Before there was a Vatican

Before there were curial congregations, there were various authorities. There were monastic communities. There were Benedictines. Two recent events remind us of the importance of both the traditional understandings of authority and the spiritual wisdom required to exercise them in today’s church.

* The first event is the decision of Sister Christine Vladimiroff, O.S.B., prioress of the Erie Benedictines, to refuse an order from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Consecrated Life to prohibit Sister Joan Chittister, a member of her community, from participating in the Women’s Ordination Worldwide Conference in Dublin, Ireland, at the end of June.

In a statement defending her decision and that of the community, the prioress wrote: "After much deliberation and prayer, I concluded that I would decline the request of the Vatican. It is out of the Benedictine, or monastic, tradition of obedience that I formed my decision. There is a fundamental difference in the understanding of obedience in the monastic tradition and that which is being used by the Vatican to exert power and control and prompt a false sense of unity inspired by fear. Benedictine authority and obedience are achieved through dialogue between a community member and her prioress in a spirit of co-responsibility. The role of the prioress in a Benedictine community is to be a guide in the seeking of God. While lived in community, it is the...

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