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Sisters' Stories

Cokie Roberts tells sisters: Be proud


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


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


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'


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'


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


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


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


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'


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



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.



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October 10-23, 2014


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