My earlier blog post on the situation between the Holy See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) engendered more than its fair share of disagreement from usually friendly sources. As a follow up, I would like to add some additional reflections which follow on events since the publication of the Doctrinal Assessment by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
Last week the LCWR concluded its annual meeting, held this year in St. Louis, Missouri. At its conclusion, its leadership issued a statement which can be read by clicking here. I can not compliment the leadership enough for their thoughtful, reflective, and very ecclesial approach to a very difficult moment in Church relations. At no time did the elected leadership react in an angry manner, flame the fires of a potential fight, or descend into name calling. They kept their calm and showed real class. In a long interview on the public radio program “Fresh Air,” their president, Sister Pat Farrell, expressed her (and presumably her fellow leaders) bewilderment and hurt at the Vatican Declaration, but it was done in a respectful manner. However, what I admire the most at this moment is that going into and during their national meeting, the sisters prayed and dialogued among themselves, with no leaks and no search for grabbing headlines. I am not sure my own United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) could have accomplished that on an occasion which did manage to garner considerable national attention. The final statement indicates that the LCWR is willing to open a dialogue with the three bishops while hoping that they are not asked to compromise on what they hold important in their life and ministry.
On the PR front, the sisters gained a lot more support than “the bishops” did, or so it would seem. Bishop Leonard Blair, one of the three appointed bishops, also appeared on an interview with “Fresh Air” and did the best he could. I say this because I thought a lot of time was spent questioning the bishop on the question of the credibility of the bishops in light of the sexual abuse scandals rather than on the LCWR issue – dots that are difficult for me to connect, perhaps, because I am a bishop. I know of no bishop in this country who does not admire, love and support the women religious in his diocese. I also believe that the bishops have been somewhat restrained in their comments on the matter, except to do as I did and hope and pray for a sucessful conclusion. I also do not wish to waiver from my belief that from the Holy See’s perspective, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain is a great choice to chair what I hope will be a successful dialogue with the leadership of the majority of religious sisters.
Thanks to the leadership of the sisters, the true work of dialogue and reconciliation can now begin.