The mainstream media has had a field day with the June 1 press release of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) accusing the Vatican of causing “scandal” and “polarization” by identifying doctrinal problems within the LCWR that need to be corrected. What is really an internal Church matter about the proper role of an organization that has canonical standing in the Catholic Church has become a hot topic in a media that seems to delight in any controversy within the Church, especially one that involves challenges to its authority.
Headlines like “U.S. Nuns crack back at Vatican crackdown” (USA Today, June 1) and “American nuns come out swinging against Vatican” (CNN, June 1) might be funny if they weren’t so very ignorant. In fact, ignorance and bias have marked much of the media’s coverage of the doctrinal assessment of the LCWR by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Or perhaps it’s laziness, for it is clear that many of the people writing about this issue know little about the Catholic Church and even less about the background for this story.
The June 1 New York Times editorial “When in Rome, Speak Up for Reality,” is a prime example of this ignorance/laziness/bias. For starters, the LCWR does not represent 80 percent of the sisters in the U.S., as the Times and many other media outlets claim. It represents only its 1,500 members, and sometimes even that is questionable, for it was only the LCWR 21-member national board that met and issued the June 1 press release well in advance of the August LCWR annual membership meeting.
#more#Further, only members of leadership teams of religious orders belong to LCWR: The grassroots sisters in religious orders do not belong to LCWR, and have neither voice nor vote in the organization. Many of these sisters have told me they resent the LCWR claiming it represents them.
The Times editorial also claims that “many” see the Vatican action as “retaliation” for the LCWR endorsement of Obamacare, which the U.S. bishops opposed because of abortion funding and lack of conscience protection. If the editorial writers had read the CDF document, they would have seen that the decision to conduct the doctrinal assessment was made in 2008, when George W. Bush was still president and Obamacare was just a dream.
The Times and other media also persist in interpreting the Vatican action as insensitive to the good works sisters have done and continue to do. Again, if one actually read the CDF document, it would be clear that the good works of sisters are generously acknowledged and praised, and the CDF made clear that its action applies only to the 1,500-member LCWR.
However, good works do not justify doctrinal deviations, and again, the Times and most media have ignored sections in the Vatican document that discuss serious doctrinal problems such as a “rejection of faith.” And the issues cited in the document under the heading of “radical feminism” (a term called “a particularly dated canard” by the Times) include distortions of faith in Jesus and the structure of sacramental life, as well as undermining the doctrines of “the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture.”
These are all major doctrines of the Catholic Church, not just “basic, nonheretical questions about gender equality in the church,” as the Times editorial claims.
Such sloppy and incomplete reporting leads one to think that the Times and other secular media rather enjoy playing up any controversy related to the Catholic Church, even when they do not know the facts.
— Ann Carey is author of Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women’s Religious Communities.