Systems Thinking, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the LCWR

In early April of this year, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published its Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Council of Women Religious.

Among other evidence of doctrinal inadequacy in the LCWR, the Congregation cited the Systems Thinking Handbook, a training document subtitled ‘An Opportunity to Act for Systemic Change’. The Handbook, as of this writing, is still on the LCWR website, even though the Congregation has ordered that it be withdrawn from circulation.

For the most part, the conservative bloggers and writers ignored the Handbook, apart from the odd belch of sarcasm about its title – little more than the equivalent of a “LOL”.

It seemed odd to me that the Handbook should be the only document specifically ordered withdrawn by the Congregation, even before Abp Sarasin, delegated to implement their programme of reform, started his work. I knew something about Systems Thinking, and it didn’t seem that controversial a discipline. What was going on?

What is Systems Thinking?

I first encountered Systems Thinking in the mid-1970s, at university, though back then it was usually called Systems Dynamics. The great exponent of the discipline back then was Jay W Forrester of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The basic idea was simple: the feedback models on which a lot of electrical engineering was based could be applied in other areas – social systems, in particular.

A friend developed a Systems Thinking model for hog production. He provided the model with data such as the number sows the farm started with, the breeding rate, the gestation time and the mortality of nursing piglets. He punched these parameters onto IBM cards – this was back in the Early Cretaceous era of computing – and he eventually received a “printout” showing the production of his modelled farm over time.

Two things made these models distinctive: first, they were characterised by feedback loops. In the hog model, for instance, an increase in sow mortality during pregnancy affected the number of replacement gilts (female pigs before their first litter). Second, these systems operated with significant delays. A change in the system at one point in time might not have impact until much later.

Delays and feedback loops matter. Suppose that it is a cold winter day and you are on the fifth floor of a building. The water boiler is in the basement. You decide to take a shower, and you turn the control to WARM. The water begins to run, but the pipes are cold and nothing but icy water pours from the tap. So you turn the control to an even warmer setting, but the water is still only tepid. Now you turn it to HOT. Before long, the water coming from the tap is far too hot for comfort, so you turn it back to WARM. Unfortunately, the plumbing is now full of hot water, so it remains unpleasantly hot and you turn it to COLD. Eventually, nothing but cold water is coming out of the tap, and the cycle begins again.

The example may seem trivial, but similar failures to recognise feedback systems and delays have contributed to a host of social and business problems: traffic congestion, oversupplies of materials followed by famines, arms races, runs on banks. Systems thinking, as it was first conceived, was all about getting people to use the tools of electrical dynamics to understand and avoid these problems.

The movement got a boost in 1990, when Peter Senge, also from MIT, published The Fifth Discipline, a popular book that introduced the idea in a simple and intuitive way. Senge broadened the concept beyond simple system modelling to include what he called ‘The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization’. The idea was to help groups see how large social systems (a company, for instance) are interconnected and affected by gradual processes such as environmental change. Senge listed eleven ‘laws of systems thinking’:

1. Today’s problems come from yesterday’s “solutions.”

2. The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back.

3. Behaviour grows better before it grows worse.

4. The easy way out usually leads back in.

5. The cure can be worse than the disease.

6. Faster is slower.

7. Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space.

8. Small changes can produce big results … but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious.

9. You can have your cake and eat it too – but not all at once.

10. Dividing an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants.

11. There is no blame.

Some of these ‘laws’ have gone considerably beyond the world of hog models and electrical feedback loops. And indeed, the Systems Thinking movement later became more philosophical, exploring more ‘organic’ models of the world promulgated by thinkers such as Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. Nonetheless, the core insights did not change. As the ‘laws’ and the example of the bath water suggest, many aspects of Systems Thinking are ‘conservative’, because they emphasise the interconnected nature of a large system, the difficulty of bringing about rapid, radical change and the importance of patience.

Somewhat inspired by Senge, the Systems Thinking movement began to emphasise dialogue within organisations. Systems Thinking people started to work on group interaction and communication, teaching such skills as careful listening, attention to the way a question or comment is framed and balancing ‘advocacy’ (making a point) with ‘enquiry’ (asking how others view the situation). Dynamic models were increasingly seen as tools for facilitating dialogue rather than as oracular predictors of the behaviour of social systems.

What bothered the Congregation about that?

Modeling and good listening. Hardly subversive disciplines; in fact, disciplines that could be useful in most organisations, including religious orders. Why did the CDF single out the Systems Thinking Handbook?

According to their assessment, the Handbook

… presents a situation in which sisters differ over whether the Eucharist should be at the center of a special community celebration since the celebration of Mass requires an ordained priest, something which some sisters find “objectionable.” According to the Systems Thinking Handbook this difficulty is rooted in differences at the level of belief, but also in different cognitive models (the “Western mind” as opposed to an “Organic mental model”). These models, rather than the teaching of the Church, are offered as tools for the resolution of the controversy of whether or not to celebrate Mass. Thus the Systems Thinking Handbook presents a neutral model of Congregational leadership that does not give due attention to the responsibility which Superiors are called to exercise, namely, leading sisters into a greater appreciation or integration of the truth of the Catholic faith.

The Handbook indeed presents such a situation as a case study. It is not clear whether the case is real or fabricated. In brief, a congregation is planning a Saturday afternoon prayer service for their annual meeting, seven months in the future. The service is the culmination of a weekend of celebration honouring the congregation’s founder.

The planning committee has devised a Rite of Celebration for the event rather than a Mass. They note that Masses will take place the following Sunday morning. Nonetheless, the committee has received complaints that the founder would have wanted a Mass, that a Eucharist is the best sign of unity, and that a small number of ‘those who object to priest led liturgies’ has dominated the planning committee. The complainants call for a vote of the entire community.

The Handbook suggests asking such questions as: What is the issue with which we are dealing? What is our hope for how things might be in the future, related to this issue? What systems, or parts of systems, are at work on this issue? Without judgement or evaluation, what are the values, goals, assumptions and needs of each system? What similarities and differences do you note?

The case study then attempts to uncover the assumptions underlying each group – the sisters who prefer a Mass at the Saturday prayer service, and the planning committee, who don’t. The Handbook analysis of the underlying positions seems a bit tendentious to me, but not obviously in error. It identifies the more traditional sisters with a ‘Western’ tendency ‘to think in linear, dualistic and hierarchical ways when dealing with problems, organizing ideas or work, and in structuring society, church, or our religious congregation.’ According to the authors, this ‘dualistic, hierarchical framework of thinking is no longer adequate for interpreting our experience.’

In contrast, there is an ‘Organic’ model; it is harder to describe, but it ‘values a holistic, organic view of the world rather than the more analytical and mechanical view reflected in “the Western Mind.”’ This mental model prefers to look at wholes instead of parts, at processes instead of substances. It sees reality as ‘dynamically organized and intricately balanced “systems,” interdependent in every movement, every function, every exchange of energy and information.’ The Organic model

values chaos, connectedness, process, inclusivity, relationship, and a non-linear expression of authority. Process, liberationist and feminist theologies develop in this kind of a milieu. Some sisters, schooled in these theologies and situated within this mental model, believe that the celebration of Eucharist is so bound up with a church structure caught in negative aspects of the Western mind they can no longer participate with a sense of integrity.

The Handbook has some good things to say about the ‘Western’ model; for example, it ‘helped people sort out and organize the various aspects of their lives and gave them a new sense of order and control. Modern science found its origins in this way of thinking.’ It is clear, however, that the authors’ sympathies lie with the ‘Organic’ model.

Many sisters, according to the Handbook authors, ‘move back and forth between the “Western Mind” and the “Organic” mental models. They value beliefs and practices flowing from a stable world of fixed relationships characteristic of an earlier time, as well as the insights of process, liberationist and feminist theologies grounded in a more organic model. For them, cherished beliefs about Eucharist co exist with a haunting awareness of patterns of ecclesial exclusion.’

What did the sisters do?

The case study goes on to describe how the sisters’ leaders used Systems Thinking to address the conflict:

In our response we

1) resisted the temptation to ‘fix’ the situation

2) provided information by sharing our understanding of what the planners had in mind

3) attempted to clarify both our own and the congregation’s identity at this time, by stating our belief that our current situation of differing understandings about the Eucharist and differing ways of celebrating Eucharist not only create uncertainty and frustration, but also offer new opportunities for the Spirit to lead us in life giving patterns of prayer

4) attempted to strengthen relationships by thanking the writers and at the same time voicing our support for allowing the planning committee to do its work as it saw fit

5) tried to honor all the voices by receiving without judgment each one’s uncertainty and frustration around the Eucharist question facing the Congregation; and by affirming the desire in each of us to have the best possible celebration of our founder.

6) invited a broader discussion of the Planning Committee’s proposal at our open representative Governing Board meeting a month later where the tensions around the issue were aired, and the authority of the Planning Committee was respected.

In other words, they made a concerted attempt to let each side speak and to understand the positions taken by each side. All of this follows the precepts of Systems Thinking as they have been developed since the early modelling days. The jump into ‘Western’ and ‘Organic’ models, in fact, feels like a bit of poorly executed Systems Thinking, since – like the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ it risks reducing an opposing point of view to a caricature. Nonetheless, the steps followed by the leadership group in the case seem reasonable to me. Especially when Mass follows the next morning, I cannot see why a Eucharist is the only way or even the best way to celebrate the life of a congregation or to honour its founder. Some would argue, I suppose, that the opposing sisters’ view – an objection to ‘priest led liturgies’ – was heretical and that this alone was reason enough to insist on a Mass rather than a prayer service. But that move seems to instrumentalise the Mass, to use it as a disciplinary tool.

What did the CDF think the sisters should have done?

The assessment doesn’t say how the case study should have ended. Was the right move for the superior simply to order the planning committee to hold a Mass? To allow for a congregational vote? To issue an anathema against anyone who objects to ‘priest led liturgies’? They condemn the Systems Thinking Handbook but don’t offer an alternative.

Should the religious superiors in the case have refused to listen either to those sisters who asked for a Mass at this particular liturgy or those who didn’t want one? Is a listening posture inevitably a ‘neutral’ model of congregational leadership?

I wonder what the CDF assessors would have said to Pope John XXIII, when he decided that the Second Vatican Council would have a different style than its predecessors. From his opening speech to the Council:

In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life. They behave as though at the time of former Councils everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea and life and for proper religious liberty.

We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.

In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by men’s own efforts and even beyond their very expectations, are directed toward the fulfilment of God’s superior and inscrutable designs. And everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church.

Or the pastoral letter of Cardinal Montini, later Pope Paul VI

Therefore, the Church celebrating the coming council is planning to get in touch with the world. Think about it carefully: this is a great act of love. The Church will not only think about herself, the Church will think about the whole of mankind. … For this reason she will try to become sister and mother to mankind: she will try to be poor, simple, humble and lovable, in her speech and attitude. For this reason she will try to be intelligible, and provide people of our times the ability to listen to her and to talk to her using an easy and ordinary language.

Or the admonition of St Ignatius Loyola, which seems to have anticipated many aspects of Systems Thinking by several centuries:

…let it be presupposed that every good Christian is to be more ready to save his neighbour’s proposition than to condemn it. If he cannot save it, let him inquire how he means it; and if he means it badly, let him correct him with charity. If that is not enough, let him seek all the suitable means to bring him to mean it well, and save himself.

The CDF assessment ordered that the Systems Thinking Handbook be revised. What parts of it should be changed?


  1. Very interesting. I am glad I had a chance to download that PDF before it got removed. It’s useful.

    I believe the CDF is working on the assumption that metaphysics and epistemology, and related assumptions, are closed or at least entirely within its purview, so that some of the questions that are being tackeld by Systems Thinking are being addressed misleadingly, because doing so implies that some thing is open when it is not.

    But the CDF has a choice here in terms of how to read this. It chose to read this as a threat to its control of metaphysics and epistemology. I can’t say that’s an entirely unreasonable choice, but it’s not the most persuasive one to me. Then again I believe meta conversations about assumptions are vital in our day and age, when assumptions are no longer shared (and one may argue they were never as widely shared as was presumed for ages, anyway). FOr anyone who has had the experience of facilitating discussion in an environment where assumptions are in tension, Systems Thinking can be very helpful, and I don’t think it’s at all inappropriate for Christian (even Catholic) communities to learn from.

  2. Some would argue, I suppose, that the opposing sisters’ view – an objection to ‘priest led liturgies’ – was heretical and that this alone was reason enough to insist on a Mass rather than a prayer service. But that move seems to instrumentalise the Mass, to use it as a disciplinary tool.

    I think you’re missing the point. It’s not that this was reason enough to insist on a Mass. I think that’s not what’s important, but what the Congregation is pointing out is that the response to a community dispute that reveals that some members of the community believe that “the celebration of Eucharist is so bound up with a church structure caught in negative aspects of the Western mind they can no longer participate with a sense of integrity” must include a response on the part of the leadership towards those erroneous views. They can’t be neutral towards them.

    The Congregation, I think would point out that the process you cite described by St. Ignatius is the right one and that it’s not what appears to be described in the document.

    How does the process described in the document “inquire how [s]he means it; and if [s]he means it badly, let [her] correct [her] with charity.” St. Ignatius is clear on the consequences, just as the Congregation has been: “let [her] seek all the suitable means to bring [her] to mean it well, and save [her]self.”

    1. The assessment doesn’t say how the case study should have ended. Was the right move for the superior simply to order the planning committee to hold a Mass? To allow for a congregational vote? To issue an anathema against anyone who objects to ‘priest led liturgies’? They condemn the Systems Thinking Handbook but don’t offer an alternative.

      I think you’re looking for an unrealistic level of detail in what is an overview document. The root objection to the materials is fairly clearly stated in the Congregations document:

      “These materials recommend strategies for dialogue … but it is not clear whether this dialogue is directed towards a reception of Church teaching.”

      And later that

      …the Systems Thinking Handbook presents a neutral model of Congregational leadership that does not give due attention to the responsibility which Superiors are called to exercise, namely, leading sisters into a greater appreciation or integration of the truth of the Catholic faith.

      So, “how the case study should have ended”? With some attention to these concerns instead of none seems to be the obvious answer.

  3. A congregation that has members who can “no longer participate [in the Eucharist] with a sense of integrity” has serious problems. I suspect that the case was meant to be about having an outsider (a priest) at the gathering of sisters, and it got distorted along the way as they injected a more extreme social justice issue into the mix. And then the Vatican read this imagined extreme as real and ordinary.

    NCR has an interview with Levada in which he uses his own management jargon: “Too many people crossing the LCWR screen, who are supposedly representing the Catholic church, aren’t representing the church with any reasonable sense of product identity.” This could all be about management philosophy rather than theology.

    Or is management a form of theology?

  4. I don’t read the Handbook as recommending neutrality toward the sisters (we don’t know how many there were) who felt that they could no longer “participate with a sense of integrity.” I agree that this is a serious problem in a Catholic institution, but the first and necessary step is, to pick up Samuel’s quote of St Ignatius, to “inquire how she means it.”

    In many Systems Thinking interventions, clarifying positions and helping people articulate their beliefs has led to changes in position — again, following St Ignatius, to “bring her to mean it well” (reframe a previous claim, or consider alternatives). This needn’t be a disciplinary consequence, but rather a process of discovery on the part of a previously recalcitrant person.

    I don’t know how carefully the Congregation listened to the LCWR. On the one hand, the enquiry seems to have stretched over a number of years. On the other, the result seems to have landed as a shock. That could be because the LCWR leaders were, themselves, not listening carefully to the CDF. Or it could be the other way around.

    Jim, I don’t think this is about management as much as good communication.

  5. Kind of a side note here – but I recently attended my 35th reunion at my all girls Catholic high school. The women from my school have accomplished a great deal in the business world – we had several major executives in attendance. We also had surgeons, physicians, professors, etc. The woman who received a special award was honored for her service to the Church. I found myself very irritated that in this assembly of such accomplished women, we had to import a male to offer Mass!

  6. Samuel, the assessment directed that the Handbook was to be withdrawn, pending unspecified revisions. You identify the CDF’s “root objection” to strategies for dialogue that may or may not be directed toward a reception of Church teaching.

    To me this hardly seems a cause for the immediate suppression of a training manual.

    In Scots law, a court can deliver three verdicts: guilty, not guilty or not proven. The latter two result in acquittal. This looks, at worst, like a case of “not proven.”

    1. To me this hardly seems a cause for the immediate suppression of a training manual.

      Why not? What about the manual is so essential that it can’t be withdrawn and revised. It’s not like the manual is being put it jail. The CDF has asked that ambiguities in it be clarified–ambiguities clearly demonstrated by the apparent difference in how you and I (and the CDF read it)–and specifically said that after this is done it can be republished.

  7. The CDF seems to live in a world in which there are only right and wrong answers. As long as you know the right answers, you don’t need to have justice theory or system theory even if they might in some or even many but perhaps not all cases get you to the same place. Fortunately or unfortunately, the vast majority of Catholics, including most religious women are educated thinking people who no longer live in the CDF world. That is what makes dialogue difficult if not useless.

    Most Catholics, and I suspect most women religious in this country, don’t accept CDF’s answer to the women’s ordination question. Most of those who don’t seem to be divided between those who see women’s ordination as a women’s rights issue of justice within the present system, and those who see ordination as part of bigger systematic questions that need to be solved first.

    About a decade ago, at the annual American Psychological Association, there was a panel discussion by women who had been ordained into various denominations. They all seemed to agree that although they had gotten their rights, the system had not changed! And they had really hoped that the system would have changed.

    I suspect a system’s approach to women’s ordination is mainly a way to help religious women with these varying views to live peacefully together, including going to Mass together if they so choose.

    I don’t think CDF attempts to micro manage will change anyone’s mind abut women’s ordination or help the communities live peacefully together.

  8. I read this piece earlier – I actually read it, thought about it and came back again to re-read it. Thank you Jonathan for this post.

    I did not think I had anything to add comment-wise here, but I did post it on my Facebook page, where a lively discussion (and civil, too!) ensued. It may still be ensuing, I have not been back there in a few hours.

    In any event, Jack’s comment struck me. I feel like we are talking about wine going into old wineskins and then wine going into new wineskins. It may sound trite, but the CDF seems to be caught with their supply of old ones. And here we are, with new wine and the LCWR using those new wineskins. I don’t know- that is just what hits me.

  9. Thanks, Jack and Fran. Not sure if this is only about women’s ordination but rather the way we view “church” and “authority”. Sometimes, it helps to step back and look at what is at stake…..from an interesing column today at NCR which re-positions this CDF vs. LCWR struggle:

    Wonder if we lose sight of the Mission of the church in these intramural fights over authority, power, etc. CDF appears to reflect the current papal focus on “affirmative orthodoxy”; only this is not very affirmative. And it reveals the weaknesses in utilizing “orthodoxy” – as if doctrine/dogma is the defintion of church and catholic. It runs the risk of focusing exclusively on “identity” and enforcing one way to express/develop the deposit of faith.

    Jonathan – am used to many different management models over the last 35 years – both in church and corporate life. Why attack a “group dynamics” booklet/method – it is neither good nor bad – it is neutral. And what happens if all attempts at listening to other ideas/approaches (even church ideas) is eliminated? If we used that approach – we become a museum of the dead past? Curious, why did this one Saturday event get elevated to this level? why is the interpretation such that “certain religious women” rejected eucharist because of the male presider – do we know that for a fact? or, was this a celebration of religious women and a difference on a Saturday event in terms of whether to do eucharist or some other liturgical event?

    1. Bill, I could not agree more… It is about so much more. I actually dislike geting derailed when ordination issues come up. People who know me often assume that that is my “big” issue, but I never feel like there is a single issue.

      None of which is meant to say that I am in such distress and about to have my own Mary Daly “Exodus moment.” Hardly. But I do think that the entire way thae system is designed and the way it works is in conflict right now. That is perhaps why we have all the individual issues… Perhaps? I think it *is* why!

      And then there are the conversations about power… but that is a whole other thing. And yet, not!

  10. I think the problem in the Vatican’s eyes is not just the conclusions the sisters came to with their system of thinking, but that they were “thinking” at all.

  11. I’ve commented about this specific bit in response to Bishop Blair’s complaint. I suppose it is possible to read it in light of big city/big parish perspective where a priest is no more than a phone call and a ten-minute drive away. But I have friends in religious life who, when they celebrate the Eucharist, import a priest from elsewhere. Sometimes it might be a diocesan priest who tries his best but has no grasp of the community charism. Quite often there is not the opportunity to work closely with a presider and preacher, as many of us do in a parish. Sadly, I also had a friend who spoke of a “supply priest” who showed up late, slightly inebriated, and was unwilling to bow to the pastoral need of a religious gathering–let alone be available in advance for input on the liturgy. And sometimes, there is simply no priest available.

    Ignatius seems to be one up on the CDF. We should ask him to pray for us. Thanks to the ascendancy of the neo-orthodox, we are in a situation in which every upset is interpreted as a revolution. Someone might hint to the Holy Father that 1968 is over. Unless he sincerely wishes for it not to be.

    1. “unwilling to bow to the pastoral need of a religious gathering”

      I wonder what that means? On one end it could mean that the celebrant insisted on reading the Gospel himself or it could mean that he said the Mass of the day instead of the optional memorial of a favored saint in that community?
      Practically, however, how does objecting to a priest led liturgy impact their reception of the sacrament of penance?

  12. Samuel wrote: What about the manual is so essential that it can’t be withdrawn and revised. It’s not like the manual is being put it jail. The CDF has asked that ambiguities in it be clarified–ambiguities clearly demonstrated by the apparent difference in how you and I (and the CDF read it)–and specifically said that after this is done it can be republished.

    I take this point, Samuel. Nonetheless the action seems extreme and precipitate. A serious error might warrant immediate suppression — e.g. the Handbook claiming that priests should no longer lead any liturgies. An ambiguity (and this was simply a case study) doesn’t. Perhaps I’m attaching too much to “withdrawn from circulation until revised”; why not simply say “The Systems Thinking Handbook should be revised”? To me the style used by the CDF here smacks too much of the old Index.

    As does Cardinal Levada’s talk of “dialogue of the deaf” and scarcely veiled threats to substitute a conservative organisation of female religious for the LCWR.

    I agree with Todd — 1968 is over. The riot police can lower their shields and go back to the station house.

  13. I think Jonathan hit the nail on the head when he stated:
    “The organic model values… a non-linear expression of authority.”
    “..hierarchical framework of thinking is no longer adequate for interpreting our experience.”

    oops, now I think we know the “real” reason for the slap down. That’s what happens when you tell the emperor he is not wearing any clothes, and now that he is exposed he is not happy.

  14. How about this: How about those who object to priest-led liturgies are wrong. And it is the job of religious to be devoted to and in service of the truth–not to explore things that are wrong. They need to be actively spreading the truth, devoting themselves to the truth which has already been revealed. Not trying to discover a different truth, or exploring processes that lead to whatever happens to be someone’s opinion. The people of the Church did not build these edifices and contribute to these religious societies just so these women could sit around and develop ways of thinking that run contrary to the Church’s teaching. If they are not in service of the Church and the gospel she has received as transmitted through the Pope and the bishops, then they are not in service of the world, no matter how many sandwiches are handed out, and no matter how many butts are wiped.

    1. Incorrect on a few points.

      It is the task–not the job–of all believers, clergy and lay, to devote themselves to Christ. If you mean that to serve the truth, one must teach the truth, then that’s also wrong to a degree. Not everyone has the gift of teaching. The Church is explicit that service to and love for others in the name of Christ is also a “school” not only for believers but for seekers and non-believers. In such a context, it’s not the quantity of sandwiches or butts, but the quality of the actions.

      The same holds true for the pope and the bishops. If they lack character in their actions, they have not completed their responsibilities.

      It’s very important to draw the proper distinctions between justice and charity. The religious women have more or less mastered this. The hierarchy and some lay people, perhaps especially some conservative Catholics, somewhat less.

    2. Or perhaps this:
      The duly professed members of a religious community have made a commitment to one another, particularly a commitment to communicate. The leaders of a community should be strengthening that commitment by encouraging discussion and mutual support. The essence of faith is not knowing where you will end up, but allowing God to lead us to all truth. Faith in God and faith in the members of your community may require putting aside dogmatic judgments about truth in order to hear the voice of God.

  15. Don Johnson, #19, June 13, 2012 – 9:53 pm

    I read your words several times. At first, I thought I was not getting your meaning. But, by the time I was into my third reading, I concluded that, sadly, I did understand you.

    Your words sadden me.

    Out of curiosity, do you have contempt only for women religious, or does it extend to all women?

    Also out of curiosity, how many butts have you wiped?

  16. Some aspects of Don’s approach are appealing. I commend his crisp and unambiguous approach to Truth — in this case as revealed through an ecumenical council of the Church — to the Vatican, in their dealings with the Lefebvrists.

  17. I think we are reading too much into this situation, possibly. It would seem the reason the CDF “condemns” this book is that it offers a whole lot of fluffy consensus building and such in order to “respect” dissent, opinions at variance with Catholic teaching and practice and denigrates the proper order of Catholic life. It has nothing to do with a judgment on “systems thinking” alone. A community of women religious that could foster a group within it that cannot participate in Mass with “integrity” because it is bound up in Western mindsets has something profoundly wrong with it.

    I remember visiting a Carmelite Monastery for the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Horror or horrors, the Archpatriarchal male of the diocese (the bishop) did liturgy for them! Of course, as actual Catholic religious, they loved it. There would be no group of sisters in a convent like that that would say they would not participate in that Masss on account of it being bound up in Western mindsets! This is insane.

    The way the Vatican failed these congregations was in not stepping in sooner before the rot became firmly established. Is it somehow scandalous or shocking that the Catholic Church should expect Catholic women religious to act and think like Catholic religious? There are holy women in all walks of religious life and the LCWR does them a disservice by claiming to represent them while seemingly trying to destroy them at the same time.

    1. I agree that the Vatican is reading far too much into this case study. The sisters were completely accepting of the Sunday morning Mass that was to be the culmination of their meeting. The issue was whether a service to honor their founder should invite an outsider or be a private celebration of their community.
      Suggestions that the group is any different from the Carmelites, or that anyone is wotking to destroy them from within, is waaaay over reading.

  18. “(T)he Archpatriarchal male of the diocese (the bishop) did liturgy for them”

    That might be part of the problem. Educated, spiritual women don’t need someone “to do” liturgy “for” them.

    “There would be no group of sisters in a convent like that that would say they would not participate in that Masss on account of it being bound up in Western mindsets! This is insane. ”

    When the bishops start offering to preside at Sunday Mass for the religious sisters in their diocese and stop sending late drunks, that might also be insane. But in a good way.

    1. They certainly sure do if they want it to be valid. Now, if you mean liturgy in the wider sense (i.e. the Office), they chant it themselves, and quite masterfully I might add.

      I do not know what situation you are alluding to, but at least in the diocese I was referencing, the houses of women religious have no problem having a responsible priest for Masses, even daily. At the Carmel, the chaplain lives on site. Of course, one wonders why the bishop would send a late drunk. Might the sisters have anything to do with that?

  19. “Might the sisters have anything to do with that?”

    Interesting question. I don’t think the sisters I knew ran a speakeasy or anything like that. Most clergy I know who drink are hard drinkers and keep an ample store in the rectory liquor cabinet.

    As for the availability of clergy, I live pretty close to the central Plains states where bishops have a very hard time finding clergy to staff parishes for daily Mass let alone Sundays. I have friends in the mission apostolate in Central America where a few Masses a year is the best they can expect in rural areas, and not particularly remote, at that.

    My suspicion is that some Catholics don’t trust some women they don’t know.

  20. Karl said No, theology is a Potemkin village disguising management

    This is all about politics, not theology, or systems theory, or even management.

    Levada is obviously clearing off his desk.

    He has had plenty of time to deal with LCWR and with Farley, but was not in any hurry. So there has been little pressure from Rome. He could have left this all for his likely successor who probably would have done nothing since he is a friend of Gutiérrez Also when Rode with replaced at the Dicastery for religious, Benedict appointed people who took a much more conciliatory tone toward women religious.

    This is a curve throw at the LCWR by American Bishops via Rome, because if the bishops did it themselves they would loose big time with all Americans.

    So who is the logical person to see the LCWR and women as a challenge to his power and authority? Emperor Tim Dolan . Levada is coming back to live in the US. So he is going to want to be on the good side of Dolan.

    All of this just sends a message to women religious of how much deep trouble Dolan can make for them if they ever dear to act in ways that he disapproves of again.

    We Catholics need to grow up and treat the bishops as the (poor) managers that they really are, and treat the Cardinals as the (devious) politicians they really are. No folks it is not going to change because it has always been that way.

  21. The CDF’s attitude in matters like this seems to be progressing over time:

    “Whoever is not against us is for us.” [Cf Mark 9.40]

    “Whoever is not with us is against us.” [Cf Matthew 12.30]

    “Whoever is not against them is against us.” [Cf George W Bush on Iran]

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