Cardinal Dolan on the Vatican to the Sisters

You gotta love Cardinal Dolan. What a gregarious, infectiously joyful and optimistic public face of the Catholic Church.

Last Saturday he was interviewed by WPIX on hot button issues such as the contraception mandate and the Vatican’s action toward the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Wow, talk about putting a positive spin on things. Here’s his take on the Vatican disciplining of the sisters:

The Vatican praises them, compliments them, says, “Where would we be without the sisters? We love you, we want to work with you, we appreciate the dialogue, we want to keep it going. We do need to bring to your attention some concerns that we hear from a lot of people, including women religious, about some of the doctrinal areas where you’ve been straying, and we want to point that out to [us]. … But let’s do it as friends, in a very reasoned dialogue.”

I’m kind of grateful that the leadership of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, they’ve been rather temperate and measured. They seem to appreciate the friendship and the invitation to dialogue. …  I hear most sisters saying, “This sting a little, but they’ve got some points. Maybe we need to relook at things, maybe we have not expressed things in the best way.”

Watch the whole video here. I expect Pray Tell readers will have some reactions to it.

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44 comments

  1. Cardinal Dolan states: “They seem to appreciate the friendship and the invitation to dialogue. … I hear most sisters saying, “This sting a little, but they’ve got some points. Maybe we need to relook at things, maybe we have not expressed things in the best way.”

    Too bad the hierarchy doesn’t take his advice too.

    1. Yes the bishops are getting the party line down pat

      Recent Vatican investigations of religious women have created opportunities for growth through reflection and for dialogue with their bishops, two U.S. bishops said after discussing the matter with Vatican officials.

      http://ncronline.org/news/women-religious/us-bishops-discuss-lcwr-reform-visitation-vatican-officials

      The archbishop said he told Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, congregation prefect, “that if this would have happened some years earlier, it might have been better. But, anyway, it’s going on now and I think it will be the occasion for some dialogue.”

      It also should help “some of the orders to pull back a little bit from some areas they have gone that maybe they shouldn’t have,” he said.

      Yes if the sisters and all of us just asked the bishops to tell us what to think, what to say and what to do, none of us would get into trouble.

      1. Jack – NCR quotes Michael Sheehan. What is so funny is that Michael was very responsible for the Dallas Diocese’s Abuse Trial and Settlement over the Rudy Kos affair – to the tune of more than $27 million after appeals.

        Michael was the local seminary rector who allowed Kos to enter based upon his failed marriage attempt (never fulfilled marriage because he could not – “wife and Kos’s brothers” met with Sheehan, others to try to alert seminary to Kos’ behaviors, abuse of step brothers, etc. He sailed through 6 years of seminary and was ordained. Problems started almost immediately.

        Yet, Sheehan was promoted to bishop to replace Sanchez and clean up the Santa Fe mess which, by all accounts, he has done. Guess it was good penance so wonder if he thinks the LWCR needs to endure the same process he went through – as if they are similar?

        CDF allegations about the LCWR seem so “weak” compared to a priest involved in abuse cover-up who is later promoted to bishop. Well, Romanita lives on………

  2. Quite literally, I can only think of one Sister who has said something to the effect of, “This [stings] a little, but they’ve got some points.” The rest of the Sisters whom I’ve spoken to (from a variety of communities) have been utterly baffled by the CDF’s assessment. One Sister described it as, “getting kicked in the teeth and the gut.”

    Certainly an optimistic spin on the Cardinal’s part, but just that: a spin.

  3. no matter how sugar coated it is, the Vatican is taking back control in all areas of the church. The bishops in this coountry are handing it to them on a silver plater. God forbid they use their authority and demand things from the Rome. Bit by bit we will be back to 1960. Then it will be to late. Peace

    1. Well, if that’s the case, the eventual problem for Rome is that control and liability are strongly correlated: the more control it assumes, the more likely it is that its sovereign immunity will gradually be picked away at. Rome will likely have to learn this lesson the hard and bitter way.

  4. After the epiphany of the Dolan-Donahue Good Cop-Bad Cop routine on reinvigorating the bishops’ failed stonewalling gambit on abuse issues, Cardinal Dolan’s joviality now merely reads as a Potemkin village for a garden variety scarlet-liveried bullying.

    1. I forgot about Dolan-Donahue “good cop, bad cop”.
      If you really want to know a person watch the company they keep….

  5. Is there anything that Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, the US Bishops Conference’s ‘perfect’ media point man, can’t give a positive spin to. It’s a pity some of the sisters whose hard work, fidelity, and integrity are being called into question by the latest Vatican missive, weren’t allowed to offer their response to his comments. Not familiar with the interviewers, but there was a notable bias in their questions, and a willingness to let Abp. Dolan be as expansive as ever, as ebullient as ever, with some really ‘leading’ questions. I found myself wondering would he have got away with that performance had one or other of the BBC’s,(as in the UK), major journalists been doing the questioning.
    How will the sisters come out of all that lies ahead – sadly, I suspect, not according to the scenario Abp Dolan paints, but let’s wait and see.

  6. I often wonder how much free will our prelates exercise. It’s clear that in specific cases bishops in America and abroad have single-handedly obstructed justice for sexual abuse victims. What about bishops who are merely loyal to their Vatican superiors and domestic political allegiances but not complicit in crime?

    Merely following orders never excuses the criminal or immoral actions which a person might commit under subservience. Still, there are many areas of episcopal deliberation which fall into neither of the aforementioned categories. One might say that the American bishops have painted themselves into a socio-political corner which cannot now be escaped or explained away. The row over compulsory contraception coverage illustrates these tangled allegiances in sharp contrast.

    I often wonder if Catholics, both clerical and lay, have the temerity to engage the American bishops in a deliberately critical and public dialogue about hierarchical decisions. The civil disobedience movement the bishops have planned for this summer might be an opportune time. One cannot practice civil disobedience without also questioning conjoined political, religious, and social structures. Maybe it is time to ask prelates publicly and pointedly about visitations, investigations, and the ongoing abuse crisis. if the bishops expect political help, then they should all the more expect demands for more accountability and transparency.

      1. Fascinating, Jack.

        Thanks for the link.

        I keep wondering what kinds of things will be crammed down our throats during the “fortnight for religious liberty” prior to 7/4. More required letters to be read from the pulpit?

      2. re: Fr. Jim Blue on May 1, 2012 – 7:36 am

        My fear about clerical dissent is that honest and charitable priests will suffer significant repercussions for not reading political advertisements from the pulpit. As a layperson, I have little to lose. You and your fellow priests have quite a bit to lose — even perhaps your ministries.

        For this reason dissent might well arise primarily from the laity. A lay-led movement not only protects the reputation of priests, but also protects the integrity of their vocations.

      3. Jim and Jordan,

        I am already prepared for the fortnight, in fact for ordinary time this coming year.

        I have ordered my green Celtic liturgical shirts, sweatshirts, etc with “Support Sisters” rather than my name.

        http://www.inkpixi.com/item/Celtic+Cross/A207/277/item.html

        If things get really bad over the summer, I plan to order some with a “Reform Bishops” logo.

        If the bishops can bring civil politics into the church, it is ok to bring church politics into church, using tactics like those of the bishops.

        I am, however against civil politics in the church, I would not wear a “support Obama” shirt to Mass or even a parish event.

        The bishops “covert” Republicanism is likely to cause more votes for Obama. Through the media, “religious liberty” becomes “against contraception’ which becomes the Bishops and the Republicans “war against women,” which causes Catholics to leave the Church and vote Democratic.

        Support Sisters; Investigate and Reform Bishops!!!

  7. “But let’s do it as friends, in a very reasoned dialogue.”
    It’s hardly a “reasoned dialogue” when one partner started the conversation by putting one’s organization into “receivership”! A little late for “dialogue,” I think…

    1. Well, you really have to look at where the difficulties started. If the LCWR leadership hadn’t gone astray these last decades…

      1. You’re missing the point. The issue is whether this Vatican action is friendly, reasoned dialogue NOW.
        awr

  8. What strikes me in all this controversy/discussion is two things:

    First, the question of Pontius Pilate to Jesus — what is truth? This is the basic question in much of modern philosophy and theology — is it ‘objective’ or only ‘subjective’ – or some combination of these ‘options’? And what is at question is at least two visions of ‘truth’.

    Secondly, the similar history of the ‘theological controversy/discussions’ between the Beguines (and those influenced by them) and the ‘clergy’ in the Low Countries and Germany (and even as far away as Rome) in the development of the “Devotio Moderna” from the 12 century up to our own day.

  9. “What a gregarious, infectiously joyful and optimistic public face of the Catholic Church.” – awr

    I don’t know, dear Anthony, to me his blustery, “hail fellow well met” act seems like cover to me.

    To me his election as “U.S. mini-pope” is a symbol that the emasculation of the U.S. hierarchy by the Vatican is complete and irreversible.

  10. Dolan is the face of a particular segment of the church—-Americanized (vs European-style) worship of the institutional bureaucracy. Nothing new, just more pleasant in tone. He is also on record as saying he thinks the bishops’ response to the abuse scandal was pretty darn good. I don’t trust him. He’s just a fun-loving yes-man.

  11. Note – Dolan is a church historian and yet:

    Here is a timeline of major events related to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Vatican:

    — 1956: The Conference of Major Superiors of Women was founded as the sole canonical conference for U.S. superiors of women religious.

    — 1970-71: The Conference of Major Superiors of Women is restructured and changes its name to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

    — 1971: Some nuns who disapprove of LCWR’s new directions create a new organization, the Consortium Perfectae Caritatis. They are concerned that what they consider necessary, distinctive elements of religious life — such as a common identifying garb, community life and religious obedience to a superior as traditionally understood — are disappearing among American sisters. In the early 1970s the consortium seeks recognition from Rome as an alternative conference to the LCWR.

    — 1974: The Vatican Congregation for Religious calls representatives of the two groups to Rome for a three-day meeting to try to sort out differences and improve dialogue. The Vatican rules that LCWR will remain the sole canonical conference for U.S. superiors of women religious.

    — 1974: The Institute on Religious Life is established to promote vocations and religious life in the United States. The Chicago-based organization is open to laity, priests and men religious as well, but women religious — most of them linked with the consortium — make up the bulk of its membership.

    — 1979: Welcoming Pope John Paul II to a meeting with 7,000 U.S. women religious in Washington, Mercy Sister Theresa Kane, then LCWR president, raises the issue of the church’s prohibition of women priests by asking that women be allowed to participate in “all ministries of the church.” Several days before, the pope had reaffirmed that an all-male priesthood is part of God’s plan.

    — 1983: Archbishop John R. Quinn of San Francisco is named by Pope John Paul to conduct a Vatican-mandated study of U.S. religious life. He transforms the study into a nationwide dialogue over the next three years. The study is completed in 1986 with a 152-page report to Rome.

    — 1987: As a follow-up to the Quinn study, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and the LCWR decide to reinforce strengthened bishop-religious relations on an ongoing basis with a new Tri-Conference Commission of Religious and NCCB.

    — 1988: The Forum of Major Superiors, a new organization of women superiors formed in 1987 by the Institute on Religious Life, unsuccessfully petitions the bishops for a place on the commission.

    — February 1989: In a letter to the U.S. bishops responding to the Quinn study, the pope expresses concern about the “polarization” among U.S. women religious and calls for dialogue to resolve their divisions.

    — March 1989: At a Rome summit of U.S. archbishops with the pope and top Vatican officials, Cardinal James A. Hickey of Washington gives a talk on the “crisis” in U.S. religious life. He says women who do not belong to LCWR “desire some representation with the Holy See.”

    — May 1989: The former Vatican Congregation for Religious, now called the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, appoints Cardinal Hickey to a three-year term as official liaison between non-LCWR women religious in the United States and the Holy See.

    — Fall 1991: A group of women’s superiors, led by Discalced Carmelite Mother Vincent Marie Finnegan of Los Angeles, decides to try to form a new council that will receive canonical recognition from the Vatican.

    — Early 1992: Mother Vincent Marie, on behalf of herself and 43 other superiors, petitions the pope for recognition of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious and approval of its proposed statutes as a new canonical conference in the United States. According to sources, Cardinal Hickey personally intervenes with the pope and the religious congregation on behalf of the new group.

    — April 1992: Reacting to rumors about the new council, representatives of the LCWR, CMSM and the U.S. bishops meet with top officials of the religious congregation. They report back to LCWR members that congregation officials “affirmed that there will continue to be one canonically recognized, national conference of women religious leaders in the U.S., namely LCWR (and that)… the proposed entity is not a parallel conference nor is it an alternative to LCWR.”

    — June 1992: Cardinal Hickey and Mother Vincent Marie jointly announce that the new council has been approved by the Vatican and that the superiors of 84 religious congregations, with a combined membership of 10,113 sisters, have applied for membership. LCWR and CMSM say they are “profoundly disappointed” with the Vatican decision. LCWR says its members represent 94 percent of the 99,894 sisters in the United States.

    — October 1994: The world Synod of Bishops addresses the topic of consecrated life. A past president of LCWR who attended the sessions says the synod “did not suggest that the direction taken by religious life since Vatican (Council) II can or should be reversed” and “wisely chose not to attempt specific solutions to local problems.”

    — June 2004: Archbishop (later Cardinal) Franc Rode, newly appointed to head the Vatican religious congregation, says in a talk in Canada that the “secularization of society and religious communities,” and Catholic families having fewer children, have contributed to the declining membership of Canadian religious communities.

    — April 2008: Bishop Leonard P. Blair of Toledo, Ohio, is named by the Vatican doctrinal congregation, to carry out a “doctrinal assessment” of the “activities and initiatives” of LCWR.

    — January 2009: Cardinal Rode initiates an apostolic visitation to determine why the number of members in religious communities of women in the U.S. had declined since the late 1960s and to examine the quality of life in U.S. communities.

    — July 2010: Bishop Blair completes an eight-page report on LCWR and submits it to the Vatican.

    — January 2012: The apostolic visitation team completes its work and submits its report to the Vatican.

    — April 2012: Vatican announces major reform of LCWR, citing “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life.” Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle is named to provide “guidance and approval, where necessary,” of the organization’s work. LCWR now says it represents 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in the United States.

    Conclusion – a long history; Dolan appears to only be adding another sad chapter in this story and he is acting more like Hickey/1992 than Quinn/1994 Synod of Bishops. It really does appear to be about power rather than service.

      1. Wow, thanks Peter. That was a very interesting summary; surprising to find out that Bill plagiarized it.

    1. – April 1992: Reacting to rumors about the new council, representatives of the LCWR, CMSM and the U.S. bishops meet with top officials of the religious congregation. (I assume that means the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life) They report back to LCWR members that congregation officials “affirmed that there will continue to be one canonically recognized, national conference of women religious leaders in the U.S., namely LCWR (and that)… the proposed entity is not a parallel conference nor is it an alternative to LCWR.”

      – June 1992: Cardinal Hickey and Mother Vincent Marie jointly announce that the new council has been approved by the Vatican and that the superiors of 84 religious congregations, with a combined membership of 10,113 sisters, have applied for membership. LCWR and CMSM say they are “profoundly disappointed” with the Vatican decision. LCWR says its members represent 94 percent of the 99,894 sisters in the United States.

      Can someone reconcile these two points? In April it is reported that the CMSM will not exist as a parallel conference. In June, that turns out not to have been true. And why was the CMSM “profoundly disappointed”? Surely they weren’t seeking to become the only conference of women religious.

      Can someone fill in some details?

      1. 1987: As a follow-up to the Quinn study, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and the LCWR decide

        The CMSM worked closely with the LCWR over the years.

      1. Kenneth Briggs has written extensively about religious women and conflict with the powers to be: (Emily – have tried not to plagairize – sorry that I did not specifically provide attribution above but then I didn’t claim I wrote it either.)

        Here is his latest that may shed some light on your questions, JP:

        http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/they-took-leadership-and-incurred-wrath

        JP – there is a long and complex internal potlitical struggle going on here. Why do you think they didn’t want to see a split and two different women’s conferences – even today – at least 80% belong to LCWR? No other country has that situation nor does the US male religious organizations?

        Here is part of the legend per Briggs:

        “In what has become part of LCWR legend, Sister Margaret Brennan, then its president, sought an audience with Pope Paul VI to discuss the matter. Refusal was sent not to her but to the head of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Cardinal John Krol, who forwarded the message to her.

        She asked the cardinal for an explanation.

        “He said ‘maybe if you were more obedient you’d get in’,” she recalled Krol telling her.”

        You already highlighted above the sudden and surprising change barely a month after LCWR met with Rome?

  12. “[W]e appreciate the dialogue, we want to keep it going.” What dialogue is AB Dolan talking about? I read no invitation to dialogue in the “Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.”

    Do consecrated religious actually have less freedom to question the magisterium than other laity? Lumen Gentium considers the laity “by reason of the knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church.” Many sisters are pre-eminent in “knowledge, competence or outstanding ability.” The “Assessment” document, however, recognizes no permission for them to speak about the good of the Church. It demands that they not question or attempt dialogue with the bishops; it quotes V.II on “religious submission of intellect and will, … not limited to defined dogmas or ex cathedra statements.” Is it any wonder that the number of novices is rapidly diminishing?

    Another thing about the “Assessment” document: One of its silliest arguments alludes to a claim by the LCWR that their conference speakers must be free, in the spirit of the prophets of old, to question Church teaching. “Assessment” replies, “[T]rue prophecy is a grace which accompanies the exercise of the responsibilities of the Christian life and ministries within the Church, regulated and verified by the Church’s faith and teaching office” (page 5). The Curia has all the experts on prophecy? The men will determine who speaks prophetically and who does not? And they will “regulate” prophecy? Perhaps I read “faith and teaching office” too literally? Perhaps there’s a more charitable reading, but words from Matt:23 about teachers stoning prophets come to mind.

    1. Nathan speaking to David also comes to mind, as does Amos (esp chapter 7), Ezekiel (esp 16:48ff), and most of the ministry of Jeremiah.

      The ministry of the prophets — whether biblical or otherwise — is to call the people of God back to God. They speak to insiders, especially those insiders in positions of power and authority — calling them to listen once more to God.

      For the CDF to announce that they and others in authority are beyond the scrutiny of prophets is a sign that the church is in desperate need of prophets.

  13. It’s sad that Cardinal Dolan & the U.S. Bishops are pushing
    thier political agenda regarding gay marriage, health care, & birth control on the sisters. The Bishops need to
    respect the freedom and conscience of the sisters as they
    follow the Gospel of Jesus.

  14. Cardinal Dolan believes all his clippings. Last week he returned to the Milwaukee area for an alleged “Mass of Thanksgiving”. It was a sad spectacle of self-glorification, self-congratulation and self-promotion. He is a kept-man. As USCCB president and one of the “100 Most Influential” could he not have worked to keep this LCWR spectacle more respectful, cooperative and focused? He can stop waving that red biretta around. I get it…he’s a cardinal! Some excesses of pietism and retro-Catholicism need assessment too. Jesus said: “See I make all things new!”

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