Archbishop Sartain stresses dedication to addressing religious sisters' issues

Archbishop J Peter Sartain CNA US Catholic News 1 16 12 Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle says he is dedicated to addressing concerns regarding the Leadership Conference of Women Religious “in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, integrity and fidelity to the Church’s faith.”

The archbishop said that both he and the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “are wholeheartedly committed to dealing with the important issues” raised by both the recent doctrinal assessment and the LCWR’s national board.

He added that both the Vatican and the U.S. bishops are “deeply proud of the historic and continuing contribution of women religious,” a sentiment he said “has been echoed by many in recent weeks.”

“Dramatic examples of this can be witnessed in the school system and in the network of Catholic hospitals established by sisters across America,” he said, describing these institutions as “lasting contributions to the wellbeing of our country.”

The archbishop’s statement was released on June 1, hours after the national board of the LCWR accused the Vatican’s recent investigation of being “based on unsubstantiated accusations” and resulting from “a flawed process that lacked transparency.”

Board members also argued that “the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised” and might compromise the sisters’ “ability to fulfill their mission.”

Archbishop Sartain has been mandated to work with the LCWR’s leadership for up to five years, after a four-year doctrinal assessment of the organization revealed “serious doctrinal problems” and a need for reform.

The findings of the assessment were released on April 18 by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. They noted that some presentations sponsored by the LCWR exhibited “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

These presentations, which included one address about “moving beyond the Church” and beyond Jesus, risk distorting Church teaching, the report said, adding that they constitute “a rejection of faith” and a “serious source of scandal.”

The assessment document said that the group failed to offer adequate doctrinal formation to its members. It also voiced concern over letters from LCWR officers suggesting “corporate dissent” from Church teaching on topics such as the sacramental male priesthood and homosexuality.

The investigation also found that the organization speaks out strongly on social justice issues but is largely silent on matters of life, marriage and sexuality, which have been prominent topics of public discourse in recent debates over abortion, euthanasia and “gay marriage.”

In leading renewal efforts, Archbishop Sartain will work with the conference to revise its statues and review its connections to affiliated organizations. In addition, he will help create a new formation program to offer a deeper understanding of Church teaching and will be responsible for approving future speakers and presentations at the organization’s assemblies.

He will also review the application of liturgical norms and texts, in order to ensure that the Eucharist and Liturgy of the Hours are given proper priority in the conference’s events.

In carrying out these tasks, the archbishop will be aided by an advisory group of clergy, experts and women religious, as well as with Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield and Bishop Leonard P. Blair of Toledo, Ohio, who was responsible for conducting the assessment of the LCWR.

Composed of some 1,500 members, the LCWR consists of about three percent of the 57,000 women religious in the U.S. Because its members are leaders of their religious communities, the group says that it represents 80 percent of American sisters. The average age of its members is 74.

In its recent statement, the national board of the LCWR criticized “both the content of the doctrinal assessment and the process by which it was prepared.” 

The board members argued that the Vatican’s report on the organization has “caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.”
The group plans to issue a response to the Vatican’s report after conducting several internal discussions and meeting with CDF head Cardinal William Levada and Archbishop Sartain in Rome later this month.

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Archbishop Sartain said that he looks forward to meeting with the leaders of the organization as part of ongoing efforts “to collaborate in promoting the important work of the LCWR for consecrated life in the United States.”

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