Reaction to the Vatican’s announced reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) took form on the social media site Twitter, where efforts to show support for religious sisters dueled with the group's critics.
Fr. James Martin, S.J., an editor for America magazine, launched a Twitter hashtag “#WhatSistersMeanToMe” to show appreciation for all religious sisters on the microblogging site where 140-character text messages and popular tags can spread with rapidity.
“Catholic sisters teach me what it means to persevere without the benefit of institutional power,” he tweeted April 19.
“Framing things in that way, I thought, meant that people could show their gratitude for sisters, and read other messages of support, without being in any way negative. No need to be anti-Vatican or anti-bishop or anti-anything. Just pro-sister,” he said in an April 26 Washington Post column reflecting on what came next.
His comments brought in many appreciative tweets from those affected by religious sisters’ work in education, health care and spiritual direction.
They also drew a response from Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, a blogging priest who believes some LCWR defenders are ignoring the problems in the women’s religious orders.
“The upcoming reform of the leadership of the LCWR is not about the Holy See or American bishops being mad at under-appreciated women who built and ran hospitals, schools, and orphanages,” he said April 24.
“The reform is not about their backing this or that political horse.”
“The reform is about the fact, the FACT, that many of the women religious in leadership positions over several decades embrace and still actively propagate a radical feminism to such a degree that they now promote, as part of their systems and power structures, unnatural acts between people of the same sex and the killing of babies within, and even mostly out of, the womb.”
Fr. Zuhlsdorf encouraged his readers to use the “#WhatSistersMeanToMe” Twitter hashtag to note problems in the women’s religious orders, such as sisters who advocate for abortion rights.
Fr. Martin said some critics of the LCWR were “vindictive, cruel, mocking” on Twitter and flooded the hashtag with “snotty comments about who were faithful sisters were and who were not.”
The spat follows the release of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s assessment of the women’s leadership conference, which has more than 1,500 member organizations representing 57,000 vowed religious.
The assessment found a doctrinal “crisis” within the organization. It called for a greater emphasis on the conference’s relationship with the U.S. bishops’ conference and on the need to provide “a sound doctrinal foundation in the faith of the Church.”
The Twitter initiative also prompted some to criticize the Catholic hierarchy.
Although Fr. Martin said he did not intend his effort to be “anti-Vatican or anti-bishop,” the Huffington Post’s report on his initiative depicted it as a response to the Vatican “cracking down” on the LCWR.
Commenters at the Huffington Post also took a dim view of Vatican action. While many voiced appreciation for religious sisters, many also responded to Fr. Martin’s initiative by criticizing the bishops as oppressive and anti-woman. One self-described Catholic commenter attacked Mother Teresa, claiming she was primarily motivated by “money and power.”