Sisters’ Leadership Responds to Vatican’s Order to Reform Itself

by Carol Zimmerman

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The national board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) June 1 said it feels the assessment that led to a Vatican order to reform the organization “was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency.”

The LCWR board called the sanctions “disproportionate to the concerns raised” and said they “could compromise” the organization’s ability “to fulfill their mission.”

“The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community and created greater polarization,” the LCWR said in a statement released the morning after the board concluded a special meeting in Washington, May 29-31, held to respond to an eight-page doctrinal assessment issued to LCWR by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Citing “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life,” the doctrinal congregation April 18 announced a major reform of LCWR to ensure its fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality.

In response to the LCWR statement, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, appointed by the Vatican to oversee the reform, said both he and the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “are wholeheartedly committed to dealing with the important issues raised by the doctrinal assessment and the LCWR board in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, integrity and fidelity to the church’s faith.”

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

In an interview with Catholic News Service, Sister Pat did not discuss specifics of the board’s reaction to the Vatican’s assessment, saying it was “a conversation we want to have first with the Vatican.”

She said that when she and Sister Janet go to Rome they will continue the conversation they had when the eight-page document was first released to them, presenting their views after “prayerful reflection.”

Sister Pat said the LCWR leadership had not given interviews about the document since its release more than a month ago because they did “not want to react in the moment.”

“It was important not to respond immediately,” she said, “so that whatever we would say would come from our best selves.”
She also noted that the LCWR leadership “couldn’t respond with any substance individually” because the group is a collaborative organization that speaks with one voice.