My Mennonite pastoral and peace ministry has taken me across the country and around the world over nearly four decades. I consider myself a close observer and friend of the Roman Catholic Church and am a Benedictine oblate.
One of my greatest joys and blessings is having connected with many Catholic sisters in peace, ecumenical, and community ministry in many places. I have known Catholic sisters as spiritual directors and friends as well as in collaborative ministry. As a result I have long known and frequently shared in Catholic contexts that wherever I go in the world, one of the first questions I ask is: “Where are the Catholic sisters and what are they doing?” Why? Because Catholic sisters consistently manifest the greatest sign and best hope of the “already” of God’s reign in Jesus Christ breaking into this world that I have ever known.
So it is with deep concern over the past few years that I have followed the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s investigation of Women Religious in the United States. I have been deeply disturbed by the message and manner of the investigation while my admiration and gratitude for Catholic sisters has grown. Whether fulfilling quiet community or parish ministry or offering prophetic public vision and voice their humility, wisdom, passion, and faithfulness to Jesus Christ and the Church is profoundly inspiring and gratifying.
Over the past few days I have been stunned and dismayed upon hearing of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith’s “doctrinal assessment” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and intent to “reform” Catholic sisters. I can only be in deep prayer and great sorrow for Catholic sisters and for the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. in this impossible endeavor, knowing that with God all things are possible. I believe that the Spirit cannot be quenched and the Truth cannot be squelched.
I ask every Roman Catholic, What would the Church be if there were no Catholic sisters? Yet I ask that not of Catholics alone but of all Christ’s Church. I am convinced that the whole Body of Christ and all Churches and the world would look very different, be far worse off and less faithful if our beloved Sisters were not ministering so profoundly and prophetically in the churches, in the communities, in the hospitals, in the public arena embracing and embodying the reconciling ministry that God has set before all of us for God’s reconciling work in Jesus Christ in the world.
In prayer and sorrow,
Weldon D. Nisly
Mennonite Pastor and Benedictine Oblate
April 20, 2012