12 June 2012

A bishop confronts the LCWR/media "outrage"

Bishop Leonard Blair responds to the anti-Catholic hatred oozing out of the MSM and seeping into their coverage of the CDF's assessment of the LCWR's theological goofiness:

Reality check: The LCWR, CDF and the doctrinal assessment

When you are in a position of leadership or authority, it is a great cross sometimes to know firsthand the actual facts of a situation and then have to listen to all the distortions and misrepresentation of the facts that are made in the public domain.

Having conducted the doctrinal assessment of the entity known as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), I can only marvel at what is now being said, both within and outside the Church, regarding the process and the recent steps taken by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to remedy significant and longstanding doctrinal problems connected with the activities and programs of the LCWR.

The biggest distortion of all is the claim that the CDF and the bishops are attacking or criticizing the life and work of our Catholic sisters in the United States. One report on the CBS evening news showcased the work of a Mercy Sister who is a medical doctor in order to compare her to the attack that she and sisters like her are supposedly being subjected to by authoritarian bishops. The report concludes with a statement that the bishops impose the rules of the Church but the sisters carry on the work of the Church.

Unless the sister in question is espousing and/or promoting positions contrary to Catholic teaching—and there was no reason given to think that she is—then the Holy See’s doctrinal concerns are not directed at her or at the thousands of religious sisters in our country like her to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude for all that they do in witness to the Gospel.

What the CDF is concerned about, as I indicated, is the particular organization known as the LCWR. Its function, responsibilities and statutes were all originally approved by the Holy See, to which it remains accountable. While it is true that the member communities of the LCWR represent most of the religious sisters in the United States, that does not mean that criticism of the LCWR is aimed at all the member religious communities, much less all sisters[And I would among the first to howl if I thought for a second that the CDF was characterizing ALL religious sisters with their assessment.]

The word “investigation” is often used to describe the work that I carried out on behalf of the CDF. “Investigation” suggests an attempt to uncover things that might not be known. In reality, what the CDF commissioned was a doctrinal “assessment,” an appraisal of materials which are readily available to anyone who cares to read them on the LCWR website and in other LCWR published resources. The assessment was carried out in dialogue with the LCWR leadership, both in writing and face-to-face, over several months[NB.  contrary to the claims of the LCWR that the "process" lacked transparency. . .]

The fundamental question posed to the LCWR leadership as part of the assessment was simply this: What are the Church’s pastors to make of the fact that the LCWR constantly provides a one-sided platform—without challenge or any opposing view—to speakers who take a negative and critical position vis-a-vis Church doctrine and discipline and the Church’s teaching office?
Let me cite just a few of the causes for concern.

In her LCWR keynote address in 1997, Sr. Sandra Schneiders, IHM proposed that the decisive issue for women religious is the issue of faith: “It can no longer be taken for granted that the members [of a given congregation] share the same faith.”

Ten years later, in an LCWR keynote speech, Sr. Laurie Brink, O.P. spoke of “four different general ‘directions’ in which religious congregations seem to be moving.” She said that “not one of the four is better or worse than the others.” One of the directions described is “sojourning,” which she says “involves moving beyond the Church, even beyond Jesus. A sojourning congregation is no longer ecclesiastical. It has grown beyond the bounds of institutional religion.” This kind of congregation “in most respects is Post-Christian.” She concludes by characterizing as “a choice of integrity, insight and courage” the decision to “step outside the Church” already made by one group of women religious. [An ecclesial condition most people understand to be Protestant, i.e. no long Roman Catholic]

Fr. Michael H. Crosby, OFMCap, a keynote speaker at the joint LCWR-CMSM assembly in 2004, lamented the fact that “we still have to worship a God that the Vatican says ‘wills that women not be ordained.’ That god is literally ‘unbelievable.’ It is a false god; it cannot be worshiped. And the prophet must speak truth to that power and be willing to accept the consequence of calling for justice, stopping the violence and bringing about the reign of God.”  [NB.  this self-anointed Franciscan prophet believes that he and his ideological allies are responsible for bringing about the reign of God.  Heh.  And here I thought God Himself was gonna get around to doing that.]

The LCWR’s Systems Thinking Handbook describes a hypothetical case in which sisters differ over whether the Eucharist should be at the center of a special community celebration.  The problem is that some of the sisters object to “priest-led liturgies.” The scenario, it seems, is not simply fictitious, for some LCWR speakers also mention the difficulty of finding ways to worship together as a faith community.  According to the Systems Thinking Handbook this difficulty is rooted in differences at the level of belief, but also different mental models—the “Western mind” and the “Organic mental model.”  These, rather than Church doctrine, are offered as tools for the resolution of the case.

LCWR speakers also explore themes like global spirituality, the new cosmology, earth-justice and eco-feminism in ways that are frequently ambiguous, dubious or even erroneous with respect to Christian faith. [IOW, the real goal of these speakers is to lead the sisters out of the Church and into mythology, cf. 1 Tim 1.3-5]. And while the LCWR upholds Catholic social teaching in some areas, it is notably silent when it comes to two of the major moral challenges of our time: the right to life of the unborn, and the God-given meaning of marriage between one man and one woman[The reason they are silent on these two issues is obvious:  they have adopted a basically secular-leftist worldview that promotes social liberation through the nearly unfettered coercive power of gov't, i.e. cultural Marxism]. 

Are these examples indicative of the thinking of all religious sisters in the United States whose communities are members of the LCWR?  Certainly not[I doubt that even a tenth of the U.S. sisters buy their junk].

Serious questions of faith undoubtedly arise among some women religious, as the LCWR maintains. However, is it the role of a pontifically recognized leadership group to criticize and undermine faith in church teaching by what is said and unsaid, or rather to work to create greater understanding and acceptance of what the Church believes and teaches?

Those who do not hold the teachings of the Catholic Church, or Catholics who dissent from those teachings, are quick to attack the CDF and bishops for taking the LCWR to task. However, a person who holds the reasonable view that a Catholic is someone who subscribes to the teachings of the Catholic Church will recognize that the Catholic Bishops have a legitimate cause for doctrinal concern about the activities of the LCWR, as evidenced by a number of its speakers and some of its resource documents.

A key question posed by the doctrinal assessment had to do with moving forward in a positive way. Would the LCWR at least acknowledge the CDF’s doctrinal concerns and be willing to take steps to remedy the situation?  The response thus far is exemplified by the LCWR leadership’s choice of a New Age Futurist to address its 2012 assembly, and their decision to give an award this year to Sr. Sandra Schneiders, who has expressed the view that the hierarchical structure of the church represents an institutionalized form of patriarchal domination that cannot be reconciled with the Gospel[No doubt she will tell us in her acceptance speech that Jesus would want the sisters to support abortion--b/c rabbis in his time weren't really all that worried about killing children; that he would support same-sex "marriage" b/c as a rabbi well-versed in the Mosaic Law he understood that gender identity is a social construct; and that he urge them to refer to his father as "Mother" b/c he did so many times while preaching around 1st century Palestine].

This situation is now a source of controversy and misunderstanding, as well as misrepresentation. I am confident, however, that if the serious concerns of the CDF are accurately represented and discussed among all the sisters of our country, there will indeed be an opening to a new and positive relationship between women religious and the Church’s pastors in doctrinal matters, as there already is in so many other areas where mutual respect and cooperation abound.  [This is my prayer!  Also note, that if the CDF were the power-hungry, testosterone-poisoned institution that the LCWR claims, there would be no meetings, no discussion, no nothing.  Just a fancy parchment signed by the Holy Father and hand-delivered, informing the Good Sisters that their organization is now defunct.]

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  1. So excited to see such a well-informed criticism of the media's coverage of the LCWR!!!

  2. Disagreement, as Fr. Murray observed, is not an easy thing to reach.

    Everyone (except those who watch CBS) knows the LCWR holds a negative and critical position vis-a-vis Church doctrine and discipline and the Church's teaching office. The CDF is pretending that the LCWR hasn't realized it yet, and the LCWR is pretending that the Vatican hates women. I'm not sure it's in either side's best short-term interest to stop pretending.

    1. Tom, I think the CDF had to do something rather dramatic to get the LCWR's attention. Polite letters, requests from individual bishops, etc. were ignored for years. Obviously, the LCWR was surprised that the Vatican finally "did something." I wish everyone would drop the pretense and just slug it out. All this diplomatic dancing around the real problem is going to produce a do-nothing solution.

    2. Let's hope they drop the pretense and slug it out when they meet. Though I have some concern that decades of systems thinking and mission statement talking have left the LCWR leadership unable to... well, think or talk coherently. In which case, we'll have to count on decades of the episcopacy leaving Cardinal Levada able to act decisively.

    3. Systems Thinking isn't thinking at all. It's a dressed method of coercion that forces the majority to adopt a minority position in order to reach consensus. Once the minority position is adopted, ST allows the minority to claim that the adopted position is the consensus and anyone who disagrees is dismissed as "out of step." Few rarely object b/c they are led to believe that they are the sole voice of dissent, thus their silence is assured. Basically, this is how a handful of radical feminists have taken over the leadership of women religious.

    4. Oh, and keep in mind that ST only works as it should if there are no predetermined answers, no unchangeable truths. This is part of makes ST attractive to the LCWR. Of course, ST will never lead the sisters back to Catholic orthodoxy b/c they already have an orthodoxy that they believe ST helps them keep in place. I have never attended a meeting where ST is used and come out surprised to learn that ST led us to conclusion that wasn't assumed from the beginning by those who set the agenda.

  3. Similar was the amazingly obtuse coverage in the Herald Tribune (the New York Times on vacation) of the pope's secretary situation. Somehow Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone was the victim of rightist movements like Communione e Liberazione and Opus Dei. No one ever mentioned that Berone is a Salesian, and that THEY might have a position somewhere as this gigantic Italian centrist order that (looks like it) wants to take over the world. There is no deciding between the ignorance and the malice of the media, is there?

    1. Invincible ignorance is a form of malice.

  4. Anonymous5:30 PM

    I don't know why the delicacy regarding the other part of the equation is so pervasive - on many Catholic blogs, including the Patheos groups, and from bishops like this. It's not just the "mainstream media" that's pushing this narrative. It's liberal Catholics, many of whom are quite powerful. I sincerely doubt this LCWR action would have the attention it did were it not for Fr. James Martin, America Magazine, Commonweal and NCR. I don't understand why someone doesn't call them out.

    1. Any Catholic who publicly challenges the goofiness of the LCWR or in any way suggests that something might be wrong is cast as a right-wing fruitcake, a patriarchal oppressor, and pre-Vatican Two throwback. With the MSM, the Catholic academy, chancery bureaucracies, a large percent of the clergy, and most religious "on their side," the LCWR-types are able to crush vocal opposition. Priests and religious who speak up about dissent, liturgical abuse, etc. can become pariahs in their own dioceses and congregations. Since promotions, assignments, etc. are usually doled out based on internal politics rather than actual merit or skills, playing the game is vital if you're someone who wants to do something other than spend your life saying Mass in a nursing home, or running a downtown chapel.

  5. So what will the CDF actually do? They complain about speakers at the LCWR meetings, but they are letting the current crop speak, even after "the crackdown". I'm sure Cardinal Levada is getting ready to sign off on Nancy Pelosi as speaker at next year's meeting. Sounds like the same do-nothing approach that's been going on with the Legionaires of Christ.

    1. Ben, as far as I know, the LCWR will have to get approval for future speakers. Levada approved this year's speaker. . .probably b/c the details of the "receivership" hadn't been worked out yet. Who knows?

      Keep in mind: as much as faithful Catholics may want an Old-Fashioned Inquisition, that will never happen. The CDF is dealing with folks who have strayed from the faith in a big way and they have to find a way for them to come back or leave. Butt-kicking may be satisfying for the one doing the kicking, but it won't encourage conversion. . .only resentment and more rebellion.

    2. Those are wise comments, and I will try to take them to heart. But it seems like the Vatican and the Bishops charged with overseeing the LCWR could at least stop the bleeding. Excommunicating Sr Chittister is probably the nuclear option and won't bring people around -- though it might get her books out of my Parish's bookstore :( But at a minimum they can do what they have the power to do. I guess plane tickets have been purchased and booking fees have been paid for the upcoming conference. But is that more important than souls? I get it when the Bishops say they are powerless to keep Georgetown from inviting Sebelius to speak. I don't like it, but I understand that it's true. But the Bishops and the Vatican have the power to stop this and they aren't doing it.

      So my question stands. What is the CDF actually going to do? Time will tell, I guess. In the meantime, another renegade Catholic group is running wild. Dissident priests in Austria: no action. Dissident colleges in US: no action. Dissident religious orders: no action. With a record like that, why is the LCWR worried at all?

    3. European Catholics are always surprised by the American Catholic's sense of urgency when to come to all-things-heretical. They have a much more "we'll get to it" attitude than we do. The Vatican is in Rome for a reason: inefficiency has its spiritual benefits. IOW, haste makes spiritual waste. This is probably why we will never have an American pope!

      BXVI's program has been one of persuasion. . .not compromise, or endless dialogue. . .but more about affirming orthodoxy and encouraging dissidents to join the Cool People in the orthodox camp. Frankly, I don't think the LCWR-types have the intellectual tools to grasp orthodox thinking or the socio-cultural wherewithal to abandon their irrational fear and anger to join us. They are born and bred in their version of religious life to be modern narcissists.