Officers of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious met April 22 with Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, after having been informed weeks earlier that his congregation had begun a “doctrinal assessment” of the women’s organization.
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has initiated a doctrinal investigation of the largest U.S. women’s religious leadership organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
The Vatican already announced a separate study last December to assess the “quality of life” in apostolic women’s religious communities throughout the United States.
The Vatican congregation informed the leadership conference officers of its new “doctrinal assessment” in a February 20 letter, which the officers received March 10. The letter came from Cardinal William Joseph Levada, the congregation’s prefect.
In his letter, Levada explained the congregation is undertaking its “assessment” of the women’s leadership conference after initial Vatican doctrinal concerns were expressed in 2001.
Levada, the former archbishop of San Francisco, was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2005.
WASHINGTON -- Despite decades of fighting for women's ordination in the Roman Catholic Church, a Catholic women's advocacy group still hopes the Vatican will reverse its opposition to the inclusion of female clergy members.
"People have been fired who work at Catholic institutions because they even bring up the issue (of women's ordination)," said Aisha Taylor, executive director of the Women's Ordination Conference.
In an infuriating combination of events, the Vatican rang in Women’s History Month by once again paying lip service to women’s equality while showing its true colors. The day before Pope Benedict XVI called for increased commitment to women’s dignity, a Vatican official announced his support for the excommunications of the mother and doctors of a nine-year-old girl who had an abortion after being raped by her stepfather.
In Brazil, abortion is illegal except in cases of rape or when a woman’s life is in danger, and both stipulations were fulfilled in this heartbreaking case. The doctors determined that the girl, who weighed only eighty pounds, would not survive this pregnancy. The girl’s 23-year-old stepfather admitted to sexually abusing her for several years, and he is also suspected of abusing her physically disabled 14-year-old sister. He has since been arrested and placed in protective custody.
Editor's note: When the Vatican announced in January that it was undertaking a study of institutes of women religious in the United States, many women religious were taken by surprise. Reactions were mixed, some welcoming the study, others anxious about it.
Sr. Sandra M. Schneiders shared her thoughts with some colleagues and friends in an e-mail that was not meant for publication. But her letter did become public and NCR received several requests to publish the letter. We contacted Sr. Schneiders and she gave us permission to share her letter with our online readers.
Author's Note: The following is not and never was an article nor intended for publication. It originated as a spontaneous response in an e-mail conversation among a few colleagues. It became public, so I am making a few changes [in brackets] to clarify references for readers who may not be conversant with the subject matter.
Thanks for your e-mails.
At the opening of the 19th century, Sr. Therese de St. Xavier Farjon was in charge of the Ursuline sisters in the Louisiana territory. In 1804, Farjon wrote to President Thomas Jefferson, whose government had just purchased Louisiana. Could the Catholic institutions in the former French colony remain independent and unfettered under the new government? Farjon asked the president.
Jefferson wrote back: “Your institution will be able to govern itself without interference from civil authority.”
LONDON -- Despite considerable opposition, the Church of England Feb. 11 voted to begin the long process of introducing legislation to allow women bishops.
The legislation, approved by the church’s General Synod, includes complicated provisions to ensure that opponents of female bishops do not find themselves under a woman’s jurisdiction. The protections would be included in a code of practice drafted by the church’s House of Bishops.
American women religious say they are cautiously optimistic that the two-year study of their life, ordered by the Vatican late last month, will give a truthful picture of their dedication and service to God, the church and the world, and that it will promote greater understanding of the lives of religious women in the United States.
Say it isn’t fair, but when the Vatican announced Jan. 30 it had begun a study of U.S. women’s religious congregations, I couldn’t help but recall the utterly failed effort by the U.S. bishops in the late 1980s and early 1990s to write a pastoral on women. They were coming off a high then, having written pastorals on peace (1983) and justice (1986). Pastorals were the way of the day then. But before the bishops abandoned this effort, retreating as they did with their ecclesial stoles tucked between their knees, they had become the butt of church jokes and had alienated a sizable number of women.
Facing uncertainty, and perhaps some alarm, among women religious in the United States about a new apostolic visitation ordered by the Vatican, the American sister handling communications for the project has said its aim is not to impose a particular model of religious life but rather to help “revitalize and renew” all kinds of congregations.
Sr. Eva-Maria Ackerman, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, spoke by telephone from her office in St. Louis, where until recently she led the Office for Consecrated Life in the St. Louis archdiocese.
A native of Texas, Ackerman will assist Mother Clare Millea, the General Superior of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who was appointed Apostolic Visitator by Cardinal Franc Rodé, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Millea will eventually file a report for Rodé.