From an August 17, 2009, Associated Press report:
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, representing about 800 heads of religious orders, said there was a "lack of full disclosure about the motivation and funding sources" for the inquiry. The group also said it objects to the Vatican plan to keep private the reports that will be submitted to the Holy See.
"There's no transparency there," said Sister Annmarie Sanders, a conference spokeswoman.
The investigation, announced earlier this year, will examine the practices of the roughly 59,000 Catholic sisters working in the United States. Some sisters have privately expressed anger over the assessment, which they say unfairly questions their commitment to church teaching. However, in public they have remained largely circumspect in their comments.
Ah, yes, the challenge to "creatively live out the Gospel..." That would hold a bit more water if the LCWR, which was established in 1970 and represents the majority of women religious in the U.S., actually demonstrated some sincere interest in the Gospel as it has been taught by the Church for 2,000 years. But, alas, that has never really been the case. As Donna Steichen summarily states in Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism (Ignatius Press, 1991): "Stressing autonomy and self-realization instead of corporate identity and self-sacrifice, LCWR encouraged the exodus from traditional apostolates, and initiated or supported many of the organizations and coalitions formed to hasten the radical 'renewal' of its members" (p. 286).
In a booklet titled, "Feminism and the Catholic Church" (Association of Catholic Women, 1992; available online in PDF format), Steichen flatly stated, "Most North American women’s religious communities are corrupt. That is why they are dying; why the average age of nuns is 66; why, unless God sends new St. Teresas to reform them, major U.S. women’s communities will cease to exist within 20 years." Whether or not the in progress Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States will prove to be that reforming moment, it is long overdue.
The AP article notes, in muted understatement, "But the nature of some questions seems to validate concerns that they are suspected of being unfaithful to the church." It's hardly a secret that the LCWR has been in a perpetual state of defiance toward the Magisterium and has consistently, and often openly, supported beliefs and statements directly opposed to Catholic doctrine and dogma. In a detailed special report, "Post-Christian Sisters," for the July 2009 edition of Catholic World Report, Ann Carey (author of Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women's Religious Communities [Our Sunday Visitor, 1997]), wrote, "Specific issues identified [by the CDF] were acceptance of the Church's teachings on homosexuality and women's ordination, as well as acceptance of the doctrines reiterated in the CDF document Dominus Jesus that Christ is the savior of all humanity and that the fullness of his Church is found in the Catholic Church."
An perfect example of these issues is found in "A Marginal Life: Pursuing Holiness in the 21st Century" (PDF format), the 2007 LCWR Keynote Address, given by Laurie Brink, O.P., in Kansas City on August 2, 2007:
When religious communities embraced the spirit of renewal in the 1970s, they took seriously that the world was no longer the enemy, that a sense of ecumenism required encountering the holy “other,” and that the God of Jesus might well be the God of Moses and the God of Mohammed. The works of Thomas Merton encouraged an exploration of the nexus between Eastern and Western religious practices. The emergence of the women’s movement with is concomitant critique of religion invited women everywhere to use a hermeneutical lens of suspicion when reading the androcentric Scriptures and the texts of the Tradition. With a new lens, women also began to see the divine within nature, the value and importance of the cosmos, and that the emerging new cosmology encouraged their spirituality and fed their souls.
As one sister described it, “I was rooted in the story of Jesus, and it remains at my core, but I’ve also moved beyond Jesus.” The Jesus narrative is not the only or the most important narrative for these women. They still hold up and reverence the values of the Gospel, but they also recognize that these same values are not solely the property of Christianity. Buddhism, Native American spirituality, Judaism, Islam and others hold similar tenets for right behavior within the community, right relationship with the earth and right relationship with the Divine. With these insights come a shattering or freeing realization—depending on where you stand. Jesus is not the only son of God. Salvation is not limited to Christians. Wisdom is found in the traditions of the Church as well as beyond it.
Sojourners have left the religious home of their fathers and mothers and are traveling in a foreign land, mapping their way as they go. They are courageous women among us. And very well may provide a glimpse into the new thing that God is bringing about in our midst. Who’s to say that the movement beyond Christ is not, in reality, a movement into the very heart of God? A movement the ecclesiastical system would not recognize. A wholly new way of being holy that is integrative, non-dominating, and inclusive. But a whole new way that is also not Catholic Religious Life. The Benedictine Women of Madison are the most current example I can name. Their commitment to ecumenism lead them beyond the exclusivity of the Catholic Church into a new inclusivity, where all manner of seeking God is welcomed. They are certainly religious women, but they are no longer women religious as it is defined by the Roman Catholic Church. They choose as a congregation to step outside the Church in order to step into a greater sense of holiness. Theirs was a choice of integrity, insight and courage.
Toward the end of her address, Brink states, "We may not avail ourselves of the Sacraments, because we are angry—not about the Eucharist itself—but about the ecclesial deafness that refuses to hear the call of the Spirit summoning not only celibate males, but married men and women to serve at the Table of the Lord. We are on the verge of extinction, not because of some cataclysmic event, but because for the last thirty years or so, we have slowly removed ourselves from Church circles, and have failed to recognize when we were no longer needed as a work force, that perhaps the Spirit had a new call for us." If this isn't the language of heresy and schism, I'm not sure what is.
The document Instrumentum Laboris (PDF format), among many other things, states:
Instrumentum Laboris also states:
If any sister wishes to express her opinion about some aspect of her religious institute, she may do so freely and briefly, in writing and with signature, specifically identifying her institute by title and location. In order to respect each sister’s freedom of conscience, any sister may send her written comments directly and confidentially to Mother Mary Clare Millea at the Apostolic Visitation Office (PO Box 4328, Hamden, CT, 06514); or by fax: (203-287-5467) by November 1, 2009.
One of the concerns that Carey and others have is whether or not this information is being acknowledged and the directives followed by each superior. Carey wrote, in a recent e-mail, that "it occurs to me that the sisters could use some help from us in the media in getting the word out about the instrumentum, and I think we can play a role in helping the visitation be meaningful and not just a repeat whitewash of the problems in religious life, as the 1980s Quinn Commission was. I think it would be a real service to the church and to sisters in communities that are not supportive of the visitation to know what is in the instrumentum and to realize that they, as individuals, are invited to send their thoughts and/or concerns about the quality of religious life to the visitation office."
Please pass along this information to anyone, especially women religious, who might benefit from it.
• Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States (Official Website)
• The document Instrumentum Laboris (PDF format)