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Kieran Raval August 8, 2012
Yesterday, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) began its annual conference. Conspicuously absent from the guest list was Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle who was chosen by the Vatican to oversee the renewal and reform of the LCWR. Sartain, who offered to attend the conference, was told that his being there would “not be helpful.” So much for dialogue.
One really has to wonder what, in fact, would be helpful to the LCWR and many of the religious orders it represents. These nuns have been way off the reservation long before they got in the bus and started driving.
Much ink has been spilled about the LCWR. In particular, the secular, liberal media, ever opportunistic, has used the situation surrounding the LCWR as a perfect excuse to attack the big-bad-misogynistic-male-dominated-hierarchical Catholic Church. The headline is all too simple: Evil Celibate Male Clerics in Rome Oppress Poor Women Religious Who Just Want to Love People. If only these nuns would stick to the apostolic works for which they were founded! The LCWR, of course, has only been too eager to buy into this narrative put forward by its newfound allies in the media.
Let’s take a step back from the sloganeering: “We Are All Nuns,” “#WhatSistersMeanToMe.” Let’s pull the bus over to the side of the road and think rationally for once. After all, the entire conflict between the Vatican and the LCWR is much more an issue of rationality than it is an issue of authority, brought to bear however justly or unjustly. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that the real conflict exists within the souls of the nuns of the LCWR.
Words and names are important. They allow for rational thought and discourse because they correspond to certain phenomena. For instance, to say that an apple has four legs, a seat, and a back, is irrational. I am describing a chair, not an apple. As St. Thomas Aquinas suggests, rational intellection requires a certain adaequatio, a conformity, between a thing and the mind, as the basis of truth. The same principle may be applied to language. A thing must conform to what it is called.
The crisis of the LCWR is a crisis of rationality. The nuns of the LCWR are claiming to be an apple, while exhibiting all of the characteristics of a chair. They are claiming to be Catholic Christian women religious, while actively entertaining and promoting ideologies and worldviews that simply do not correspond to what it means to be Christian, let alone Catholic. The Vatican is simply pointing out this glaring incongruence, this lack of adaequatio, while seeking to remedy it.
In April, the Vatican released its Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR. Its findings help to put the problems of the LCWR in specific context. The Assessment cited actions by the LCWR that “undermine the revealed doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture.” It is difficult to put yourself further outside the rational boundaries of a basic understanding of Christianity, much less Catholicism. On this later point, the LCWR has also been found to be subverting the Church’s teachings on priestly ordination and human sexuality, among other things. The Doctrinal Assessment sums it up best: “Such a rejection of faith is also a serious source of scandal and is incompatible with religious life.”
Consider two examples that illustrate the Vatican’s findings. In 2006, Sister Margaret Farley, a member of the Sisters of Mercy and, at the time, a professor of Christian ethics at Yale, published a book entitled Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. Therein, Sister Farley essentially subverts the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, masturbation, and divorce. This is all done, of course, in the name of some kind of academic thought experiment. Never mind that such experiments have real world implications in terms of causing scandal and confusion in moral matters that have serious spiritual, social, and relational consequences. Naturally, Sister Farley’s superior, a member of the LCWR, and the LCWR itself came rushing to her defense when the Vatican issued a notification citing Farley’s “defective understanding of the objective nature of natural moral law.”
We move, now, from the realm of the morally dangerous to the realm of the absurd. Meet Barbara Marx Hubbard. I would suggest listening to her in her own words, but that will probably just leave you utterly baffled. Apparently, she is a proponent of futurism, the “birthing of humanity” and “conscious evolution,” whatever that is. On her Facebook page, she writes, “I am an 82 year old Visionary enjoying ‘Regenopause 2.’ Regenopause 1 is from 50 to 80. # 2 is 80 and beyond. I feel I am here to be a voice for the Collective Emergence of humanity as a Co-creative Universal Species!” I can’t make this stuff up, but apparently the LCWR takes her seriously enough to have her deliver the keynote address at their annual conference, currently underway. Again, the nuns of the LCWR find themselves squarely outside of what is rational.
It is very telling that, even after April’s Doctrinal Assessment, the LCWR shows no sign of correcting course. It is business as usual and that business is stinking more and more of pride and obstinacy every day. The nuns of the LCWR may take people like Barbara Marx Hubbard seriously, but fewer and fewer people are actually taking these nuns themselves seriously.
Young women considering religious life are taking seriously those orders and congregations that are faithful to the order’s charism and to the Church and her teachings. Many of these orders are relatively new. Consider the Dominican Sisters in Ann Arbor Michigan. They have added over 100 sisters in 15 years. The average age of the sisters is 28 and they are expanding to other locations, as they have no more room in their motherhouse. Similar things may be said of orders like the Sisters of Life or the Religious Sisters of Mercy.
Of course, there are many in the Church who refuse to acknowledge that traditional (that is to say, ‘orthodox’ or ‘faithful’) Catholicism is winning. A recent article in America Magazine purports to show that vocations numbers are equally low across the board. The piece pits the progressive LCWR, which represents about 80% of women religious in the U.S., against the orthodox Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), which represents 14% of women religious in the U.S. The authors rightly point out that about the same number of women are entering LCWR orders as are entering CMSWR. This is supposed to show that an order’s fidelity to the Church has no bearing on the number of vocations it receives. Looking at absolute, rather than relative statistics to prove this point is not even a cheap trick. It is an insult to the intelligence of anyone who has taken Statistics 101. With a four-fold advantage in terms of members and apostolates, one might think that the LCWR would have four times as many vocations as the CMSWR. Furthermore, the authors do not address the remaining 5% of women religious who belong to newer, and often faster growing, more faithful orders that do not belong to the LCWR or the CMSWR.
The demographic facts show that many of the congregations comprising the LCWR simply are not attracting vocations. They will cease to exist in a generation or so (see Ann Carey’s Sisters in Crisis). Perhaps Hubbard is indeed a good choice for the LCWR conference, given her apparent expertise in “evolution.”
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