When Sister Theresa Kane asked Pope John Paul II back in 1979 to consider ordaining women as priests, she probably had no idea that her quiet words would not only be televised around the world, but that they would end up echoing for at least 35 more years.
Sister Theresa Kane was president of the LCWR -- the Leadership Conference of Women Religious -- at the time. The group is now one of the biggest organizations of nuns in the United States.
Sister Theresa is no longer president of the organization. But her legacy lives on in some of the positions that the LCWR espouses. And some of these positions are raising the hackles of the leadership of the Church.
For example, the LCWR chose at the recipient of its Outstanding Leadership Award feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson, whose book Quest for the Living God was publicly denounced by the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2011.
The Committee had lots of issues with Johnson's book, including varying from the understanding of God as “incorporeal, impassible, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.” The Committee said that doing so is “seriously to misrepresent the tradition and so to distort it beyond recognition.”
Needless to say, having the U.S. nuns laud Johnson did not sit well. The U.S. nuns crackdown would intensify.
The LCWR says they support congregations experiencing "diversity of cultures, world views, and theologies". This diversity of theologies is at the heart of the trouble they are experiencing with the Vatican.
Pope Benedict ordered the group to be evaluated by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain in what is called a Doctrinal Assessment. The LCWR took issue with the disciplinary tone and findings of the Assessment. They said the findings were in error. And they balked at the idea of changing how they saw the Church evolving to encompass all people, including gays, just to placate the Vatican.
As a result, they were recently chastised for not conforming. Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, recently addressed the LCWR leadership about the Church's disappointment in their progress since the Assessment, particularly about their disagreement with the Assessment as a whole.
Mueller said, "We are aware that, from the beginning, LCWR Officers judged the Doctrinal Assessment to be 'flawed and the findings based on unsubstantiated accusations' and that the so-called 'sanctions' were 'disproportionate to the concerns raised and compromised the organization’s ability to fulfill its mission.'"
Mueller went on to remind the LCWR that its very existence is in jeopardy, since it is a canonical organization that exists only because the Church allows it.
"The LCWR, as a canonical entity dependent on the Holy See, has a profound obligation to the promotion of that faith as the essential foundation of religious life. Canonical status and ecclesial vision go hand-in-hand, and at this phase of the implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment, we are looking for a clearer expression of that ecclesial vision and more substantive signs of collaboration."
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