We're at a turning point. This past April, Cardinal Muller, head of the Vatican's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), told LCWR that "following the [present] August Assembly" it will lose its independence: the appointed overseer, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, will "have an active role in the discussion about invited speakers and honorees" for next year's Assembly.
With that opening, what will Cardinal Muller do as the next step in the "reform" of LCWR? Does he intend for "reform" to mean operational and policy takeover?
In that same meeting, Cardinal Muller said he is concerned about LCWR's exploration of ideas that, "when taken unreflectively, lead almost necessarily to fundamental errors regarding" key Church doctrines. Clearly and explicitly, he doesn't trust these women to think (reflect) if they're left on their own.
In their discernment at this Assembly, how will LCWR address Cardinal Muller's concerns and decisions?
How will Archbishop Sartain and Cardinal Muller respond?
LCWR represents the most theologically sophisticated large group of women in the church. They are the best educated large group of women in the church. They are the most visible large group of women in the church. Their lives are founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ; their lives flower in Gospel action and solidarity with people on the margins. They have evolved ways of self-governance that are truly spiritual leadership. In NCR, Dan Stockman described "the decision-making process LCWR uses: contemplation, observation and exploration, reflection and dialogue, and finally, decision and action. The process is in stark contrast to the hierarchical decision-making process used by the Catholic church." Their prayerful and contemplative traditions have been reinforced during the past 50 years, making many of them truly mystics in active ministry.
The church is much bigger than this issue. I'm thrilled, for instance, by the way the Vatican has called the world to discernment in response to the crises in Iraq and Syria. I'm thrilled by Pope Francis' commitment to a simple personal life, to solidarity with people on the margins, to financial integrity, and to a church where the people of God live with the joy of the Gospel.
Yet the treatment of women within the church matters at a fundamental level. There are many issues that various groups hold in contention, but I'm talking about the absolute basics.
When it comes to women, how will the church honor the Universal Call to Holiness articulated in The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the central document of the Second Vatican Council?
When it comes to women, can the male hierarchy respect the intelligence of women and live with women's independent thought to the same degree as with male organizations?
When it comes to governance, can the male hierarchy abide a group of women who trust in contemplation and community more than power structures?
Yes, there are other big issues. But at gut level, I stand simply and completely with my sisters, the women religious of LCWR. If CDF and the bishops can't find a way to respect the highly educated, profoundly committed women of LCWR, where does that leave me?