Sunday, April 19, 2015


I know many hard nosed orthodox Catholics have gotten those noses out of joint over the unexpected conclusion of the investigation of the LCWR (Leadership Conference of Women Religious) and the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). They beleive the LCWR won. But is it right to cast this conclusion in terms of the LCWR winning or the CDF winning? Can't we just say a savvy pope helped the Church to win.

I like this article from Catholic World Report. It is unlike the more strident articles I have read on this topic. Read it and enjoy:

The various "LCWR vs. The Vatican" news stories have misunderstood or misrepresented many of the basic facts
Ann Carey

Pope Francis meets with representatives of the U.S. Leadership Conference of Women Religious in his library in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican April 16. The same day the Vatican announced the conclusion of a seven-year process of investigation and dialogue with the group to ensure fidelity to church teachings. The outcome resulted in revised statues approved by the Vatican. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

A French journalist I know called me for help on an article she was writing about the reform plan for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) accepted April 16 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

She said she was confused by all the articles on the topic in the U.S. press and wanted to ask me “Who really won? The sisters or the Vatican?”

At first I was stunned by this win-lose terminology, and I wondered why she would have considered the doctrinal reform of a canonically-erected entity to be a conflict of some kind, with the outcome producing a winner and a loser.

My own impression of the outcome was that everyone won because the CDF had helped the LCWR to be a better organization for sisters by refocusing its role to be “centered on Jesus Christ and faithful to the teachings of the Church,” according to the final report.

Then I took time to read several media stories on the topic and discovered that some of the articles made it sound as if the CDF’s reform of the LCWR indeed was adversarial, akin to “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” or a new “Star Wars” sequel.

Consider, for example, this headline from the April 16 New York Times: “Vatican Ends Battle With U.S. Catholic Nuns’ Group.” Writer Laurie Goodstein then went on to use such inflammatory language as “confrontation,” “vexing and unjust inquisition” and “standoff.”

Several other articles used similar language, saying the reform effort was a “takeover” of the group, and some simply declared that the sisters had won a battle with the Vatican. Miriam Krule writing for Slate called the reform agreement a “victory and vindication for LCWR.”

It seems as if some writers simply shaped the outcome to reflect their own hopes and expectations. No wonder my French friend was confused.

Adding to her confusion were articles that contained downright incorrect information on the topic, making me wonder if the writers had actually read the CDF-LCWR joint final report. Perhaps accurate research is just not their thing.

For example, several articles reported that the reform was ended “abruptly” or “early,” an indication that the Holy See just wanted to be done with the matter. “The review was supposed to run until 2017,” declared the April 16 International Business Times. The Associated Press and Jesuit Father James Martin writing at America made the same claim, while St. Louis Public Radio insisted the reform “was set up as a four-year investigation.”

Had those writers done their homework and actually read the CDF 2012 mandate, they would have seen this sentence: “The mandate of the Delegate will be for a period of up to five years, as deemed necessary” (emphasis added). Thus, if the LCWR had accepted the reforms readily, the process could have been concluded in weeks instead of years. The five-year time frame was set to avoid endless dialogue, a method of dealing with church officials that LCWR officials have used for years.

It should be noted that most of the articles criticizing the reform never bothered to quote at length the joint CDF-LCWR final report or accompanying press release. To do so would have disproven many of their claims, so some writers simply cherry-picked or distorted passages or used partial quotes to convey a meaning quite opposite the speaker’s intention.

For example, Elizabeth Whitman writing for the International Business Times glibly reported that CDF Prefect, Cardinal Gerhard Müller said his office was "confident that LCWR has made clear its mission to support its member institutes." The writer left off the rest of the prefect’s sentence and paragraph, which continued: “by fostering a vision of religious life that is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ and is rooted in the Tradition of the Church. It is this vision that makes religious women and men radical witnesses to the Gospel, and, therefore, is essential for the flourishing of religious life in the Church.”

Over at Religion News Service, writer David Gibson creatively selected the prefect’s above words to praise the LCWR: “Mueller said he was confident that the mission of the nuns ‘is rooted in the Tradition of the Church’ and that they are ‘essential for the flourishing of religious life in the Church.’”

If I were still an English teacher, I would have Gibson diagram the prefect’s sentences so that he could see the cardinal said it is the proper vision of religious life that is rooted in the tradition of the church—not the LCWR mission—and it is that proper vision which is essential for the flourishing of religious life—not the LCWR sisters.

Religion News Service even assigned a score to the CDF reform of LCWR in its headline “Nuns 1, Cardinal Müller 0.”

Adding to the misinformation is the creative speculation about the role of Pope Francis in bringing the LCWR reform to a conclusion, with several writers proclaiming that his emphasis on mercy precludes any correction of dissent. The New York Times article declared that “Francis has shown in his two-year papacy that he is less interested in having the church police doctrinal boundaries than in demonstrating mercy and love for the poor and vulnerable.”

I didn’t know that doctrinal integrity was incompatible with mercy and love, and I don’t think Pope Francis believes this either, for he has stood strong on doctrinal matters while modeling mercy and love.

It also is amusing to read the speculation about the LCWR audience with Pope Francis, for the Vatican has issued no information about what was discussed, and the LCWR news release about the meeting does not even mention the CDF reform of the organization. Rather, the LCWR reported that the papal audience “centered on Evangelii gaudium, the pope’s apostolic exhortation.”

Yet, some writers speculated that the pope had apologized to the LCWR at the audience. The New York Times quoted theologian Eileen Burke-Sullivan saying the papal audience was “about as close to an apology, I would think, as the Catholic Church is officially going to render.”

If Ms. Burke-Sullivan had been paying attention, she would have known that the LCWR had asked Pope Francis for an audience during the reform process, and some sisters had not been shy about expressing their hope the new pope would reverse the decision of his predecessor to approve the CDF reform.

Mark Silk, also writing for Religion News Service in a blog strangely titled “Spiritual Politics” got the quote right, but characterized it this way: “Müller purred his approval.” Silk went on to write it is “perhaps significant” that the cardinal’s address from last year telling the LCWR leaders to heed the reform “is no longer to be found on the CDF website,” and he provided an erroneous link to prove his point.

I hope Prof. Silk won’t be too embarrassed to learn that Cardinal Müller’s full address is still on the Vatican website here, and there is no evidence that he has backed away from what he told the LCWR in 2014: “The LCWR, as a canonical entity dependent on the Holy See, has a profound obligation to the promotion of that faith as the essential foundation of religious life.”

However, Francis had told the CDF to continue the reform, and he did not grant an audience with LCWR until an hour or so after the CDF accepted the terms of the LCWR reform. If Pope Francis had not approved the LCWR reform, he could have stopped it the day he was elected.

I think the confusion of my French journalist friend can be cleared up simply by carefully reading the primary documents involved—the CDF-LCWR joint final report and its accompanying press release, and the 2012 CDF mandate of reform.

It’s too bad so many journalists in this country did not do so before writing their articles.


Anonymous said...

Modernism won........again. The LCWR know that Pope Francis agrees with them but he had to allow the " reform" to go ahead a little out of deference to Pope Benedict. Now they are emboldened and will be worse than before. And the Franciscans of the Immaculate are being ground into the dirt as was Cardinal Burke and soon to be silenced Archbishop Cordelieone.

Paul said...

Lies never win. People may succomb to them or agree with them, but that's part of the deception. We already know Lies are on "the wrong side of history".

Cletus Ordo said...

I don't think employing words like "won" and "lost" is even relevant here. It also doesn't matter how "savvy" the pope is or isn't. In the end, God will not be mocked and these "women religious" have made a mockery out of what was once one of the Church's most respected institutions: Religious Life.

I think we all should remain calm and remember the only thing here that is really significant: These "nuns" are doomed. There's no other nice way to say it. Their "ministries" do not bear fruit and their orders are dying out with little or no new vocations. In 20 years, maybe less, they will be gone, a laughable, yet sad memory of a time period when the Church was still trying to recover its identity after a long flirtation with disaster.

If that doesn't comfort us, we should also remember that the only orders that really ARE growing and bearing fruit are the traditional orders of women (and men too).

Modernism may seem to "win", if you insist on using that word, but it is unsustainable. Modernism is breathing deep on its last gasp.

Anonymous said...

I think this post about the LCWR issue should be a cautionary tale about how little we should trust what we read on the internet (or information coming out of any media outlet, for that matter). We can no longer take reporting we see at face value, assuming what is written is actually factual.
There used to be journalistic standards in place practiced by almost every credible news source. Many outlets staked their reputations on getting the facts exactly right, and reporting them as news. (Ever hear that old newsman's cliche? "If your mother says she loves you, check is out.") Opinion pieces were clearly designated as such. Now? Well, it seems it's hard to get to the truth no matter where you read or what you hear. The political bias and spin is not even subtle anymore, and factually incorrect assertions and misrepresentations are never corrected, even when the error is brought to the attention of the outlet. (Think the "who am I to judge?" comment by Pope Francis.)

We need to be very aware nowadays as to the misinformation deluging us, before we put our religious leaders into a one category or another. The onus is on us to suspend judgement unless and until we can get some solid factual information.

God help us!

Paul said...

The three most dangerous words in the press today: "Pope Francis said"

Charles G said...

Can we get a bunch of orthodox young ladies to infiltrate all these orders, start wearing habits and saying the office and revise the original charisms?

Anonymous said...

I think Cletus Ordo is right. Time is on our side. Most of those "Nuns" are on the way out - 10 years or less and they will be gone. What we need to do is pray for their souls, especially for those who have advocated abortion, etc. The truth is they never really got it and they are really "Nones".