LCWR: Is the Real Problem in Rome or Elsewhere?

by Maureen Fiedler

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I continue to be amazed at the standoff between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).   

Until recently, much of the mystery for me was centered on the “Paradox of Pope Francis.” As we all know, this Pope is widely admired for championing the poor, preaching economic justice, and working for peace.  He is known as open, friendly, warm and (theoretically at least) non-judgmental. This is the Pope who said on the plane coming back from Brazil, when asked about gay priests: “Who am I to judge?” On his most recent plane trip back from the Holy Land to Rome, he essentially invited dialogue on the issue and practice of clerical celibacy.   

Yet, some days, I wonder if the word has reached CDF that Francis is Pope, not Benedict. CDF seems like another world … where theologians like Rev. Michael Amaladoss of India are threatened with censure and the mandate against LCWR continues to roll along. Yet, if there is any group of American Catholics who are advocates for Francis’ larger message (and have been for decades), it is American nuns! They work with the poor, advocate for the poor, are on the front lines in struggles for justice and peace and are willing to dialogue on all sorts of issues. You would think that CDF would wake up to the Francis reality, and call off the mandate. But it goes forward … needlessly.

So, for a while I wondered: is there an unknown Francis? After all, he has a phone – which he uses often – and could give Cardinal Mueller a call and tell him to lay off the American nuns. But he doesn’t. A recent conversation suggested to me that the real problem may lie elsewhere.

This week, I interviewed Rev. Tom Reese, SJ (NCR analyst) about the papal visit to the Holy Land, but we spoke about LCWR on the side. He is convinced that the problem lies not so much in Rome as with the American bishops. He thinks Pope Francis values collegiality (with bishops … not in any sense with the women of the church apparently!). He apparently listens to the U.S. bishops who created this problem in the first place. “If the US bishops told CDF to ‘lay off,’ they’d do it tomorrow,” he said.

If that’s the case, the continued support of lay folks in the United States is important. But maybe those wonderful demonstrators need to focus their protests in front of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, or chancery offices, or at cathedrals. Ask the bishops to send a new message to Rome. And fast. Enough already!

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