From the Directors' Desk:
On Supporting U.S. Nuns

On the July 22 feast of St. Mary of Magdala, the FutureChurch Board approved a statement supporting US women religious undergoing a puzzling “Apostolic Visitation” by the Vatican. A March 10 letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) implied there was something doctrinally suspect about addresses given at the Leadershipo Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) annual meetings.

Since LCWR represents over 90 percent of US nuns, I have traveled to LCWR assemblies in mid-August to staff our FutureChurch exhibit for the past fifteen years. I never once heard any presentation that openly opposed church teaching. In my experience LCWR leaders are careful and discerning about their programs. The March letter also referred to a 2001 letter allegedly requesting LCWR leaders to promote church teaching on the non-ordination of women, “the problem” of homosexuality and the teaching that only the Catholic Church contains the fullness of Christian faith (Dominus Iesus). Oddly, even though LCWR officers have traveled on their own initiative to Rome every year since 2001, no church official ever mentioned a problem with their annual assembly.

Adding insult to injury, Vatican officials announced the Apostolic Visitation in Rome a full month before anyone in the U.S. was notified. Small wonder that concerns about secrecy and an unfair process abound. While the Apostolic Visitation is separate from the LCWR doctrinal investigation, the list of questions in the working document implies that US religious communities are doctrinally suspect too. For example one question asks about community processes “for responding to sisters who dissent publicly or privately from the authoritative teaching of the Church.” One wonders if this isn’t the ecclesiastical equivalent of asking “how many times have you beaten your wife?”

So I was apprehensive and not a little downhearted as I journeyed to LCWR this August. Through the years so many women religious leaders offered kind encouragement and energetic support for FutureChurch’s work to restore Mary of Magdala to her true role as the “Apostle to the Apostles” and to open the discussion of mandatory celibacy and women deacons to preserve vibrant parishes despite the priest shortage. I grieve that male church leaders have rarely if ever, offered these faithful women the kind of support they so generously give to others.

As I shared our FutureChurch statement with the women who approached our table, I marveled that while some wondered what was beneath this ominous Vatican behavior, no one seemed afraid. Instead most were calm in their determination to remain rooted in the reality of the Spirit’s call in these critical times. Later, the LCWR assembly approved a document that:

“Speaking from the margins of the Catholic Church.” What a compelling phrase. Most, if not all laity and especially women, speak from the margins of the Church. The place, it turns out, Jesus favored most. “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.” Rather than grieve, perhaps we should give thanks for the honor of joining Jesus in that powerful marginal space where, through the power of the Spirit, the future church is even now building its cornerstone.

What you can do:

  1. Write a positive, respectful letter to the Church leaders listed below.
  2. Share how the witness of women religious has positively influenced your life.
  3. Express confusion as to why church officials would investigate women religious when there are so many serious challenges in the church.

Archbishop Pietro Sambi - Apostolic Nunciature, 3339 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008
Msgr. Charles Brown - Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 00101 Vatican City State
Bishop Leonard P. Blair - Committee on Doctrine, USCCB, P.O. Box 985, Toledo, OH 43697-0985
Franc Cardinal Rode C.M. - Prefect Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Palazzo della Congregazioni, 00193 Roma, Piazza Pio XII, 3, ITALY

Focus on FutureChurch

Summer 2009


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