Archbishop J. Peter Sartain who recently addressed the priests and seminarians here in St. Louis has been appointed to lead the renewal of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).
In April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI commissioned the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to conduct an assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group composed of the major superiors of about 80% of religious congregations of women here in the United States. The assessment was undertaken by the CDF because of concerns with doctrinal errors found in addresses at LCWR assemblies, in their policies of Corporate dissent from the Holy See, and in evidences of radical feminism incompatible with Catholic faith.
Cardinal William Joseph Levada, head of the CDF, recently met with representatives of the LCWR to give them the CDF’s Final Assessment. It revealed “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in Consecrated Life. On the doctrinal level, this crisis is characterized by a diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecrations which leads, in turn, to a loss of a ‘constant and lively sense of the Church’ among some Religious.” Many Catholics have been aware of the growing tendency among some nuns in prominent positions to posit their own consciences as their ultimate authority, even if it differs from the constant teaching of the Church. An example of this is the self-assurance with which Sr. Carol Keehan, a Sister of Charity and head of the Catholic Healthcare Association, gave public support to President Obama’s healthcare plan both before its passage in the Legislature and after it met with opposition by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
A study of the LCWR’s formation materials—formation of superiors and formation directors as well as entrants into Religious life—revealed habits of mind and communication practices more suited to Corporate boardrooms than Religious houses. A handbook entitled “Systems Thinking Handbook” presents, in the words of the CDF, “… a neutral model of leadership that does not give attention to the responsibility which Superiors are called to exercise, namely leading sisters into a greater appreciation or integration of the truth of the Catholic faith.”
A study of speeches at the LCWR’s general assemblies over a ten-year period found that the talks “…have significant doctrinal and moral content and implications which often contradict or ignore magisterial teaching.” One speaker proposed a new model for Religious congregations, a life “beyond the Church, beyond Jesus.”
While Religious Congregations as a whole have dedicated themselves to social justice ministries and done much good there, the LCWR’s commitment to radical feminism has caused it to be silent on the evils of abortion and its convictions on homosexuality are in direct contradiction to the Church’s teachings, in that the LCWR supports homosexual behavior and lifestyle.
As a corrective measure, the CDF has appointed Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle to head a committee to implement certain changes in the LCWR, among them (1) to revise its Statutes, plans, and programs, which will be submitted to the Holy See for approval, (2) to review and revise its formation materials, (3) to “…offer guidance in the application of liturgical norms and texts,” and (4) to build a bridge between the LCWR and the USCCB for ongoing review and support. Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, and Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, will work with Archbishop Sartain. Bishop Paprocki was the speaker at our last Christ the King Forum.
The secular and religious media have and will present this action of the Holy See as a “crackdown”, “anti-democratic”, and a “war on women”. Those who have seen the development of error over the last two generations see this differently, as a welcome intervention. Please pray for Archbishop Sartain and his committee as they begin their difficult work.