In an address to the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Cardinal Gerhard Müller reaffirmed the necessity of reform of the conference, saying it has effectively moved beyond the Christian faith.
“We believe the conclusions of the Doctrinal Assessment are accurate and the path of reform it lays before the LCWR remains necessary so that religious life might continue to flourish in the United States,” the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in his April 30 address, delivered in Rome.
He went on to say that the group's acceptance of ideas opposed to revelation is evidence that a movement beyond the faith "has already occurred."
Cardinal Müller began by saying he is grateful for the LCWR’s corrections to their statutes and civil bylaws, but remains concerned about their continued promotion of doctrinal errors in their writings and choice of annual assembly speakers.
In 2012, after four years of observation, the Vatican found a state of doctrinal crisis within the LCWR, a group of U.S. women religious superiors, and detailed their conclusions in a Doctrinal Assessment of the group. The Vatican listed several issues that needed correction, and at the same time assigned Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to oversee the conference’s reform.
Among the key findings in the assessment were serious theological and doctrinal errors in presentations at the conference's annual assemblies in recent years.
Several of the addresses, the assessment said, depicted a vision of religious life that is incompatible with the faith of the Church. Some attempted to justify dissent from Church doctrine and showed “scant regard for the role of the Magisterium.”
Cardinal Müller noted that LCWR officers have taken issue with the assessment, saying it was “flawed and the findings based on unsubstantiated accusations” and that the Vatican’s reforms were “disproportionate” to their findings, a belief that has been reaffirmed in the group’s recently published collection of LCWR Presidential Addresses.
One of the most contested points of reform was the Vatican’s mandate that presenters at major LCWR gatherings first be approved by the delegate, Archbishop Sartain.
“It allows the Holy See’s Delegate to be involved in the discussion first of all in order to avoid difficult and embarrassing situations wherein speakers use an LCWR forum to advance positions at odds with the teaching of the Church,” Cardinal Müller explained.
This part of the reform had “not yet been put into force” when the LCWR announced it would award Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ – a theologian whom the U.S. bishops have criticized several times because of her serious doctrinal errors – with their “Outstanding Leadership Award” at this year’s General Assembly.
“This is a decision that will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment,” Cardinal Müller said. “Not only that, but it further alienates the LCWR from the Bishops as well.”
Cardinal Müller announced that this provision is now “fully in force,” and that the decision to honor Sr. Johnson “is indeed regrettable and demonstrates clearly the necessity of the Mandate’s provision that speakers and presenters at major programs will be subject to approval by the Delegate.”
The cardinal went on to address the LCWR’s claim that the Vatican’s conclusions in its Doctrinal Assessment are not backed up by any real evidence.
“The phrase in the Doctrinal Assessment most often cited as overreaching or unsubstantiated is when it talks about religious moving beyond the Church or even beyond Jesus. Yes, this is hard language and I can imagine it sounded harsh in the ears of thousands of faithful religious.”
“And yet, the issues raised in the Assessment are so central and so foundational, there is no other way of discussing them except as constituting a movement away from the ecclesial center of faith in Christ Jesus the Lord.”
In 2012, the same year the assessment was released, the conference hosted philosopher Barbara Marx Hubbard, an author and promoter of “Conscious Evolution” as the keynote speaker for their annual General Assembly. The prefect noted that since then, the concept has been featured heavily in LCWR materials.
Cardinal Müller expressed his concern over the LCWR’s promotion of such a philosophy, saying that “the fundamental theses of Conscious Evolution are opposed to Christian Revelation.”
“When taken unreflectively,” he said, they “lead almost necessarily to fundamental errors regarding the omnipotence of God, the Incarnation of Christ, the reality of Original Sin, the necessity of salvation and the definitive nature of the salvific action of Christ in the Paschal Mystery.”
“My concern is whether such an intense focus on new ideas such as Conscious Evolution has robbed religious of the ability truly to sentire cum Ecclesia. To phrase it as a question, do the many religious listening to addresses on this topic or reading expositions of it even hear the divergences from the Christian faith present?”
The doctrine prefect said he is worried that “uncritical acceptance” of such ideas as Conscious Evolution, “seemingly without any awareness that it offers a vision of God, the cosmos, and the human person divergent from or opposed to Revelation,” is evidence that “a de facto movement beyond the Church and sound Christian faith has already occurred.”
He reminded leaders that Conscious Evolution, although presented as a futuristic way of thinking, is not “actually new,” as its roots can be found in the gnostic heresy.
“Conscious Evolution does not offer anything which will nourish religious life as a privileged and prophetic witness rooted in Christ revealing divine love to a wounded world,” he said. “It does not present the treasure beyond price for which new generations of young women will leave all to follow Christ.”
“The Gospel does! Selfless service to the poor and marginalized in the name of Jesus Christ does!”
He reminded the religious sisters that Pope Francis spoke last year to superiors general of religious orders in which he proposed what the cardinal called “a positive articulation of issues which come across as concerns in the Doctrinal Assessment.”
“I urge you to reread the Holy Father’s remarks and to make them a point of discussion with members of your Board as well,” Cardinal Müller told the LCWR’s presidency.
He concluded by reminding the LCWR’s representatives that “I owe an incalculable debt to the women religious who have long been a part of my life. They were the ones who instilled in me a love for the Lord and for the Church and encouraged me to follow the vocation to which the Lord was calling me. The things I have said today are therefore born of great love.”
He emphasized that the Holy See and his congregation “deeply desire religious life to thrive and that the LCWR will be an effective instrument supporting its growth.”
“In the end, the point is this: the Holy See believes that the charismatic vitality of religious life can only flourish within the ecclesial faith of the Church. The LCWR, as a canonical entity dependent on the Holy See, has a profound obligation to the promotion of that faith as the essential foundation of religious life.”
“Canonical status and ecclesial vision go hand-in-hand, and at this phase of the implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment, we are looking for a clearer expression of that ecclesial vision and more substantive signs of collaboration.”