Religious Men, Franciscan Superiors Support Women’s Leadership Group

WASHINGTON (CNS) – As the top officials of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) prepared to meet in Rome with the head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, they received messages of support and solidarity from the executive committee of the Congregation of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) and the heads of seven Franciscan provinces in the U.S.

“For us, there can be no dispute that God has been and continues to be revealed through the faithful (and often unsung) witness of religious women in the United States,” said the provincial ministers of the Order of Friars Minor in an open letter to U.S. Catholic nuns.

The CMSM statement said its members “have been inspired by the sisters’ promotion of Catholic social teaching, their service to so many in health care education, and their fidelity to the Gospel and service in the church.”

Both groups were responding to the Vatican’s appointment of Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to provide “review, guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work” of LCWR, which represents about 80% of the country’s 57,000 women religious.

Archbishop Sartain’s appointment came the same day the doctrinal congregation issued an eight-page doctrinal assessment of LCWR and announced a major reform of the organization to ensure its fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality.

LCWR’s president, Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell, and its executive director, Sister Janet Mock, a Sister of St. Joseph, were to meet U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop Sartain June 12 in Rome “to raise and discuss the board’s concerns” about the Vatican action.

The CMSM leaders said they had been “impressed by the way LCWR leadership has responded to this difficult situation,” describing the response as “prayerful and consultative.”

“CMSM offers its prayerful support as the LCWR engages in dialogue with Vatican officials and Archbishop Sartain,” the three-paragraph statement said. “We pray that the Holy Spirit will guide these conversations to a deeper understanding and a resolution of the issue at hand.”

The longer letter from the Franciscans expressed concern that “at a time of heightened polarization and even animosity in our nation and church,” the Vatican action “may inadvertently fuel the current climate of division and confusion.”

They also called “the tone and direction” of the Vatican’s doctrinal assessment of LCWR “excessive, given the evidence raised.”

“The efforts of LCWR to facilitate honest and faithful dialogue on critical issues of our times must not result in a level of ecclesial oversight that could, in effect, quash all further discernment,” the Franciscan provincials said. “When there appears to be honest disagreement on the application of moral principles to public policy, it is not equivalent to questioning the authority of the church’s magisterium.”

In its assessment, the doctrinal congregation 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.”