Thursday, March 21, 2013

60 Minutes, the LCWR, and Necessary Church Reform

So 60 Minutes ran a piece on the Vatican's doctrinal investigation of the LCWRGetReligion was not amused.  Excerpts:
CBS released this clip last week, previewing the Sunday 60 Minutes piece. Talk about hard-hitting! Talk about the opposite of obsequious!

Oh wait. It looked horrific.

Apparently it was.  After it ran on Sunday, one person tweeted:
“60 minutes” tonight marked the election of Pope Francis with an outrageously slanted Bob Simon piece hammering the Church
aaaand first up on 60 Minutes: Will Pope Francis continue using the same office as the Inquisition to persecute American nuns?

yeah, reporting is one thing. Glowing as you question the subject is quite another.
You can watch the whole thing and make your own judgment, but Godbeat veteran Jeffrey Weiss said the piece failed on a number of counts...
Why the investigation?  Here're some of the reasons I perceivedJohn Allen had some good points about the investigation.  There are reasons laid out in the Vatican's own document on the visitation.  Excerpts:
...The decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to undertake a doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) was communicated to the LCWR Presidency during their meeting with Cardinal William Levada in Rome on April 8, 2008. At that meeting, three major areas of concern were given as motivating the CDF’s decision to initiate the Assessment:

Addresses at the LCWR Assemblies.
Addresses given during LCWR annual Assemblies manifest problematic statements and serious theological, even doctrinal errors. The Cardinal offered as an example specific passages of Sr. Laurie Brink’s address about some Religious “moving beyond the Church” or even beyond Jesus. This is a challenge not only to core Catholic beliefs; such a rejection of faith is also a serious source of scandal and is incompatible with religious life. Such unacceptable positions routinely go unchallenged by the LCWR, which should provide resources for member Congregations to foster an ecclesial vision of religious life, thus helping to correct an erroneous vision of the Catholic faith as an important exercise of charity. Some might see in Sr. Brink’s analysis a phenomenological snapshot of religious life today. But Pastors of the Church should also see in it a cry for help.

Policies of Corporate Dissent
The Cardinal spoke of this issue in reference to letters the CDF received from “Leadership Teams” of various Congregations, among them LCWR Officers, protesting the Holy See’s actions regarding the question of women’s ordination and of a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons, e.g. letters about New Ways Ministry’s conferences. The terms of the letters suggest that these sisters collectively take a position not in agreement with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. It is a serious matter when these Leadership Teams are not providing effective leadership and example to their communities, but place themselves outside the Church’s teaching.

Radical Feminism
The Cardinal noted a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR, including theological interpretations that risk distorting faith in Jesus and his loving Father who sent his Son for the salvation of the world. Moreover, some commentaries on “patriarchy” distort the way in which Jesus has structured sacramental life in the Church; others even undermine the revealed doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture...
What does radical feminism in the Catholic Church and women's religious orders look like?  From the side of someone who may well be a supporter or at least sympathetic to this approach, there's a classic overview from Thomas Rausch, SJ's Catholicism in the Third Millennium:
...Feminist spirituality is a relatively new field that has grown out of the struggle of women for equality in both society and Church.  It is a particular expression of liberation theology.  Like feminist theology (for it is often difficult to separate theology and spirituality) feminist spirituality covers a broad spectrum of positions and persons in the contemporary Catholic Church.  Some feminist theologians have moved explicitly beyond the Christian tradition; their theological interests focus on the pre-Christian European worship of the Goddess, a nature religion also known as Wicca.  Mary Daly is among those feminists who identify themselves as post-Christian.  Others, such as Rosemary Radford Ruether and Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza, have challenged the tradition in a radical way from within.  What is common to most feminist theologians is a concern to bring the often neglected experience of women into the theological enterprise.

Feminist spirituality seeks to articulate a vision of the spiritual life that can embrace the experience of women, particularly their experience of oppression; it seeks to address their particular needs and help them reappropriate their own spiritual power. Consciousness raising is a first step toward a genuine feminist spiritual vision. Women who have so often been defined in terms of their sexual and reproductive functions insist that their value and personal possibilities cannot be deftermined by biology. This feminist spirituality offers women an alternative vision that includes a critique of those forces and movements that have oppressed women and alienated them from themselves. Patriarchy, the structuring of society and culture in terms of male interests and power, and hierarchy, organizing society and Church in terms of higher and lower status, are both rejected. Feminist spirituality emphasizes equality, inclusivity, and mutuality. It prefers the discussion to the lecture, the square to the circle.

Feminist spirituality differs from much of traditional spirituality in its nondualistic approach to all of reality; it seeks to overcome the split between body and spirit, between spirituality and sexuality, transcendence and immanence, reason and feeling, the sacred and the secular, between this world and the next. It seeks to read the Gospel in such a way that women will be empowered; thus it is uncomfortable with the emphasis in classical theology on losing the self by putting others first, seeing here a reinforcement of the passivity and submission to which so many women have been conditioned by a patriarchal culture and Church. Displacing one's own ego is fine if one's temptation is to pride, but for many women the real task of a genuine conversion is to be more assertive, to affirm their own value, and come to a genuine love of self.

Sandra M. Schneiders lists the following as major characteristics of feminist spirituality: First, it must be rooted in women's experience. Thus there is generally an emphasis on a personal sharing of stories as a way of recovering what has been repressed and of raising consciousness. Second, it celebrates those aspects of bodiliness, such as menstruation and childbirth, that religion has been silent about. They are life-giving, not shameful. Third, it is concerned with nonhuman nature, with its sense of our organic relationship with the universe; its vision is ecologically sensitive. Fourth, it emphasizes rituals that are inclusive rather than hierarchical, joyful and participative rather than unemotional and dominative. Feminist spirituality is concerned for the renewal of Church ministry, liturgy, organization, and community. Finally, feminist spirituality sees an intrinsic relationship between personal growth and social justice. From the perspective of feminist spirituality, the personal is always political...--Thomas Rausch, Catholicism in the Third Millenium, 2nd Edition, (Michael Glazier Books, 2003), pg. 184-186.
From critics of the approach, one can read Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism, The Feminist Question: Feminist Theology in the Light of Christian Tradition, Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women's Religious Communities, Sisters in Crisis Revisited: From Unraveling to Reform and Renewal, and Prodigal Daughters: Catholic Women Come Home to the Church.

Why is this vision of feminist spirituality described by Rausch a problem?  Well, if you're post-Christian and outside the Church, then you're certainly no longer Catholic or Christian.  And the LCWR, by a past president's own admission, contains some member congregations who have gone precisely that far.
...During this era of crisis and decline, some Catholic religious orders have chosen to enter a time of “sojourning” that involves “moving beyond the church, even beyond Jesus,” Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Laurie Brink told a 2007 national gathering of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

“Religious titles, institutional limitations, ecclesiastical authorities no longer fit this congregation, which in most respects is Post-Christian,” added Brink, a former journalist who is a biblical studies professor at Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union. For these women, the “Jesus narrative is not the only or the most important narrative. … They still hold up and reverence the values of the Gospel, but they also recognize that these same values are not solely the property of Christianity. Buddhism, Native American spirituality, Judaism, Islam and others hold similar tenets for right behavior within the community, right relationship with the earth and right relationship with the Divine.”...
If you're practicing Wicca, you're violating the Church's ban on magic and the New Age.  If you reject all forms of hierarchy, then you will inevitably be at war with the Church from within, since it is inherently hierarchical according to the teaching of Vatican II.  If you're an offshoot of liberation theology, you need to take account of the Church's teaching on liberation theology.  If you differ from traditional Catholic spirituality, then you're rejecting the teaching of Doctor of the Church St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church St. Hildegard of Bingen, Doctor of the Church St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and a whole host of other women mystics and saints.  If you choose to believe that all that is personal must be political, then you have accepted the via moderna in its entirety which will inevitably see all exercises of authority as unwonted impositions of power on the will of another, never as the right exercise of the functions of the members of the body of Christ.  If you truly believe that traditional spirituality is wrong when it supposedly, somehow rejects bodiliness and simultaneously hold that true liberation for women comes from refusing to be defined by biology in any way at all, you're not only incoherent, but also ignoring the true richness of the Church's teaching on the theology of the body.  If you refuse to be willing to lose your life in order to save it (Luke 9:24; Matthew 16:25; Luke 17:33; Mark 8:35; Matthew 10:39; John 12:25), then you're repudiating the eternal dynamic of gift at the heart of the Trinity into which we are all invited, choosing to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil rather than the tree of life, choosing power over paradise (as though choosing tradition and deification somehow meant women were disempowered!  Mary, she of the Magnificat, is Queen of heaven and earth.).  If you steadfastly believe that the Catholic Church can and should ordain women, then you're steadfastly in violation of the clear and irreformable teaching of the ordinary magisterium.

Does this mean there is no room in Catholicism for feminism?  Not at all.  See the following for a sampling of some celebrations of Catholic womanhood in the different walks of life:
There is plenty of room within the Church for a tremendous celebration of women.  There is room in the Church for women to take on many more roles, and to continue to work wonders in the roles they currently occupy.  But there is not room in the Church for a feminist theology/spirituality which privileges power over love.

To hold the form of feminist theology outlined by Rausch is to place oneself in the permanent role of dissatisfied Catholic, permanently seeking to alter the fundamental structure of the Church from within by force to conform it to the demands of your ideology.  The faith does not have primacy in your life, nor does Christ, but rather power, challenging the faith rather than receiving it as that which has been handed on, and asserting your own all rightness over against the standards of the Catholic Church and her faith.  This analysis is supported by Catholic women religious.  Excerpts:
Physicians who are also Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma are criticizing the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and its defenders for using an impoverished “language of politics” instead of “the language of faith” in the dialogue with the Catholic hierarchy.

“There is no basis for authentic dialogue between these two languages. The language of faith is rooted in Jesus Christ, His life and His mission, as well as the magisterial teaching of the Church,” said the physician-sisters’ statement, which was issued after a June 2 meeting on the contributions of religious women in the healing ministry of the Catholic Church.

“The language of politics arises from the social marketplace,” they said. “The Sisters who use political language in their responses to the magisterial Church reflect the poverty of their education and formation in the faith.”...

the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma’s broader statement. It said that a religious community’s charism is given to “enrich the Church” and the Catholic hierarchy must determine its authenticity. A woman religious participates in this charism and “cannot separate her work from the Church.”

The sisters praised “the generosity and service” of the religious women who preceded them and foresaw “great hope” for the future of religious life in the Church.

They said that this hope rests in remaining within “the deposit of faith and the hierarchical structure of the Church.”

“We cannot separate ourselves from sacred tradition or claim to advance beyond the Church.”

The sisters’ June 2 meeting also addressed statements from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, various news agencies and other organizations. The Sisters of Mercy said these have created “confusion, polarization, and false representations about the beliefs, activities, and priorities of a significant number of women religious in the United States...”
Bottom line: Archbishop Sartain has been given a necessary and important task for the renewal of religious orders for women within Catholicism.  There are a number of serious doctrinal problems extant within the LCWR's leadership and, by Sister Laurie Brink's own account, within the member congregations.  Pray for Abp. Sartain and a graced reform for the LCWR.

1 comment:

Nancy Danielson said...

I would suggest that everyone take a stroll through their local Catholic University Bookstore and take a picture of all the books being offered that are anti Christ. While it will most likely take some time to unconditional the multitude who have been conditioned to accept that which is anti Christ as being for Christ, this does not preclude our pope, or our Holy Father, Benedict, from making a statement that makes The Catholic Church's teaching on the personal and relational Dignity of the human person clear from the start. In The Beginning,The Word of God Revealed that every human person, from the moment of conception, has been created in God's Image, equal in Dignity, while being complementary as a son or daughter, as a reflection of Love, although not yet perfected. Every human person has been Willed by God, worthy of Redemption.

One cannot deny The Sanctity of Human Life, and The Sanctity of Marriage and The Family, as God Has intended from The Beginning, and remain in communion with Christ, and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. We will know whether the Tide has turned or whether we will be running against the wind if our pope makes it clear, at the upcoming synod, that those persons who deny Christ's Revelation on The Sanctity of Human Life, and/or The Sanctity of Marriage and The Family, should not present themselves to receive The Holy Eucharist, as they are no longer in communion with Christ, and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.


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