As I've written many times before, I am awed by LCWR's prayerful, communal, nonviolent response to the mandate. Their response embodies the Paschal Mystery and Christ Alive.
I was impressed by the clarity of the 2012 LCWR Assembly's original instructions to its officers: work with the bishop-delegates but protect LCWR's integrity. As I read the statements today -- from LCWR, and from the Vatican and Archbishop Sartain -- I believe LCWR has done exactly that: they've worked with the bishops and retained LCWR integrity.
This morning, in Rome, LCWR and the Vatican jointly announced that the Vatican mandate for LCWR reform has been implemented. The Vatican press release says: "The implementation of the Mandate has been accomplished." It quotes Cardinal Muller speaking of "the conclusion of this process." It's over - at last.
As in any process marked by genuine dialogue, no one declared victory. All parties to the conversation noted the value of the process itself -- collaborative, respectful fruitful.
The specifics of the Joint Final Statement seem to reflect what normally happens in a good dialogue. People listen to each other, find common ground, and come to conclusions that build on that common ground.
LCWR retains its autonomy and integrity. Agreements related to LCWR publications and Assembly speakers seem like reasonable actions to build bridges with the bishops and to ensure LCWR's professional credibility as a canonical body. As I read the document, LCWR is in charge of how to implement the agreements.
- The Joint Final Statement makes clear that, even before the Mandate, LCWR had begun work to revise its statutes, and their then-current draft was the starting point for the agreed revision, which was “overwhelmingly approved” by LCWR’s congregations at their Assembly. They became final with Vatican approval on February 6, 2015.
- LCWR publications will continue to “address spiritual matters,” “inspire,” and “challenge to growth” all their readers, both women religious and others. The publications will benefit from “scholarly rigor” that will “protect the credibility of the Conference itself” through “a sound doctrinal foundation,” as the existing publications Advisory Committee continues its work.
- LCWR Assembly topics and speakers will be chosen “in a prayerful, thoughtful and discerning manner”; that’s already the norm for LCWR processes. Speakers will “further the aims and purposes of the Conference,” with more attentiveness to “the wider context of the Church’s faith and mission.” The selection of the LCWR Outstanding Leadership Award recipients will be guided by a “revised process,” in which we have some confidence since its first selectee is Sister Janet Mock.
Perhaps most hopeful, the Statement notes that “Over the past three years, considerable time and attention were given to dialogue regarding other matters raised by the Mandate” and this JOINT Statement says that dialogue “led to clarifying and fruitful conversations.” We hope that conversations continue between LCWR and the US bishops, because any conversation in which LCWR participates will be good for the Gospel, and thus for the Church and the world.
To me, the process remains the big news. Any experience of genuine dialogue brings about transformation.
LCWR president Sister Sharon Holland put it this way: “We are pleased at the completion of the Mandate, which involved long and challenging exchanges of our understandings of and perspectives on critical matters of Religious Life and its practice. Through these exchanges, conducted always in a spirit of prayer and mutual respect, we were brought to deeper understandings of one another’s experiences, roles, responsibilities, and hopes for the Church and the people it serves. We learned that what we hold in common is much greater than any of our differences.”
Archbishop Sartain put it this way: "The very fact of such substantive dialogue between bishops and religious women has been mutually beneficial and a blessing from the Lord."
THAT is big, important insight for our fractured Church and world. By listening to one another, "We learned that what we hold in common is much greater than any of our differences.”
LCWR lived a prophetic response to the mandate. Through the process and the quiet conversations, LCWR asked the Vatican to be the kind of Church that Pope Francis urges us to be. By entering into fruitful dialogue, Archbishop Sartain demonstrated that the institution can do it.
This Joint Final Statement is a solid reason for hope -- in LCWR's way of leadership, and in all of us together as Church.
Note: This is Betty talking above. And I totally endorse the statement from Solidarity with Sisters, of which I am a part.