Keynote speaker Sr. Francis Ilia Delio – director of Catholic studies at Georgetown University – spoke in her address about a "rethink" of religion "in terms of cosmology," encouraging the sisters to adopt an "evolutionary spirit" and recognize that there is "no God without cosmos."
"We are on the cusp of an evolutionary breakthrough – one that requires our conscious participation as co-creative agents of love, midwives of the new creation," Sr. Delio said, suggesting that the "awesome" vocation of the sisters is "to give birth to God."
"This universe will have its future based on our decisions," she stated. "When the level of our awareness changes, we start attracting a new reality. Our challenge this day is to begin to name that new reality."
"For too long we have had a sense of Catholic as sameness," she said, encouraging the sisters "to live from a new center of love."
During the assembly, the LCWR also presented the annual Outstanding Leadership Award to Sr. Pat Farrell, OSF, who was head of the organization when the Vatican mandate was first announced.
A statement from the conference said that the award was given to Sr. Farrell "for the service she gave in her more than 20 years ministering to victims of violence and trauma in Latin America, and for her role in leading LCWR."
However, Carey observed that "they normally don't give leadership awards for ministry in poor countries," suggesting that the award may have been given for her work as LCWR president.
"I think it certainly tells us that they were happy with the way she led them last year," she said.
During Sr. Farrell's tenure as president, the LCWR board released a statement saying that it would proceed with discussions with Vatican representatives "as long as possible, but will reconsider if LCWR is forced to compromise the integrity of its mission."
Now, a year and a half after the Vatican mandate was initially released, Carey said that "there have been no indications that any reforms have even yet begun or that the sisters are even open to new reforms beginning."
She noted that even simple requirements in the mandate have not been carried out, such as the removal of a controversial formation handbook on the conference's website until it can be revised.
"I do wonder how long the CDF will continue to be patient when there have been no signs of progress for almost a year and a half now," she added.
Despite the continued challenges surrounding the LCWR, Carey is hopeful about the future of women's religious life in the U.S., which she discusses in the updated version of her book, "Sisters in Crisis Revisited."
She explained that the first version of the book came out in 1997, and a lot has happened in the last 16 years, including the doctrinal assessment and the apostolic visitation of U.S. women religious, each of which is given a chapter in the newest edition of the book.
Carey has also included updates throughout the book to reflect news and developments, as well as explanations of different events that were later referenced by the doctrinal assessment.
In addition, she said, the book ends on a more optimistic note. At the end of the first edition, "religious life for women seemed to be in such a state of disarray," she explained. But the last 16 years have seen the growth of orders – both new and already established – that adhere to a "classic model of religious life," incorporating life and prayer in community, a corporate apostolate and distinctive religious garb.
She pointed to a recent study of new vocations which found that young people are looking for orders that provide opportunities for spiritual growth, fidelity to the Church, and joyful life in community.
"The young people are finding their way to these orders, and I think that's going to be the future of religious life," she said. "So I rewrote the ending chapter to reflect this phenomenon."
Carrey suggested that the numbers of women religious in the U.S. will sharply decline for several years, due to a heavy concentration of sisters over the age of 70.
However, she predicted, the numbers "will eventually stabilize because of these newer vocations coming in to the orders" that live a classic style of religious life, renewed for the 21st century while maintaining a clear religious identity in communion with the Church.
"I think the future of religious life will be once again through this classic model," she said.