Thursday, April 19, 2012

A closer look at the CDF's Doctrinal Assessment on LCWR (Part 1)

Prefect of the CDF, William Cardinal Levada

[Post has been updated and modified for clarity]

Yesterday, I blogged about the release of the CDF's, Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Catholic Women (LCWR), using the press release explaining the call for renewal - a very kind way of saying some serious changes need to take place. Last night, I read the 8 page PDF that contained the details. In this post, we will look closer at some of these things. I recommend reading it in full, but below are some excerpts with my commentary.  I'm choosing to use larger excerpts rather than using inline commentary.  It's a long document, so in this post, I am only examining the first two parts.

In the introduction, the document quotes paragraph 46 of Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, which concerns religious life.  Here is a partial quote:
A distinctive aspect of ecclesial communion is allegiance of mind and heart to the Magisterium of the Bishops, an allegiance which must be lived honestly and clearly testified to before the People of God by all consecrated persons, especially those involved in theological research, teaching, publishing, catechesis and the use of the means of social communication.  Because consecrated persons have a special place in the Church, their attitude in this regard is of immense importance for the whole People of God”

Next in the introduction, it discusses the great good done by religious sisters in the United States throughout their history: "The Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contribution of women Religious to the Church in the United States as seen  particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years".  It then points out that the renewal called for is, "in support of this essential charism of", the Religious.

The document is careful to distinguish that the Doctrinal Assessment is not a judgment on individual member orders, but concerns the LCWR, and points out the obvious:

"...nevertheless the Assessment reveals serious doctrinal problems which affect many in Consecrated Life. On the doctrinal level, this crisis is characterized by a diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration which leads, in turn, to a loss of a 'constant and lively sense of the Church' among some Religious." 

It then goes on to explain, per Canon Law, that such conferences are to be an expression of collaboration with the Holy See.  As we will see, the LCWR has essentially been working against the Church which is no surprise to anyone who has followed their very public expressions of dissent. Likewise, we see this dissent from some individuals in member communities and when we look closer at what the leadership of the LCWR offers at their conferences and assemblies, the problem is quite clear:  Sisters are malformed, misinformed, and fundamentals are lacking, and it comes from the very organization charged with providing formation.

In part II, the document looks at the Doctrinal Assessment itself.  It explains that in April of 2008 Cardinal Levada met with the LCWR Presidency and had three areas which were grounds for motivation of the Assessment:  1) The addresses at LCWR assemblies; 2) policies of corporate dissent; and 3) radical feminism.

Now, this part was interesting.  Let's look closer at the three areas.

Cardinal Levada offered an example of a problematic address at an LCWR assembly, specifically Sr. Laurie Brink's address, "about some Religious 'moving beyond the Church' or even beyond Jesus."  The bottom line is this ain't Catholic. Sr. Laurie Brink belongs to the Sinsinawa, Dominicans, which will come up later in my post in the caption of a rather interesting photo. He then blasts the leadership for sitting on the bench silently while something foreign to the Catholic faith is taught at their assembly, effectively giving the impression that it is condoned.  He rightfully equates the lack of correction to these errors to a lack of charity. What the document says next about this ought not be missed (emphasis mine in bold).
Some might see in Sr. Brink’s analysis a phenomenological snapshot of religious life today.  But Pastors of the Church should also see in it a cry for help.  

If that isn't a shot across the bow of U.S. bishops - in particular the USCCB - I don't know what is.  Faithful Catholics have been complaining for decades about the obvious, and nothing ever seemed to happen.  There has been a timidity in dealing with open dissent that has, quite frankly, caused apathy among those who make the sacrifices in life to follow the sometimes difficult, and often narrow road.  Many have watched loved ones sucked into the vortex of dissent, unable to help them because the Pastors of the Church were silent themselves.  Or, they chose not to deal publicly with manifest public dissent.  I myself was pulled from a position which believed that truth is fixed into one that made it relative, or dynamic.  Scripture tells us that Jesus is Truth, and this means that 2 + 2 can only equal 4, not 5, 10, or whatever you feel like making on a given day and time.  Truth doesn't bend with time, convenience, or popularity polls because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb 13:8).  I am very glad to see a change in the attitude of bishops, and within the USCCB with a new generation of men who are increasingly speaking up, and getting better at it.  The language in this Doctrinal Assessment is going to help them even more, to break free from the bonds of silence and timidity.

Moving into the second point, on policies of corporate dissent, I had to chuckle as I read it.  Here again, Cardinal Levada speaks about something that has been obvious.  It's a point of senses fidelium, which means, sense of the faithful.  There are times when a significant number of the faithful can sense that something is in harmony, or out of harmony, with Catholic teaching.  The expression often used by dissidents to justify an erroneous position through popularity.  I know a great number of Catholics who sensed the wrongness of what was happening, but felt that their pleas to the bishops to fix the problem and stop it's spread, fell on deaf ears.  We all know how the LCWR has been bombarding the Holy See with complaints which are chock-full-of open dissent - they often boast about it.   We all see how these things are contrary to the faith, and finally, it is called out.  Here is what the Assessment says:
The Cardinal spoke of this issue in reference to letters the CDF received from “Leadership Teams” of various Congregations, among them LCWR Officers, protesting the Holy See’s actions regarding the question of women’s ordination and of a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons, e.g. letters about New Ways Ministry’s conferences.  The terms of the letters suggest that these sisters collectively take a position not in agreement with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality.  It is a serious matter when these Leadership Teams are not providing effective leadership and example to their communities, but place themselves outside the Church’s teaching.  

Now, the fact that New Ways Ministry was mentioned made me look something up.  I recalled that then USCCB  President, Cardinal George, said in February 2010, that New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition by the Catholic Church.

The report also said that it would be reviewing the ties bewteen the Leadership Conference and NETWORK - a Catholic social justice lobby group.  You can read about NETWORK in this May 2011 article by Paul Kengor at Catholic World Report, and see why the CDF may want the ties reviewed.   More recently, in a February 2012 post at the CNN Belief blog discusses an internal struggle within the Church over Obamacare (emphasis mine in bold):
"The bishops' role is to protect vigilantly the institution of the church, and what it says, what the theories are for how we should be best as the people of God," Sister Simone Campbell said. Campbell is the executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby in Washington. While the group agrees with the bishops on immigration and poverty, her group opposed the bishops' stand on the HHS policy.

In a New York Times article yesterday, Sr. Campbell reacts to the news about the renewal called for by the Holy See, first saying that she is stunned, followed by this thought:
“I would imagine that it was our health care letter that made them mad... We haven’t violated any teaching, we have just been raising questions and interpreting politics.”
First, I want to point out my disappointment with the NY Times article in that it leaves out quite a bit, leading readers to get the impression that, "the Vatican" has made a political move here.  The Holy See is actually doing what should have been done long ago.  This process began in 2008 and many such investigations run for three year periods.  We saw this with the Commission on Medjugorje which began on March 17, 2009. In March of 2012 we learn that it's work is complete, and has gone to the Holy Father, with an anticipated announcement expected before year's end.    

Secondly, I seriously doubt that Sr. Campbell would call the actions of Archbishop Francis Rummel in1962, "politics" when he excommunicated several Catholics for, "hindering his order to desegregate all New Orleans parochial schools and for inciting other Catholics to disobedience."  There are moral issues and matters of justice, that happen to also be political issues.  When an issue concerns morality and/or justice, and political spheres, Catholics should look to the Church, which will work to base it's answer on Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterial Teachings.  If there is interpreting to be done, it comes from the Church, through the bishops, in union with the Holy Father.  There is no personal interpretation where each Catholic gets to interpret the morality or justice of a matter all on their own.  Can you imagine the variation, and the broad possibilities, if everyone did their own interpretations, with some consulting the right things, while others consult dissenting sources.  On some things, good Catholics can disagree, but on other things, the teachings are clear. In any event, the bishops speak for the Catholic Church in America, not Network or Catholic Health AssociationWoodstock Theological Society, or the National Catholic Reporter.  It's perfectly fine for groups of Catholics to make their thoughts known to the Pastors of the Church, but after that, the Catholic thing to do is to put it in God's hands and pray that His will is done through the bishops. But, it's the anti-patriarchal and anti-authority attitude that gets in the way of people accepting that. 

That is a good lead in to the last point made by Cardinal Levada to the LCWR Presidency which was regarding radical feminism
The Cardinal noted a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR, including theological interpretations that risk distorting faith in Jesus and his loving Father who sent his Son for the salvation of the world.  Moreover, some commentaries on “patriarchy” distort the way in which Jesus has structured sacramental life in the Church; others even undermine the revealed doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture.   

A little sidebar here: Rev. Dr. Manfred Hauke wrote about radical feminism in the Catholic Church in his book, God or Goddess?: Feminist Theology : What Is It? Where Does It Lead? While it was written in 1995, it remains a classic today and should be on the reading list of every seminarian and others who work with young people or in parishes.  The problems have waned in recent years, but it is something that we will continue to encounter. Containing it means not only dealing with it among those seniors today, who led this charge back in the day, but in being able to teach younger women and everyone else in between, why these things are not compatible with Church teaching or Scripture. It's just this kind of intellectual and Scripture-based approach, along with a study of what the Church fathers and doctors had to say on the subject, that helps people to understand.  If we allow ourselves to be carried away by our feelings and emotions - which focuses on what we want, we don't pursue what God wants and the necessary sacrifice that goes along with that.

The Assessment then shifts to document the history of related events since that meeting with Cardinal Levada - stuff you can read in the PDF.  Skipping further down it says that on June 25, 2010, Bishop Blair of Toledo, Ohio, who was the CDF's Delegate for the Assessment, presented something concerning certain documents he examined.  This may be one of the most quoted sections from the document (emphasis mine in bold; added emphasis in underline).
Sr. Donna Quinn, whose order belongs
to the LCWR, was caught in this photo
was an escort at an abortion mill.
The documentation reveals that, while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States.  Further, issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching.  Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose. 
Note that picture which shows another Sinsinawa Dominican, Sr. Donna Quinn, serving as an escort at an abortion mill.  Could there be a connection between such a misguided act on the part of a Religious, and the malformation that takes place at Sister's community, with the help of the LCWR?

Now, if you look at the press releases and public statements at the LCWR website, what you will see are social justice issues.  Folks, there is nothing wrong with social  justice. The expression has been hi-jacked and used for cover.  It is a broad subject, so the Church created the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church to be used as a guide. Good Catholics can disagree on some of approaches and not be out of sync with Catholic teaching. However, abortion and euthanasia (mentioned in numerous paragraphs in the Compendium) are social justice issues too - covered under that compendium, and they carry great weight because they involve the intrinsic evil of murder which can never be justified. Capital punishment (405 in the Compendium), also a social justice issue, does not carry the same weight as abortion, and Church teaching permits use of the death penalty in certain circumstances (but more people, including myself, feel that modern prison systems mitigate those circumstances).   For the LCWR to be silent on things like abortion, or even condoning it, is appalling.  If the LCWR does not accept the Church's teaching on things like abortion and euthanasia, then the reason for their silence is pretty obvious.  So, the question is: Where do they stand?

The CDF's Decision

Part II of the Assessment, deals also with the decision made by the CDF and the Holy Father's approval back in January of 2011.  It's interesting that they needed just over a year to make this public. Those decisions are listed as follows:
  1. The current doctrinal and pastoral situation of the LCWR is grave and a matter of serious concern, also given the influence the LCWR exercises on religious Congregations in other parts of the world;   
  2. After the currently-ongoing Visitation of religious communities of women in the United States is brought to a conclusion, the Holy See should intervene with the prudent steps necessary to effect a reform of the LCWR;    
  3. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will examine the various forms of canonical intervention available for the resolution of the problematic aspects present in the LCWR.  

See Church teachingon
the Primacy of Peter
I was heartened to see them reminded of the primacy of Peter, the Pope, something that has been eroded and outright lost in some quarters.  The LCWR is so far outside of the Church on some things, that I ponder the harshness with which the SSPX was treated for some positions it takes of a dissenting nature.  If the LCWR and it's members are allowed to remain in the Church, despite their dissent, then why not let the SSPX back in the fold where discussions can continue while they are inside?  The document explains the fundamental principle:

This action by the Holy Father should be understood in virtue of the mandate given by the Lord to Simon Peter as the rock on which He founded his Church (cf. Luke 22:32): “I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned to me, you must strengthen the faith of your brothers and sisters.”  This Scripture passage has long been applied to the role of the Successors of Peter as Head of the Apostolic College of Bishops; it also applies to the role of the Pope as Chief Shepherd and Pastor of the Universal Church.

Near the end of section II, it discusses the appointment of an Archbishop Delegate, whom we now know, is Archbishop Peter Sartain, of Seattle - a good choice, imho.  It notes that the, "mandate given to the Delegate provides the structure and flexibility for the delicate work of such implementation."  Rocco Palmo notes that the archbishop's sister, is a religious sister in the Nashville Dominicans, one of the CMSWR orders that is seeing explosive growth of young vocations.

Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia in Nashville, TN

Lastly, document in this section points out that it is an opportune time for the renewal given the recent Apostolic Visitation.  It also suggests that the Second Vatican Council's vision for Consecrated Life be used as a "providential template".  Keep in mind, that there is the real Vatican II, and the "Spirit of Vatican II".  The latter has caused much damage, and it is a distortion of the real council.

In another post, I want to examine and comment on something that comes next in the document in the section: III. Implementation: Conclusions of Doctrinal Assessment and Mandate. 


This will continue to be the center of discussion for days or weeks to come, I'm sure. 

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