Headlines > Chastened US nuns meet for first time since Vatican tightened controls

15 August 2014 | by Michael Sean Winters , Liz Dodd , CNS

Chastened US nuns meet for first time since Vatican tightened controls

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is holding its annual meeting this week in Nashville, its first such gathering since a meeting with Vatican officials in April at which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) insisted the group pre-clear its speakers’ lists.

Sr Carol Zinn, president of the LCWR, urged sisters to “cry out” for justice, inclusivity and compassion in her presidential address on the first full day of the assembly.

“Perhaps we're singing in muted tones the authentic and radical message of the Gospel and the vision of a Second Vatican Council church as the People of God, all the People of God, walking together," she said. "Likely, we're only whispering that Oneness from within and beyond the national world to the most meaningful and sacred relationships, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, or belief system."

Afterwards she told members of the organisation that religious congregations must evolve to meet the needs of a changing society and Church.

"Religious life is always a radical response to the Gospel in a particular historical and cultural context. It is always a response to where you are, making the Gospel present where we are," Sr Carol said after delivering her presidential address. "I want us to be clear about where we are," the Sister of St. Joseph added.

It was unclear as The Tablet went to press how the Sisters would respond to the new Vatican requirement that future speakers be cleared with Archbishop Peter Sartain, the Holy See’s designated point man for implementing reform of the LCWR.

He told the sisters on Tuesday that he was there "as a brother and a friend".

However this year the LCWR is bestowing an award on Sr Elizabeth Johnson, a theology professor at Fordham whose work was deemed suspect by the US bishops’ conference’s Committee on Doctrine. Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the CDF, told the LCWR leaders that the award “will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the doctrinal assessment”.

Eighty per cent of women religious in the United States belong to the LCWR. A more conservative group, the Council of Superiors of Women Religious, represents the other 20 per cent.

LCWR has about 1,400 members who are leaders of their orders in the United States. The members represent about 80 percent of the 51,600 women religious in the country. Many of the congregations of women religious among the LCWR's membership are becoming smaller and their members are aging, Sr Carol noted.

At the same time, the Catholic Church in the United States is changing along with the needs of the laity and people in society at large. "When many of us started in religious life, our congregations were serving in an institutional way," running schools, hospitals and other large institutions, Sr Carol said. "That's shifting. We're not doing the shifting, God is." Religious congregations might have to change how they live their charisms, she said. "It might not be consecrated life the way we've lived it."

Top: Sr Carol is prayed for before giving her address. Above: Sr Sharon Sullivan of the Ursuline Sisters of Maple Mount, Kentucky welcomes LCWR members to Nashville. Photos: CNS/Tennessee Register

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