- Trying to square the circle
The opening days of the Synod on the Family have revealed distinct differences of opinion between the participants. How can their commitment to church teaching be matched with compassion for those who struggle with it?
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The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) wrapped up its annual meeting in Nashville, affirming their commitment to continued dialogue with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and Archbishop Peter Sartain, the Vatican-appointed overseer of the organisation. In 2010, the CDF issued a doctrinal assessment that faulted the LCWR for hosting doctrinally questionable speakers, insufficiently focusing on life issues, and other matters.
“Our study, discernment, and prayer led us to reaffirm our strong belief that ongoing conversation with church leadership is key to building effective working relationships that enable both women religious and church leaders to serve the world,” the LCWR board said in a statement issued at the conclusion of the meeting. “It is our deepest hope to resolve the situation between LCWR and CDF in a way that fully honours our commitment to fulfill the LCWR mission as well as protect the integrity of the organisation. We will continue in the conversation with Archbishop Sartain as an expression of hope that new ways may be created within the Church for healthy discussion of differences.”
The LCWR leaders offered the hope that the dialogue could become a model for those “thousands of persons throughout the country and around the world [who] long for places where they can raise questions and explore ideas on matters of faith in an atmosphere of freedom and respect.”
While the dialogue with the Vatican dominated the meeting, the LCWR also elected St Joseph Sr Marcia Allen as the group’s president-elect. Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Sharon Holland shifted from president-elect of the group to president at this meeting. The sisters also bestowed their lifetime achievement award on Sr Elizabeth Johnson, a theologian at Fordham University whose work was criticised by the US bishops’ doctrinal committee. In her talk, Sr Johnson said, “The Church did not start out this way, but as an institution, it has evolved a patriarchal structure where authority is executed in a top-down fashion and obedience and loyalty to the system are the greatest of virtues … Certainly, the LCWR and the sisters they lead are far from perfect, but they have got the smell of the sheep on them.”
Sr Johnson defended her theological work and objected to CDF Prefect Cardinal Gerhard Muller’s characterisation of the LCWR’s decision to give her a lifetime achievement award as provocative. “It was clear from his statement that Cardinal Müller neither read the book nor my response, but simply echoed the criticisms of the panel,” Sr Johnson said.
Above: Sister Carol Zinn receives blessing before LCWR assembly. Photo: CNS photo/Andy Telli, Tennessee Register