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Vatican Ends Scrutiny of US Nuns Group with Mandate to Reform

CC-House Springs, Missouri USA

John Burger - published on 04/17/15

Holy See expresses confidence that LCWR will be in line with Church teaching

Three years after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concluded that the “doctrinal and pastoral situation" of a group of American nuns is "grave and a matter of serious concern,” the Vatican has expressed its confidence that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is on the right track to reform.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Thursday announced the conclusion of its extraordinary intervention into the affairs of the LCWR, the umbrella organization for the majority of the women’s religious institutes in the United States.

“At the conclusion of this process, the Congregation is confident that LCWR has made clear its mission to support its member Institutes by fostering a vision of religious life that is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ and is rooted in the Tradition of the Church,” said Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the prefect of the Congregation. “It is this vision that makes religious women and men radical witnesses to the Gospel, and, therefore, is essential for the flourishing of religious life in the Church.” 

At issue were the statutes, publications, conferences and liturgical practices of the LCWR, which represents the leaders of most of the mainstream women’s religious orders in the US. As Catholic World News reported:

The doctrinal assessment resulted in a revision of the LCWR’s statutes. In addition, an advisory committee of theologians will review LCWR publications and programs “to promote a scholarly rigor that will ensure theological accuracy and help avoid statements that are ambiguous with regard to Church doctrine or could be read as contrary to it,” according to the final CDF report. 

With regard to the LCWR’s annual conference, “a revised process for the selection of the Outstanding Leadership Award recipient has been articulated,” the CDF report added, and the “choice of topics and speakers appropriate to the Conference’s mission and service will be carried out in a prayerful, thoughtful and discerning manner.” 

The CDF and the LCWR also engaged in “clarifying and fruitful conversation” about “the importance of the celebration of the Eucharist; the place of the Liturgy of the Hours in religious communities; the centrality of a communal process of contemplative prayer practiced at LCWR Assemblies and other gatherings; the relationship between LCWR and other organizations; and the essential understanding of LCWR as an instrument of ecclesial communion,” according to the report. 

Catholic World News three years ago gave more background on the problems that needed to be addressed:

The CDF assessment—based on the results of an apostolic visitation conducted by Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio—detected “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life.” The CDF report found that many American women religious have drifted away from “the fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration.” 

More specifically, the Vatican report found that LCWR meetings regularly included speakers who “often contradict or ignore magisterial teachings.” The group’s statements “do not promote Church teaching” on questions of human sexuality, the Vatican noted, and “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.” 

“Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose,” the CDF said. 

The Vatican report called attention to ties between the LCWR and the liberal social lobby, Network, which has strongly supported the Obama administration’s plans for health-care reform despite the US bishops’ opposition. The report suggested a review of the LCWR affiliation with Network. 

Four leaders of the LCWR had a 50-minute meeting with Pope Francis while conducting their annual visit to various Vatican offices Thursday. LCWR officials issued a statement about the meeting, saying, “We were honored to have this opportunity for such an extensive conversation with Pope Francis that centered on 
Evangelii gaudium, the Pope’s apostolic exhortation that has so deeply impacted our lives as women religious and our mission in the world. Our conversation allowed us to personally thank Pope Francis for providing leadership and a vision that has captivated our hearts and emboldened us as in our own mission and service to the church. We were also deeply heartened by Pope Francis’ expression of appreciation for the witness given by Catholic sisters through our lives and ministry and will bring that message back to our members.”

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