I got a request from the newly minted Pulitzer winning columnist of the Chicago Tribune for a bit of a response to the news that a bishop was being appointed to oversee/facilitate a kind of renewal of one of the official representative organizations of women religious (sisters) for the United States, the LCWR (Leadership Conference of Women Religious). The Daughters of St. Paul belong to this organization, as well as to the other, also official, organization of sisters. The news got many people talking: some triumphantly ("Finally they are calling those wacky nuns into line!"); others in hurt ("Don't they see the good we are so committed to?"); others in anger ("Those patriarchal male hierarchs have to do something to hold onto their power, and putting women down is the easiest way to do it.")
Me? None of the above. ("Meh" comes kind of close, though.)
I first became aware of the LCWR when I was a junior sister, during the first visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979. The President of the sisters' group, Sister Theresa Kane, did a good job of alienating me from the organization and its goals when she, in her capacity as the official representative of all the women religious of the United States, took the occasion to make a public call for women's ordination. That pretty much sums up the disconnect I have always felt with the LCWR as an individual, even though the organization does offer a number of extremely valuable, indeed precious, services to the member institutes. They never managed to speak for me.
I also do not empathize with the interpretation that this is some kind of power play on the part of the Vatican or the bishops. Really, if you were a bishop today, would you be the one to suggest, "Oh, while we're trying to get people to pay attention to the threats to religious freedom, support families founded on marriage and preserve our social apostolates, let's confront the most powerful women in the Church and put them in their place!" In fact, if anything, I would suspect that they kept putting that last on every list they ever compiled. (Not that the bishops can control or direct congregations, or that religious orders' charisms are in any way subject to a bishop's whims, because the Holy Spirit rather typically uses charisms of religious life to surprise the Church by answering needs the hierarchy is usually unaware of.) Given that Sr Theresa's affront to Pope John Paul was in 1979, and that there have been not one, but two major interventions in religious life in America since that time (in 1984 and then last year with the Apostolic Visitation), a move to renew the LCWR is not all that surprising; it does not seem abrupt.
But for many devout, profoundly dedicated women, this is a disappointing state of affairs. They must feel rather demoralized, and many have expressed the suspicion that this is just a move to quash the powerless (which they believe themselves to be); that their "prophetic" contribution is being dismissed out of hand. They need our prayers; their works for the poor and disenfranchised still need our support--because many of the congregations in LCWR are addressing the most ignored populations in our country, even while it would be encouraging to hear more statements about the sanctity of life in all its dimensions, and fewer about women in liturgical ministry. I would love to hear more about their services to poor women, helping those who have chosen life to continue their efforts to get a solid education and job training; about their child-care initiatives; their work on behalf of families whose wage-earners were deported, leaving children bereft of a father or mother and prey to gangs. Because many of the LCWR women are on the front lines in these gritty battles.
Here's a healthy take; be sure to read the whole thing: Diary of a Wimpy Catholic
And here's the article by Pulitzer winning columnist, Mary Schmich. See if you can find my sentence! (The newspaper used a photo from another story, about the new Franciscan sisters here in Chicago.)