The Leadership Conference of Women Religious is being investigated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith because of the “tenor and doctrinal content” of various addresses at the organization’s annual assemblies since 2001. One such address described “moving beyond the Church, even beyond Jesus” as “the dynamic option” for religious life.
According to its web site, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has more than 1,500 members representing about 95 percent of the 59,000 women religious in the U.S.
Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), announced the doctrinal review in a letter, the National Catholic Reporter says.
He noted that officials from the LCWR had met with the CDF in 2001. The officials were invited to report on LCWR members’ reception of Church teaching on the sacramental priesthood, the CDF document Dominus Iesus and “the problem of homosexuality.”
Dominus Iesus, published by the CDF in 2000 under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, emphasized the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and established the differences between the Catholic Church and other religions. The document stated that only the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of the Christian faith.
“Given both the tenor and the doctrinal content of various addresses given at the annual assemblies of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the intervening years, this Dicastery can only conclude that the problems which had motivated its request in 2001 continue to be present,” Cardinal Levada said in his letter.
The Catholic Key reported that the keynote address at the LCWR 2007 annual assembly has aroused “particular concern and discussion.”
In that keynote, titled “A Marginal Life: Pursuing Holiness in the 21st Century,” Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Laurie Brink commented on the decline of many religious orders. She characterized some successful new orders as being “acquiescent” to others’ expectations and also discussed the possible future of women religious.
She described a “sojourning congregation” as “the dynamic option for Religious Life.”
In Sister Laurie’s words, such a congregation involves “moving beyond the Church, even beyond Jesus.”
“A sojourning congregation is no longer ecclesiastical. It has grown beyond the bounds of institutional religion. Its search for the Holy may have begun rooted in Jesus as the Christ, but deep reflection, study and prayer have opened it up to the spirit of the Holy in all of creation. Religious titles, institutional limitations, ecclesiastical authorities no longer fit this congregation, which in most respects is Post-Christian.”
She described the Benedictine Women of Madison as having a commitment to “ecumenism” which led them “beyond the exclusivity of the Catholic Church into a new inclusivity, where all manner of seeking God is welcomed. They are certainly religious women, but they are no longer women religious as it is defined by the Roman Catholic Church. They choose as a congregation to step outside the Church in order to step into a greater sense of holiness. Theirs was a choice of integrity, insight and courage.”
Cardinal Levada said that the assessment of the LCWR will be conducted by Bishop of Toledo, Ohio Leonard P. Blair. Bishop Blair is a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine.
Cardinal Levada said Bishop Blair’s principal purpose would be to “review the work of the LCWR in supporting its membership as communities of faith and witness to Christ in today’s church, and to offer any useful assistance.”
CNA contacted Sally Oberski, Director of Communications at the Diocese of Toledo, for further comment on the investigation.
Reiterating Cardinal Levada’s description of Bishop Blair’s work, she said in a Friday e-mail:
“Bishop Blair has been in contact with the leadership of the LCWR, and has nothing further to add at this time."