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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.

  • nytor

    Surely the superiors “severing ties”, as they put it, would just on their own behalf? They do not have the authority to remove their whole communities from the Church.

  • Jason Clifford

    Absolutely true. If these superiors apostatize it has no bearing on those faithful sisters in their orders who will simply have to appoint new superiors and work to bring their communities back to full communion with the Church.

    Whether that will ever happen is another question however as no matter how much they may want to be in control of things those superiors will have to acknowledge that they are subject to the authority of the Church if they wish to remain in Christ.

  • Patrick_Hadley

     I agree. There is nothing in Canon Law that prevents the leaders of religious communities forming an association for mutual support and encouragement. Such an association does not have to be approved by the Holy See, and has no bearing at all on the canonical status of the members of the communities.

  • Patrick_Hadley

    As I suspect you know, there is no suggestion that the members of the LCWR  intend to “apostatize”.  Every Catholic whether lay, religious or cleric, has the right to form an association without the approval of the Holy See.

  • theroadmaster

    The LWCR has been operating as a maverick organization in terms of it’s liberal, radical political leanings for around 4 decades, without any canonical interference from the Holy See.  Things have come to a head lately, after the CDF decided to scrutinize the suspect theological writings, opinions and teaching material disseminated by certain individuals and religious orders which come under the LWCR umbrella.  It is a great pity that events have led to the Vatican intervening in the local affairs of women religious within the US, but the Holy See would have been failing in it’s leadership capacity if decisive action has not been taken.   Christ gave the Church the mandate to “bind and loose” doctrine and teachings and thus define what the deposit of Faith consists of, as bequeathed by the Lord Himself.   

  • davidaslindsay

    “If this is your idea of poverty, then what’s your idea of chastity?” It
    is an old joke when encountering Religious with a fondness for the
    finer things in life.

    But it makes a serious point. Why does only fidelity to the second vow matter, and not fidelity to the first and the third?

    Don’t just wonder “Where is the nun?” when those summoned to Rome appear
    on or in the fawning media. Remember that that make-up and that
    jewellery, those twin sets and those hairdos, cost money. Serious money.

    Is this is their idea of poverty, then what is their idea of obedience?
    That one has been answered by the Leadership Conference of Women
    Religious.

    And if this is their idea of poverty, then what is their idea of
    chastity? That one has been answered by the sins, not of commission, but
    of omission and of permission, in the published writing of Sister
    Margaret Farley.
     

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    There is no explicit suggestion I’m aware of, but some of them have already apostatized. When you don’t believe in the Eucharist and in Tradition, you have already apostatized.

    See http://wdtprs.com/blog/2012/04/nuns-gone-wild-a-trip-down-memory-lane/

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    Many aspects of the LCWR are already contrary to Faith.
    If they sever ties with the Holy See, then they will feel even
    freer to promote a cultural-Marxist agenda (abortion, homosexualism, etc.).
    Also, some of the cooler-headed nuns that are now part of the LCWR
    simply out of habit, will get out when(if) the LCWR divorces from the Holy
    See. So no one will restrain the more radical nuns, and LCWR will fully
    embrace pro-abortion ideology.

    At that point, it will be so explicitly contrary to Faith, that membership
    in it will be forbidden.

  • GFFM

    The widespread harm of the LCWR should have been addressed long, long ago. You do realize that many nuns in these orders suffered for years without any redress at the hands of their superiors.Many bemoaned the ideological sameness and lock-step attitudes, and the completely predictable defiance which was the 70s and 80s inside many of these orders. Does anyone wonder why many of these orders are on the skids? Many of them, the majority of these orders don’t have vocations and so they have no future. Why is that? This organization needs massive and complete reform. This is possible if Christ and authentic service to the Church is their true concern. But much of what many of these orders and their superoris have preached is antithetical to what the Church teaches. These superiors have supported abortion on demand, male ordination, gay marriage, gay sex and on and on. Of course one would hope for conversion, but alas they have lived in an ideological bubble of their own making and are no longer connected to the tradition in any deep and abiding way. The Vatican waited too long–now we have a consummate mess.

  • JByrne24

    Fr Lucie-Smith writes: 
    “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.”

    It was said in this discussion that one problem with this question being viewed as a shibboleth is surely that most people misunderstand what the doctrine means. It is based on Aristotelian categories which distinguish the substance of something (its essence independent of all physical properties) from its accidents (all its physical properties). Transubstantiation means that the substance of the bread and wine are changed into the substance (spiritual presence is probably the best way to put this in contemporary terms) of Christ but the accidents remain the same i.e the physical properties of bread and wine remain the same and the physical properties of the body and blood of Christ are not involved, but Christ’s essence i.e spiritual presence is. Moreover it is viewed as a conditional doctrine – if you subscribe to Aristotelian categories, this is how you should think of the Eucharist, if not, then the doctrine is not one you have to hold. In this respect, those who believe that in physical terms bread and wine remain just that have a more correct grasp of the doctrine than those who believe in a complete transformation. 

    And why “even” Prof Dawkins? His knowledge of Catholicism, Christianity and indeed of the Bible is far deeper than even that of many better informed Catholics.

    To be a Catholic need I share ALL the beliefs of the present Pope?

  • Chris

    Having read the source you cite, it is hardly credible for your accusation of apostacy. That particular priest is full of opinion and innuendo whilst being very short on evidence.

  • Chris

    Goodness, someone who actually understands what transubstantion means. Thank you.

  • Chris

    Gosh, there is nothing quite like conjecture now, is there?

  • Chris

    Leaving aside your poor attempt at being sarcastically witty, may I ask if you have actually read any of Sr. Farley’s work?  Your comments indicate that you have, so I would appreciate a specific citation to substantiate your allegation. I ask this quite sincerely as I have not read any of her writings.

  • davidaslindsay

    Richard
    Dawkins is desperately excited to have discovered some poll saying that many
    Catholics in wherever do not believe in transubstantiation. Well, if such
    things were ever taught in Catholic schools, then they might.

    And
    anyway, so what? What matters is that the Church teaches it. Catholics who
    dissent from the Teaching of the Church are just wrong, objectively speaking.
    That is all that there is to it. Only the Catholic Church provides such
    objectivity, which is perfectly encapsulated in transubstantiation.

    It was
    only from Christianity in general, and from Catholicism in particular, that
    science acquired the idea that some propositions were just plain true, so that
    others were just plain false. And it was only from Christianity in general, and
    from Catholicism in particular, that science acquired the idea that the idea
    that there was an investigable order in the universe; even if that order is a
    law of chaos, then the point still stands.

    Faced
    with a changed intellectual environment which denies those foundations rather
    than simply presupposing them, science must return to the system that first
    asserted them in the midst of a former such environment. That system is
    Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular.

    Thus, for
    example, while and by affirming the objective existence of the substance distinct from
    the accidents, transubstantiation also affirms the objective existence of the
    accidents, which are the objects of scientific investigation.
    Transubstantiation is the bulwark against the Postmodern assault on science.
    Nothing else is.

    I should
    love to know what atheist philosophers such as A C Grayling really thought of
    Richard Dawkins. The amount of time that they must have to spend undoing the
    damage that he has done to the minds of those who arrive as their
    undergraduates.
     

  • davidaslindsay

    On masturbation, on homosexuality, and by signing A Catholic Statement on Pluralism and Abortion, alternatively referred to by its pull quote “A Diversity of Opinions Regarding Abortion Exists Among Committed Catholics”, which was a full-page advertisement placed in The New York Times on 7th October 1984 by “Catholics for a Free Choice”.

  • JabbaPapa

    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.

    JB24, hopefully, will take note of this.

  • JabbaPapa

    if you subscribe to Aristotelian categories, this is how you should
    think of the Eucharist, if not, then the doctrine is not one you have to
    hold.

    Aristotelian categories can help to understand the doctrine, but the doctrine is independent of such philosophies.

    I am of course unsurprised that you are providing the absurd, heretical notion that the doctrine of transsubstantiation should not be universally held by all Catholics, which is yet another example of your extremely deep heterodoxy.

    Deny the Real Presence, and you deny the ENTIRETY of Catholic Christianity — but here you are, claiming that it is dependent on engaging in various abstract ratiocinations. WRONG.

    To be a Catholic need I share ALL the beliefs of the present Pope?

    No.

    To be a Catholic, you need to share ALL of the Reposit of the Faith with him.

    Which you personally fail to do.

  • Jeannine

    “Farrell will report back to the leadership conference assembly in August and has not ruled out severing ties between the group and Rome.”

    If separation is a possibilty what will happen to these religious orders’ well-endowed trust funds established by donations from the faithful throughout the yrs? One major use of these funds is to pay for the care of the retired, elderly sisters. Are the “renegade ” leaders the only ones who have access to the funds? Will they use them for their pet projects or for their elder sisters? —— What a potential mess!

  • Victor

    If they took a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience then they broke the obedience vow and are not living honestly. A vow is a promise before God and society. An honest course would be to either submit to authority or leave; given the vow of obedience, there is no room for pretending to be Catholic while disagreeing with what it is to be Catholic.

  • HapHarris

    Suppose you went around England in 1530 and asked people, “Are you Catholic-?”  They’d say, “Of course I’m Catholic-!”  In 1630, if you went around and asked them if they were Catholic, they’d say, of course I am-!”  But by that time they no longer had the Mass.  They no longer had obedience to the Pope.  They had reached Protestantism, but they didn’t know it.  They were Anglicans.  They no longer had valid priests.  They no longer had valid sacraments.  That was all gone and they didn’t know it.  Similarly with today’s Catholics, they don’t know what’s happened.  How could they know-?” [Fr. Malachi Martin]  

    Folks the LCWR would be no more outside the Church than Rome itself.  Since adopting the precepts of Vatican II the Church of Rome has simply ended up where Our Holy Mother warned it would.  It is suffering the Great Apostasy [right now] as was foretold by St.Paul himself.  

    These [are] the “End Times.”  Today Rome is at best a Protestant Church. To call itself Catholic is preposterous-!  If you are not at least 67 years old you have no adult recollection of what true Catholicism is.  Today there are somewhere around 150,000 folks who have remained true Catholics. You’ll find them if you start burning up your Rosaries with prayers to the Blessed Virgin. I found my way after 40 years in the same wilderness you are now traveling.  God love you, Hap

  • teigitur

    No-one understands what it means totally. We( even jbyrne24) are only human and have very limited understanding of the higher things. We must just take Our Lords word for it. “This is my Body” ” This is my blood”. It looks like bread and wine , but its not.
     Just as some people “look” like Christians, and Catholics, but they are not.

  • paul

    These women have a very big problem on OBEDIENCE it seems they have forgotten their vow of obedience,after all what master do they serve? SHAME TO LCWR group,you are a disgrace to the church,its so disgusting reading about this group.It is always in controversy with Rome,please leave and start your own church where homosexuality and all kind of nonsense will be allowed!!!!

  • http://brotherpriests.com/2012/04/vatican-and-lcwr-conference/ Guest

    This article is misleading and confusing: if the LCWR (as an organization) servers ties with Rome, then the organization ceases to be a Catholic body. However, this would not chage the status of the Communities that these sisters belong to, which would still be Religious Institutes recognized and approved by the Church. It also would not nullify the vows of these sisters, who remain sisters even if their involvement in this now-non-Catholic organization puts them in an ambiguous or conflicted situation in the Catholic Church. They continue to be sisters unless 1) they leave their Institutes or 2) their Institutes expel them or 3) their Institute itself breaks communion with Rome. The LCWR is NOT a Religious Institute, only an Association of sisters who belong to different Institutes.

  • http://twitter.com/EyeEdinburgh EdinburghEye

    . Some Catholics would, I suspect, like to see the LCWR effectively leave the Church.

    Especially these days when the Church stands for power, privilege, and hate.

    If the LCWR was forced out of the Church because they insisted on carrying out corporal works of mercy, working for the sick, the elderly, the poor, the downtrodden, and ignoring the Pope’s word that they must ignore these “little ones” and listen to him – why then the moneylenders will have driven Christ from the Temple.

  • nytor

    Corporal works of mercy are fine and good. Promoting ideas contrary to the teachings of the Church, such as the idea that ordaining women could ever be possible, is not.

  • nytor

    Indeed. I cannot see how they can, in fact, “sever ties” with Rome. What do they mean by this? I suspect even they don’t really know.

  • nytor

    In 1630 they wouldn’t have said they were Catholic. It is one of the myths of Anglicanism that it has always maintained a “Catholic” tradition. There was a blip in terms of Laudianism, but in general it hasn’t, and Laudianism was never dominant.  

  • nytor

    I cannot accept what you are saying. I am a traditionalist, I attend the Extraordinary Form, I am not at all prepared to tolerate the excesses of the liberals or the debasement of the liturgy. But Rome itself has not apostasised. Certain individuals have and they have sought to mould the Church, but the faith is the faith and the Church cannot fall. If you are contending that the only true Catholics are the SSPX, well, this cannot be the case. The SSPX is not the Church, something even Bishop Fellay recognises, something even the late great Archbishop Lefebvre recognised.

  • nytor

    “And why “even” Prof Dawkins? His knowledge of Catholicism, Christianity and indeed of the Bible is far deeper than even that of many better informed Catholics.”

    From what I saw of one of his documentaries, he certainly isn’t.

    On the definition of the dogma of the Assumption in 1950, for example, he made it sound as though the pope had woken up one day, proclaimed that the Church had a new belief and that it now believed something which it had not the day before.

    Of course this is very far from the case. The pope doesn’t infallibly define a dogma which is not, de facto, already held and has been for centuries. Something which the Church has in effect already believed for a long period but has never defined – hence “definition”, not declaration or some such word. It merely defined an existing, long held belief. There is no question whatsoever of a pope defining something not already believed and not long-held, and certainly great consideration goes into any infallible statement (this is proven by their extreme rarity). Dawkins either completely misunderstood or completely misrepresented the events of 1950.

  • nytor

    “Deny the Real Presence, and you deny the ENTIRETY of Catholic Christianity”

    Indeed – but I’ve never been clear that the Real Presence and Transubstantiation are the same thing, inasmuch as the Real Presence is the dogma, and Transubstantiation is an explanation thereof.

  • nytor

    “These superiors have supported…male ordination”

    If only ;)

    Female, of course.

  • pantolini

    The best result for the Church will be if these self-serving sisters are cut loose and then they can fund their alternative religion themselves.

  • John Ashley

    “……..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.”
    Fr Alexander LUCID-Smith

  • Patrick_Heren

    The LCWR represent the “me generation’ of Americans that arose in the sixties and seventies. Their spiritual leader is the late Abby Hoffmann rather than the Holy Father.
    However, we should remember – and of course it would be nice if British papers like the Observer understood this – that most American Catholics are not only faithful but very active in the observance and practice of their faith.

  • AnthonyPatrick

     “Leaving aside your poor attempt at being sarcastically witty…”

    “Poor attempt”? Why do you deem it necessary to employ this disparaging epithet regarding the competence of what seems a candidly transparent rendition of an old chestnut, the validity of which, one might say, is wittily ironic as distinct from “sarcastically witty”?   
     

  • JByrne24

    Yes. Some apparently believe that the consecrated host possesses a pancreas and toe-nails (for example) – just as the actual body of Jesus did.

    The account I gave above is not my own – it is the bog-standard understanding of this matter by sane people in the Catholic Church. It was actually given to Prof. Dawkins by Cardinal Pell during his discussion with him. Dawkins, I think, did not understand the point, as many here don’t – and he did not take it up further with the Cardinal (who obviously does understand). 

    The Cardinal also gave a sane (and grown-up) explanation of the Adam & Eve story in the Old Testament.
    Everybody has to accept that our earliest ancestors were not human beings.

  • JabbaPapa

    nytor : I cannot accept what you are saying.

    Me neither !!!

  • JByrne24

    Yes, his Assumption interview was not his best.
    If you read his books (The God Delusion is a good start) you will find many better examples of his broad knowledge.

    He does exploit brutally however some of the inevitable “knots” that the Church has sometimes wound itself up into through a failure to reinterpret some teachings and to discard some ancient baggage.

    His “campaign” (to which Fr. Lucie-Smith refers), to get Catholics to be “honest” (in Dawlins’s view) and to honestly declare themselves non-believers (re.  Transubstantiation) is flawed. 
    Dawkins’s views are essentially the same as some on this website, Viz. “believe absurdities or you’re not a Catholic”.  Dawkins is mistaken and so are they.

  • JByrne24

    “Just as some people “look” like Christians, and Catholics, but they are not”

    It is nothing of the sort – and it is very disrespectful of you to claim this.

  • JabbaPapa

    Transsubstantiation is not just an “explanation” — it is the changing by the Real Presence of the bread and the wine into the Flesh and the Blood.

    The Real Presence is NOT just a “dogma”, it is the Real Presence of the Christ in the consecrated Essences of the Eucharist.

  • OMartinH

    ” 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. ”

    When a Catholic writer has to rely on Richard Dawkins to support his point, it simply shows how badly founded his point is.

  • https://openid.org/locutus LocutusOP

    I applaud you on again daring to tackle a tough issue and writing what needs to be written on this issue.

    There isn’t much to add to this article that hasn’t already been covered in the comments section. In face, we’ll seldom find more clear-cut cases than we have here.

  • http://twitter.com/EyeEdinburgh EdinburghEye

    Quite so. I gather Catholic teaching is that to ordain Junia or Mary Magdalene as Apostles, would be terrible and awful. How could a mere woman suppose she could be close enough to God for that?

  • W Oddie

    Does it? Why, exactly?

  • John-of-hayling

     ………..simply out of habit………… duh!

  • GFFM

     So sorry I made that gaff. I guess subconsciously I simply can’t write female ordination.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    Anything referring to the future is conjecture.
    So the guy I was replying to was making a conjecture too.

  • JByrne24

    I read this – and asked if, in order to be a Catholic, it was essential,  in Fr. Lucie-Smith’s view,   for a person to share all the beliefs of the present Pope.
    ["share" meaning: to have all the same ones (as the Pope)]

    If the answer is “yes”, I would like to ask Fr. Lucie-Smith if he knows (or if he could make a “ball-park” guesstimate or estimate) of the proportion of Catholic priests who take the same view about this as he does.
    (And the proportion who take the same view in the developed, first-world, if he thinks this would be likely to be different.)

  • JByrne24

    The statement is a bit ambiguous and I’ve asked for a clarification of  Fr. Lucie-Smith’s views.
    Please see above and below (I think).