Today, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a statement about the ongoing oversight and "reform" (to use their word) of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the main umbrella organization of women religious in the United States, which represents roughly 80 percent of American Catholic sisters and nuns.
In their statement, the Congregation noted that the new prefect of the Congregation, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, as well as Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, the Holy See's Delegate for the Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR, met with the Presidency of the LCWR. Archbishop Müller also noted that he had spoken with Pope Francis, who "reaffirmed" the findings of the Assessment, and the "program of reform." The LCWR issued a statement, which listed the participants in the meeting in full, and said that the meeting was "open and frank."
Several things need to be kept in mind before people jump to conclusions about what this may or may not portend.
First, Pope Francis is brand new to his job, and it would have been odd for him, as some may have expected, to essentially undo a process that has been in the works for several years. (The "Doctrinal Assessment" of the LCWR followed the "Apostolic Visitation" of women's religious communities in the United States, and eventually led to the institution of an oversight panel for the reform of the LCWR, headed by Archbishop Sartain of Seattle.)
Second, it's difficult to imagine that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was following this investigation all that closely from his post as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. On the other hand, perhaps he was; but still, probably not in the level of detail that would give him the confidence to undo, or even alter, a process that was currently under way.
Third, Pope Francis, in one of his first moves, appointed Jose Rodriguez Carballo, OFM, head of the Franciscan Order (OFMs), to a key post in the Congregation for Religious (technically the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated life and the Societies of Apostolic Life ) which, to me, indicates an overall sympathetic approach to religious orders of both men and women. Indeed, at the time, Vatican Insider wrote, "Informed sources in Rome now say that by choosing Carballo, Pope Francis has clearly opted for a different, more Gospel-inspired approach to consecrated life in general and, also, to help overcome the ongoing, painful tensions with the American religious women."
Fourth, as a member of a religious order (the Jesuits) the pope is naturally going to be sympathetic to many of the challenges of men and women in religious life. The LCWR will, I'm convinced, get a fair hearing from Pope Francis.
Overall, I'm not surprised that a new pope would not undo an ongoing process, nor do I think this spells doom for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Let's join the LCWR in prayer, who wrote today, "We pray that these conversations may bear fruit for the good of the Church."
Published originally in America Magazine.
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