National News

For LCWR, Life Returns to Normal After Vatican Report

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) said the organization is pleased to be “going on with our normal life, so to speak,” now that the Vatican’s mandate to reform the group has concluded.

Sister Sharon Holland told Catholic News Service that the leaders of the organization and Vatican officials reached agreement on several key issues under a mandate for reform issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in an atmosphere that promoted understanding and respect.

The mandate emerged from a doctrinal assessment by congregation representatives that began in 2009.

“The whole experience has allowed us to see the fruitfulness of a process that was carried out in a sort of contemplative way,” said Sister Sharon, vice president of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe, Michigan. “It takes time to be quiet, to pray and reflect. We’ve seen both the power and the potential of respectful honest dialogue. We hope that we’ve all learned a good deal about the importance of listening well.

“Hopefully we’ve both experienced and shown the possibility of dealing with tension or misunderstanding or difficulties in a way that helps resolve, rather than allowing them to develop into polarization,” she added.

Sister Sharon’s comments came a month after the April 16 announcement at the Vatican that the reform process had successfully concluded. The announcement at the Vatican came the same day LCWR officers met with Pope Francis at his office for 50 minutes discussing his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.”

Both parties released a two-page Joint Final Report the same day that outlined several reform steps already completed or that were to be undertaken by LCWR. Both also agreed to a 30-day moratorium for comment.

No immediate word was released by the Vatican May 15.

In a statement posted on the LCWR website May 15, the organization’s leadership said that when the findings of the assessment were issued in 2012, its board of directors decided to place all discussions in a context of communal contemplative prayer in order to discern how best to respond.

The statement was issued by Sister Sharon as president; Sister Marcia Allen, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, president-elect; Sister Carol Zinn, a Sister of St. Joseph, past president; and Holy Cross Sister Joan Marie Steadman, executive director.

The assessment of LCWR, whose 1,500 members represent 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in the U.S., was initiated after complaints were lodged by unnamed U.S. Catholic leaders.

Led by Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Connecticut, the assessment took three years to complete. Citing “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life,” the Vatican announced a major reform of the conference in 2012 to ensure its fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality.

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle was appointed to oversee the reform. Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, and Archbishop Blair were named to assist him.

Three years of what Sister Sharon called “intensive dialogue” with the congregation and the three bishops followed along with annual meetings with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Faith, which oversees religious life.

The LCWR leadership in its statement said all interactions with the U.S. prelates for the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “were always conducted in a spirit of prayer and openness.”

The leadership team credited Archbishop Sartain for his “sincerity and integrity” for encouraging the organization to continue in dialogue over the findings of the assessment.

“We engaged in long and challenging exchanges with these officials about our understandings of and perspectives on critical matters of faith and its practice, religious life and its mission, and the role of a leadership conference of religious,” the statement said. “We believe that because these exchanges were carried out in an atmosphere of mutual respect, we were brought to deeper understandings of one another. We gained insights into the experiences and perspectives of these church leaders, and felt that our experiences and perspectives were heard and valued.”