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If the Sisters of the LCWR ‘sever ties’ with Rome, then they stop being Sisters

I hope they stay in the Church, even if they have caused it harm

By on Monday, 11 June 2012

Sister Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (CNS photo)

Sister Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (CNS photo)

The controversy about the American nuns, or more exactly the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, rumbles on, and this weekend it attracted coverage in the Observer. You can read the article here, and while it makes very interesting reading – it is always fascinating to see how non-Catholics see us – virtually every sentence will elicit a “yes, but” reaction from a Catholic.

It depends, as ever, on what you mean by Catholic. The article seems predicated on the supposition that anyone who claims to be a Catholic is one. But this is not so: being a Catholic is not a mere matter of feeling or personal conviction, it is about belief and communion. If one does not share the beliefs of he who sits on the Chair of Peter, then you are not a Catholic. Even Professor Dawkins understands this as he shows by his recent pronouncement that those who do not believe in transubstantiation are not Catholic. Quite so.

So we have to ask, are the Leadership Conference of Women Religious Catholic? Well, I will not answer that question, simply because I would have to investigate them first and that would take time and resources, the type of which I do not have. This is presumably why the Vatican undertook its investigation, to get to the truth; odd to note that the very fact of an investigation is somehow seen as causing – to quote the article – “pain and scandal”. It is as if Cardinal Levada had no right to do his job as prefect of the CDF, namely to ensure the purity of Catholic doctrine.

In fact the coverage given this matter by the Observer seems to indicate a feeling that the papacy ought to have no authority over the nuns, or indeed anyone else. That the Church has no right to self-government, or indeed to be itself. We have heard all this before.

The article contains one gem, and here it is:

Farrell will report back to the leadership conference assembly in August and has not ruled out severing ties between the group and Rome. “The option is always there,” said Farrell, who is a member of the Sisters of St Francis in Iowa, an order founded in Germany in 1864 to care for orphans and the elderly.

In other words, these Sisters can, if they choose, opt out and lose their canonical status as nuns. If they did that, they would be free to act exactly as they please and would have no oversight from the Vatican at all. But, and this is the catch, they would then cease to be Catholic women religious is any public sense; they would merely become private associations of lay women.

This may be the way forward for them. Many before them have left the shelter of the institutional Church to plough a lonely furrow of their own. However, I doubt the Vatican would be overjoyed at this result. One reason is because the LCWR represents the religious superiors of these religious orders. It may not reflect the rank and file of the Sisters’ communities, many, perhaps most of whom, are perfectly mainstream Catholics. These Sisters would then be removed from the Roman fold by their superiors, without their consent, which would distress the pastoral hearts of Cardinal Levada and the Holy Father.

The threat to relinquish canonical status may in fact be a piece of brinkmanship on behalf of Sister Farrell. What future would such a body of women, with vows not recognised by the Church, have?

The Observer is confident in predicting a “clash” between the cardinal and the nun this Wednesday. I hope they can have an intelligent conversation, and that the LCWR will do what all good Catholics should do – accept the authority of the Holy See. Some Catholics would, I suspect, like to see the LCWR effectively leave the Church. I, as a Catholic, want to see people join the Church, not leave it, so I want them to stay in. However, as one born Catholic who wants to live Catholic and die Catholic, I really do not want to see these ladies do further damage to the Church. We have heard enough from them about pain and scandal – it would be great if we could hear something more constructive from them: namely how wonderful it is to be part of the communion of the Church, how much they love and admire the Holy Father, and how joyfully they accept a life of obedience as vowed religious.

  • Jae

    We did from the solid foundation of Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition read below, how about yours, what do you have to support your insolence?

  • Jae

    Typical Protestant exegesis of the Bible, really! The issue was about circumcision and kosher laws which was definitively rejected by the first Council of the Church at Jerusalem which Peter himself presided over that these practices are no longer requirements to be true followers of God. Do your homework JByrne24 because your ideas have a strong resemblance of hodge podge Protestantism.

  • Jae

    You are mistaken my friend, Fr. Lucie was absolutely right supported by the Holy Bible and Sacred Tradition, read my posts above and below yours.

  • Jae

    Fr. Lucie was not obviously talking about mere opinion or musings of the pope here which might be subject to errors, Fr. Lucie was talking about the OFFICIAL beliefs of the pope that we must share in order to be of good standing Catholics. Afterwards see my post below for the Biblical support.

  • rjt1

    Which particular scripture passage were you referring to? I was thinking of Galatians 11:2-14

  • JByrne24

    But it is one particular priest’s writings that we are talking about – and it is therefore right and proper that we should point out that other priests have different views to his.
    It is a contextual discussion.

  • EdinburghEye

     Do you imagine that Junia and Mary Magdalene were dead when they were ordained Apostles? According to the history of the early Christian movement, they were very much alive, then.

    Interesting to see modern Catholicism declaring that the practices of the early church were morally unspeakably wrong, that’s all. Clearly every church has a right to change and evolve…

  • JByrne24

    Yes, I see what you mean.
    But surely you know that Aristotle has contributed a great deal to Catholic theology and thinking. Best thought of not as “pagan”, but rather as pre-Christian.

    Aristotelianism had a profound influence on philosophical and theological thinking in all Abrahamic traditions, and it continues to influence Christian theology, especially the scholastic tradition of the Catholic Church.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    Also see

  • JabbaPapa

    There is no credible historic evidence whatsoever that Junia and Mary Magdalene were ordained as Apostles.

  • OMartinH

    @9885bfe74856c31dde30a239a1834a2b:disqus: “Yes there are a lot from Sacred Tradition and Holy Bible that supports Fr. Lucie though I must admit that what he had said was not elaborate enough to convey the Teaching.”
    So what I said originally was correct – what he wrote was not Church teaching and calling on Richard Dawkins to support it was just plain silly.

  • OMartinH

    Sorry, I obviously misunderstood you.

  • OMartinH

    There was nothing obvious about it, a writer of the calibre and experience of Fr. Lucie-Smith should be writing what he means and mean what he writes, not depending on some unknown commenter to elucidate what he really meant.

  • JabbaPapa

    I was simply posting something (tongue in cheek) that somebody like Jabba might believe (and post).

    You have demonstrated not the slightest comprehension of the structures and contents of my beliefs, nor the various differences and distinctions between your extremist atheistic presumptions about what non-atheists might believe, and the actual realities of individual relationships with various cognitive and scientific and cultural sources of information about anything.

  • Patrickhowes

    But a priest who is loyal to the Church and its teachings

  • Tomas Walsh

    The LCWR, CDF and the doctrinal assessment


    Written by BISHOP

    Friday, 08 June 2012


    When you
    are in a position of leadership or authority, it is a great cross sometimes
    to know firsthand the actual facts of a situation and then have to listen to
    all the distortions and misrepresentation of the facts that are made in the
    public domain.

    Having conducted the doctrinal assessment of the entity known as the
    Leadership Confer-

    ence of
    Women Religious (LCWR), I can only marvel at what is now being said, both

    outside the Church, regarding the process and the recent steps taken by the

    ation for
    the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to remedy significant and longstanding
    doctrinal problems connected with the activitiesand
    programs of the LCWR.


        Bishop Leonard P. Blair

    biggest distortion of all is the claim that the CDF and the bishops are
    attacking or criticizing the life and work of our Catholic sisters in the
    United States. One report on the CBS evening news showcased the work of a
    Mercy Sister who is a medical doctor in order to compare her to the attack
    that she and sisters like her are supposedly being subjected to by
    authoritarian bishops. The report concludes with a statement that the bishops
    impose the rules of the Church but the sisters carry on the work of the


    Unless the
    sister in question is espousing and/or promoting positions contrary to
    Catholic teaching—and there was no reason given to think that she is—then the
    Holy See’s doctrinal concerns are not directed at her or at the thousands of
    religious sisters in our country like her to

    whom we
    all owe a debt of gratitude for all that they do in witness to the Gospel.


    What the
    CDF is concerned about, as I indicated, is the particular organization known
    as the LCWR. Its function, responsibilities and statutes were all originally
    approved by the Holy See, to which it remains accountable. While it is true
    that the member communities of the LCWR represent most of the religious
    sisters in the United States, that does not mean that criticism

    of the
    LCWR is aimed at all the member religious communities, much less all sisters.


    The word
    “investigation” is often used to describe the work that I carried out on
    behalf of the CDF. “Investigation” suggests an attempt to uncover things that
    might not be known. In real-

    ity, what
    the CDF commissioned was a doctrinal “assessment,” an appraisal of materials

    which are
    readily available to anyone who cares to read them on the LCWR website and in other LCWR published resources. The
    assessment was carried out in dialogue with the

    leadership, both in writing and face-to-face, over several months.


    fundamental question posed to the LCWR leadership as part of the assessment

    this: What are the Church’s pastors to make of the fact that the LCWR
    constantly provides a one-sided platform – without challenge or any opposing
    view – to speakers who

    take a
    negative and critical position vis-a-vis Church doctrine and discipline and
    the Church’s teaching office?


    Let me
    cite just a few of the causes for concern.


    In her
    LCWR keynote address in 1997, Sr. Sandra Schneiders, IHM proposed that the
    decisive issue for women religious is the issue of faith: “It can no
    longer be taken for granted that the members [of a given congregation] share
    the same faith.”


    Ten years
    later, in an LCWR keynote speech, Sr. Laurie Brink, O.P. spoke of “four
    different general ‘directions’ in which religious congregations seem to be
    moving.” She said that “not

    one of the
    four is better or worse than the others.” One of the directions described is
    “sojourning,” which she says “involves moving beyond the Church, even beyond

    sojourning congregation is no longer ecclesiastical. It has grown beyond the
    bounds of institutional religion.” This kind of congregation “in most
    respects is Post-Christian.” She concludes by characterizing as “a choice of
    integrity, insight and courage” the decision to

    outside the Church” already made by one group of women religious.


    Michael H. Crosby, OFM Cap, a keynote speaker at the joint LCWR-CMSM assembly

    lamented the fact that “we still have to worship a God that the Vatican says
    ‘wills that women not be ordained.’ That god is literally ‘unbelievable.’ It
    is a false god; it cannot be worshipped. And the prophet must speak truth to
    that power and be willing to accept the consequence of calling for justice,
    stopping the violence and bringing about the reign of God.”


    The LCWR’s
    Systems Thinking Handbook describes a hypothetical case in which sisters

    over whether the Eucharist should be at the center of a special community
    celebration.  The problem is that some of the sisters object to
    “priest-led liturgies.” The scenario, it seems, is not simply fictitious, for
    some LCWR speakers also mention the difficulty of finding ways to worship
    together as a faith community.  According to the Systems Thinking
    Handbook this difficulty is rooted in differences at the level of belief, but
    also different mental models – the “Western mind” and the “Organic mental


    rather than Church doctrine, are offered as tools for the resolution of the

    speakers also explore themes like global spirituality, the new cosmology,
    earth-justice and eco-feminism in ways that are frequently ambiguous, dubious
    or even erroneous with respect to Christian faith. And while the LCWR upholds
    Catholic social teaching in some

    areas, it
    is notably silent when it comes to two of the major moral challenges of our

    the right
    to life of the unborn, and the God-given meaning of marriage between one man

    and one


    Are these
    examples indicative of the thinking of all religious sisters in the United

    communities are members of the LCWR?  Certainly not.


    Serious questions of faith undoubtedly arise
    among some women religious, as the LCWR maintains. However, is it the role of
    a pontifically recognized leadership group to criticize

    and undermine faith in church teaching by what is
    said and unsaid, or rather to work to

    create greater understanding and acceptance of
    what the Church believes and teaches?

    Those who do not hold the teachings of the
    Catholic Church, or Catholics who dissent from those teachings, are quick to
    attack the CDF and bishops for taking the LCWR to task.

    However, a person who holds the reasonable view
    that a Catholic is someone who subscribes to the teachings of the Catholic
    Church will recognize that the Catholic Bishops have a legitimate cause for
    doctrinal concern about the activities of the LCWR, as evidenced by a number
    of its speakers and some of its resource documents.


    A key question
    posed by the doctrinal assessment had to do with moving forward in a

    way. Would the LCWR at least acknowledge the CDF’s doctrinal concerns and be

    willing to
    take steps to remedy the situation?  The response thus far is exemplified by the

    LCWR leadership’s choice of a New Age Futurist to
    address its 2012 assembly, and their decision to give an award this year to
    Sr. Sandra Schneiders, who has expressed the view

    that the hierarchical structure of the church
    represents an institutionalized form of patriarchal domination that cannot be
    reconciled with the Gospel.


    situation is now a source of controversy and misunderstanding, as well as mis-representation.
    I am confident, however, that if the serious concerns of the CDF are accurate-

    represented and discussed among all the sisters of our country, there will
    indeed be an opening to a new and positive relationship between women
    religious and the Church’s pastors in doctrinal matters, as there already is
    in so many other areas where mutual respect and cooperation abound.


  • beimabao

  • JByrne24

    If it is not too late to make an additional reference to transubstantiation, may I draw your attention to an excellent article on “The Catholic Thing” website by  
    William Carroll, who is the Thomas Aquinas Fellow in Theology and Science, Blackfriars, University of Oxford.

  • Cecilia

    I think Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith needs to first re-visit his understanding of the infallible doctrine in the Church’s teaching in “papal infallibility” before he makes such an irresponsible comment on saying ” If one does not share the beliefs of he who sits on the Chair of Peter, then you are not a Catholic.”  Papal infallibility does not equate to impeccability, Catholics are not bound to share in every believe and opinion of the Pope.  Even his private theological opinions are not infallible. Haven’t we seen enough distorted teaching of this very doctrine from clergies, religious and other members in the Church???  It is bringing so much harm to our Church that it is no less than being silent on the issues of abortions, homosexuality, so on.  This is not even about whether people are placing the teachings of the Church in correct action, but rather a false teaching from those who claim to be teaching the infallible doctrine to the members of the Church.  When clergies like Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith himself has showed such distortion in his understanding of the doctrine in papal infallibility, how could the Church expect her members to have the right understanding of our faith?  I sincerely pray that Fr Lucie-Smith himself could first seek to have a correct knowledge of our Church’s doctrine before he goes around and dismiss people as Catholics and continues to cause more scandals and harm to the heart of the Church.  I agree the Church needs to take further action in reforming, probably our clergies need serious reformation too to prevent against false teachings like such!? 

    Links to information on Papal Infallibility:

  • Padretampa

    I thought the term was *Deposit* of Faith.

  • Patsy

    Its a wonder you can even write the word “female”  

  • the judge

    As the church dies because of your stupidity you will be forgotten and the ideas of the LCWR will live on.

  • the judge

    Also to put a pedophile apologist in charge of the LCWR is another truth that it was the best decision of my life to leave your broken organisation. 

  • the judge

    Exactly why I left the Catholic Church. Soon I am sure there will be nothing left in the church but you people who do not understand change or LOVE or faith in humanity and a bunch of old men who seem to think that it is OK to live with 200 year old VALUES.

  • Meg724

    Christ gave the mandate for a discipleship of equals. Men corrupted this into a power monopoly. The only thing the holy nuns are guilty of is thinking.

  • Meg724

    Not true. Baptism gives them the right to stay and try to improve their church from within. Many “traditions” have changed over time. Remember not being able to eat meat on friday? Remember slavery?

  • Meg

    1) There were NO priests in Jesus’s time
    2) Apostolic succession is an invention of a later time, and retroactively assigned to Peter
    3) Junia was a woman apostle.
    4) the “12″ were not priests, they were assigned to represent the 12 tribes of Israel at the end time.
    5) Why would any woman want to be a priest in the corrupt power hierarchy of Rome? Better to practice the “discipleship of equals” that Jesus did preach. This would resemble the egalitarian model that the wonderful nuns use.

  • Meg

    Junia is in Romans 16.7 Paul calls her an apostle & praises her wonderful work. 4th Century Church father John Chrysostom remarks what a wonderful women she must have been for Paul to call her apostle. In the middle ages, churchmen changed her name to a male version to hide the fact that she was indeed a woman and an apostle.

    And Mary Magdalene is very much a favorite disciple of Jesus. Read church history !