This past Friday the Leadership Conference of Women Religious concluded their annual retreat during which they discussed a response to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s (CDF) Doctrinal Assessment. The Assessment, issued in April, was critical of LCWR and included a mandate that the organization be placed under the supervision of an Archbishop for a period of up to 5 years. Since April thousands of lay Catholics have voiced their support for LCWR through vigils, sign on statements, and sending letters to member communities. Last week there were over 30 vigils organized around the country, and a strong presence of support in St. Louis as people determined to “stand with the sisters.”
The statement issued by LCWR on Friday was direct. LCWR would continue to dialogue with the Vatican, and use the opportunity to educate church leadership about the organization and its mission. The dialogue will continue unless LCWR is “forced to compromise the integrity of its mission.” From the statement:
Utilizing a three-day process of sustained prayer and dialogue, the assembly participants considered various responses to the CDF report, with the goal of deciding together on the next steps for the conference following the assembly. Recognizing that this is a time of historical challenge for the church and for LCWR, the participants expressed the hope of maintaining LCWR’s official role representing US women religious in the Catholic Church. While acknowledging the deep disappointment with the CDF report, the members proclaimed their intention to use this opportunity to explain to church leaders LCWR’s mission, values, and operating principles.
The member charged the LCWR officers with beginning a conversation with Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, the apostolic delegate appointed by CDF to oversee LCWR. Their expectation is that open and honest dialogue may lead not only to increasing understanding between the church leadership and women religious, but also to creating possibilities for the laity and, particularly, for women to have a voice in the church.
The assembly articulated its belief that religious life, as it is lived by the women religious who comprise LCWR, is an authentic expression of this life that must not be compromised. The theology, ecclesiology, and spirituality of the Second Vatican Council serve as the foundation of this form of religious life – and while those who live it must always be open to conversion – this life form should not be discounted.
The assembly instructed the LCWR officers to conduct their conversation with Archbishop Sartain from a stance of deep prayer that values mutual respect, careful listening and open dialogue. The officers will proceed with these discussions as long as possible, but will reconsider if LCWR is forced to compromise the integrity of its mission.
The members reiterated the importance and value of LCWR’s mission to its members and its role as a voice for justice in the world. They urged the officers not to allow the work with CDF to absorb the time, energy, and resources of the conference nor to let it distract the conference from the work its mission requires.
We applaud the LCWR community for their integrity and their desire for an open and honest dialogue. We hope that the Vatican will respond in kind.