US nuns call for open dialogue with Vatican bishops

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) wrapped up its annual conference on Friday by asking Vatican bishops to join them in an open dialogue regarding their views and their work. In their call for communication, the group was responding to a scathing reprimand issued in April by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which determined that within the LCWR there existed the “prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” (CDF).
Since the CDF issued its report four months ago, calling for a revision of the LCWR statutes and a review of the group’s programs, there has been 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 supporting the sisters. To date, that petition has received 63,710 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).
The Nun Justice Project has also held more than 100 vigils in support of the sisters, has collected over 1,500 letters of support, and has been instrumental in asking American Catholics to reconsider the organizations they choose to support financially. As a result, over $100,000 in contributions have been redirected from the Vatican to the local communities of women religious (NBC News).
Sister Pat Farrell, president of the LCWR, has openly questioned the motives of the CDF: “The question is, ‘Can you be Catholic and have a questioning mind?’ That’s what we’re asking. … And this mandate coming from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith putting us in a position of being under the control of certain bishops, that is not a dialogue. If anything, it appears to be shutting down dialogue” (NPR). When asked specifically about the accusation that the LCWR is putting forth radical feminist themes, Farrell replied, “Sincerely, what I hear in the phrasing … is fear — a fear of women’s positions in the church. Now, that’s just my interpretation. I have no idea what was in the mind of the congregation, of the doctrine of the faith, when they wrote that. But women theologians around the world have been seriously looking at the question of: How have the church’s interpretations of how we talk about God, interpret Scripture, organize life in the church — how have they been tainted by a culture that minimizes the value and the place of women?” (NPR). This seems to be the question at the heart of the issue.
The Vatican is threatened by a group that is dedicated to justice, peace, and communion. Would the bishops be equally threatened if that group was made up of men? Jim Fitzgerald, executive director of Call to Action, effectively summarizes the current disconnect within the church: “It’s really two different world views. It’s the Vatican, that is very concerned with how Catholics follow rules and you have the perspective from the women religious and how they live out the gospel values. We are a faith where we believe that with God all things are possible, and I would like to think that those who are seeing the incredible support around the country for the sisters would be moved by that support and be a little more reflective about their actions” (NBC News). Let’s hope that the bishops pause and reflect before they choose to ignore this invitation.

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

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