The Vatican website published remarks by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. CDF is the Vatican agency that issued the April 2012 mandate for "reform" of LCWR. This statement is peppered with words like "contentious," "it saddens me," "alienates," "regrettable," and "fundamental errors."
The news reports picked all that up. They mostly failed to give any weight to what came before those words: "As in past meetings, I would like to begin by making some introductory observations which I believe will be a helpful way of framing our discussion," said Cardinal Muller.
LCWR's statement today responded: "Archbishop Muller's opening remarks released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith accurately reflect the content of the mandate communicated to LCWR in April 2012. As articulated in the Cardinal's statement, these remarks were meant to set a context for the discussion that followed. The actual interaction with Cardinal Muller and his staff was an experience of dialogue that was respectful and engaging."
Re-read LCWR's last sentence. "The actual interaction was an experience of dialogue that was respectful and engaging."
I believe LCWR.
LCWR members have authorized LCWR officials and staff to work with the Vatican and with the three appointed bishops in ways that preserve and honor LCWR's integrity. Throughout the two-year process since the mandate, LCWR has been absolutely consistent in its commitment to dialogue and to integrity. There is no reason to believe otherwise of LCWR now.
So I trust their statement. And I actually like the words in Cardinal Muller's opening remarks where he repeatedly says he wants to "discuss these things frankly and openly with you." YES. This is what we've all been waiting for - a conversation that offers LCWR the respect of honesty and openness!
Nonetheless, Cardinal Muller's statement includes harsh assessments based on fundamental misunderstanding of LCWR. He cuts LCWR's autonomy in planning their own Assemblies, which have been wellsprings for decades of insight rooted in honest communal grappling with current realities. (That remarkable corporate way of leadership comes through very clearly in LCWR's excellent new book, Spiritual Leadership for Challenging Times. Come explore it at our June 7 conference featuring three LCWR former presidents.) Cardinal Muller makes LCWR's choice to honor a brilliant theologian sound like childish rebellion. In this and in his concerns that LCWR is moving away from Christ, from Christian faith, and from Catholicism, Cardinal Muller utterly fails to comprehend LCWR's deep and faithful spirituality and theology.
But all of that is in his opening remarks. LCWR's response to his concerns remains private. The ensuing conversation remains private.
Even if much of his starting statement sounds like Draconian Vatican Mandate #2, we don't know what was said after that.
Is it possible that actual "respectful and engaging dialogue" followed? YES. LCWR members have been practicing candid, straightforward, "respectful and engaging dialogue" for 50 years. They have skills here!
If Cardinal Muller began with a genuine intention for "frank and open discussion," as he said, then was it appropriate for him to start with his honest views, even if they were misunderstandings? I think so. How else can LCWR know what they're dealing with? They've been waiting for two years for this clarity. It seems like a necessary step, in fact. And LCWR leaders know how to meet him with loving candor and how to help the conversation to progress. They know how to create space for the Spirit.
News reporters love controversy. It sells newspapers and gets web clicks. In over two years, the quiet dialogue between LCWR and the appointed overseer bishops has held very few exciting news bites. Yet all of us suspect there's an untold story. Is it a surprise if the news media grab for one?
My bottom line: I trust LCWR and the bottom line they give us. "Respectful and engaging dialogue" is an essential step forward. But it's fragile.
I hope Cardinal Muller will IMMEDIATELY issue an endorsement of the LCWR statement and its report of "respectful and engaging dialogue." That would nudge the door open a bit wider for the Holy Spirit.