Their statement today moves me, heart and mind and soul. In it, they open themselves to us, as they open themselves to the church hierarchy. All participants in the April 30 LCWR meeting with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have spoken of the meeting as honest, genuine interaction. LCWR's words are the ones that evoke solidarity among all of us who long for "all that the Church can be." LCWR renews its commitment to dialogue and recognizes this effort as "one of the most critical endeavors we, as leaders, can pursue for the sake of the world, the Church, and religious life."
Here's a glimpse:
"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.
"In some ways, for LCWR, nothing has changed. We are still under the mandate and still tasked with the difficult work of exploring the meaning and application of key theological, spiritual, social, moral, and ethical concepts together as a conference and in dialogue with the Vatican officials. This work is fraught with tension and misunderstanding. Yet, this is the work of leaders in all walks of life in these times of massive change in the world.
"At our meeting with the CDF officials, we experienced a movement toward honest and authentic conversation on some of the matters that lie at the heart of our faith and our vocation. We have come to believe that the continuation of such conversation may be one of the most critical endeavors we, as leaders, can pursue for the sake of the world, the Church, and religious life."
I believe they're right. This LCWR work, right now, may be as important as the dozens of decades of teaching and healthcare and social work that US women religious have done. Their example calls all of us, including the hierarchy, to a new way of being. And their example is 100% consistent with Pope Francis' call.
The genuine interaction at the meeting is an essential step forward. LCWR experienced honesty and attentiveness at the meeting on the part of Cardinal Muller, the Vatican staff, and Archbishop Sartain -- reflecting Pope Francis' call for a "culture of encounter" for the whole church. This style is the only way to get to substance, and I deeply appreciate it in both Francis and everyone at the April 30 meeting. It matters enormously, and challenges old norms: few great powers naturally excel at listening and genuine interaction.
But harsh judgments are hard for most people to listen to. LCWR, however, listened respectfully to the blunt criticism and misunderstanding in Cardinal Muller's opening statement.I fear that the hierarchy is able to hear only what it already understands. LCWR speaks from not only excellent education and emotional maturity but also powerful, life-changing experience in solidarity with those on the margins - another call of Pope Francis to all of us. To the extent that LCWR brings to the Vatican and Archbishop Sartain a faithful but unfamiliar language or viewpoint, will they stretch to absorb it and reflect on it? Or will they hear it only from their accustomed perspectives?
Despite the difficult start to the meeting, LCWR held to its commitment to faithful integrity and steadfastness in dialogue.
Faithful integrity and steadfastness in dialogue are rare. Too often "integrity" is used to mean "I'm right and you're wrong" and "steadfastness" to mean unwillingness to change. LCWR's faithful integrity and steadfastness in dialogue call us to something radically different.
I'm convinced that women religious have more deep experience with a culture of encounter than any other group in the church, and more than almost any group anywhere. First and foremost, they live in chosen encounter with people who are marginalized. And for 50 years, LCWR's congregations have chosen to encounter each other in powerful ways. This is one hallmark of their way of spiritual leadership - a Gospel-based way of leadership that lets God's life be born ever new in faith, hope, and love. After two years of watching up close, I honestly believe it can change "the world, the Church, and religious life" just as their statement says.
I'm grateful for LCWR's new book of addresses by its presidents about their way of Spiritual Leadership for Challenging Times. I'm grateful that three LCWR former presidents will join Solidarity with Sisters at our June 7 open-to-all conference on Spiritual Leadership, also sponsored by the Catholic University of America's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.
Most of all, I am humble, grateful, and in awe at LCWR's seemingly limitless capacity to open itself as fertile ground for growth in the church and in the world. God bless you, Sisters. May our solidarity help the church and society to flourish.