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Sisters' Stories

Episcopal nuns, priest join Catholic church

BALTIMORE -- After seven years of prayer and discernment, a community of Episcopal sisters and their chaplain were to be received into the Catholic Church during a Sept. 3 Mass celebrated by Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien.

The archbishop was to welcome 10 sisters from the Society of All Saints' Sisters of the Poor when he administers the sacrament of confirmation and the sisters renew their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the chapel of their convent in suburban Catonsville, Md.

The Rev. Warren Tanghe, an Episcopal priest, also was to be received into the church and is discerning the possibility of becoming a Catholic priest.

LCWR seeks full disclosure of Vatican visitation

Leaders representing 59,000 women religious are questioning what they say is a lack of full disclosure about what is motivating the Vatican's apostolic visitation that will study the contemporary practices of U.S. women's religious orders.

In an Aug. 17 press statement, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious also said the leaders "object to the fact that their orders will not be permitted to see the investigative reports about them" when they are submitted in 2011 to the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and its prefect, Cardinal Franc Rode.

Why they stay(ed)

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Essay

Two sets of questions concerning U.S. women religious are roiling the waters in and outside the church today: 1) Why are religious disturbed about the apostolic visitation? 2) What is the real motivation for this investigation?

Why are religious disturbed about the visitation?

Some laity, and even some (mostly more conservative) religious, wonder why religious would be upset at the invitation of Vatican officials to a discussion of their life with a view to encouraging and supporting the quality of religious life today. After all, no life is perfect and sometimes helpful outsiders can see things insiders miss.

Many religious (members and leaders) as well as Catholic laity and some priests and bishops are disturbed by the Apostolic Visitation currently being conducted for two reasons: the fact of the investigation; the mode of the investigation.

Cokie Roberts tells sisters: Be proud

NEW ORLEANS

Facing an apostolic visitation by the Vatican, women religious in the U.S. should point proudly to their history of service in schools, hospitals and other ministries as signs of their vibrant "quality of life," broadcaster Cokie Roberts said Aug. 12.

The news analyst for National Public Radio and political commentator for ABC News was a keynote speaker during the Aug. 11-14 gathering of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in New Orleans.

"Point to your works," said Roberts, who was educated in elementary school and high school by the Religious of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans and Washington. She is the daughter of Lindy Boggs, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

During LCWR's four-day meeting, representatives of religious communities discussed the Vatican's upcoming apostolic visitation and a separate "doctrinal assessment" of the LCWR authorized by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Under fire, women religious leaders gather in New Orleans

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New Orleans

Facing two Vatican investigations, some 800 women religious leaders from throughout the country have gathered here to discuss their congregations’ uncertain futures.

Many women, in informal conversations, spoke of their determination not to let these Vatican actions get in the way of their ministries and religious life, hammered out over decades, both through experience and through exchanges with Rome on congregational constitutions.

As if to underscore their concern for their ongoing apostolic missions, the women, at the outset of the three-day assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the umbrella organization for 95 percent of the women religious of America, toured several sites in this struggling city where women religious were working in a variety of social ministries.

The women filled six buses and spent a half day viewing their sister congregations’ works, offering personal encouragement.

“There are simply too many things going on in religious life to get derailed,” said past president of the leadership conference, Sister of Saint Francis Nancy Schreck, shortly before the buses left a downtown hotel.

Vatican, U.S. women religious tensions go back decades

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The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the umbrella organization for the large majority of American congregations, is meeting in New Orleans this week at a critical moment in its history. Two sweeping investigations of American sisters are being pursued by the Vatican, one aimed at LCWR itself, the other at the hundreds of congregations across the land. What follows is a time-line in the strained relationship between Rome and American sisters provided by Ken Briggs, based on his book: “Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church's Betrayal of American Nuns,” (Doubleday, 2006.) It is aimed at providing context for the reporting of the meeting, which readers will find on line and in the Aug. 21 issue of NCR.

1954 – Establishment of the Sister Formation Movement by Sisters Mary Emil Penet and Ritamary Bradley. The remarkable organization promoted college education for sisters became a catalyst for developing inter-community consciousness around issues of religious life and its relationship to society.

'Conscience led me to ordination as Woman Priest'

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Conscience is something very sacred. It gives us a sense of right and wrong and urges us to do the right thing.

Conscience is what compelled Austrian Franz Jagerstatter to refuse to enlist in Hitler's army. On August 9, 1943, this humble farmer and father of four was executed for following his conscience.

One year ago, the story of Franz Jagerstatter was the theme of the homily by Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois when, on Aug. 9, 2008, he attended my ordination in Lexington as a Roman Catholic Womanpriest. A longtime friend, Roy is the founder of the School of the Americas Watch. He has spent a total of four years in prison as a "prisoner of conscience" as part of the movement to close the SOA. The SOA, a U.S.-military training school for Latin American troops located in Fort Benning, Georgia, has been producing death squad leaders and human rights abusers since 1946.

Roy participated in my ordination Mass. He celebrated the Eucharist with me, the other women priests and the woman bishop who ordained me. He laid hands on me in blessing after I was ordained.

'We did what the church asked us to do'

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The visitation of Mary and Elizabeth was full of love. Luke tells us that Mary hastened to a Judean town in the hill country to visit Elizabeth. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, greeted Mary with the words, “Blessed are you among women.” Mary in turn acknowledged God’s goodness as she dared to say, “The Lord has done great things for me. Holy is God’s name.”

Apostolic Visitations, unlike the visitation between Mary and Elizabeth, are not celebratory occasions. “Visitation” in this context has taken on the meaning of “investigation.” Recent Apostolic Visitations by the Holy See include the visitation of United States seminaries and houses of formation for men in response to the sexual abuse of children by priests and the question of the perceived relationship of homosexuality to that scandal, and a visitation of the Legionnaires of Christ in various countries because of sexual improprieties of the order’s founder.

U.S. women religious leadership, at the crossroads

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As I see it, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which gathers next week in New Orleans, faces a bleak choice: either die or survive at a great cost to its integrity and dignity.

The Vatican has thrown down the gauntlet. The choice is stark: acquiesce to a “doctrinal assessment” of leadership conference views -- on women’s ordination, the primacy of Roman Catholicism and homosexuality – or reject the probe as an unwarranted fishing expedition bent on putting the organization out of business.

What we have here, I believe, could be the last major struggle over a way of understanding what it means to be Catholic. Sisters have retained more of Vatican II ethos and spirit than any group in the church, in the face of formidable opposition to large segments of it by the last two popes.

If Rome succeeds in wrecking this last organizational remnant of Vatican II, then all of American Catholicism suffers a great loss. Yet the will to resist appears to have dissipated. Without active protest, LCWR, as it’s been known, will exist no more. Voices of appeasement who counsel trust in Vatican intentions sound sadly out of touch with Rome’s hard line aims.

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August 1-14, 2014

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