated him from the git-go, because he would not give in to their views. If he were truly an archconservative, he would have been much more maleable to their demands.

Mueller certainly is no more conservative than his predecessors at the CDF, and possibly less so. Who expects him to approve of divorced and remarried persons receiving the Eucharist? Show me another head of the CDF that has approved of this idea. There are none. 

Levada, his predecessor, ordered the investigation of women religious. Mueller did not do this, nor has he ordered a similar investigation elsewhere. What he is talking about here is upholding the American bishops' doctrinal assessment of Sr. Johnson's work.

Is this an extremist's position, or just the reflexive reaction of someone who thinks the bishops ought to be respected in their judgment? Sure, it's fair to criticize him for taking their word for it (if indeed, he didn't read the book himself; it's also not beyond imagining that he might have read the book and found fault with it). Stand up for the theologian and for freedom of theological inquiry, by all means. But we need to keep this in perspective. When you look at the whole gallery, somebody like Raymond Burke has done much more damage to the church than Mueller has. It seems to me that Mueller is a mainstream conservative churchman, and not the worst of the bunch at that. We misread the situation if we wring our hands about why hasn't Francis removed him.

Mueller brought Gustavo Guttierez to the Vatican, and is favorable to his work. I cannot think of another head of the CDF who has had a good word to say about liberation theology. Can anyone else point to another CDF head who did anything like this? Just sayin'.

The original post says:

"Mueller knows he's tough-loving: "I apologize if this seems blunt, but what I must say is too important to dress up in flowery language." Best not to mince words. For the head of the CDF to repeat the canard that Johnsons "writings" suffer from grave doctrinal errors does a great disservice to a great theologian."

But the statement quoted here about bluntness is explicitly directed to "Conscious Evolution" and Barbara Marx Hubbard, not to Sr. Johnson. It's the second of his two points. Here's what he says:

"For the last several years, the Congregation has been following with increasing concern a focalizing of attention within the LCWR around the concept of Conscious Evolution. Since Barbara Marx Hubbard addressed the Assembly on this topic two years ago, every issue of your newsletter has discussed Conscious Evolution in some way. Issues of Occasional Papers have been devoted to it. We have even seen some religious Institutes modify their directional statements to incorporate concepts and undeveloped terms from Conscious Evolution."

It's then that he says he is being blunt. I don't see that this is a criticism of Sr. Johnson. And actually, if every issue of their newsletter, and occasional papers, and revision of directional statements are all falling into line with the ideas of Conscious Evolution, and if Conscious Evolution is post-Christian, this is a serious issue, no? I defer to people who know something about BMH.

My read of the post, however, was that Grant was defending Sr. Johnson, not Barbara Marx Hubbard. 


All fair points and well taken. However, the distinction you draw between Mueller's criticism being blunt and Sr. Johnson seems to be a distinction without a difference. 

I admit to not having read Sr. Johnson's book but will when I get time but I do think that it is fair to say that she is, to us an imprecise albeit accurate term, a fellow traveller on that road. And of course there is nothing wrong with that; it is a matter of degree, definition and understanding.

It appears that, according to the LCWR the meeting with the staff at the CDF was respectful and engaging. They issued a public statement.

So, that is good. Hope for peaceful and serene resolution.

However, and this is a big however, from what I have read the process surrounding CDF investigations and even the USCCB's were anything but transparent, respectful, or engaging with the theologians with whom they had questions.

It is good to have a countervailing view to prevent swings in one direction or the other and I can see the CDF or committees of Bishops serving in this important role. The process, though, does need to be respectful. In this instance, it appears that it was but that might have more to do with the style of person heading it (i.e. Mueller) than it does the process itself. And this is not a good thing. There needs to be systemic, procedural reform as well.


I am glad that flirtation with the SSPX is over and done with! They are a destructive crew.


It was not I who wrote Muller was ""archconservative" and a "clerical hardliner" ... I was quoting Hans Kung's article in The Tablet.  I give the URL for that in my comment above -

Sorry, Crystal. What you said @ 4:12 was "ultraconservative" - I got that mixed up with "archconservative"  in the Kueng story. 


Yes, I see what you mean.  I have considered him a very conservative person based on what he's said about marriage and the possibility of women's ordination.  But the fact that he is mostly ok with liberation theology and that he didn't accept the SSPX uncritically does seem to show he isn't a conservative in all areas.  Given his views on marriage and women's odination and now  this nuns/Johnson thing, perhaps he has some issues with women.


That's quite possible. I don't deny that he's a social (and theological) conservative, mind you. It's just that I'd place him as sort of a mainstream conservative, not a restorationist or traditionalist or ultraconservative. I've never seen him in a cappa magna. He does not blame Vatican II for the falloff in vocations or church attendance. Etc.

George D,

I couldn't agree with you more about the process. It really does need to be changed, and changed systemically.

Thanks for the link to the LCWR response! 

Rita Ferrone @ 10:47pm and follow-ups:

if every issue of their newsletter, and occasional papers, and revision of directional statements are all falling into line with the ideas of Conscious Evolution, and if Conscious Evolution is post-Christian, this is a serious issue, no?


This is a sad mess, but, for how things have devolved into this incredibly stinky mess, LCWR is hardly blameless, IMO. They really need to, once and for all, as Pope Francis said to Latin American religious, "Explain whatever you have to explain" in this regard -- and again I will say, this Consious Evolution thing is something that warrants explanation from LCWR -- in order to move forward. 

It's even sadder to see how divisive this issue remains among the faithful. Those on the more "traditional" side are rejoicing at this "CDF crackdown on the dissident nuns who are the worst offenders of the history of the church"; those on the more "liberal" side, on the other hand, are of course screaming, "CDF is Persecuting the Good Nuns who can do no wrong," conflating all kinds of issues along the way, of course. 

One can only hope and pray that this too shall pass.


Dear Folks,
It is hard for me to take anything said by a bishop "as bishop" very seriously at all. Collectively, these men are paranoid and full of fear. Who cares if an adult Catholic reads and reflects on the work of a thoughtful theologian like Beth Johnson? The church is none the worse for it, or can the bishops prove otherwise? As for the bishops (again, collectively), one might venture to say that the church today is far worse because of them. And we could all prove that quite easily. As for me, I read what I want and make my own informed judgment, when judgment is required. When an inbred, closed-in bunch of men spend time and energy parsing (or, it appears, merely skimming the Cliffs Notes) of a theologian's work, while their own lives---from their often-ridiculous outfits, to their pompous titles, to their utterly reproachable lack of repentance for unconscionable crimes---make one (or make me, at least) wonder what "gospel" they are actually reading, their opinions should hardly even register. For if they have missed in large part the central "theology" of the mission of Jesus and the most fundamental message of the Gospel (and I don't mean the "parallel gospels" like the ones written by JP II, for example), then how can they possibly be trusted to "get" theological work that actually springs from freedom and trust in the work of the Holy Spirit, even if that work is only partial, tentative and open to further development and correction? Collectively, these men are blind guides.

One more thing: they are worried about the LCWR honoring Beth Johnson? Where was that concern when "saint" JPII was heaping honor after honor on the likes of Maciel? Like I said, BLIND GUIDES.


Not only have the prelatial players missed the boat on the distinction between catechesis and theology, they seem utterly lost on the long battle between clergy and women outside the cloister. This tussle is embarrassing. Women religious don't need an organization recognized by Rome to meet in conferences, read books, and have discussions.

@ Todd Flowerday,

Women religious don't need an organization recognized by Rome to meet in conferences, read books, and have discussions.

Would you have felt and said the same thing if the invited key note speaker at their conferences was someone who opposes Vatican II, and if they are reading books about and supporting SSPX's line of thinking and have discussions? 



Maria makes a good point.  At what benchmark do the "rebukes" cease, and consequences applied?

Maria makes a good point.  At what benchmark do the "rebukes" cease, and consequences applied?

Yes, I would. These people are adults. They get to pick their own conference speakers, topics, and such. They can go to conferences with or without an umbrella organization. If LCWR folds, so what?

From Cardinal Mueller's address:

[The LCWR's honoring Elizabeth Johnson] is a decision that will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment. Not only that, but it further alienates the LCWR from the Bishops as well.  I realize I am speaking rather bluntly about this, but I do so out of an awareness that there is no other interpretive lens, within and outside the Church, through which the decision to confer this honor will be viewed. 

In other words, it is Cardinal Mueller's view that the LCWR is honoring Johnson in order to stick a thumb in the eye of the Holy See.  And he may not be wrong.

The Cardinal continues:

It is my understanding that Archbishop Sartain [the "Delegate" appointed by the CDF to work with the LCWR to fix the problems identified in the CDF's assessment] was informed of the selection of the honoree only after the decision had been made. Had he been involved in the conversation as the Mandate envisions, I am confident that he would have added an important element to the discernment which then may have gone in a different direction. The decision taken by the LCWR during the ongoing implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment is indeed regrettable and demonstrates clearly the necessity of the Mandate’s provision that speakers and presenters at major programs will be subject to approval by the Delegate. I must therefore inform you that this provision is to be considered fully in force.

To summarize: Mueller just escalated the conflict.  The LCWR is now officially grounded and can't take the car out for a drive without asking Dad for the keys.  

I see no evidence that Francis is going to intervene on the women's behalf.  The only evidence I've seen so far is that Francis approves of these sanctions against the LCWR.  

The level of mutual distrust is really disturbing.  This does not seem to be going down a path that is going to lead to reconciliation and peace.  


Jim Pauwels,

I think you are seriously overstating the case.  Müller said that Pope Francis approved of the CDF Mandate against LCWR.  I have not seen any documentation that puts Pope Francis on the record of approving of the Mandate.  

I suggest that you cool your heels for a while, for this story is not over yet.  LCWR has hardly been grounded.  This latest exchange is, as the LCWR  statement says, a continuation of a dialogue.  Now, let me ask you this, Do you want LCWR to be grounded?


When did doctrinal enforcement ever lead to reconciliation and peace? ISTM that any agency charged with defending the conventional wisdom will always and everywhere be potentially at odds with anyone who attempts to re-phrase the conventional wisdom or to ask questions not already answered. Because being at odds with them is its job. You can't talk the traffic cop into waiving the red light.

Any pastoral result has be imposed at a level above over doctrine enforcers.


I haven't read all theosts so I don't kow if you've read Elizabeth Johnson's works or various commentaries as I have. I have not seen the specific objections from Mueller and others and don't even know if they are avaialable... and they won't engage her personally...That's less of a forum  than even Martin Luther received!

And I do believe that Pope Francis does want to "Win friends and influence people." Read "The Joy of the Gospel." It is full of that invitation! I am not saying he is comromising doctrine, but the spirit in which this has ben done and continues to play out is counter to the whole "Francis effect" and will chill many who were hoping for better...

@ Todd Flowerday,

Yes, I would. These people are adults.


Well, I guess we disagree then. For I do not think "these people" should do whatever they want, NOT when they purport to be the leaders of and therefore, represent 80 percent of the the Catholic nuns in the U.S. 

And if doing whatever regardless of the possible ramifications of their actions and decisions, is what they really want --- and I don't believe for a second that they do -- then surely, "these people" might as well follow the SSPX out the door and move onto the land of schism, where they will indeed be able to whatever the heck they want.

As an aside, does anyone remember how the "rad trads" got their panties in a bunch when B16 first appointed Cardinal Muller as the prefect of CDF, because they saw him as "a flaming heretic"?

If this whole situation weren't so tragic, it might be the joke of the century. 


Many thanks to Rita Ferrone for her comments.  I also don't know much about Conscious Evolution, and the little bit I've been looking at over the past day seems to go from the innocuous (living in relation to all of creation and the cosmos) to what really does seem to be an anti-body, and thus anti-Christian, ideology of trans-humanism.  But there does seem to be quite enough variety to allow legitimate exploration, and Mueller's attempt to shut it down strikes me as premature.  Still, unlike the silliness about Professor Johnson, there may be some actual fire behind this particular smoke.

On the question of Francis keeping Mueller, I wonder if part of all this isn't that Francis has already begun a pretty radical de-centering of the CDF from the church's life.  It seems pretty clear that under this pontificate, the CDF is no longer La Suprema.  Just last night Cardinal Kasper vocally criticized him (see Grant's post on the Fordham conversation), many German bishops are openly disagreeing with him about divorce and remarriage, and he himself seems to be coming close to openly disagreeing with the pope on the topic.  This actually strikes me as quite healthy: grown-ups are able to have a grown-up conversation about the church's belief and practice without fear of being raked over the coals.  In this light, Mueller is just one man in charge of an important--but not all important--office who is giving his opinion, but not necessarily the official policy of Rome.  The LCWR's account of the conversation with the CDF would bear this out, I think.  He may be harsh in his comments, but so far they are really just that: comments.

Not sure why you asked me the question, then.

The fact is that women religious have freedom. They can meet, discuss, read, and do all sorts of things you, the CDF, the bishops or I might agree or disagree with. We are all powerless.

I'm far more concerned about living my own Christian life than sticking my nose into conferences I don't attend.

It is a joke. Ecclesial power is mostly illusory. Especially in this situation.

Mueller said that if Sartain had been informed, Johnson may not have been chosen. He said he would not attempt to undo the invitation to Johnson but said that Sartain must have final say over next year’s LCWR convention, adding that the Vatican mandate is now “fully in force.”

Can this be acceptable?  Should it be accepted?  If this is how things are going to work, what's left of the LCWR's autonomy?

Heaven knows I am no theologian.  I'd lose a debate with either Sr Elizabeth or Cardinal Mueller before it began.  But does this who thing strike anyone else as slightly childish?  Somewhat an  "in your face" move by the LCWR and an I'll show those uppity women move by the Cardinal?  Of all the people who are worthy of an award from LCWR, they picked one who is currently in a fight with the bishops, at a time when their own organization is in another fight with the bishops.  Not to say she is not deserving, but maybe you give her the award in 2016, when things have calmed down a little.  Maybe Cardinal Mueller just lets this one go, regardless of the alleged "slight."  but both of those decisions would assume that grown ups were in charge and not a bunch of kids trying to play king (or queen) or the hill.

@ Todd Flowerday,

Well, I asked because generally, I agree with your thinking, but not in this case, so I was curious to hear what you thought. 

Yes, women religious have freedom. Of course, they do. Having freedom, however, doesn't mean one can do whatever one pleases -- well duh.

And I care about what's going on with LCWR, what they do, why, and to what effect, because they are my sisters, our sisters -- well duh, again -- and also and more importantly, because this affects not just them, but so many others who may or may not have anything to do with LCWR's decisions and actions. 



@ Jim Dunn,

But does this who thing strike anyone else as slightly childish?  Somewhat an  "in your face" move by the LCWR and an I'll show those uppity women move by the Cardinal?


Yes. Seriously, both sides need to grow (the eff) up, and take to heart what their boss has said: Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?  




Can this be acceptable?  Should it be accepted?  If this is how things are going to work, what's left of the LCWR's autonomy?

The RNS article had to summarize what Müller said. I think the sisters will go with the last sentence that says Sartain will be involved in the discussion rather than that he will have the final word. 

Had he been involved in the conversation as the Mandate envisions, I am confident that he would have added an important element to the discernment which then may have gone in a different direction. The decision taken by the LCWR during the ongoing implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment is indeed regrettable and demonstrates clearly the necessity of the Mandate’s provision that speakers and presenters at major programs will be subject to approval by the Delegate. I must therefore inform you that this provision is to be considered fully in force. I do understand that the selection of honorees results from a process, but this case suggests that the process is itself in need of reexamination. I also understand that plans for this year’s Assembly are already at a very advanced stage and I do not see the need to interrupt them. However, following the August Assembly, it will be the expectation of the Holy See that Archbishop Sartain have an active role in the discussion about invited speakers and honorees.

Alan Mitchell @ 9:39

I agree this is over-stating the case, if only for the fact that the honoring of Sr. Johnson stands. He / they could have demanded that the honor be rescinded. It has been done in other instances, Not here. If he truly believed she was undermining all of Christian doctrine, wouldn't it have been necessary to demand retraction or apply new sanctions? Neither has been done.

Another face-off between Cardinals Müller and Kasper:

Cardinal Walter Kasper, tonight at Fordham University, was asked about feminist theologians by an audience member through M. Cathleen Kaveny: “I esteem both Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza and Elizabeth Johnson,” he said. Asked about the church’s recent critique of Sister Johnson: “This is not a tragedy…St. Thomas Aquinas was suspect, too. She is in good company.”

Francis praised Kasper in his first Angelus address after his election:

In the past few days I have been reading a book by a Cardinal — Cardinal Kasper, a clever theologian, a good theologian — on mercy. And that book did me a lot of good, but do not think I am promoting my cardinals’ books! Not at all! Yet it has done me so much good, so much good... Cardinal Kasper said that feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just.

in the original Italian, "a clever theolgian" is "un teologo in gamba"

Alan - I note that David G's take in his RNS piece on the portion of Mueller's address that I highlighted in my comment, seems to be roughly the same as mine.  (Many thanks to Gene for providing the link.)

You asked me, "Do you want LCWR to be grounded?"  No.  Nor do I want them to deserve grounding.   The only grounding I would want would be that they be grounded in the Gospel, and also grounded in their ecclesial identity.  The latter does (in my view) presuppose a formal and spiritual connection - communion may not be too strong a word - with the church, which necessarily includes the church authorities.  Notionally, I don't have an issue with the church authorities exercising their authority over the LCWR.  That doesn't mean that anything and everything the authorities do to the LCWR is for the best.  

Mueller's remarks suggest that the Holy See and Sartain would like to work with the LCWR collaboratively.  I suspect that, from the LCWR's point of view, if Sartain must sit in on all their meetings, collaboration is the least bad option.  There is an implication/threat in all this that Sartain could stop being a peer and start becoming a parent if the Holy See deems that necessary.


It might sound childish but I take a different view. I have always admired the Chinese custom of saving face. I think it is civilized, well-mannered, and our politics would be very much enriched if it was more a part of our culture in all respect.

The issue of honouring Sr. Johnson, according to Muller (reading between the lines) might have less to do with major doctrinal issues that the CDF might have than it does with face-saving. He is saying that the sisters should have saved the face of the Bishops and not honoured someone they questioned the same year. And I think he is trying to save the face of the sisters by saying that the provision around approving speakers is not meant to imply that they have veto power:

This provision has been portrayed as heavy-handed interference in the day-to-day activities of the Conference. For its part, the Holy See would not understand this as a “sanction,” but rather as a point of dialogue and discernment.

Hopefully, this is actually true and it appears that they had based on the statement from the LCWR a respectful and engaging private meeting. I can only assume that these issues were discussed and some kind of informal consensus was reached.



It appears to me that Herr Mueller is positioning himself to please the Burkes et al who most likely by now are (1) doing what they can to ensure that Francis' ideas and proposed changes fail (are they the Tea Party version of Catholicism battling Pope "Obama?") and (2) running to be Francis' replacement upon his death/retirement.

I'm just disapoointd that Pope Francis would allow this disrespect to the LCWR and thus insult many religous women. This does not bode well for the rest of his "serve the poor" agenda when you insult those on the front lines of service.


Barbara Marx Hubbard on Conscience Evolution:

I don't know how many folks who are reacting negatively to the idea have read her.

And I don't know if the LCWR members have adopted her ideas carte blanche, either as an organization or individually.

The best way to promote ideas is to condemn them.  But Catholicism has a history of finding that out, doesn't it?

My phrasing @ 2:45 was faulty.  It should have been this:

It appears to me that Herr Mueller is (1) positioning himself to please the Burkes et al who most likely by now are doing what they can to ensure that Francis' ideas and proposed changes fail (are they the Tea Party version of Catholicism battling Pope "Obama?") and (2) running to be Francis' replacement upon his death/retirement.




Really agree on the "saving face."  And that is what both sides had the opportunity to do here.  The Sisters, childishly in my view, gave their award to someone they knew would raise the hackles of at least some among the hierarchy.  Congratulations to them.  They got a rise out of Cardinal Mueller.  And the good Cardinal, instead of letting this one just go by, maybe if he needed to do something, quietly put out the word to the LCWR that they've used their free pass, he decides he needs to make a big deal about it.  And managed to give them exactly what they wanted.  Of course, now he is going to release Sartain on them more aggressivley, but that's the price they pay.  Really, this is the kind of behavior I'd expect from a bunch of Jr. High kids.  Or maybe 6th graders.  Not leaders of major Church organizations. 

Jim D - I've had the same thought; in fact, I had contemplated commenting, "a pox on both their houses."  But of course these aren't juvenile antics, and the stakes are quite high.

The power relationship here is unequal.  In such a situation, the one without power may use symbolic acts or gestures as a way to show that she is unbowed.  You may have seen the reports, in the wake of the Donald Sterling racism affair, that his team wore their warm-up shirts inside out.  Sterling owns their contracts; he had all the power.  Yet they let him know that they would not accept him and his attitudes.  It was a very simple gesture yet it communicated something that caught people's imaginations.


"Last June, he told a group of priests and sisters from Latin America not to worry too much if they get a critical letter from Mueller’s office, but to deal with it and move on. The pope also retained officials at Vatican congregations who are seen as more sympathetic to the LCWR."

The above is from David Gibson in his RNS article. That appears to be what the nun's leadership is doing. Remember there is the blatant example of the Curia undermining John XXIII by writing Veterum Sapientia which was to supposed to re-institute Latin and ban all vernacular. John XXIII even took part in the ceremony promoting the ban even tho he was opposed to it.

This is heavy stuff. Akin to things like:

             People start believing things only after Washington officially denies it. The best thing to do with a directive from Rome is to ignore it--they will soof forget it...etc.  Saving face goes on all the time.



Can you add to this list?


Jim P.,

You think the nuns should wear their habits inside out? Do they still even wear them outside out?

And then the cardinal could respond by wearing his red hat backwards. Do red hats come with bills, like baseball caps?

After that, I think a hearty exchange of "nyah, nyah, nyah" and "you're another" should clear the air and settle this matter amicably.

It may be best to reserve the pox for more intractable cases, which are surely coming.

Do they still even wear them outside out?

John - no, I believe they got out of the habit.


Pay attention to Herr Muller --- but ignore him in the end.  Some folks learn the hard way:  Gerhard is one such fella.

Please don't leave. We need you and your voice. The presence of jerks in leadership is never a sufficient reason to leave - if it were, the USA would be losing many citizens. Who can separate us from the love of Christ? The USCCB? The CDF?

Ellen-- Please don't give up. We need you.

"2) running to be Francis' replacement upon his death/retirement."

Jim McC.=

Yah.  Looks like it.  Sigh.

This is all more about putting down and silencing a woman's voice by a bunch of aging hierarchs with very grumpy prostates

I find the speculative attribution of motives to others particularly unenlightening. 

A Sister was on an Ethics Committee and allowed an abortion in a Catholic Hospital in Denver.  She was excommunicated by Bishop Chaput. Did she know the teaching of the Church?  Did she know what Bishop Chaput would decide if he was asked?   Did she hide it from him? Did she dissent?   Did she believe she was the teaching authority?  Was it a poke in the eye to Church authority?  

Ellen, I made that hard decision a few years ago.  It is not an easy decision nor an easy course to follow, but it may be demanded by conscience.

Janet, thanks for your comments.

James Sullivan, are you referring to the case in Phoenix or a different case?

Perhaps it's time for the sisters to move to a new model - or perhaps to adapt an old model to the current situation - a 21st century version of the Beguines maybe?

Sounds like another hard-line and fading worshiper of the status-quo.  Mueller needs to get more exercise, eat less, shed weight, and engage more with younger members of his faith.

I realize that most of our current hierarchy were selected on the basis of their orthodoxy, but I truly hope at least a few of them are uncomfortable with the stance in which they find themselves.  One cannot look at any organization today in which power is wielded only by men.  To then accuse women of theological error for not liking the situation is disingenuous. Imagine the ability to take any group of people, label them inferior, and then take them to task for failing to agree.  Yes, I know, women are supposedly valued; they all say so.  Here is another idea that failed to work:  separate, but equal. 

I concur, Jim Jenkins.

You are perceptive, Ms. McGee.  In theory, the church values and even worships women.  In practice, the regard is for women ina position of of abstraction and powerlessness. Real power, doctrinal and policy power, is in the sexist male hierarchy.

 "Here is another idea that failed to work:  separate, but equal."

Jacqueline ==

That's too, too true :-( 

"Eventually, as envisioned and expressed by Sri Aurobindo, we can expect to evolve from the mental phase of understanding to the supramental, which is a state of direct awareness from the consciousness force within us. When this happens, universal intelligence descends so fully into our body/minds that we become direct expressions of the Consciousness that is creating us. Self-Evolution is the evolution of Creative Consciousness."

This sort of stuff is not much unorthodox as a vacuous. It is new age gush and it is in bad taste. 

I wish Prof. Johnson would offer a scathing critique of the new age nonsense.

Not so much unorthodox as vacuous -- sticky mental jelly in fact.  She preaches the continuity of consciousness through many bodies as the universe accumulates experience, and that we are cocreators with the process of creation on a universal scale -- ultimately we are doing this not in our current bodies but in light-bodies, which consciousness can materialize. "I do not want to die and forget" -- my metaphysical preferences can become evolutionary choices. "Intuitive knowledge that the crisis is leading to a higher level of being... our crisis is a birth... evolution by choice not chance... "  Bacteria figured out how to develop life, the mysteries of photosynthesis -- so humans can be masters of evolution in the same way -- and this apparently entails eugenics: “"Out of the full spectrum of human personality, one-fourth is electing to transcend... One-fourth is ready to so choose, given the example of one other... One-fourth is resistant to election. They are unattracted by life ever-evolving. One-fourth is destructive. They are born angry with God... They are defective seeds... There have always been defective seeds. In the past they were permitted to die a ‘natural death’... We, the elders, have been patiently waiting until the very last moment before the quantum transformation, to take action to cut out this corrupted and corrupting element in the body of humanity. It is like watching a cancer grow... Now, as we approach the quantum shift from creature-human to co-creative human—the human who is an inheritor of god-like powers—the destructive one-fourth must be eliminated from the social body. We have no choice, dearly beloveds. Fortunately you, dearly beloveds, are not responsible for this act. We are. We are in charge of God’s selection process for planet Earth. He selects, we destroy. We are the riders of the pale horse, Death. We come to bring death to those who are unable to know God... The riders of the pale horse are about to pass among you. Grim reapers, they will separate the wheat from the chaff. This is the most painful period in the history of humanity."

Barbara Marx Hubbard explains that embarrassing quote as follows: "ontacted her to get to the truth. This is her response: 

"Dear Foster: thanks so much for checking this with me.
Here is what happened. Some writing I did on the New Testament was published, dealing with the book of Revelation. In it, the main theme I received is that there is an alternative to the Armageddon story. It is a gentle path, a planetary birth experience; there is no need whatsoever for this degree of destruction. The book was written for all those “who feel called from within to act out the loving birth of humanity, and who have some sort of pre-patterned predisposition toward this more loving path.
Unfortunately, the passage quoted, which is a paraphrase of the Revelation itself, was attributed to me as though I was advocating it. I was advocating the exact opposite... Barbara"

According to Sr. Ilia Delio (, whereas Barbara Marx Hubbard has her own development of Conscious Evolution, the driving force behind the LCWR understanding comes from one of the originators of the idea, Teilhard de Chardin, whose theology is far from vacuous.  I am surprised that the Prefect of CDF is not familiar with this theology.  Perhaps he should spend less time reading Ann Carey at The National Catholic Register ( and do his homework on which theology the LCWR is following.

From Sr. Ilia: "Religious women and men around the world are catching Teilhard’s fire; it is igniting a new passion for the Gospel, new meaning of Christian life in a world of change. "

She does not claim that religious men and wome are catching Barbara Marx Hubbard's fire.

Teilard was censured by Rome in his lifetime, as I remember.  I wonder what Francis, also a Jesuit, thinks of him.

As I see him, he appreciated the complexity and beauty of the world, but he did have some Platonic/mystical leanings that overemphasized unity and was, therefore, inclined to pantheism if not definitely a pantheist who saw all identified in the end in the "Omega point".

All this makes for interesting reading. I'm far from a theologian, but now I will, for sure do what I have long intended-- read Elizabeth Johnson's book. I may or may not understand it, but it's worth a try.

On another note, I recall Pope Framcis' cheerleading a group of young people, telling them  to "make a mess." Maybe our good sisters are just following his lead, whether he intended the message for them or not.

However it plays out, I'm cheerlng for the nuns. They've done the heavy lifting for our church for hundreds of years and it's high time they quit hiding the brains they have in their heads.

There seems to be a plethora of pronouncements from Rome that are contrary to the commentary and direction we are getting from Pope Francis. The ambiguity and disconnects appear to be feeding the spirit of mistrust that the LCWR spokeswoman expressed after the chastizement given by the CDF. There are two different spheres of influence orbiting in the Vatican and it is plainly scary. The confusion among the faithful could turn out to be costly. Maybe the notion of a "smaller, purer Church" coming to pass--despite the duty that responsible followers have to build up the body of Christ. I wish Pope Francis health and long life. He will need both to do the reform he has promised under the chaotic conditions that now prevail.

I am in favor of all you say. But add one more thing: a good responsible and simply stated enumeration of where the notion of conscious evolution destroys faith. I have the funny feeling that such an explanation would sound pretty shaky. Just a little help here for the people who are conscientious but less sophisticated.  Maybe it hurts the swollen heads in the Vatican to hear that Elizabeth Johnson is regarded as one of the leading theologians.

Churck --

I fear that Pope Francis is part of the problem.  Yesterday he told a group of seminarians that "But if you don't want Our Lady as a mother, you will have her as a mother-in-law and that's not good," hesaid to laughter and applause

.Priesthood is not a business, monarchy, orphanage, pope tells students

Hardly an indication that he avoids stereotypes of strong women.  Sigh.

This IS Women's Theology, not a Theology of Women written and dictated by men!!  EJ is a major thinker and articualte and mart and SHOULD be honored by the LCWR, oh, and maybe even the Vatican if they would get real and treat women as equals instead of subordinates!!  The day is here when they all look a bit ridiculous--who are the children here?  Definitely not the LCWR!!

The men need to grow up and understand that God is not male only, that Christ was not just for a male church.  Women have been a part of the church for 2,000, but I think these guys have forgotten that, conveniently.  We need to retrieve the goddess because she's just as valid.  The days of a silent virgin are over! Our hearts are speaking loud and clear, our faith is in tune with the heart voice; we can no longer be silent becaue the chruch IS HALF OURS--WE ARE HALF THE WORLD.  WE are not going away and we will no longer be silent standing in the shadows--its too cold and we need to be the light just as much!!

We know who and what we are--children of a God who loves us more than our wildest dreams and we are Imago Dei, not distorted souls coming out of an Adam's rib.  We are equal as science tells us of 26 female and 26 male genes--all of us--equal. 

Get over it Muller and take some responsibility for your own actions and give these women their due because they are in the trenches doing the work you do not want todo, they have been there and they know God's face.  God loves us as much as he loves you.

As the saying goes--women will be women!!!  It's all we know!

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