LCWR Leadership for What?

I admire Sister Joan Chittister, benefit from her writing and face none of the challenges that confront her as an influential Catholic woman.

But I respectfully submit that her most recent column in which she calls for bold leadership from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is lacking a key element.

She invokes the history of splendid service rendered by American sisters as an appeal for support of their contributions at a time when Rome is questioning their fidelity and integrity.

That's fine, but redundant and deficient. Redundant because it echoes other efforts to achieve a goal that's already been achieved. American Catholics, with few exceptions, are deeply grateful to sisters for running practically everything that has kept Catholicism alive.

But how does that thankful salute change the nature and directions of the Vatican's accusations and condescensions against those sisters?

Sadly, it's largely beside the point. It would be comforting to think that women could simply enlarge their post-Vatican renewal without confronting the bias against them that blocks their progress toward equality in the church.

The monster in the room is the deeply embedded set of convictions about women that make them second class citizens subject to the rule of men. For reasons I can only assume have a sound, personal basis, Sister Chittister leaves that confrontation out.

Tom Fox's reports from the LCWR conference in Dallas reflect the wider unwillingness among many sisters to challenge the Vatican openly even under feminist terms that recent popes have endorsed in their efforts to uphold the dignity of women in the wider world.

If there is strong consensus that such struggles for elemental justice should only be waged behind closed doors, the obvious danger is that sisters will perpetuate the same system of secrecy and in-house chain of command that has confined Catholic women to subsidiary roles.

Over the centuries, justice hasn't been achieved by avoiding the central causes or through behind-closed-door negotiations. The leadership Sister Chittister calls for is laudable, but what will those leaders espouse if they don't look the real nemisis in the eye?

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