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Vatican official rebukes US nuns’ group for ‘fundamental errors’

By on Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CNS)

Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CNS)

Using what he acknowledged was unusually “blunt” language, the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office rebuked officers of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) for honouring a Catholic theologian whose work was judged “seriously inadequate” and for promoting ideas he described as being “opposed to Christian revelation.”

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, made the remarks on April 30 in an address to the presidency of the LCWR, a Maryland-based umbrella group that claims about 1,500 leaders of US women’s communities as members, representing about 80 percent of the country’s 57,000 women religious. The text of Cardinal Müller’s remarks was posted on the congregation’s website.

In 2012, the Vatican announced a major reform of the LCWR to ensure its fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality. The Vatican appointed Archbishop J Peter Sartain of Seattle to implement the congregation’s “doctrinal assessment,” by providing “review, guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work” of the LCWR.

LCWR officials have characterised the assessment as a “flawed process that lacked transparency,” and the disciplinary measures imposed by the Vatican as “disproportionate,” saying they compromised the organisation’s ability to fulfill its mission.

At the April 30 meeting with LCWR officials, Cardinal Müller voiced “increasing concern” about the LCWR’s promotion of the “concept of conscious evolution” in various publications and in the “directional statements” of some member congregations.

Conscious evolution is a set of ideas developed in the writings of Barbara Marx Hubbard, who addressed the LCWR annual assembly in 2012. Hubbard’s website describes the concept as “part of the trajectory of human evolution, the canvas of choice before us now as we recognise that we have come to possess the powers that we used to attribute to the gods.”

According to the cardinal, the “fundamental theses of conscious evolution are opposed to Christian revelation and, when taken unreflectively, lead almost necessarily to fundamental errors regarding the omnipotence of God, the incarnation of Christ, the reality of original sin, the necessity of salvation and the definitive nature of the salvific action of Christ in the paschal mystery.”

“Conscious evolution does not offer anything which will nourish religious life as a privileged and prophetic witness rooted in Christ revealing divine love to a wounded world,” he said. “The Gospel does. Selfless service to the poor and marginalised in the name of Jesus Christ does.”

Cardinal Müller also said he was saddened by plans to give a major award at the group’s annual assembly in August to St Joseph Sister Elizabeth A Johnson. In 2011, the US bishops’ Committee on Doctrine criticised one of Sister Johnson’s books as containing “misrepresentations, ambiguities and errors” related to the Catholic faith.

The LCWR’s award to the theologian “will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the doctrinal assessment,” the cardinal said. “Not only that, but it further alienates the LCWR from the bishops as well.”

The prefect said he would not prevent Sister Johnson from receiving the award, but that the Vatican expected LCWR officials henceforth to seek Archbishop Sartain’s advance approval of “invited speakers and honourees” at major events.

“In the end, the point is this: The Holy See believes that the charismatic vitality of religious life can only flourish within the ecclesial life of the Church,” the cardinal said. “The LCWR, as a canonical entity dependent on the Holy See, has a profound obligation to the promotion of that faith as the essential foundation of religious life.”

In a written statement responding to a reporter’s inquiry, LCWR officials said the prefect’s “remarks were meant to set a context for the discussion that followed. The actual interaction with Cardinal Muller and his staff was an experience of dialogue that was respectful and engaging.”

LCWR officials later sent a message to their members and included the full text of Cardinal Muller’s introductory remarks. They said that “in the honest, respectful and engaging discussion that followed Cardinal Muller’s opening remarks, we were able to offer responses that illuminated some of the perceptions about LCWR held by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

For instance, they said, “in our discussion about the 2014 LCWR Outstanding Leadership Award, we noted that Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, served the universal church on a pontifical commission and was a consultant to the USCCB in the areas of ecology, science and faith.”

“We further shared how distressing it is to realize that one aspect, in one book, of a distinguished theologian’s body of work seems to cast the entire body of respected and credible work in its shadow.”

Without using the term “conscious evolution,” the officials said that “when LCWR continues to read the signs of the times, within the context of our Catholic beliefs and tradition, it is an effort to attend to emerging insights and learnings. We are exploring these areas of contemporary culture, we are not proposing them. Nor are we using them to replace our firm commitment to the Christological foundation of consecrated life. Our efforts to explore new understandings from science and philosophy are in service of our members who desire to exercise anticipatory leadership in order to meet the challenging times in which they are leading. These points of discussion, among many more, were met with genuine respect, attentive listening and honest exchange.”

The officers said they would continue discussions with the LCWR executive board in late May and with the general membership in August.


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  • MIKE

    Contraception being a mortal sin – is not an opinion, but a teaching of the Church.
    Either you hate mortal sin, or you wallow in it.
    Everyone is called to chastity in different ways – and this includes married couples.
    Never tolerate mortal sin.

    CCC: ” 2399 The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).”

    CCC: ” 2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom.
    In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil:
    Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality. “

  • MIKE

    Bishops should not change Jesus’s teaching for monetary gains.

    And they certainly should not try to change Church teaching to be popular.

  • MIKE

    Revelation 3:16
    ” So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.”
    Never tolerate mortal sin.

  • Sister S

    Stop the guilt by association.

  • Henry

    MIKE, please. We know the Church’s teaching on this. There are reported to be some 65 million Catholics in the USA registered to parishes. It is also reported that 85% of Catholics in America use or have used contraceptives. Accordingly, you just have some 55 million people to convince plus all the non-Catholics. You (and the Church) say that the use of contraceptives is a Mortal Sin – but most people just do not believe that, do they.

  • Hegesippus


  • MIKE

    If they want to be members of the LCWR, they can be members of the LCWR.
    There is nothing that states Orders and their members MUST belong to the LCWR.
    This is a choice not a command.

    As far as their own web sites are concerned, those are their words, not mine.

    Similarly if someone wants to belong to a pro-abortion group, they can belong to a pro-abortion group.

  • MIKE

    I believe you know the Church’s teaching on contraception.
    If people want to vote on what is and is not sinful – several Protestant Churches allow this. That is why they also accept gay marriage – via vote.

    Jesus, did not give the authority to the guy on the street to determine what is and is not sinful.
    ” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jn 20:22-23.

    I’ll be the first to admit, that I don’t care what the guy on the street thinks, or if it is popular.
    Certain things were popular in Sodom and Gomorrah as well.
    I’m more concerned about Jesus’s Narrow Door statement: Lk13:23-28 & Mt 7:13-14.
    Getting myself to Heaven and helping as many others as possible to get their too.

  • Sister S

    The LCWR is not a church. It does not force it’s members to subscribe to a set of views.It can,t make prouncements on their behalf. There are orthodox communities that are affiliated through their superiors.

    The only way to know is to meet them personally
    Generalizations only play into those who want to use it to claim that their views are in the majority.

  • Henry

    A fair comment, MIKE, and I understand you and find your position commendable. The only area where you and I probably disagree is that I feel that my own religious beliefs are my own and I follow them at my own wish – which is probably your position also – except that I see no reason to try to force my beliefs on what is or is not a ‘Mortal Sin’ on others unless that sin actually hurts others. You and those here with strong adherence to the CCC (the bishops also) seem to find it necessary to try to force your view on contraceptives onto others even by law (as the bishops are doing here and have done in the past in, for example, Ireland and the Philippines). There you and I will disagree. God gave us free will and my belief is that the Church should teach and encourage but the individual should make his own decision without threats and coercion. If that results in Hell – so be it. But that is up to personal opinion and ultimately to God Himself.

    Nevertheless, MIKE, thanks for the exchange of views.

  • Henry

    Savvy, as I have said to you before, the leadership of the LCWR is given credibility as the leadership of “the Nuns” by the fact that the hierarchy treats them as such.

  • MIKE

    What the LCWR professes is heresy.

  • MIKE

    Henry, are you Catholic? If not, I understand your views.

    If you are Catholic your views must be that of the Christ’s Catholic Church. When writing on a Catholic blog, you should present Catholic Church views for the many who have no clue and can make wrong assumptions, or post somewhat frequently that you are not Catholic, or are a Catholic heretic, or Catholic schismatic which ever is correct.

    I dropped my own views when I decided to follow Christ, and returned to the Catholic Church.
    And if I should accidentally post anything in opposition to Church teaching, I want others to correct me so the error will not stand.

    If you are Catholic –
    CCC: ” 2089
    INCREDULITY is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it.
    HERESY is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same;
    APOSTACY is the total repudiation of the Christian faith;
    SCHISM is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

    Keeping our eyes on the prize – getting to Heaven, does not include confirming others in sin.
    Or committing the sin of pride whereby we think we know more than Jesus and His Church.

  • MIKE

    The CDF as stated in the article above has spoken. Please re-read the article.

    No Order is forced to join the LCWR. Those who have joined in the past can leave at any time
    No one joins organizations they do not support or believe in. That would make no sense at all.

  • Sister S

    You make it sound like the LCWR created, these orders rather than their founders. There are those who are fighting to stay true to their roots.

    Did you also know that younger members in LCWR communities are more orthodox? They fought their superiors to wear habits and pray the divine office

  • Sister S

    I am not denying they have leadership, just explaining how their role is not one of dictator.

  • Sister S

    What do you mean?

  • JackC

    The Church does not deny that there is a big number of Catholics that support and use contraception. This is part of the reason why I have so much respect and admiration for the church leadership. It does not bend with the winds of what is popular. The church is my rock. It’s the one thing I know will not change whether I agree with it or not. Even her enemies respect her for this. Go with what’s cool at the moment and those who hate you will not hate you less. To the contrary, their contempt will grow. May God protect her always.

  • cjkeeffe

    Properly the Holy Father has rebuked these nuns through his prefect of the CDF. The Prefect and the Holy Father meet and agree its works.

  • rjt1

    It doesn’t matter. They can both absolve sins, irrespective of their disagreements – as I’m sure you know…but I guess you’re just being provocative.

  • Dorotheus

    The conceit of self-appointed doctrinal watchdogs knows no bounds. I imagine the LCWR will continue to ignore their aburd and rather pathetic bullying as they have done hitherto. There is nothing else to do. I think Pope Francis has already said something to this effect.

  • MIKE

    You are purposely twisting the truth.
    We all know that all Orders (approved by the Vatican) have nothing to do with being FOUNDED by the LCWR.

    These same Nuns who faught their Superiors to wear habits, etc, should fight to get their Order(s) out of the LCWR.
    There is no requirement for any Order to be a member of the LCWR.

    Membership in the LCWR is purely voluntary and you know it.

    Do not make excuses for those Orders who “choose” to remain members of the LCWR.

  • rjt1

    The Cardinal is not self-appointed. He is appointed (or kept in office) by the Pope. Liberal theology is a toxin which saps the life out of religious life – I’ve seen it from the inside.

  • Sister S

    If the Vatican asks them to leave, then they should. Until then let’s pray for their conversion
    Refusing to accept that God can change a heart,is the same as liberals who stubbornly resist being transformed by grace when it does not suit them

  • MIKE

    We should pray for all heretics and schismatics – for a change in their hearts.
    We should not support them by joining them.

  • Sister S

    Kasper has not been assigned to this. The Guy needs to stop yacking.

  • Sister S

    CDF reports have to be approved by the Pope.

  • Sister S

    They are not ALL heretics. I do not see the Vatican dissolving entire communities without making arrangements for orthodox members.

    By targeting the leadership, they are being wise.

  • gabriel_syme

    The Original doctrinal watchdogs were appointed by Jesus Christ, Gerhard Mueller was appointed by the successors of these originals.
    The LCWR are not Catholic and could at least have the courage of their convictions and leave, rather than use the Church as a meal ticket.

  • gabriel_syme

    So the Vatican gives official recognition to the non-Catholic, bolshy LCWR and yet doesn’t not grant the SSPX a fully canonical status?
    The Mother-Earth / Zen / Gaia crowd are above board, but the authentic Catholic faith is not?
    “Boom boom” as Basil Brush would say.

    The LCWR are allowed to continue their destruction-from-within, but 100s of 1000s of faithful Catholics are kept “on ice”, at arms length, by the Vatican. Silly.

  • Sister S

    There are convents that have wiped Jesus out of prayer books
    would you accept this if it was the popular thing to do,since all your arguments are based on an appeal to what is popular.

  • Sister S

    Whose responsible for the decline? Nobody is going to give up everything to move beyond Jesus

  • Sister S

    Let me explain this. The communities in the LCWR have their own constitutions since, they are established religious orders.

    The LCWR is supposed to bring about solidarity among them and network between communities.

    Instead the leadership is more focused on new age stuff than on other things.

  • Sister S

    The laity does not understand the nature of the LCWR. They are concerned that this is an attack on all the communities affiliated with them.

  • Sister S

    The issues are with the leadership of the LCWR, not religious orders or individual nuns.

  • Henry

    If the individual communities disagree with the LCWR surely they should resign from it. But they are not. Why not?
    Further, is your order a member of the LCWR and, if so, since you seem to be so hostile to the LCWR and seem to suggest that other Sisters share you opinion, why has it not resigned from the LCWR? Or are you perhaps just an outlier?

  • Henry

    Perhaps it would help your argument if you would name one or two convents that have done what you say since this does not strike me as something that would be “popular.

  • Henry

    The same could have been said about abstaining from meat on Fridays. Until the Church realized the futility of the rule.

  • Sister S

    Individual communities have their own constitutions, that have no connection to what the LCWR leadership might think or do.

    The LCWR is a support group for superiors of communities. Some might be more into the New Age than others.

    If you notice not all superiors were called before the CDF.

    My order is not a member of the LCWR.

    We have friends in the LCWR who have been hurt that by the idea that mere affiliation has led people to think that they are unorthodox.

    This is why I pointed out that there is a difference between members and the leadership.

  • Sister S

    I have been to the motherhouse of the schools sisters of Notre Dame, where the prayer books, refuse to give Jesus names that ascribe power such as Lord, Master or saviour, because it implies that we are subordinate to him.

    I went to visit another community of Benedictines, who seemed alright on the outside.

    When they started praying to the female Christ, I had to get out of there.

  • Henry

    Thank you for your replies, savvy. But, since your order is not a member of the LCWR I cannot help but wonder whether you believe that its members are more or less Catholic than you pride yourself in being. Also,is it your belief that they are not doing God’s work?
    In both the cases that you quote (and I am assuming these orders are members of LCWR) I cannot help but wonder whether you may be being pedantic. For example, were the sisters genuinely praying to a “female Christ” (since obviously Christ was not female) or were they praying to a female interpretation of God – because that is certainly a matter open to interpretation? And, in the second case, although those sisters may not use the words that you reference (Lord, master, etc.), were they genuinely praying to and using the name of Jesus?
    Again, with all due respect, we may be seeing yet again a demonstration that we see so often in these columns of “I am more Catholic than you”. What is important to you, that these sisters use some precise format of words or that they do God’s work in a good heart and believe in the divinity and resurrection of Jesus?

  • Sister S

    This is not about being more or less Catholic. I want the renewal of religious life. Sisters do not have an active presence in most of our schools, hospitals and parishes.

    There has been a loss of mission and community life.

    I have also been studying the new age for years to know, what they have gotten themselves into.

    In the new age, Jesus and Christ are different people. Jesus is a particular person, and Christ is a state of being that we can all be.

    So, Jesus was not the only Christ.

    This defeats the whole person of committing one’s life to Jesus Christ as his bride.

    Religious life is supposed to be a prophetic sign that points to this.

    An atheist can feed the poor, without taking any vows.

  • Sister S

    This is a critique from a member of the LCWR, who agrees with the CDF.

    “I hasten to acknowledge that many apostolic religious remain aloof from this dispute. They are the “silent majority” — men and women religious who do not want to return to pre-Vatican II patterns but are not ideologically committed to the “radical” program of Church “reform,””

  • Henry

    Is there some poll that tells us that this is the “silent majority” in the case of the Nuns? Surely, if this were true the leadership of the various orders would have taken action and withdrawn from the LCWR? When people declare themselves to be the “majority” when a) they differ from the leadership and b) there is no poll to show this fact, it is always difficult to take the claim seriously. A majority is usually heard from.

  • Sister S

    Religious life does not work on polls . People on the outside seldom know anything about the lives of nuns.

    Most American nuns are not interested in leadership disputes, because they have better things to do.

  • Sister S

    I just spoke to a sister whose superior was at the Vatican meeting. The superior came home and said nothing to the congregation. This was not discussed. Superiors do not discuss this with individual sisters.