After reading the statements coming out of the annual meeting of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) this week, essentially taking the Church hierarchy to task for many perceived ills, while at the same time glorifying all things sisterly, I found myself getting more and more aggravated. The language used by the Conference in its public statements threw me back to the years of my religious education in the 60's and 70's with its confusing syntax and formlessness, and, believe me, the flashback was not a happy one. I tried to restrain my irritation, but the final straw was when the LCWR expressed the notion that they will be speaking to the bishops and the Vatican not only for themselves, but on behalf of all Catholic women (as well as the poor). "Oh no you won't", was my immediate thought followed by "Please don't presume to speak for me. Just stick to your own issues and let the Catholic laity speak for themselves. "
So, in order to maintain my sanity (somewhat) and to allow you, dear Academicians, to share the thoughts that have been building up in my head since the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith issued its "Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious" I am hereby publicly venting my spleen with my open letter to the LCWR.
Dear Sisters of the LCWR:
Having read your public statements over the past few weeks and watched video footage of your annual conference, I must ask some questions about your role in the life of the Catholic Church and whether you truly believe what the Magisterium of the Church teaches. If I were able to have a conversation with members of your leadership, as one Catholic woman to another, I would have to ask the following:
First. Why do you constantly attack the hierarchy as being a "power" structure, and then use power as your measuring stick for your place in the Church? If power is not the goal, then why do you want it?
Second, Why can't you be clear? I really meant it when I said that the years of being taught my religion by the sisters in the 60's and 70's resulted in one giant mass of confusion. Your public statements continue the dissemination of sloppy thinking and vague concepts. I just read the speech of your awardee, Sister Sandra Schneiders, who offers suggestions for something she calls "Gospel leadership." What does this mean? Sister Schneiders says it is "anticipatory leadership" which is "an active fostering of discernment about what is coming towards us from the future... ." Really, can you not see that this type of language is confusing and almost meaningless? People do not speak this way in real life or in the world of academia, for that matter. I have multiple graduate degrees, which is not to say anything special, but it does indicate a certain ability to understand complicated concepts. However, when faced with "nunspeak", I am rendered clueless.
Third. Do you really think the public buys your statements to the media that the Vatican is coming after you for spending too much time on the poor? Your statements to that effect are scandalous. While Catholics hold varying opinions on many things, I think you would be surprised to know how much the Holy Father and our bishops are loved and respected by the faithful. I had the privilege of seeing the Pope at Castel Gandolfo last month and the outpouring of affection and gratitude by those present was palpable. To assert that Pope Benedict would be wasting his time and the time of his staff in going after American sisters because they were serving the poor is ridiculous.
Fourth. Why don't you acknowledge some of the malfeasance done by sisters and address this in your statements? Of my family and friends, an inordinate number have been subject to or witnesses of physical abuse by Catholic sisters in an educational setting. Of course, we can't paint all sisters with a broad brush, but why is this swept under the rug by your organization? I understand that survivors of abuse were protesting outside your annual meeting because of your failure to be transparent on this issue. Why would you not meet with them?
Fifth. You say that you want dialogue with the Vatican and with Archbishop Sartain, but then your public statement lays out what you are willing and not willing to discuss with them. How is it dialogue when you set the terms of conversation?
Sixth. You continue to speak of your mission. What is your mission? I looked on your website and learned that the stated purpose of your conference is to "promote a developing understanding and living of religious life." But, what do you understand religious life to mean? Is it something other than what I can do as a single Catholic laywoman? I see the sisters in my neighborhood who live in apartments, wear street clothing and have no outward sign of religious life. They work in jobs that are also held by the laity. What does it mean to you to be a vowed religious? I sincerely would like to know how you view your role and what makes it different from that of a devout Catholic laywoman.
Well, I could go on and on with questions, but thinking about this topic truly makes me sad. I am sorry that the Vatican had to issue this assessment, but when speakers at your conferences speak of "moving beyond Christ," something has got to go.
I sincerely wish that this fraternal correction from the Holy See had begun many years ago. Perhaps we wouldn't have so many confused and ignorant Catholics. But, hopefully, better late than never.
A Concerned Catholic Laywoman