Sr. Pat Farrell's address to the LCWR

The presidential address Pat Farrell, OSF, delivered yesterday to the 2012 assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is online for you to read: "Navigating the Shifts." (That link will take you to a page where you can download the .pdf.) It's prayerful, thoughtful, calm -- about what you'd expect, in other words, given the sisters' responses to controversy in recent months. Not reactionary, but still strong. Here are some significant passages, which to me are good reminders of what it is Catholics have come to admire so much about the sisters, and of what's valuable in their particular form of witness to life in Christ:

There is an inherent existential tension between the complementary roles of hierarchy and religious which is not likely to change. In an ideal ecclesial world, the different roles are held in creative tension, with mutual respect and appreciation, in an enviroment of open dialogue, for the building up of the whole Church. The doctrinal assessment suggests that we are not currently living in an ideal ecclesial world.


Considering again the large and small shifts of our time, what would a prophetic response to the doctrinal assessment look like? I think it would be humble, but not submissive; rooted in a solid sense of ourselves, but not self-righteous; truthful, but gentle and absolutely fearless. It would ask probing questions. Are we being invited to some appropriate pruning, and would we open to it? Is this doctrinal assessment process an expression of concern or an attempt to control? Concern is based in love and invites unity. Control through fear and intimidation would be an abuse of power. Does the institutional legitimacy of canonical recognition empower us to live prophetically? Does it allow us the freedom to question with informed consciences? Does it really welcome feedback in a Church that claims to honor the sensus fidelium, the sense of the faithful?


We who are in positions of leadership are constantly challenged to honor awide spectrum of opinions. We have learned a lot about creating community from diversity, and about celebrating differences. We have come to trust divergent opinions as powerful pathways to greater clarity. Our commitment to community compels us to do that, as together we seek the common good. We have effectively moved from a hierarchically structured lifestyle in our congregations to a more horizontal model. It is quite amazing, considering the rigidity from which we evolved. The participative structures and collaborative leadership models we have developed have been empowering, lifegiving. These models may very well be the gift we now bring to the Church and the world.

Mollie Wilson O’​Reilly is editor-at-large and columnist at Commonweal.

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