09 May 2014, The Tablet

Mistrust has replaced communication, say censured nuns

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has rebuked the organisation that represents most American nuns for honouring a sister whose work it deems “seriously inadequate” and for promoting ideas “opposed to Christian revelation”.

In both instances Cardinal Gerhard Müller said the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) had alienated itself further from the US bishops. Addressing the LCWR presidency in Rome, Cardinal Müller told officials they would not be completely free to determine whom they invite to speak to meetings or whom they honour with awards.

The LCWR represents more than 80 per cent of the 57,000 religious sisters in the United States and has been under pressure from the CDF since 2012 when it launched an investigation into the group’s fidelity to church teaching.

In his remarks, Cardinal Müller admitted he was speaking “bluntly” and rebuked the LCWR for conferring its 2014 Outstanding Leadership Award on Sr Elizabeth Johnson, a feminist theologian whose book, Quest for the Living God, according to Müller contains “doctrinal errors”.

“This is a decision that will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment. Not only that, but it further alienates the LCWR from the bishops as well,” warned Cardinal Müller.

Cardinal Müller was also critical of the group’s invitation to Barbara Marx Hubbard, a chief exponent of Conscious Evolution, to address its annual assembly in 2012 saying the ideas behind the concept are “opposed to Christian revelation”.

In a doctrinal assessment of the LCWR in 2012 Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle found “serious doctrinal issues” and a focus on social justice above “the fundamental Christological centre”.

Cardinal Müller said Archbishop Sartain must now “have an active role in the discussion about invited speakers and honorees” at LCWR events.

In a statement to the US-based Catholic News Service, LCWR officials said Cardinal Müller’s “remarks were meant to set a context for the discussion that followed. The actual interaction with Cardinal Müller and his staff was an experience of dialogue that was respectful and engaging”.

But two days later the nuns issued a more critical communiqué regretting the state of relations between the CDF and the LCWR, saying they did not recognise the view of them the CDF depicted in the doctrinal assessment. 

"During the meeting it became evident that despite maximum efforts through the years, communication has broken down and as a result, mistrust has developed. What created an opening toward dialogue in this meeting was hearing first-hand the way the CDF perceives LCWR. We do not recognise ourselves in the doctrinal assessment of the conference and realise that, despite that fact, our attempts to clarify misperceptions have led to deeper misunderstandings."

Meanwhile in the US, when asked this week at Fordham University about Cardinal Müller’s critique of Sr Elizabeth Johnson, Cardinal Walter Kasper, former President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity appeared relaxed when he replied: “This is not a tragedy … St Thomas Aquinas was suspect, too. She is in good company.”

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99