Ever since the April 2014 meeting between LCWR and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I've been waiting to see how LCWR would respond to Cardinal Muller's dictum that "following the August Assembly, it will be the expectation of the Holy See that Archbishop Sartain have an active role in the discussion about invited speakers and honorees." To me, this felt like the beginning of the end… whatever the end would be.
With their typical creativity, LCWR has declared hope in the same space where I saw “no exit” signs. They are geniuses at taking one step at a time, with wisdom. They recognized that Cardinal Muller's single specific instruction was to continue in conversation with Archbishop Sartain, and include discussion of the invited speakers and honorees for the future. So in their statement after the recent Assembly, LCWR affirmed that they will continue in conversation.
But LCWR did much more than simply assent. LCWR declared that the conversation itself is a pivotal act, an act of hope, an act that changes both parties, an act that can be a model within the church: "ongoing conversation with church leadership is key to building effective working relationships that enable both women religious and church leaders to serve the world.... We will continue in the conversation with Archbishop Sartain as an expression of hope that new ways may be created within the church for healthy discussion of differences."
“Healthy discussion of differences” – amen! What a contrast to the closed processes that led to CDF critiques of LCWR and Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, among recent examples. What a contrast to the CDF’s lack of capacity to ask follow-up questions with genuine, respectful curiosity. Yet “healthy discussion of differences” is consistent with the example that Pope Francis gives, and with his commitment to a culture of encounter within the Church.
And healthy discussion of differences is a hallmark of LCWR’s processes for community and for discernment. Watch four LCWR leaders talk with each other about how to include minority opinions, featuring former LCWR presidents Sisters Pat Farrell, Mary Hughes, and Helen Garvey, and LCWR associate director for programs Sister Marie McCarthy at our June 7, 2014 conference (5:55 to 12:35). LCWR is full of experts in leadership, and this conversation is full of memorable, practical gems. I wish everyone on earth could hear this and take it to heart.
The above conversation underscores the fact that LCWR leaders themselves have lots of experience in including minority opinions. They have learned not only how to do it well, but also the potential prophetic value of the divergent voices in their communities. Many of us value LCWR’s voice as prophetic – giving clear public witness to our own hopes, too.
LCWR recognizes their solidarity with us. Their statement is explicit: they choose to continue the conversation with CDF in solidarity with the huge numbers of Catholics (including many priests and bishops) who long for a church that truly honors lay women and men as full members of the Body of Christ, and who often see LCWR’s experience as a litmus test:
"We know that thousands of persons throughout the country and around the world long for places where they can raise questions and explore ideas on matters of faith in an atmosphere of freedom and respect. We believe that the ongoing conversations between CDF and LCWR may model a way of relating..." (frank, open, and authentic, for starters) "...a way of relating that only deepens and strengthens our capacity to serve a world in desperate need of our care and service" (which is our Gospel call, our foundation in Christ).
Back in April 2014, after Cardinal Muller's "blunt" remarks, LCWR told us: "Passion for all that the Church can be deepens our commitment to stay at the table and talk through differences. We want to be part of the universal Church rooted in the Gospel, a Church that hears the cry of the poor and is united in its response. At the same time, we cannot call for peace-making in Syria, the Middle East, in South Sudan, unless we too sit at tables with people who hold varying views and work patiently and consistently for a genuine meeting of minds and hearts."
Now, four months later, might LCWR be telling us that "the medium is the message"? Genuine conversations are both the path and the hoped-for destination? Authentic conversations among people rooted in the Gospel will school us to sit at tables throughout the world where fear and horror now reign?
I'm not a theologian, but I'd say LCWR has theology on their side. The fundamental truth of Trinity is that God is relational. God abides in relationship. God is the Whole, the Union in diversity. To the extent that we welcome God abiding in us, we let God lead us into creative, life-giving relationships.
What happens when we in the Church develop our capacity for healthy discussion of differences? Those who practice this capacity become able to enter the world differently, with a healing presence that enables discovery of commonalities and creates openings for the Holy Spirit to enter the conversation and surprise all of us.
May our Triune God permeate the conversations and relationships among LCWR and the CDF and its delegate bishops, “for transformation of the church and the world.”