Finally, Jesuits Speak Up About the Sisters
Praise for SistersWe would be seriously remiss if we published an issue focusing on education without mentioning the extraordinary contributions women religious have made to Catholic education in this country. It is even more important to highlight their contribution in the wake of the “Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious” just issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which saddened many religious sisters in the United States by its strong critique. The L.C.W.R. represents over 80 percent of women’s religious congregations in the United States.
Working for meager pay (which they passed on to their communities), women religious have taken the lead in working with people on the margins: not only schoolchildren, but indigent patients in hospitals, the imprisoned in jail cells and the homeless in the inner cities. Not satisfied with works of charity at home, they have labored in fields afar; some have paid with their lives. The martyrdoms in Central and Latin America of Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Maryknoll Sisters; Dorothy Kazel, an Ursuline nun; and in Brazil of Dorothy Stang, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, testify not simply to the Gospel but to a certain kind of woman. These were the women who wholeheartedly embraced the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar decrees by revisiting the founding documents of their orders and throwing themselves into ministry with the poor, all as the church had asked of them.
Ironically, the C.D.F. assessment was released the same day the Vatican announced that reconciliation talks with the Society of St. Pius X, which rejected many of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, were proceeding apace.
Question TimeIn the wake of the Vatican’s doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, with many others we offer our support to the sisters. Ten years after the emergence of the sexual abuse crisis, transparency in disciplinary proceedings is more important than ever. Gaps in the public record need to be filled in.
First, there is the history of the assessment. Catholics in the United States and elsewhere are curious about where it came from. How did it originate? Who were the petitioners? Was the U.S. bishops’ conference ever involved or consulted? When and how? When and why and at whose request were Network and the Resource Center for Religious Institutes added to the inquiry?
There is the matter, too, of the selective nature of the inquiry. Have conferences of religious in other countries been criticized for being less vocal and active in their advocacy than their bishops would have liked? Have conferences of religious in other countries also spoken too softly on issues about which the American sisters were allegedly too quiet? Are other institutes and societies, such as personal prelatures and associations of the faithful, under similar scrutiny for their public involvement or lack thereof?
The process should now be an occasion for respectful, candid dialogue. It will be aided by the inclusion of more bishops and other religious, especially those who are canonists, theologians and pastoral ministers. As we wait for more information and for the L.C.W..R.’s formal public statement, we need to calm our hearts. As Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg noted on his blog (“The Nuns’ Story,” April 24), some investigations, like that of American women religious in the 1980s, improved understanding on both sides and strengthened working relationships. Let us pray that may be the case again.