A Prayerful Reflection and Word of Gratitude for Our Roman Catholic Sisters in the US

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
Seattle, Washington
April 20, 2012

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67 comments

  1. You are not alone in feeling stunned and dismayed by this week’s events. Thank you for providing a lovely testimonial about the devout and tireless Sisters.

  2. Mr Nisly, while you say you were “stunned and dismayed upon hearing of” the Doctrinal Assessment, I must inquire if you have actually read it. My reading finds no wholesale condemnation of Catholic sisters in general, but an identification of problems within the Leadership Conference, a body made up of the heads of many congregations. Indeed, the opening sentence of the second paragraph says “The Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contribution of women Religious to the Church in the United States…”

    And the next paragraph says “…this doctrinal Assessment…does not intend to offer judgment on the faith and life of Women religious in the member Congregations which belong to that conference…”

    With the problems identified in this assessment, it would be irresponsible of the CDF NOT to strive to provide guidance to the Leadership Conference.

    I pray that the leadership of the LCWR cooperates in humility with the Abp. Sartain and his colleagues in this endeavor.

    1. It is my understanding that the leaders of the various orders are elected by the members. It is also my understanding that many of the orders move ahead by consensus. To say that the Sisters are OK but their leaders need to be reined in is to misunderstand the situation. There is no separation between the Sisters and their leaders.

      I am not a Sister, just a mother who advocates for a reform of our notion of priesthood and a better understanding of human sexuality. When is Abp. Sartain coming for me?

    2. John Drake,
      I’m quite confident (with some inside info, I might add) that he has read and studied the doctrinal assessment carefully. For you to question this is rather condescending.
      awr

      1. OK. But a careful reading of the doctrinal assessment shows that it’s not speaking only of inadequacies in a few leaders, but of pervasive tendencies it perceives in the entire organization. I’m surprised you misread it – and consequently misread Pastor Nisly.
        awr

  3. What we need in the coming years as we celebrate 50 years of Vatican II is a bottom up view of the reception of Vatican II in all areas liturgy, ecumenism, interfaith relations, religious life, bible, etc. by average Catholics, average Christians and average people on the street.

    Vatican II, as O’Malley points out, was one of the largest meetings every conducted, and addressed itself not simply to Catholics but also to all Christians and all people. So its real reception is not what the Curia thinks of it (they hated it from the beginning) or what the bishops think of it, of what theologians and scholars think of it, but how have people in the parishes, congregations, and daily life been affected by it. What have been their positive experiences? I think Vatican II has been very fruitful in almost all areas if we look at its effects upon the average Catholic, average Christian, and average citizen.

    I think Pastor Nisley words of praise for women religious would be echoed in many areas by many people.

  4. Ultimately beneath the Doctrinal Letter and “Reform” is a conflict about the nature of religious life. The Vatican and Bishops tend to view women religious as employees to staff and implement programs. However women religious who have thought about the matter have come to quite different conclusions. I think they are right.

    At the time of Vatican II, I decided that religious life as currently constituted could not support what God wanted from me. As I began my own look into the roots of religious life, it became evident that religious life came from “single” life, and in its early forms, often solitary single life.

    Seeing so many single people around me in various stages of life (unmarried, divorced, widowed) I remain convinced of the great resource of single life, and that when we truly discover that resource not only as Catholics but as Christians and human beings we will build the foundation upon which future forms of religious life will flourish (but that is a long way off).

    All the thinking and work that women religious have done in the renewal of religious life is a great resource for all Catholics, Christians and people of good will. I hope that in the coming years as we celebrate Vatican II we will all considered deeply and appreciate what has been going on in the lives of women religious and learn from them.

    P.S. The best spiritual direction I ever had came from a woman religious, and the best course in any subject came from a woman religious.

    1. Mr. Rakosky, from where do you get the idea that the Church’s shepherds see women religious as “employees to staff and implement programs”? I do not see that anywhere.

      The doctrinal assessment characterizes its purpose in this way: “Not least among the flock to whom the Pope’s pastoral concern is directed are women Religious of apostolic life, who through the past several centuries have been so instrumental in building up the faith and life of the Holy Church of God, and witnessing to God’s love for humanity in so many charitable and apostolic works.”

      The document cites also JPII’s apostolic exhortation Vita consecrata which describes the consecrated life thus: “The Consecrated Life, deeply rooted in the example and teaching of Christ the Lord, is a gift of God the Father to his Church through the Holy Spirit. By the profession of the evangelical counsels the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one — are made constantly “visible” in the midst of the world and the eyes of the faithful are directed towards the mystery of the Kingdom of God already at work in history.”

      All this bears witness to a profound admiration of and gratitude to those living the religious life. It also shows what the Church teaches is the purpose of this charism: to show forth Jesus Christ in our midst, He Who was “obedient unto death”. From this it also follows that without obedience on the part of religious, an important part of that image of Christ is blurred.

  5. Thank you Pastor Nisly for your reflection. I also have been positively influenced by religious sisters over the years. From what I have gathered, your reflection emphasizes that the work of women religious should not be necessarily characterized as ideologically motivated but rather characterized by a desire to serve and witness Christ.

    I do not know much at all about the charges against the LCWR. Even so, I am unsettled by fellow Catholics who wish to characterize the religious congregations of the LCWR and their sisters as abjectly heterodox or even heretical. Not one sister deserves to be a foil for another person’s self-righteousness. Indeed, objectification diminishes each sister’s inherent human dignity. Do not all, even the most orthodox among us, doubt the the teachings of the Church at least some of the time? I would say that doubt is the engine which drives the growth of faith.

    After reading the doctrinal assessment, I have noticed that I might have also failed to meet the standards placed before the sisters. When I meet a gay couple, I do not shun them but introduce myself — and often make two new friends. When I learned that a close friend of mine had an abortion, I did not berate her but sorrowed with her. What, then, is “orthodoxy” without human compassion and emotion, even if imperfect? I fear that the Vatican investigation into the LCWR will further separate the self-appointed “orthodox” from mere struggling Christians.

    1. Mr. Zarembo, I don’t think we all have doubts about the Church’s teachings, but we probably all have difficulties understanding them. At any rate, the way to deal with your doubts and difficulties as a Christian is to humbly bring them to God and ask Him to enlighten you, and if you are Catholic trust that God has ensured that the Catholic Church always will teach the Truth about Him correctly. The LCWR leadership, meanwhile, does not seem to do this. Rather it has a tendency to openly assault established truths of the Faith. This is not to display humility or trust in God and the Church, quite the opposite.

      Am I being “self-righteous” in stating this? I certainly know that I often fall into sin and I have no right to judge others. However, we all recognize that even simple lay Catholics may call those with authority in the Church to task if they abuse that authority or say things that are against the Faith. When Bishops embezzle funds, for instance, their critics are not accused of self-righteousness because they have probably also failed in some area.

    2. Jordan,
      Thanks for such a balanced response. As a former religious I have worked with many of these women over the years. I read about this story on Reuters. The first paragagraph summarily stated that the report stated that the nuns were spending to much time on poverty and social justice issues and not enough time on abortion and gay marriage. I was quite surprised to read this since many of the communities have been founded to serve the poor and see compassion and social justice as key components of their constitutions.
      I would suspect that the response of the LCWR will address this and put forth a response based on their charisms.

  6. Any of us my age and older hold a great deal of indebtedness to the sisters who taught us, in my case the Sisters of St. Joseph of Corondelet and the Sisters of Mercy. I’ve worked as a priest with the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, the Daughters of Charity, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood and other orders. Each of them exemplary both in their pre-Vatican II and Vatican II expressions. However, a significant number of these sisters today, even in the more progressive orders, do not identify with some of the antics of LCWR especially their “post-Christian” ethos when it comes to Church authority, liturgy and sexual morality. In fact we can say that this organization espouses a heterodox or even heretical view of Church and morality which the CDF rightly desires to reform. But the LCWR is an elite group, not all the sisters in the world. We shouldn’t make the presumption that LCWR represents the majority of sisters, even progressives ones. They simply don’t.

    1. From the San Antonio Post:

      “The Vatican has launched a crackdown on the umbrella group that represents most of America’s 55,000 Catholic nuns,”

      “Some newer, more traditional communities are growing, though they still represent a small minority of the total number of sisters. They are represented by a parallel organization that is considered more Vatican-friendly.”

      Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Vatican-targeting-U-S-nuns-reps-3498456.php#ixzz1sftZrgmj

    2. Brigid, that’s what I’m calling into question, do the areas of needed reform of the LCWR and those who promote these ideologies represent the grassroots sisters whose orders belong to this group? I think not. Keep in mind, the CDF did not offer a categorical rejection of all that the LCWR does in mission and ministry, but only in the specific highlighted areas that I would call “elitists in the LCWR cyncretizing and enabling secularism in Catholic practice.” That’s where the heterodoxy is and perhaps even heresy, but neither of those opinionated descriptions are my judgement calls to make categorically and officially but the call for the CDF to make which seems to me is what they are questioning and seeking a positive reform. As an organization, the LCWR isn’t above reform, and no religious order is (i.e. Legionaries of Christ, the indictment wasn’t on each individual member but on their leadership and founder) and no human being.

      1. The LCWR represents the grassroots at least in the sense that they are the leaders of those religious communities, often the elected leaders. Does the Pope represent all Catholics?

        It is interesting that the example the CDF uses to exemplify problems is Laurie Brinks’ 2007 keynote speech. This was a call for greater consensus within communities, with leaders playing a decisive role. I would have thought the CDF would support that, rather than the fragmented indecision you describe.

    3. Fr. Allan, you, again, have made assumptions that are incorrect.

      – “significant number of these sisters today, even in the more progressive orders, do not identify with some of the antics of LCWR……” Your second comment about “grassroots”, etc. highlights your lack of knowledge about these orders and the LCWR.

      If you want to defend what the CDF has done – fine but at least try to not cast aspirations or make declarations that have little to do with facts, reality, or the good sisters.

      Your typical knee jerk comment falling back on progressive, liberal, conservative, pre-VII and VII, etc. gives the lie to your comment. If you understood the history, membership, and leadership practices of LCWR, you would realize that 90% of all current religious women are in communities that are part of LCWR (they themselves don’t use your language – more prorgressive, less progressive, etc.). Other commenters are correct about how leadership is determined (unlike our episcopal choices today).

      – you state: “….their “post=Christian” ethos when it comes to Church authroity, liturgy, and sexual morality. ….espouses a heterodox or even heretical view of Church and morality….an elite group….etc.”

      First, LCWR sees some of its role as “leadership”; not management. They represent and support women who are confronting realities in society, church, nations, regions that continually must live with significant tensions between “church law” and “church service”. These are not areas that are black and white. They are committed to “mission”; rather than an internal focus on identity. You would find over the last five years 10X more presentations that addressed “orthodox” church service (to use your term) than an address such as Sr. Laurie’s. (BTW – CDF has misread her talk and perceived threats that aren’t there – reminiscient of last summer’s Sr. Johnson dust up.)

      Second, historically the church and episcopal powers to be have always struggled with the concept and applicablility of the term – “prophetic witness”. CDF has picked out a couple of presentations and a 1977 papal pronouncement to hang their objections on. Reality – LCWR is in the business of :”prophetic witness” and, from tradition, we know that this creates both internal and external tensions – the way out is dialogue; not suppression. One person’s Prophetic Witness is another’s Dissent or, to use your perjorative terms, Fr. Allan, heterodox or even heretical. Wonder – did you borrow these terms from one of your usual biased and bigotted sources – EWTN, Fr. Z, etc. …

      Let’s see:
      – you are not a woman
      – you are not a religious woman
      – you have no experience in or with religious communities (except via your job at times)
      – you have leaped to conclusions, etc. that are not supportable by facts or an objective review of the current released information
      – none of us really knows the complete communication because it is private and confidential – so we make conclusions based upon partial information. Was taught in my moral theology that one can not make judgments (heteredox, heretical) based upon partial information?

      Your statements are slandarous and your view of this is distorted.

      (BTW – to add insult to injury, Bishop Sartrain’s sister is the sister general of the Nashville Dominicans which is a very, very conservative group that is part of the other 10% religious sisters’ organization – what signal does that send?)

      1. Gideon – see latest posts esp. references to works of the Syracuse University historian – video/chapter 11. Church tradition is filled with examples of episcopal and even papal attempts to squash “prophetic witnesses”.

        Yes, defining or judging someone’s prophetic witness is difficult, at best. But to label someone heterodox or heretical when you don’t even know the full circumstances or events violates basic human dignity. Earlier post on “authenticity” did a good job of showing the dangers around anyone claiming something or someone is “authentic”. The history of US religious women only substantiates your comment that these women, in very difficult circumstances, have “strengthened”; not “undermined” “official” Church teaching. Would suggest broadening your understanding of “official”, “authentic” with concepts such as “sensus fidelium”; the actual reality of the sisters’ accomplishments that built the US church, etc.

      2. Bill,

        You make much of this theological concept of “Prophetic Witness” – would you be willing to point out some places where it is explained in some of the Church’s official teaching? Clearly it is something other than the baptized exercising Christ’s prophetic office through the expression of the “sensus fidelium” as described in LG 12, because this requires a greater assent of the faithful “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful”.

        How does it relate to the issues of dissent and to that of obedience to the Church’s teaching Magisterium, as defined in the documents of Vatican I and Vatican II? For individual theologians it has been clarified in the CDF’s document on the vocation of the theologian – but it seems less clear for those who are “in the business of ‘prophetic witness'”.

        I want to give the Sisters the benefit of the doubt, but find it very difficult to do so — in the history of the US (and even during the lifetimes of many sisters in the LCWR) they have done a great quantity and quality of work in the Church. However, I find it impossible to give them enthusiastic support when they seemingly undermine or ignore significant Church teachings, and set themselves up as a quasi-official spokesman for the Church in political matters (as has been seen in the debate over health care).

        Indeed, this has led me to lean the opposite direction of Pastor Nisly. I realize that the Church in the U.S. would be poorer without the Sisters – particularly because of the work they do with the poor and marginalized; also, I have worked with good sisters from some of these orders. However, I cannot admire them collectively because it seems that they have set their course away from the Apostolic Faith as taught by the Pope and the Bishops united with Him.

        If you would be willing to point me in the direction of something that can flesh out the concepts, it would be appreciated.

        Clarence Goodwright,
        Seminarian

      3. Clarence,

        I appreciate your irenic tone, putting others in the best possible light before critiquing them.

        It’s an odd mixing of genres to ask for a clear definition of prophetic witness… in the official documents of those in power! Throughout religious history, stretching back to the Old Testament, there has been tension between religious authorities and prophetic voices. God has “cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” Jesus placed himself on the side of the marginalized rather than the relgious authorities. Paul “opposed Peter to his face.” Various saints throughout history have criticized the Pope.

        This is not to say that every self-anointed prophet speaks for God, or that religious authorities are always wrong when they come down on would-be prophets. Tension is inevitable with prophetic voices, I think, from now till the end of time.

        The Sisters didn’t themselves up as a “quasi-official voice” on health care. They just disagreed with the Bishops, as did many Catholic Christians. In the political realm there is room for good people to come to different conclusions. The Sisters were not supporting abortion. Rather they judged, as did most political experts, that the health care act didn’t provide for funding of abortion. So far it hasn’t. (We’re talking here about implanted, developing fetuses, which is separate from the whole complicated ‘morning-after’ issue.)

        As for the “Apostolic Faith as taught by the Pope and the Bishops united with Him”: the Catholic Church, similar to other churches, is not in agreement about same-sex relations or women’s ordination. Many or most practicing Catholics, including well-informed theologians, understand the “Apostolic Faith” differently than Church officials.

        It will be a rough ride for the church on these issues, probably as difficult as slavery once was. None of us knows yet how it will come out, or whether church officials will be vindicated.

        Pax,
        awr

  7. “The Vatican and Bishops tend to view women religious as employees to staff and implement programs.”

    Something less than employees, given that a national collection was needed to be able to allow these women to support those in retirement.

    “In fact we can say that this organization espouses a heterodox or even heretical view of Church and morality which the CDF rightly desires to reform.”

    Heresy must be proved. In this context it’s a secondary definition which means, “stuff we don’t agree with.”

    Morality is more often judged by what one does rather than what one says (cf. Matthew 21:28ff.). Bishops, as a group, have been severely damaged by moral scandal. And given the recent witness of Bishops Egan, Finn, Rigali, George, Walsh, McCormack, and others, they have no credibility on this point at all.

    Good for Pastor Nisly. Good for the defenders of women in religious life. Shame on the Temple Police, no matter how well-funded or well-connected they may be.

    1. On morality, I agree that the authority of certain Bishops is rather bankrupt (but why don’t you include Archbishop Weakland, who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from his diocese to pay hush money to his male lover?).

      They do, however, only represent a small minority of the U.S. Bishops. And in any case they are still competent to decide what is and isn’t Catholic teaching. I’m sorry if you think that the LCWR leadership should be allowed to say whatever they want to say, but that is not how the Church thinks her official organs are supposed to function.

      Even if it were true that the Church should allow itself to be inspired by secular models of governance, this would only strengthen the case for the LCWR to support the Church’s leadership more. Agents of the state, civil society organizations and corporations are all expected to act and speak in a manner that upholds the policy and values of their organization, even if it clashes with their personal views.

      1. Gideon, to respond to your “why,” I included some bishops post-Charter, who seemed to have serious implementation problems. I could have mentioned Rembert Weakland, but then I’d have to mention the bishop who killed a pedestrian in a hit-and-run accident. I recognize that individually, bishops make bad choices and are all sinful. The bishops, as a worldwide college, have been tragically inept in dealing with the moral, financial, and cultural challenge of sex abusers in the clergy. That’s a mite more serious than one sister attending a feminism workshop.

        I think we hope that ten to fifteen bishops out of 210-some is a “small” minority. But the truth is that we don’t know. If cover-ups have been more successful than failed, a ten percent or more minority seems less miniscule.

        Part of this discussion centers on the notion of rights possibly in conflict with responsibilities. The bishops have less “right” to crackdown on groups than they have an overall responsibility to the Gospel, and to the core sense of Truth. They need more than a he-said/she-said, my king trumps your queen approach to this responsibility.

        Laurie Brink’s talk is cited directly as a problem, but I have to wonder what translation these guys read. Her talk is widely available online, and lots of people aren’t seeing what the CDF says it saw.

        And to that point, people in authority know that sometimes they might be in the right, but they have to assess their potential effectiveness. When my teenage daughter is in conflict with me, do I have a prayer to resort to what worked for me when she was six? No. Have I any less responsibility for her well-being now that she’s 15? No. But I have to make careful judgments about maximizing my good influence here.

        Thirty-five years is a long time to allow resentments to simmer. If Rome really believed there was a problem, this has been tragically mismanaged. Seems like mismanagement is a theme here, doesn’t it?

      2. Would it have made any difference if Archbisop Weakland had paid hush money to a female lover?

        Would it have made any difference if Archbishop Weakland had been identified as a conservative rather than a liberal?

  8. When the visitation was first announced in 2009, Sister Sandra Schneiders had a post at US Catholic that was very informative of the problem between the Vatican and the nuns …. “The Sisters of Mercy aren’t McDonald’s” … http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2009/11/sisters-mercy-arent-mcdonalds

    I wasn’t raised a Catholic and actually have never known any nuns, so I was surprised to read in the article that nuns’ orders receive no financial support from the institutional church at all. Also, like other religious orders (even the Jesuits), they don’t make their vows to the pope or to the hierarchy but to God.

    1. Sandra Schneiders has written much about religious life. A brief positive summary is found here.

      http://ncronline.org/news/women/weve-given-birth-new-form-religious-life

      We’ve given birth to a new form of religious life
      Feb. 27, 2009
      By Sandra M. Schneiders

      Sandra M. Schneiders Editor’s note: When the Vatican announced in January that it was undertaking a study of institutes of women religious in the United States, many women religious were taken by surprise. Reactions were mixed, some welcoming the study, others anxious about it.

      Sr. Sandra M. Schneiders shared her thoughts with some colleagues and friends in an e-mail that was not meant for publication. But her letter did become public and NCR received several requests to publish the letter. We contacted Sr. Schneiders and she gave us permission to share her letter with our online readers.

    2. A far more extensive response, drawing on her much more extensive writing on the religious life.

      Religious life as prophetic life form
      http://ncronline.org/news/women/religious-life-prophetic-life-form

      Schneiders has very strong credentials in both biblical studies and spirituality. In fact I think she is the equal of any modern theologian, liberal or conservative.

      I don’t always agree with her. I have a very different view of spirituality as discipline. However she always has something to say and makes you think.

  9. re: Gideon Ertner on April 21, 2012 – 7:39 pm

    Mr. Ertner, you have put the point much better than I have. You are quite right that a life in belief and faith is a continual exercise is to place these doubts before the metric of the teaching authority of the Church. Yes, it is also true that the laity must expose wrongdoings or hypocrisy among the clergy and religious, especially (but not only) when the wrongdoings have wrought immeasurable pain and suffering among the faithful.

    What I fear in the case of the LCWR investigation is the tendency of a number of laity to rush to pre-judgment of the nuns. Some of these laity will then construct straw arguments out of their prejudices. Often these fallacious arguments are used to bolster reified notions of a “true” or “good” Catholic. The doctrinal assessment’s particular interest in abortion and gay marriage reinforces the unfortunate trend in some segments of the Catholic blogosphere to reduce moral theology down to actions, dispositions, emotions, and temperaments related to the pelvic region. The Catholic faith that I know addresses quite a bit more than these two issues alone.

    1. Jordan, Catholic moral theology does indeed address quite a bit more than those two issues alone, but it also addresses those issues.

      There’s not a rush to pre-judgment here. The Vatican has already completed the doctrinal assessment. The verdict is in.

      1. re: Samuel J. Howard on April 21, 2012 – 9:46 pm

        It is true that opposition to abortion and same-sex-marriage are important components of Catholic moral theology. Nevertheless, the doctrinal assessment of the LCWR could lead one to believe that these two problems (i.e. Latin problemata, “questions”) are the only two which should predominately occupy religious women in their social justice witness. Social justice encompasses much more than these two facets. Not every sister’s vocation directly involves pro-life advocacy or political activism against same-sex marriage. The assessment’s extremely narrow focus on the abortion and same-sex marriage issues trivializes the highly varied vocations of religious women.

        The information which the CDF has released to the public is far from comprehensive. I strongly doubt that any layperson could draw a fair assessment of the LCWR and its leaders’ decisions from an eight page summary.

  10. Rev. Nisly, I welcome your contribution to this debate. Rest assured that the CDF harbours no ill will at all against religious sisters. The problem that the CDF has highlighted is that the leadership of the LCWR has displayed a tendency to question and challenge, or at least give a platform to question and challenge, settled Catholic Christian beliefs, and even general Christian beliefs such as the divinity of Christ which we all maintain.

    All official organs of any church, be it ours or your own, are expected to uphold the beliefs and values of that church. That is only natural and just. However, the LCWR leadership (not all, or even most, individual religious sisters) have failed to do so in recent decades. This is the judgment not only of the CDF and the U.S. Bishops, but of a large number of ordinary Catholics as well. As such the LCWR leadership (again, not individual sisters) has become something of a scandal in the life of the Catholic Church in the U.S.

    I assure you that those of us who are critical of the LCWR nevertheless, like yourself, harbour a deep respect and gratitude towards the good works and witness of individual sisters. We hope that the impending reform of the LCWR will give those sisters even more resources to be faithful witnesses to Christ, as is the stated intention of the CDF.

    Finally I would like to direct your attention toward the fact, if you are not aware of it, that 20% of religious sisters in the U.S. are members of the alternative organization, Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR). The CMSWR is unambiguously faithful toward the teaching of the Catholic Church and her pastors, and the CDF has seen no reason to investigate it.

    1. I think you mean that the CMSWR is the “house” group of religious superiors who can be counted upon to question nothing. All I know is that my experience of women religious over the span of the last 45 years is that, as a group, they are remarkable in their dedication and witness to the faith. Have I observed any heterodoxy, no not really. Heteropraxy, perhaps, but not in any widespread fashion. What I see most clearly is women in their 70’s and 80’s still zealous in promoting the faith to the extent their energies allow. They are literally laying down their lives in the service of the gospel. Kudos to our religious! Thank you for challenging and supporting my faith and ministry as a priest.

      1. Jack, I agree with your assessment about the age and energy of many who are in the LCWR. I’m not sure what kind of impact this organization will have in the Church even in ten years so I wonder if it is necessary to spend too much energy reforming them if a reform is needed in the areas that the CDF mentions–the future is not the LCWR, they are clearly on their way out and evidently with a bang. But the future does seem to be with CMSWR as their members are quite young and eager to recruit new vocations and recover what was very good and wholesome in religious life that was thrown out with the bathwater in the 1960’s. This group is the future of religious life simply because they represent the future of religious life by their youthfulness.

      2. I’m amazed at the widespread ignorance, especially among conservatives, and even in the clergy, about the difference between monastic and mendicant spirituality in religious life.

        To think that monasticism was abandoned in the 60’s is just silly.

      3. Jack,

        Isn’t Mother Angelica’s group a part of the CMSWR? I do not think she could “be counted upon to question nothing.” Witness her tangling with Cardinal Mahony. EWTN seems dedicated to questioning a great deal of what is going on in the Church.

        The CMSR is no different than the LCWR in that respect. They are women who live out their commitment courageously. If another regime comes in that supports the LCWR style of religious life, the CMSR would probably come under the same kind of scrutiny as the LCWR now receives.Look at how the SSPX was treated. Their statements on ecumenism and religious freedom were scrutinized, even condemned as attacks on “the core of dogmatic truth” whereas now that core is apparently concerned about gender politics and ecclesiology has shifted to the periphery.

        All of these women have dedicated their lives to Christ, and provide a strong example for all of us.

  11. Well, at least you are consistent. Your comment is laughable. If you think the future of religious life is the CMSWR, then the smaller, orthodox church is here.

    And to arrive at your conclusion – “This group is the future of religious life simply because they represent the future of religious life by their youthfulness.” – highlights your weakness in logic.

    The CMSWR is a classic example of the dead past – yes, they are free to choose that. But, let’s not make the mistake of then jumping to the conclusion that this is the only future. To correct a statement above, the CMSWR represents, at most, 10% and probably closer to 5% of all current women religious. Yes, a few of these groups have seen young recruits but the overall numbers are all but insignificant when you look at the US church. They also have dramatically different goals, missions, and purposes than the LCWR’s communities ministries and missions. In some ways, you are comparing apples to oranges.

    A few cautions – these groups have been receiving young recruits – if you study the f/u numbers over the last ten years (CARA has done so), you will notice that these same few groups are seeing some of these “youth” leave, not complete their journeys to full membership, etc. at the same rate or more than what the LCWR communities’ data has shown since VII.

    What is being completely discounted here is that most of the LCWR communities have initiated successfully a new type of religious community based upon each of their “founders” charism – these new types are communities made up of lay members (associate, volunteers for a number of years, lay associations that have adopted and now carry on the founders charism, a blending of vowed and lay membership – these are new forms of membership which are reinvigorating religious communities (not in the way we traditionally think). This is the future (not CMSWR).

    1. Bill, not being disrespectful, but your head is in the sand.
      In my diocese, just looking at Macon, Ga, up until the
      1960’s early 70’s there were upwards of 40 Sisters of Mercy living here and many of them young. They own their own private High School here and staffed our elementary school. Their high school at one time was a boarding school for girls, but became co-ed in the 60’s as a day school.
      Today, there is not a single Mercy Sister in either school, not even their own. What they have done well though, as you say, is to form ancillary groups to carry on their charism. Their school is operated on a “Board of Trustees” model, but I don’t believe that today there is a sister on that board, but the Sisters of Mercy still influence “their” school in other ways. There are two retired Sisters of Mercy in Macon who are not involved in the schools but are actively retired and doing other types of ministry. Our children and teenagers today are totally clueless about Religious Life because they don’t see or relate with Religious in any manner whatsoever, except if they watch EWTN.

      1. Fr. Allan – not being disrespectful but isn’t this what you posted on SO:

        http://southernorderspage.blogspot.com/2012/04/standing-up-to-manipulations-of.html

        Money quote: “In fact it is “spirit of Vatican II” Catholics in the Obama regime who are pushing for USA Government’s unprecedented intrusion into the affairs of the Catholic Church.

        Aligned with them are the liberal, progressive sisters and their organizations in the LCRW. They work against the Catholic Church and her traditional teachings. First these liberal, progressive post-Christian sisters decried the patriarchy of the Catholic Church and now they decry its monarchy. They really want a democratically led Church that would make us more like other democratically lead Protestant Communions–abandoning all that is Christian in terms of sacraments and morality, especially same sex union and fornication and adultery. They want a democratic Church that votes out natural law in favor of a secular law.

        Fortunately both the SSPX and the true Catholic Church and its hierarchical structure does not bend to the will of the people when the will of the people is not faith to God.”

        And in BOLD: “SSPX poses little or no threat to the traditional faith of the Catholic Church. The LCRW and all those progressive Catholics aligned with its ideology and faux theology and doctrines pose a greater risk to the Church in deconstructing her according to a mindless secularism.”

        What “dribble” but, hey, it might get Fr. Z’s attention again. Do you keep score with Fr. Z?

      2. Continued – – –

        Fr. Allan – you said: “…your head is in the sand” – perhaps so but at least these types of dribble are not posted on any blog of mine:

        http://southernorderspage.blogspot.com/2012/04/sspx-and-lcwr-and-cdf-and-what-does.html

        Money quotes (in terms of who has whose head is in the sand):

        “SSPX’s peripheral issues that are not dogmatic nor at the core of the dogmatic teachings of God or at its core dissent, unlike the LCWR dissent which calls into question many dogmatic teachings of the Church as it regards God, the Church, and morality to include redefining of all of Scripture and Tradition especially sexual morality. The LCWR have not been honest enough with themselves or the Church to actually break away and become officially what they are, a post-Christian rabble of angry feminists” (did you just repeat what EWTN’s Arroyo said using “doctrinal” at least five times?)

        “…..would be even more clueless as to why SSPX is closer to true Catholicism than LWCR is and could care less that SSPX has been labeled schismatic by some although their doctrinal content for the most part is quite orthodox but LWCR is not considered schismatic although their doctrinal content is quite heretical.” (humm, that “some” includes your favorites – magisterium, popes, etc.)

        “And beware, post-Christian Catholics (read: liberal, progressive, iconoclastic, ecclesiologist revisionists) will now start to use the word, “monarchy” to describe the Magisterium and how out of touch the “monarchy” is with democratic, secularizing, people-loving modernists (read: post-Christian)Catholics. These post-Christian “catholics” will say that the monarchy of the Church is in fact making the Church less relevant to these liberal, progressive, iconoclastic, ecclesiologist revisionists and I say goodie gum drops! It can’t get any better than that!”

        Fr. Allan – lots of anger, resentment, rage. Wonder if this is connected to Fr. Ruff’s earlier post on “nerd behavior”?

      3. Wow Bill, I guess there are two Fr. Allen’s!
        Keep up the good work, we need to be aware of this…

      4. Bill, You shouldn’t read my blog as it apparently raises your blood pressure to levels that are unhealthy; you do have free choice you know. But at any rate, between your advertisement of it and WDTPRS’s advertisement yesterday, my humble, nerdy little old southern blog had almost 3000 hits! Thanks. But of course this all freaks me out.

    2. Bill, I was discussing this this morning with two of my daughters and realized that they are for all intents and purposes lay associates of vowed sisters (An odd term, since everyone seems to be forgetting that the sisters themselves are members of the laity). My daughters pray with the sisters and work with them as volunteers, but they don’t turn up on any head count because their association is informal. I wonder how many others are out there doing the work of the Kingdom, insopired by a small core group of sisters (ans brothers!) Seems to me I recall someone talking about yeast once or twice!

      1. Fantastic, Brigid. That is what you are seeing more and more of – it connects directly to the root and founding of many of these groups. You see this phenomenon everywhere – catholic universities and large male/female orders are sponsoring lay groups in which singles or marrieds can “donate” a few years of their lives to do ministry or, in some cases, you have experiences such as your daughters – they live “normal” lives but within a “charism” framework in which they pray, share, donate/volunteer time to meet needs via this specific community and its charism. In many cases, we experience new vitality which we do not see or receive via the typical parish structure.

      2. My daughters pray with the sisters and work with them as volunteers, but they don’t turn up on any head count because their association is informal. (emphasis mine)

        And I see this as a key issue in contemporary mission.

        There is absolutely nothing wrong with lay associates, but if one’s association is informal rather than being publicly declared, that doesn’t say a lot about one’s commitment. Say, one day, you don’t feel like working with the sisters: if there’s nothing tying you to that, you probably won’t bother.

        In the (post-)modern world we inhabit, obsessed with fads, moving from one trend to another with little to no fidelity to what came before, is it really a good idea for Christians to model this same attitude?

      3. Matthew – your comment only reveals your ignorance and superficiality in terms of lay associations with religious communities. You fall into a typical error – you are making a judgment using “old” definitions and formulas to pass judgment on a “new” form of community.

        Please take the time to meet with a member of a lay association; take the time to read about what they do, what they commit to, etc.

        Your comment is sad and distorted based upon your very limited reaction to something you think you understand.

      4. Bill, you’ve entirely missed the point of what I was trying to say. (And I love that you assume I don’t know any members of lay associations – you couldn’t be further from the truth!)

        To repeat: I have absolutely no problem with lay associations. They are good things for the Church to have. The problem I see in what Brigid was saying is that her daughters have no formal attachment to any lay association. If there’s no formal attachment, there would appear to be little meaningful commitment.

        The canonical norms dealing with associations would seem to indicate that some sort of formal commitment is at the very least good and profitable – “best practice”, if you will. For example, charities in the UK often require their volunteers in charity shops to sign some sort of contract or statement of expectations as to how many hours they will be committing to. Obviously this type of contract is quite flexible, but by and large this more formal approach gives charities assurance that their shops will be staffed and their work carried out, and makes volunteers feel important and appreciated for the time they sacrifice. An informal approach wouldn’t really help anyone, and my contention is that it doesn’t really help lay associations either.

        The level of formal commitment required of a private lay association is obviously different to that required of, say, a public one. But a certain formality is, I would say, still necessary for the association to function at its best.

      5. If I missed your point, sorry. But, don’t think so.

        But, “formal” assocation means what? Read Nygren’s study – will give two examples:
        – deMarillac and the Daughters of Charity. Guided by Vincent dePaul, the DCs take annual vows (not permanent) – per Vincent: “Whatever you are, you are not nuns,” said Vincent, the practice thereby keeping from being bound by the canonical rules governing those with perpetual vows.

        (Per VII and led by LCWR, women religious have “ressourced” and have made decisions to return to their “roots”/their “charism.) Thus, we find that Louise was a married woman who gathered widows and other women around her to volunteer their time to meet the needs of the outcast. Over time and required by the “institution” rules (formal associations and canonical rules to use your terms) and formal association came about. But, they started as “informal” associations. What some communities now do is have levels of commitment – most are informal; some have a period of time; a few are permanent.
        Mother Seton – same as Louise deMarillac. Married, widow, who gathered the Sisters of Charity. Began informally and only later became “formalized”.

        These groups are trying to move back to their original roots – and forms of commitment and attachment are changing. Yes, we are living in a “gray” area and not the black and white of permanent and other. My point – “best practice” may or may not be “formal attachments”. Unfortunately, most of us only have experienced the recent past of canonical rules and formal attachments.

        Of note and just posted on dotCommonweal:

        http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=18651#comments

  12. Allow me to pick up on what Todd stated above and respond to you, Fr. Allan.

    First – there is a huge difference between “apostolic” and monastic/cloistered religious communities (male and female)? So, let’s not mix apples and oranges. Most of the LCWR is “apostolic” by statute. (BTW – EWTN would be an example of the other and not exactly a wholesome or healthy example, IMO, given its pre-VII outlook)

    Second – if you read the histories by the Syracuse University historian or read anything by Ukeritis or Nygren (A Concept of Charisms: Ordained ministry in Religious Life), you will start to understand the history and context:

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1141/is_n16_v34/ai_20339322/

    Note in respect to the Macon,GA example – studies indicate that the primary reason for this transition was “financial” and then there were secondary reasons. Yes, numbers changed dramatically but the key reason is financial. Fine to use personal observation but it isn’t exactly wise to then inflate to a “general” fact or principle. You appear to regret the passing of one form of religious life (it is not and was not the only form. In addition, apostolic communities have been around for 300+ years and VII only confirmed and affirmed that experience- there really isn’t a pre/post VII in terms of the charism. Yes, unfortunately, there is a change in numbers – as Jack said, some of this was due to “change”; some to society; some to aging of communities; some to the fact that the needs they were addressing were met)

    Keys:
    – clericalization of apostolic life
    – because of needs, moving to define all catholic ministry as “parish based”
    – Gottomoeller, prior president of LCWR, states: “…..”an unforeseen effect of this parochial assimilation is that the typical parish has little or no sense of the distinctive charism of each religious congregation, no sense of the congregational mission or spirituality that supports `their’ sister. Carried to its logical conclusion, women religious can come to be regarded as generic religious, interchangeable parish functionaries.”
    – Nygren, et. alii – “…The authors of a comprehensive study of U.S. religious orders, St. Joseph Sr. Miriam Ukeritis and Vincentian Fr. David Nygren, offer some observations about the identity problem in one of the volume’s concluding essays. Ukeritis and Nygren see that the “increasigly widespread insertion of members of religious orders into diocesan and parochial positions, to the point where such commitments take precedence over involvements in the lives of their congregations, is a growing phenomenon in the United States. It easily can lead to a compromise of the prophetic role of members of religious life.” Parenthetically, they note that “the biggest hazard for recruitment and successful growth of religious institutes is their lack of role clarity.” (Fr. Allan, your last paragraph above is well stated – that is exactly the type of “role clarity” that some of these groups are trying to ascertain. Thus, the charism still is alive and meets needs but the structure of the apostolic community will have to grow and change)

    Note also that the actual studies show that apostolic orders (male and female) over the past three hundred years maintained the same rate of growth, death, etc. except for one period that is an anomoly – 1945-1975. This period had tremendous growth and numbers but it was an anomoly. (So, comparing today or the recent past to that period is comparing apples to oranges).

    My point was to use the context of the total US catholic population and the total population of religious women. In some places (e.g. Macon) you will find a significant decrease and change – but per studies that has happened throughout the history of apostolic communities. (except if your comparison is to the anomolous period of time). Nygren has also shown that apostolic communities were founded to address specific needs and that 70% meet that need and die out within 100 years. (again, the past 150 year experience in the US is an anomoly from this perspective also – we are used to the presence of the 30% of very large communities that had large numbers and continue to function. Thus, we reach conclusions and definitions based upon an anomoly of history.)

    (Statement – Nygren is a good friend; we studied together for ordination and worked together as formation directors and in the transition from a minor/major seminary structure to college/theology house of studies.)

  13. Thank you for this powerful article. I have been a fervent and loyal Catholic for 66 years until recently, I am embarrassed to call myself a Catholic. I will continue to be true to the traditions and prayer life of the Church but I will no longer participate in it. I am not leaving the Church, the Church has left US a number of years ago when they started changing the outcome of Vatican II. They don’t have the right to do so. After this latest debacle, if I were a bishop, I would be embarrassed to be one. Too bad they won’t stand up and express how many of them really feel. They were all educated by these Sisters. Bill Easton

    1. Maybe the Vatican and our Bishops can begin contributing to the reitrement funds of the communities that are part of LCWR. For years these women served our schools and were paid very little. They depend on collections and donations. Many of these Sisters are in retirement now and communities are feeling the grave burden of shrinking funds. This study cost over 1 million dollars. Wow! I was educated by these women and I am deeply grateful for the excellent education I received.

      1. Why not ask your diocese for a copy of their relevant financial statements, or ask them if they already give money to these retirement funds?

        And, since you obviously feel so strongly about this issue, I assume you yourself already give money to these communities?

        Final question: why is it that many LCWR-affiliated communities are “feeling the grave burden of shrinking funds”, if, in fact, they are so beloved by all?

      2. There are many reasons and responses to your last question:
        – these communities had never needed to provide funds to support retired members; thus, they had no structures, personnel, fundraising means set up
        – many of these were so stretched that when the “tipping point” hit them, they were not prepared
        – prior to the “tipping point” most had small or manageable retired/infirm numbers and bishops would often financially support them – that, obviously, is no longer happening
        (in fact, it is a scandal in terms of how bishops “used” religious women with no defined retirment plans, payments, etc.- read Kenneth Briggs’ “Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns”)
        – if you read the Nygren study, part of the issue is that apostolic women’s groups had to shift to staff dicoesan schools, parish works, etc.rather than continue their “charism” – the scandal is that the “institution” made no effort to support their retirement needs and most had no social security/Medicare benefits
        – in fact, the laity have responded with tens of millions to correct this “church/episcopal” scandal. But, communities continue to age and medical costs continue to increase.

        Sorry, it is not just LCWR-affiliated – CMSWR has and will have the same issue.

  14. Even if it were true that the Church should allow itself to be inspired by secular models of governance, this would only strengthen the case for the LCWR to support the Church’s leadership more. Agents of the state, civil society organizations and corporations are all expected to act and speak in a manner that upholds the policy and values of their organization, even if it clashes with their personal views.

    I am having a hard time understanding this remark from Gideon Ertner. Does it mean that the Church should not be inspired by the secular model of acting and speaking in a manner that upholds the policy and values of their organization? That tthe Church might have a different model of behavior?

    Normally I would just let this pass. (like his comment that imitating Christ means unquestioning obedience to the authorities???) But I think this is critical for this particular discussion. What are the policies and values that a Christian should uphold? Is it those of the public leader, or those of the God who calls them to action? Presumably these should not clash, since there is only one God who calls each sister as well as calling the Pope. So what is to be done when they do clash? Should the policies of the largest organizational unit prevail? Those of the individual? Those of the religious community?

    I think as Christians we are called to discernment. It may be the voice of the Pope that is right, but it might also be the voice of a child. All we know is that it is the voice of God that is right. I welcome the appointment of bishops to discern with these women the way God is calling us. These women have abundant experience with discernment that should mesh well with the experience of the bishops. Hopefully we will all be served well by their collaboration.

  15. Does anyone know a good source to find out what has been happening for congregations of women religious outside the US the last 50 years? It might make for some interesting reading.

    1. The standard demographical reference work on this is Global Catholicism: Portrait of a Church which looks at statistics for priests, religious etc. mainly for the period from 1950-2000. It gives breakdowns by regions, etc. It is out of print but easily picked up for under $10 including shipping through Amazon’s sellers. I recommend it for anyone’s reference library.

      http://www.amazon.com/Global-Catholicism-Portrait-Church-Catholic/dp/157075375X

      In 2000 worldwide there were more women religious (62%) than diocesan priests(21%) men religious (15%) and deacons (2%)

      Nearly half of all women religious then were in Europe, followed by America (N & S), then Asia, and Africa. However even at that time those in Europe and North America had been declining while those in Asia, Africa and Latin America had been increasing. All these tends have likely continued in the last decade.

      The book’s authors are from CARA . They mainly stick to getting their facts strait (a task in itself) rather than interpreting them.

    2. The best interpretation from a sociological view point is likely

      http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1386914?uid=3739840&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=56078273793

      The Growth and Decline of Catholic Religious Orders of Women Worldwide: The Impact of Women’s Opportunity Structures by Helen Rose Ebaugh
      Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion Vol. 32, No. 1 (Mar., 1993), pp. 68-75

      Abstract:

      While membership in Catholic religious orders of women in the United States is declining, demographic data on religious orders worldwide show that growth and decline patterns vary significantly by continent. The data presented in this research note demonstrate a positive relationship between female opportunity in society and the decline of female religious orders, thereby supporting the argument that religious orders serve as avenues of social mobility for women. Since orders are growing in those nations with the smallest percentage of Catholics in the population, as well as with the smallest proportion of religious women, this paper concludes that the prognosis for the future of religious orders is not optimistic.

      You have to pay to get the article on line; however if you are a student, or have a community library card, you just may be able to get access to it free online.

      This explanation seems to fits the facts of the great role that women religious played in our country as well as the American Church, the far lesser role of women religious in Europe (where there is not as much social mobility), the reason for the increasing numbers of women religious and priests in developing countries.

    3. In terms of the “crackdown” of the Vatican on American women religious. I think they want to turn American women religious into Europe women religious, i.e. being a servant class to the clergy and Catholic institutions rather than a means of having a significant creative role in shaping and serving the world

      They also have their eye on the developing world and definitely want religious there to follow the older European model rather than the American one. I suspect too many religious there are being influenced by the American model.

  16. When the CDF undertakes reform of itself, the papacy , the Curia and sundry other powerful Roman bureaucracies, then maybe it will find broad support among the people in its attempt to reform groups like the LCWR. Look to your own house, men (or should I say palaces?). You still have quite a lot of work to do.

    And if these were not prophetic WOMEN, this would not be happening.

    The leaders of Jesus “church” did the same thing to him…rejoice, Sisters, you are sharing in his life-giving cross and millions of God’s people will carry it with you.

  17. Regarding #55 Matthew Hazell

    Matthew you seem a bit naive about how money flows in the Church. There is a collection in our diocese every year, consisting of contributions from parishioners.
    The diocese does not contribute. And yes I do contribute to two different communities. Do you contribute? Your question about why the LCWR communities are struggling with funds if they are beloved by all is arrogant. Why don’t you contact one of those communities and ask them yourself? You might learn a lot.

  18. I am surprised at the number of Catholics who do not understand the vow of obedience which religious sisters take. In very few communities are these vows made to a bishop – they are made to a legitimate superior within the community and are received in the name of the community. The vow of obedience is a vow of obedience to God – and to following one’s own conscience – and has nothing at all to do with the institutional church.

    They do mean subordinating one’s own will and preferences to the values and strictures written into the constitutions of their religious communities (which have all been approved by the Vatican).

    Therefore, accusations that these sisters are being disobedient are ill-founded.

    The problem is that when sisters became educated – which happened as a result of the Sister Formation movement begun by Pius XII in the 50’s and which was furthered during the time of Vatican II, the sisters began to understand better what their vows meant in terms of the intentions of the founders of their communities.

    I suggest all should read The Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life, Perfectae Caritatis, which was promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1965. The sisters have been VERY faithful to shaping their lives in light of that document — from the Vatican.

  19. Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

    I have wanted to rejoin the ongoing conversation but haven’t had a moment to do so. My father died peacefully at 93 on Sunday evening, April 29, so I was in Iowa with my family for over a week and am now catching up with my pastoral responsibilities on a sunny Saturday in Seattle.

    It is not my intent to enter into a church controversy where I am not a member. Nevertheless, we are all sisters and brothers in Christ and where anyone is in pain all are affected and should care. I certainly do and am still disturbed by the style and substance of the investigation and and assessment. In blunt terms it still reads and seems to me to be a pat on the back and a slap in the face of Catholic sisters who manifest a faithfulness I rarely see anywhere in any church tradition.

    Yes, I have read the “Doctrinal Assessment” and accompanying statements. Rather than offering my own critique of the style and substance let me ask two questions: One, how is this investigation and assessment faithful to the profound renewal of the Vatican II Roman Catholic Church? My limited but long observation of Vatican II is that it is the most profound structural transformation and conversion of any institution in history. I am hoping to write an essay about how Vatican II has positively impacted the rest of the Church as the body of Christ including Mennonites even though few Christian traditions are conscious of its transformation for us too.

    Second, from a magisterial standpoint how does the investigation and assessment of the sisters compare with magisterial response to clergy sexual abuse in the Church?

    For the church to be the church and for spiritual leaders to be leaders in our troubled and complex world today these are the questions that need great and faithful attention.

    Your brother in Christ, Weldon Nisly

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