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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.

What is on the minds of many U.S. women religious

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Earlier this week I posted an article on the NCR web site having to do with the second phase of the Vatican-sponsored investigation of U.S. women religious. The article reports that for the first time since the news of the investigation broke last January, the Vatican is saying that it will involve a look at “the soundness of doctrine held and taught" by U.S. women religious.

Vatican orders study of U.S. women religious

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WASHINGTON
The Vatican has initiated an apostolic visitation of institutes for women religious in the United States to find out why the numbers of their members have decreased during the past 40 years and to look at the quality of life in the communities.

The announcement was made Jan. 30 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington by Sister Eva-Maria Ackerman, a member of the American province of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George.

She will assist Mother Mary Clare Millea, a Connecticut native who is superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an international religious institute that has its headquarters in Rome.
Cardinal Franc Rode, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, appointed Mother Clare as the apostolic visitor.

The cardinal sent letters detailing the task to both the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, the two major organizations representing heads of women's religious orders in the U.S.

Women religious study to include 'soundness of doctrine'

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The woman charged with carrying out the investigation of U.S. women religious congregations last week sent major superiors letters containing information that for the first time confirms the Vatican-sponsored effort will involve an examination of “the soundness of doctrine held and taught” by the women.

When the study was first announced it was explained that it was intended to examine “the quality of life” of U.S. women religious, with an eye to finding out why vocations have dropped over the years. Initially, some women religious expressed confusion and skepticism concerning the purpose of the investigation. They questioned its intent.

Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the apostolic visitator charged by the Vatican with directing the study, sent a letter dated July 28 to the heads of women religious congregations, along with an Instrumentum Laboris, or “working paper."

Doctrinal congregation on 9-year-old's abortion

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VATICAN CITY

Commenting on the controversial case of a 9-year-old Brazilian rape victim who underwent an abortion, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said the concern the church needs to show the girl does not change the fact that that abortion is wrong.

In declaring that the doctors and others who were involved in helping the girl procure an abortion automatically incurred excommunication, the church does not intend to deny the girl mercy and understanding, said the statement published in the July 11 edition of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.

My mother's keeper

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My 89-year-old mother lives with us. She is in heart failure, and she has macular degeneration. She is nearly deaf. She takes drugs to thin her blood, to regulate her heartbeat, to purge fluid from her body, to elevate her mood, to lower her blood pressure, to jump-start her thyroid, to ease her pain and to help her sleep. She takes other pills to mitigate the side effects. She will not wear her hearing aids.

Turning life upside down

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Women Today

In an essay titled “Pride and Humility: A New Self-acceptance,” Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister takes a fresh look at the concept of humility in the Rule of Benedict. Benedict of Nursia, the founder of Western monasticism, Chittister writes, “made the keystone of his rule of life a chapter on humility that he wrote for Roman men in a patriarchal culture that valued machismo, power and independence at least as much as our age does. Pride, ancient spirituality says, is the corrosive of the human soul. Humility, the Rule of Benedict says, is an antidote to violence and a key to mental health.”

Visitors in the past

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Editor’s note: The Vatican last January announced it had begun an apostolic visitation, or comprehensive study of U.S. women religious. The decree indicated the visitation was being undertaken to examine the quality of life of women religious. In February came news of a second Vatican women’s religious study, this of its umbrella leadership group, the Leadership of Conference of Women Religious. The studies have brought praise and have touched off considerable anxiety within the ranks of women religious.

The present Vatican investigations of U.S. communities of religious women would have astounded religious women of earlier centuries. For at least 1,200 years of Christian history, religious women would not have looked to the Vatican for oversight of their life. That prerogative belonged either to the abbess of a religious community or perhaps to the local bishop. Furthermore, bishops and religious were considered self-governing within their own communities or dioceses. Rome may have been recognized as the sole patriarch of the Western church but this did not imply that other bishops would welcome or even tolerate Rome’s interference in their affairs.

Visits to religious women to begin in spring

WASHINGTON -- The superior general overseeing the apostolic visitation of U.S. orders of women religious is hoping to gather up to 150 names of people who will begin visiting a cross section of congregations starting in the spring.

Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the apostolic visitator charged by the Vatican with directing the comprehensive study, told Catholic News Service June 17 that suggestions of names to fill slots on the teams continued to arrive, 11 days after a deadline she set for submissions.

In the midst of meetings in the U.S. before returning to Rome June 19, Mother Clare said from the apostolic visitation office in Hamden, Conn., that the visits will encompass a wide variety of orders.

"We know we cannot possibly visit all the congregations," she said. "So we want to give a representative sample to the Holy See."

Mother Clare, a Connecticut native whose religious institute is based in Rome, began soliciting names of women religious and men religious for the visitation teams in a May 19 letter to superior generals. In all, she contacted nearly 400 Catholic institutes for women religious.

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September 12-25, 2014

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