by Carl E. Olson | Catholic World Report
After the CDF released a Doctrinal Assessment on April 18th focused on the renewal of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), various Catholics came out in support of the (supposedly) unfairly maligned sisters. Sure, the common line went, some problems exist here and there, but everyone knows women religious are almost uniformly selfless, dedicated, and orthodox. They are also, it was said, defenseless and stunned by the CDF's document. Further, the "attacks" on these aging sisters by the Vatican (or "Rome", or "the Pope", or "tyrannical, white men who can't jump") are not only based on wildly exaggerated and politically-motivated accusations, they reflect the sort of ultra-conservative, hyper-controlling, mega-authoritarian approach so common among bishops since the Second Vatican Council.
Many disagreed, including myself (shocking, I know). More surprising is the disagreement of Catholic feminist and journalist Angela Bonavoglia, author of Good Catholic Girls: How Women Are Leading the Fight to Change the Church. In contrast to many of her progressive allies, Bonavoglia doesn't think women religious have been wrongly accused. Instead, she thinks the CDF is mostly on the mark in identifying the actions and beliefs of the LCWR leadership (and others), but that the CDF is completely wrong to think those actions and beliefs are anything but good, wholesome, and necessary. She writes, in a May 21st piece for The Nation titled, American Nuns: Guilty As Charged?:
After giving an obligatory nod to the sisters’ good works in schools, hospitals and social service agencies, the CDF devoted the remainder of its Doctrinal Assessment to attacking the sisters for failing to provide “allegiance of mind and heart to the Magisterium of the Bishops”; focusing on the “exercise of charity” instead of lambasting lesbians, gays, and women who use birth control or have an abortion; refusing to accept the ban on women’s ordination; allowing “dialogue” on contentious subjects; and tampering with the notion of God the “Father” while promulgating other “radical feminist” theological interpretations. The CDF’s solution: send in three men, an archbishop and two other bishops, to take control of LCWR for five years.
This led to an enormous outpouring of support to the sisters. But to anyone who has been watching the nuns closely, an unsettling observation emerges: these charges appear, in some measure, to be true. But that is not because, as the Assessment insists, LCWR has rejected “communion” with the church. Instead, it is evidence of a theological conflict that is raging in the Catholic Church, a conflict that most of us only notice when it spills over into American politics.
Bonavoglia is, of course, correct in situating the wayward beliefs and actions of certain women religious within a larger context. And she is right to point to a "theological conflict that is raging in the Catholic Church", even though I disagree with how she fleshes out that description—a description reliant on the same tired, and misleading "liberal vs. conservative" paradigm that has been in vogue since the time of the Council itself: