Ann Carey is author of the book Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women’s Religious Communities, so she’s not remotely surprised by the Vatican’s call for reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
“Some people have speculated that the CDF renewal of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was prompted by the LCWR and Network support of Obamacare in opposition to the bishops,” she observes. “That may have been the last straw, but the CDF move was a long time coming,” she tells me.
Carey provides the background:
The LCWR has disagreed with the Vatican on major issues since the early 1970s. The renewal model promoted by LCWR was a misinterpretation of the Vatican II mandates, and the Vatican tried to issue guidelines to correct the situation several times over the years, only to be rebuffed by LCWR. The LCWR leadership has been open about its right to “loyal dissent” and its determination to re-make religious life, and has influenced many religious orders to follow its path.
She adds, in response to the LCWR reaction:
The LCWR says it was “stunned” by the decision, but how stunned could they be when the CDF warned them in 2001 about doctrinal problems? That’s 11 years, for heaven’s sake! Instead of trying to work with the Vatican to correct those problems, they continued on the same path, probably thinking that they would just continue dialoging with the Vatican. However, when vowed religious openly dissent from Church doctrine and encourage others to do the same, this causes scandal and confusion, and I think the CDF felt it was necessary to do something for the good of the Church and for the integrity of religious life. Vowed religious after all, are supposed to be public representatives of the Church, and when some of them disagree with basic Church teachings, something had to be done.
What’s next? How will the LCWR react? “I do think there are some moderate members in LCWR who will urge cooperation with the Vatican,” Carey predicts. “But there are also some very convicted people who are convinced that what they are doing is right, so I think there will be quite a debate within LCWR about what to do,” she continues. “If the majority decide to give up canonical status and go along simply as a professional group, as Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, has suggested, the LCWR will certainly lose its credibility, and I would guess would lose a lot of members who want to retain those canonical ties.”