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Vatican orders major reform of association of women religious

By on Thursday, 19 April 2012

American women religious attend a meeting of Network (CNS)

American women religious attend a meeting of Network (CNS)

The Vatican has called for major reforms of an American association of women religious to ensure the group’s fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality.

Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle will provide “review, guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the Vatican announced yesterday. The archbishop will be assisted by Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, and Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, and draw on the advice of fellow bishops, women religious and other experts.

The LCWR, a Maryland-based umbrella group that claims about 1,500 leaders of US women’s communities as members, represents about 80 per cent of the country’s 57,000 women religious.

The announcement from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) came in an eight-page “doctrinal assessment” based on an investigation that Bishop Blair began on behalf of the Vatican in April 2008. That investigation led the doctrinal congregation to conclude, in January 2011, that “the current doctrinal and pastoral situation of LCWR is grave and a matter of serious concern, also given the influence the LCWR exercises on religious congregation in other parts of the world”.

Among the areas of concern were some of the most controversial issues of medical and sexual ethics in America today.

“While there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States,” the doctrinal congregation said. “Further, issues of crucial importance in the life of the church and society, such as the Church’s biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching.”

The Vatican also found that “public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose”.

According to the Vatican, such deviations from Catholic teaching have provoked a crisis “characterised by a diminution of the fundamental Christological centre and focus of religious consecration”.

But the congregation’s document also praised the “great contributions of women religious to the church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor, which have been founded and staffed by religious over the years”, and insisted that the Vatican “does not intend to offer judgment on the faith and life of women religious” in the LCWR’s member congregations.

During his tenure as the Holy See’s delegate, which is to last “up to five years, as deemed necessary”, Archbishop Sartain’s tasks will include overseeing revision of the LCWR’s statutes, review of its liturgical practices and the creation of formation programmes for the conference’s member congregations. The archbishop will also investigate the LCWR’s links to two outside groups: Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, and the Resource Center for Religious Institutes, which offers legal and financial expertise to religious orders.

The doctrinal assessment grew out of the Vatican’s “Apostolic Visitation of Religious Communities of Women in the United States”, a study of the “quality of life” in some 400 congregations, which began in December 2008. The visitation’s final report was submitted in December 2011 but has not yet been published.

  • Honeybadger

    Once again, you are spot on!

    Take, for example, the Missionaries of Charity (founder: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta). It is one of the toughest orders of nuns because they live and work amongst the poorest of the poor, live like them and are utterly faithful to the Magisterium. Their vocations are exceptionally healthy, compared with others. Some might leave at aspirancy level but there are others who join, remain there for life and are sent around the world.

    There is an order of nuns living in a house not far from me and there hasn’t been a new ‘recruit’ for years! Why?

    Because they have slowly but surely transformed into ‘trendies’!

    Sad… but not surprising!

  • Honeybadger

    The evidence of young people being more religious is true.

    I’ll never forget the first time I ever went to an EF Mass (which I immediately fell in love with and can’t get enough of) and it was an eye-opener –  to see more teenagers, families and young people in the congregation than at my parish.

    I felt – and remain - heartened and encouraged.

  • Benedict Carter

    Please don’t take my word for it. There is PLENTY of material on the net about these so-called nuns and what they stand for. What was said to the BBC is frankly just the wool being pulled over your eyes. 

  • Scaria

    I live in India and am a catholic christian. I must tell you i was shocked to read those news articles which said catholic nuns differ with the views of the church. I thought it was just a media creation. This is unacceptable. The church is not in this world to make the world a better living place for the people.The Church is here to proclaim to the world the truth. They should be given time to repent and change. If they are not ready The Church would be more powerful without them.

  • Patrickhowes

    I am delighted by this news!Having been in the presence of an older generation of Nuns who were stricter but more devout and the younger ones who thought everything should go,Iam delighted to see the pendulum turn.Hopefully a new generation,warmer and more compassionate than the  pre Vatican ll butmore clear thinking and less of a chip on the shoulder than those who followed from Vatican ll

  • Alan

    No doubt you  can find statements by individuals suggesting the views you state; this is the case with any organisation, in any field, but it does not necessarily represent the norm.  The lady interviewed stated that they adhere to “poverty chastity and obedience” which refutes your lesbianism charge.  Unless, of course, they are engaged in  programme of systematic lying.  As regards Honeybadger’s comment about the Obama bill, one can oppose the abortion/contraception bits (as I do) while supporting the bill as a package.

  • helen

    Factually, I disagree. Further, the tone of your comment comes across as snide glee.

  • Benedict Carter

    An expert on religious women in America believes that renewal within the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) will require “very strong self-evaluation” and cooperation with the Vatican’s recent call for reform. “After having studied this for many years, I think it was 40 years in the making,” said Ann Carey, author of the 1997 book “Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women’s Religious Communities.” Carey told CNA on April 20 that ever since the LCWR revised its statutes in 1971, it has had a rocky relationship with the Vatican.

    “The Vatican was patient, trying to give the sisters some guidelines to modify the direction they were taking, and they resisted that,” she said. On April 18, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced that it had appointed Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to lead reform efforts within the conference. Carey said that members of the LCWR have “definitely” exhibited doctrinal problems and have also “made it quite clear that they are intent on changing the nature of religious life.”

    They have also spoken of “loyal dissent,” as if to suggest that “it is permissible for one to disagree with Church teaching as long as one professes loyalty to the Church,” she added.The announcement came as the findings of a multi-year doctrinal assessment of the women’s conference were released, raising concerns of dissent from Church teaching on topics including homosexuality, the sacramental priesthood and the divinity of Christ. 

    In the early 1960s, the Second Vatican Council called on religious orders to renew and update themselves, removing “outdated” rules and customs so as to engage the modern world. But while the council called for renewal by returning to the orders’ original founding ideas and adapting them to modern times, many people misinterpreted this call and instead proceeded to “totally throw off some of the essentials of religious life,” she said. The result was an abandonment of central elements of religious life, such as living and praying in community, serving in a corporate apostolate and wearing some type of distinctive religious garb, she explained. Carey said that after Vatican II, members of many religious orders began to live in apartments and find their own jobs, separate from a corporate apostolate such as teaching or care for the sick.

    The changes were so drastic that they caused some women to leave the LCWR, Carey said. These women formed another group, which eventually became an alternative superiors’ conference known as the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious. This more traditional group, which requires its members to adhere to the essentials of religious life as understood by the Church, is attracting the bulk of young vocations today, she noted.

    (CNA April 23rd 2012)

  • Helen

    Obama care does NOT require what you say it does. The USCCB is inconsistent here, they claim it is an infringement on religious liberty, but routinely lobby state and federal legislators for special tax support for Catholic activities.  There is a disconnect between various levels of the Church and it would be in all our interests to stop the name calling.

  • Benedict Carter

    What, more compassionate than the millions of Sisters who washed, fed, housed, schooled and brought up how many millions of orphans, widows, destitute and ill for hundreds of years before Vatican II?

    No compassion there. 

    This “dark age” before the wonderful bloody Vatican II is a complete myth.

  • teigitur

    Factually I am correct, look at the figures. As to your opinion, its just that, your opinion.

  • Benedict Carter

    The tragic and totally destructive effect of New Age psychology training on religious Orders can be read about here:

  • gabriel_syme

    I am tempted to believe teigitur.

    From my own personal – admittedly limited – recent experience of Nuns in the UK:

    1) In Scotland, (Dumbarton), the convent of Notre Dame of Namur has failed and is moving on after a presence of 106 years.  These “progressive” nuns were ones who “modernised” (that erroneous term), and ditched wearing their habits and being faithful to the Church, after Vatican II.  See this article:

    In the article, the ‘nuns’ scoff at the idea of wearing habits, make some digs at the Vatican and the model of ministry created by Jesus Christ himself, moan about a “stained glass ceiling” in the Church and claim to resent the “profile” of parish priests, in comparison with their own.  (It seemed odd to mean to moan of a low profile after ditching their habits, surely the most obvious and striking example of a nuns religious identity).

    Its almost like a parting bitter shot amid their failure as a convent which got muddled up with new trendy ideas.   Most significantly, the Carmelites – a traditional, habit-wearing order – are moving in, after they have gone. 

    2) A few months back, the BBC ran a short documentary about the increasing number of young women becoming nuns in the UK.  The show followed a group of young nuns (early 20s mostly) from the USA – the hugely successful and impressive Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal – who had set up a convent in Leeds.  It also followed three individual young British women, all currently discerning a vocation. 

    What was especially interesting was the young American sisters were traditional nuns, complete with habits, (which provoke mass interest on the streets of Leeds, craned necks, people fumbling for their camera phones etc), and the young British women in discernment were all attracted to traditional orders, based around England, including a enclosed contemplative order in one case.

    There was nothing – literally nothing – about any trendy “progressive” nuns.

    See more about the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal here, complete with links to info about the BBC show I mentioned (and newspaper articles):

    3) The only nuns I ever see around Glasgow are traditional nuns, these ones often elderly, clutching charity collection tins in shop doorways etc.  They are very sweet, usually peering out from the depths of their layers of clothing against the Scots weather.  They can be seen often in Sauchiehall and Argyll Streets in the City Center, and also Parkhead Forge shopping center, in the East End.  Probably more locations too, but I am not stalking them or anything.

    So it seems that when it comes to nuns current public profile, or where the next generation of nuns is coming from, all the hope and good stuff lies with the traditional orders.

  • gabriel_syme

     In the Herald article I posted above, the trendies apparently call themselves a “congregation”, not an “order”!?!

  • Benedict Carter

    You are indeed correct teigitur. The “liberated” sistas will not be with us forever. They offer new entrants nothing. 

    As many of these “nuns” have broken all three of their solemn vows, they should be given no sympathy whatever, beyond the fact that they are victims (though the damage to them is wholly self-inflicted) of the spiritual madness into which the Church as a whole has been plunged since Vatican II. 

  • Benedict Carter

    The Vatican has made its judgement about what is the “norm” for these so-called “nuns”. End of story. 

  • srdc


    Parents were the same way back in the day. You cannot totally separate cultural connections. Yes, the younger ones do reflect their generation, but are yet Orthodox.

  • teigitur

    Oh that was the lovely Sr Joan Chittester. Who, by the way, approves of abortion and is on record of saying so. If that is not against the Church teachings I do not know what is.Perplexed!? That same lady should be excommunicated.

  • srdc

    Yes, my parish is packed with teenagers on a Saturday night for the youth Mass.

  • srdc

    This reminds me of my visit to one particular convent up in Vancouver. The leaflets looked quite fine and everything. On their grounds they had a statue of a woman on a cross and they called her Christa. I couldn’t wait to run out of there.

  • Benedict Carter

    srdc, there’s a biography offered by Fr. Z on his blog of all the main personages in this coven of witches. Very well-worth reading. It’s horrendous.

  • Alan

    “End of story” – in other words “shut up, I don’t want any discussion”.  Sorry, but I’m not going to shut down my brain just to satisfy you.  All I’m saying is that, on the basis of the interview I heard, there was nothing she said to which I took exception.  Of course, she could have been lying, so if you want to make that charge, then go ahead and do so.

  • Patrickhowes

    If She is on record as saying that she agrees with abortion and supports it,she already has excommunicated herself

  • Patrickhowes


    “The younger ones reflect their generation but are orthodox.Rubbish!They reflected the hippy flower power cockfosters lot.They are not orthodox,hence the need for the Vatican to intervene!

  • Patrickhowes


    You are right about their sense of mission and the responsability that this entails.But I refer you kindly to the Pope´s investigation into the religious in Ireland and their cruelty thatwasunleashed on many.Yet I also accept your point that just as there were abuses,there were marvellous older sisers too.I met many

  • Patrickhowes

    As were they in my generation yet they were all disobeying the moral teaching of the Church.Taking the poill and sleepoing with one another

  • Patrickhowes

    Regards point three.Look around at Mass.How many families do you seewith more tha n two children.Very few.So most of the attending Catholics do not follow the Church´s teaching as probably nobody attempts to explain it possible.We have five children all born by practising the Church´s teaching.Abstinence is far healthier than coils and pills

  • Patrickhowes

    Point very well made Simon with regards to Contraception!

  • Luis Gutierrez

     Re. Vatican

    Names Archbishop Sartain To Lead Renewal Of LCWR, USCCB,
    18 April 2012.

    Indeed, the time for “reform” has
    come for the entire church, including the Vatican. But
    authentic reform will require a renewal of the Catholic
    ethos about all matters of human sexuality and desisting
    from further attempts to impose

    our morals on others while blocking gender
    equality initiatives and evading responsibility for clerical

    I am not concerned about the nuns getting fried; they can
    handle the heat. I am not concerned about the church either,
    for we have the Lord’s promise that “the gates of hell will
    not prevail.” My concern is for the bishops, who failed so
    miserably to resolve the child sexual abuse crisis and now
    seem so diligent to reassert themselves as the “authentic
    teachers of faith and morals.”
    Modern psychology has established that there are male and
    female polarities in every human being, even though the human
    population is a bimodal distribution with one of the
    polarities being dominant in most individuals. The

    Christian faith is that, at the incarnation, the Second
    Person of the Trinity fully assumed the concrete totality of
    human nature – both male and female along the entire gender
    continuum – even though the divine Person, in fully embracing
    the human condition except for sin, was limited with regard to
    everything else, including anatomical plumbing and socially
    constructed gender limits.
    If this is the case, it follows that the exclusion of
    women from ordination to the ministerial priesthood is a
    disciplinary aberration and a doctrinal absurdity. This
    is the basic problem the Vatican is struggling with, and there
    is no way in the world they can finesse themselves out of it
    without loosing face. We need to pray for these guys.
    Much good can come out of this. I hope it becomes an
    opportunity to recognize the difference between clear cut
    issues, such as the right to life and the fully inclusive
    humanity God assumed at the incarnation, and other issues of
    human sexuality and reproductive health in which there are
    many shades of gray. Surely the Vatican must know that, in
    matters that have not been infallibly defined as revealed
    truth, there is room for discussion.
    After 2000 years teaching doctrines that are 99% good and 1%
    bad, the bishops are understandably concerned about not
    throwing out the 99% of good Catholic heritage in the process
    of correcting the 1% bad heritage. The problem is that, just
    as cancer cells produce a tumor that starts small but grows
    like Topsy, the 1% bad heritage (sexism in particular) is now
    corrupting the good 99% by an admixture of truth and error
    that grows bigger and bigger, and more and more perverse, as
    the Vatican and the College of Bishops try to push error and
    truth together down people’s throats in a vain attempt to buy
    time while the clock is clicking.
    It boils down to this: sexist bias (and masculinist

    language) must be exorcised out of all Christian
    doctrines, including

    the Creed, in order to regain credibility as veritatis

    in caritatis; else, the future of the “new
    evangelization” is grim. And after all the phallocentric
    accretions have been removed, the church can honestly say that
    nothing essential has changed, because nothing that has been
    infallibly defined as revealed truth has changed. In
    particular with regard to the sacraments, going beyond
    “skin-deep” understanding is a mark of constructive doctrinal
    development, not to be confused with revisionist change.
    Since the Vatican wants to elevate a matter of discipline
    to a matter of doctrine,
    let’s discuss the issues at the level of doctrine, and in the
    process contribute to purify both discipline and “doctrine”
    from sexist error!

    In Christ,


    Luis T. Gutiérrez

    Editor, Mother Pelican Journal

  • Benedict Carter

    No, you do NOT write “In Christ” or “From Christ” or “With Christ”, but from the other guy. You are a little antiChrist preparing the way for the real one to come. 

    You wrote in your long, rambling post: ” … impose our morals on others while blocking gender equality initiatives …”.

    This is just the usual tired 1970′s feminist-Marxist family-destroying bullsh*t, isn’t it? We’ve had enough of that crap already! 

    And no, they are NOT “our” morals, they are GOD’S. 

    If you do not believe that (which you obviously do not), then leave the CHurch. Get out, go away, because if you had a properly-formed conscience you would be out already. 

  • Benedict Carter

    Well, there are bad people in every country and in all times. The Christian Brothers, for instance, were to my mother in Eastern England in the 1930′s the very epitomy of kindness and holiness. Yet in Ireland it seems it was too often a different story, unfortunately. Ireland was a poor and violent place though; Lincolnshire was not.

  • Benedict Carter

    1970′s feminist-Marxist yakkety yak.

    The question of women “priests” has been decided for good, or haven’t you noticed?

  • Aunt Raven

    I can’t disprove infidelity to vows of poverty or chastity, but by their own mouths these women prove they have broken their vow of obedience.  

  • Patrickhowes

    You are right about good and bad and I think that the problem in Ireland was as you say the poverty.Positioning a son and daughter that you can hardly feed in to the Church was a welcome relief.Not all had the sincere vocation!

  • GFFM

    This reform is 30 years too late to be quite honest. The LCWR should be disbanded, broken up. The leadership has forgotten about Christ and is stuck in the old, tired undignified feminist rants of the 1960s and 1970s.  Other orders have passed them by–most of what they do is irrelevant. Many of the majestic orders have simply ruined themselves and they have completely forgotten the meaning of their histories and their original missions. Anger, resentment, and feminist pique have replaced selflessness and dedication to the Gospel. I saw this when I was 10 and that was 1970. Again, this action on the part of the CDF is right, but too late. There will be much grinding and gnashing of teeth in the National Catholic Reporter.

  • M Rimmer

    “The photo is of Catholic female religious? Really? Looks like the only habits they know about are bad ones.” – are you serious? Your comments on other pages are full of ‘Im a Catholic I don’t know what you are’ statements ect, start acting like a Catholic and try to show the light of Christ to others by how you live and treat others not condescending them like some little queen with an agenda. You may be of the opinion that upholding the faith as you see it to be upheld (not necessarily in accordance with the bishops either as they vary in their opinions) is all that will be relevant when you go to heaven but being an arse to everyone else you come across when they disagree with you isn’t exactly the best way to get to heaven ether. God Bless. 

  • John

    Here in an article from the Catholic World Report that sheds a lot of light on why this had to be done. Of course the media over here in the States hasn’t practiced nuance since Carter was President (and many of the more lefty outfits, like the NY Times and HuffPo, embrace Catholic-bashing for fun and profit…) Shame it had to come to this, though it was past time. 

    Of course, given the age of nuns in progressive orders, they might as well have waited for them to die off…. 

  • Nat_ons

    Sadly, many professed religious are indeed excommunicate lata sententia – the dead walking .. or stalking .. would not be too stark a translation of the meaning. 
    The Age of Aquarius (a principle of self-expression and the freedom it promises vainly) is the only spirit that the great majority of religious and priests and laity have had inculcated for decades .. as the spirit of the Council (a falsehood that only the father of lies could invent – or better for the ‘prince of this world’, something which man seeks to do himself and for himself). Fidelity to one’s call, to the actual church teaching, to Christ the Lord our God, is presented only as a means by which to frame one’s own opinion; sacrificial self-giving in following the Cross is just an old-fashioned subliminal, Freudian, insanity – removed by the Vatican Council’s opening to ‘love’; and, not least, a submissive obedience toward the Faith is dismissed as contrary to all the liberation that the theology of self-expressive love stood for .. this is the state of  witness in the drip-dry, relevance-conscious, a-la-mode spirit of New Women’s Ministry as it still seems to prevail (where there are any such ‘nuns’ left in active ministry, thankfully these are rapidly declining).

  • GFFM

    Many  LCWR have indeed pushed a narrow social justice agenda while ignoring very basic Catholic teaching on the preciousness of unborn life and fundamental Church teaching on sexual morality. Secondly, many of the orders represented within the LCWR have virtually no vocations. Thirdly with regard to the religious freedom issues and abortion/sterlization mandate within the Obama Healthcare bill they have said nada, nothing, zip. As I said, the CDF action is a long time coming and is really too late if one of its motivations was to possibly clean up these orders. Most are too far gone to ever recover. It’s all quite sad.

  • GFFM

    You are blatantly wrong about what the healthcare bill absolutely requires of citizens. You also make no distinction between the activities which are lobbied for.  You should really be makings distinctions between abortion/sterilization services and basic services for the poor which faith  based institutions lobby for. And finally, no one really disagrees anymore about whether the healthcare bill infringes upon religious freedom: all sides recognize that it does infringe on very basic freedom of conscience issues. The left doesn’t care that it does. You might want to read beyond the narrow sources you apparently rely upon.

  • Farkel44

    Those silly old men from Rome are too interested in getting the sheep to heaven…the good sistas want to create heaven on Earth….. they are so mistaken…. their actions show the simple fact that they no longer believe…. they believe in themselves more than Christ.

  • Honeybadger

    Oh, really? I’m wrong, am I?

    Unlike you, I HAVE DONE MY RESEARCH!

    So, you think that the US cardinals and bishops have been in a delerium tremens?

    Nope. They have been bravely and courageously speaking up and out against Obamacare and its attempt to bulldoze through this clause that the evils of contraception and abortion should be paid for through their insurance by EVERYBODY!

    Why not take time and look up,, and EWTN – the Roman Catholic satellite broadcaster? Also, the Cardinal Newman Society and Catholic Vote.  The list goes on!

    Then judge for yourself who does their homework and who doesn’t, bub!

  • Honeybadger

    Flipping. Heck.

    The, er, ‘congregation’/order/blue cagoule gang with blue rinse hair and kipper tie wimples (delete which appropriate) that live not far from me don’t call themselves anything of the above.

    It reminds me of when Confession/Sacrament of Penance was changed into the preposterously titled ‘Reconciliation’!?!

    I thought the Devil’s Dictionary was fiction until I discovered it is for real.

    And here is me according my respectfulness by calling them an ‘order’!

    God forgive me!

  • Honeybadger

    You. Are. LOOPY!

  • Honeybadger

    I respectfully and humbly ask the Holy Father whether he will continue his sterling work by also knocking the Irish Association of Catholic Priests on the head – sooner rather than later.

    Some Irish priests, including Fr Brian D’Arcy, are moaning and wingeing about being censured by the Vatican on their written views which are contrary to the Magisterium.

    Boo-hoo them. I have no sympathy, only my prayers that Almighty God, through Jesus Christ, will erase the deadly sin of pride from their hearts and learn some manners, take their medicine… and show some respect and obedience to God and His Vicar, The Pope.

  • Honeybadger

    teigitur is correct, Helen.

    Your post smacks of invalidation. *tsk* *tsk*!

    What was it I said about doing research?

    Sorry, I didn’t quite read that!