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Sartain: 'I am in full agreement' with Müller's LCWR concerns

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The discussion between U.S. women religious and Vatican officials that followed "blunt," confrontational opening remarks by the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was "frank and open," says a U.S. archbishop present at the April 30 meeting.

Ultimately, it was "a very helpful meeting," according to Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, the Vatican-appointed delegate tasked with reforming the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

The discussion "took place in very respectful conversation," Sartain said in a statement released Monday. "Everyone who took part expressed gratitude for both the frankness and breadth of our conversation."

The LCWR leadership -- St. Joseph Sr. Carol Zinn, Franciscan Sr. Florence Deacon, Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Sharon Holland, and St. Joseph Sr. Janet Mock, LCWR executive director -- met with Sartain; Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and other congregation officials April 30 at the Vatican.

The text of Müller's opening remarks was posted on the Vatican website and became public Monday. In the remarks, Müller accuses the U.S. women religious leaders of not abiding by a reform agenda the Vatican imposed on their leadership organization following a doctrinal assessment of the group that began in February 2009 and concluded in April 2012.

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That assessment charged LCWR with promoting "radical feminist themes" incompatible with Catholic faith and undermining church teachings on homosexuality and birth control. It also named Sartain "archbishop delegate" and gave him authority for "up to five years" over LCWR to oversee reform of its statutes, programs and affiliations.

In language he described as "blunt ... but too important to dress up in flowery language," Müller told the leadership group they were ignoring procedures for choosing speakers for their annual conferences and questioned if they were promoting programs "opposed to Christian Revelation."

According to Sartain, Müller "thanked the sisters for the progress being made in the revision of LCWR's statutes and civil by-laws." But the cardinal also "outlined concerns regarding significant areas of the Doctrinal Assessment that have not yet been addressed [by LCWR] and asked the [women religious leaders] for clearer signs of collaboration with the Holy See and with me as Archbishop Delegate."

"I am in full agreement with the issues raised by the Cardinal and over the past two years have frequently discussed them with LCWR leadership," Sartain said.

In a statement sent to NCR on Monday, LCWR said Müller's opening remarks "were meant to set a context for the discussion that followed," and that discussion "was an experience of dialogue that was respectful and engaging."

LCWR declined to answer further questions.

In his statement, Sartain said he and LCWR leadership "have developed a very good relationship" since his appointment as delegate two years ago. "It is in the context of that relationship that we will continue to address the important matters raised by Cardinal Müller."

Sartain said in his statement he looked forward to joining LCWR for its annual convention, which this year will be in Nashville, Tenn., in August. He also attended their convention last August in Orlando, Fla.

LCWR represents about 80 percent of the more than 50,000 Catholic nuns in the United States.

Following is the complete statement Sartain released Monday:

I was present for the April 30 meeting of the Presidency of the LCWR and Superiors of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Cardinal Müller's opening remarks invited a frank and open discussion by those present, and that is what took place in very respectful conversation. The Cardinal thanked the sisters for the progress being made in the revision of the LCWR statutes and civil by-laws and offered personal testimony to what he called "an incalculable debt" he owed to the women religious whom he has known throughout his life, who have had a profound effect on his love for the Lord and the Church as well as his vocation. It was clear to me that the Cardinal's respect for women religious and the vocation to consecrated life forms the perspective he brought to our discussion.

Cardinal Müller also outlined concerns regarding significant areas of the Doctrinal Assessment that have not yet been addressed and asked the Presidency for clearer signs of collaboration with the Holy See and with me as Archbishop Delegate. I am in full agreement with the issues raised by the Cardinal and over the past two years have frequently discussed them with LCWR leadership. I look forward to ongoing collaboration with the LCWR in addressing these issues. Over the past two years, the Presidency and I have developed a very good relationship, and it is in the context of that relationship that we will continue to address the important matters raised by Cardinal Müller. Just as he, the other CDF officials, and the Presidency participated in last week's meeting in a very respectful and forthright manner, I know that the continued discussions I and the other Bishop Delegates will have with the LCWR will be undertaken in the same spirit. At the conclusion of our meeting, everyone who took part expressed gratitude for both the frankness and breadth of our conversation, adding that it had been a very helpful meeting. I look forward to being present for the LCWR's annual Assembly this August in Nashville to take part.

[Dennis Coday is editor of NCR. His email address is dcoday@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dcoday.]

A version of this story appeared in the May 23-June 5, 2014 print issue under the headline: Talks between LCWR, Vatican break down .

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