In response, the conference’s board members charged that the assessment was “based on unsubstantiated accusations” and used “a flawed process that lacked transparency.” They said the report “caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.”
Critics of the Vatican assessment have found sympathy in major media outlets, some of which have depicted the action against the leadership conference as an attack on all religious sisters and nuns.
But the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma see things differently.
Sr. Jane Mary Firestone, RSM, an internist at Sacred Heart Clinic in Alma, Mich., who helped write her religious congregation’s statement, spoke about it with CNA. She said that there is no issue with people representing their perspective to the Church and stating where they see problems.
However, she said that critics of Vatican’s assessment are taking their action into “a political arena of demonstrations” and are “garnering support in a political sense.”
“That doesn’t feel very appropriate,” Sr. Firestone said June 13. In her view, the social marketplace uses “the language of majority rule” and does not necessarily have “a regard for authority.”
“They’ve taken this into the public political arena and it no longer stays in the dialogue of faith. Representation is always possible, dialogue is always possible, but it’s with the reverence towards the hierarchical Church.”
She said that the “language of faith” expresses belief in the Church and the authority of the Church. Catholics believe that when the bishops speak, they have “a different degree of authority” than when someone else does.
“In other words, the magisterial Church does direct for us the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as religious women,” she said.
Sr. Firestone said that while Catholics do not believe the bishops are canonized saints, they are “not just ‘a bunch of men.’”
Those who live as religious women should, “live in the dimension of faith all the time” and recognize when they fail to do so, she said.
Her comments echoed the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma’s broader statement. It said that a religious community’s charism is given to “enrich the Church” and the Catholic hierarchy must determine its authenticity. A woman religious participates in this charism and “cannot separate her work from the Church.”
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The sisters praised “the generosity and service” of the religious women who preceded them and foresaw “great hope” for the future of religious life in the Church.
They said that this hope rests in remaining within “the deposit of faith and the hierarchical structure of the Church.”
“We cannot separate ourselves from sacred tradition or claim to advance beyond the Church.”
The sisters’ June 2 meeting also addressed statements from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, various news agencies and other organizations. The Sisters of Mercy said these have created “confusion, polarization, and false representations about the beliefs, activities, and priorities of a significant number of women religious in the United States.”
The Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma have about 100 members who work in hospitals and teach in seminaries and primary schools. The order, which was founded in 1973, runs clinics in Michigan, Minnesota and Germany.