Pope Francis, in his first days and weeks as Holy Father, gave women worldwide reason to be optimistic about possible change within the Vatican. That optimism was crushed last week when the Pope reaffirmed his support of the Vatican’s doctrinal crackdown on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious that represents more than 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in the US.
In April 2012, after a three year inquiry, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith demanded a revision of the LCWR statutes, a review of the group’s programs, and an examination of the group’s ties to the Network and Resource Center for Religious Institutes (wtvr.com). The Network and Resource Center for Religious Institutes was a main target of the Vatican assessment. NETWORK, a Washington, DC social justice group which is run by nuns and focuses on critical societal issues, is accused of placing too much emphasis on social justice and poverty while remaining “silent on the right to life from conception to natural death” and ignoring the Church’s stance on “family life and human sexuality” (wvtr.com).
Following the official reprimand calling for a revision of the LCWR statutes and a review of the group’s programs, there was an intense outpouring of support for the LCWR. The Nun Justice Project formed the day after the reprimand was released, and created a petition on Change.org supporting the sisters. That petition received over 64,000 signatures. According to the project, a grassroots effort supported by organizations including the American Catholic Council, Call to Action, and the Federation of Christian Ministries, “The mandate forced upon LCWR, which threatens their works of justice, is a prime example of how the hierarchy in the Roman Catholic Church misuses its power to diminish the voice of women. We value the prophetic witness of women religious and appreciate their commitment to social justice” (The Nun Justice Project).
Last week, officials from LCWR met with Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who stated that organizations such as LCWR “are constituted by and remain under the direction of the Holy See.” Mueller also stated that Pope Francis had “reaffirmed the findings of the assessment and the program of reform” prescribed for the nuns a year ago (LA Times). I find the irony of this statement stinging. The nuns who make up the LCWR have worked tirelessly to improve the lives of countless individuals, yet they are now under fire by the leaders of the Catholic Church. Perhaps those leaders, who have found themselves embroiled in real controversy, which includes ignoring and covering up countless incidents of child molestation worldwide, should take a look in the mirror. Perhaps the people they truly need to be investigating more closely are themselves.