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The Confederate Lawyer
September 13, 2012

Dissident Religious Sisters
by Charles G. Mills
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GLEN COVE, NY — The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents 80 percent of American Catholic cloistered nuns; teaching sisters; and sisters working with the poor, the old, and the hospitalized, has entered the greatest crisis of its history. This is of concern beyond the Catholic Church because of the radical political agitation in which the LCWR engages.

This group is fundamentally divergent from the mainstream general population as well as from other Catholic women religious sisters affiliated with the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR).

CMSWR sisters typically regularly wear the distinctive habits of their communities; LCWR sisters have typically abandoned their habits. CMSWR sisters have religious names like Sister Mary Joseph Smith; LCWR sisters have secular names like Sister Kimberly Smith. CMSWR members attend Mass, go to Confession, and pray together much more often than LCWR sisters. The CMSWR mission is more cooperative with bishops and the Pope. The average age of CMSWR sisters is 14 years younger than LCWR sisters, and the CMSWR new vocation rate is over four times that of the LCWR.

Three events of great importance occurred this spring.

• The three-year program of visitations to American convents by an American mother superior from Rome on behalf of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life ended and submitted its final report.

• The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued its Doctrinal assessment of the LCWR.

• The Congregation, in consultation with the Pope and the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, appointed an archbishop delegate and two bishop assistant delegates to the LCWR to help it clean up its affairs.

The Doctrinal Assessment describes the situation as “grave.” First, the Congregation found problems with the addresses at LCWR assemblies, including theological and doctrinal error; tellingly, errors in these talks are not corrected. The Congregation declared “inadequate” the LCWR’s position that it does not knowingly invite speakers who will contradict defined doctrine. The Congregation pointed out that it is the LCWR’s duty to adhere not only to defined doctrine but also to the ordinary teaching of the Church in such talks. Future speakers during the period of the delegation will be approved by the archbishop delegate.

The Congregation also found pervasive problems of “corporate dissent” related to the priesthood, human sexuality, and the right to life. The LCWR has never withdrawn its refusal to accept the Church’s teaching that women cannot be ordained as priests, and the Congregation found dissent from Church teaching in the leadership of the LCWR as well as that of some constituent communities. It further identified dissent from Church teaching on the proper ministry to homosexuals. It noted a lack of a public defense in LCWR publications of the right of the unborn and other innocents to life.

The Congregation noted “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR.” It further found that these “undermine the revealed doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture.”

The Congregation was critical of the group’s publications, including Occasional Papers, the Systems Thinking Handbook, the Mentoring Leadership Manual, and some publications of affiliated organizations. The Congregation stated that the Mentoring Leadership Manual discussed social issues without mentioning the right to life or the Church’s teaching on human sexuality.

The Systems Thinking Handbook was ordered immediately withdrawn until it can be revised, and both the Systems Thinking Handbook and the Occasional Papers were criticized on doctrinal grounds. The Congregation cited as an example a section from the Systems Thinking Handbook, which presents the problem of a convent in which some sisters do not want Mass celebrated at a particular event because they object to the presence of a priest. In dealing with this problem, the Systems Thinking Handbook does not mention the teaching of the Church; rather, it simply analyzes it terms of a conflict between the “Western mind” and an “organic mental model.”

Although the Doctrinal Assessment was directed at questions of doctrine and theology rather than liturgy, it directed that Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours are to have a place of priority in LCWR events and programs.

The restructuring and reform of the LCWR is to take place within five years.

Responding in an August 10, 2012, press release, the LCWR expressed its hope of maintaining its official status, noted its deep disappointment with the Doctrinal Assessment, and saw the issue as an opportunity to educate the Church leaders. It instructed its officers to begin a conversation with the archbishop delegate to increase understanding between the church leadership and women religious and to increase the voice of the laity — in particular, women — in the Church. The conversation is to take place “from a stance of deep prayer that values mutual respect, careful listening, and open dialogue.” The conversation is to continue as long as it does not compromise the integrity of the LCWR’s mission. The LCWR “will not allow its work with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to absorb its time, energy, and resources.”

The insubordinate and arrogant press release is not a hopeful sign. The situation is indeed grave. It is uncertain how many tens of thousands of corrupted sisters would surrender their official status in the Church in order to continue their left-wing agitation and radical feminism, but the number is not insignificant.

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The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2012 by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

This column may be forwarded, posted, or published if credit is given to Charles Mills and fgfBooks.com.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.

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