LCWR in Uneasy Peacetime

by Ken Briggs

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From accounts of the LCWR's first convention since the Vatican Inquisition formally ended, it appears that a certain kind of peace has replaced resistance. At least in the early phase of the aftermath, the message that comes across is relatively tame and resigned to fit more comfortably within Rome's expectations. Rome fatigue was to be expected, of course, and any organization can only remain on high alert and strenuous defense for so long. Everyone gets tired and word from the negotiating team is that the two sides are getting along just fine, putting aside "lesser" issues like women's ordination and reproductive rights in the interests of "the church."

The conundrum within that arch of dialog was encapsulated in the address of the estimable Sister Janet Mock, LCWR's former executive director. In the wake of accusations of radical feminism and its allegedly malign influences, Sr. Mock said she'd discovered a "culture of corruption at the larger levels" of the church and that "we (LCWR) felt the impact of that." Facing up to that bad news allow her to find the "deeper wells of hope" in resolving whatever differences arose in pursuit of the common church mission. Presumably, this erased the necessity of going head-to-head on contentious matters.

Father Stephen Bevans likewise extolled LCWR for its "steadiness" in midst of turmoil, emphasizing that the key to success was its commitment to the Word of God. "You're not about LCWR," he said. "You're about the church"

That's the generic way of putting it, as if there existed an indisputable definition of what "about the church" meant. The finer point is "whose view of what the church is about?" It was tension over what constituted those core definitions that got LCWR in trouble to begin with. Those causes that the Vatican found so nettlesome, at least in that old, reformed culture of corruption. From the reports of those talks, the prevailing view of church from its Roman headquarters carried the day, reducing those delinquent causes once espoused by speakers at LCWR conventions to invisibility. The causes it has lent platforms were believed by participants to be extremely germaine to what it means to  be "church."

The byword for LCWR has become "transformational." Confrontation is out, gradual change through example and mutual understanding is in. Evolve subtly from within, befriend your opponents rather than shake a finger at them. It has much going for it and has achieved its share of reconciliation. It is a vital means to bring greater ends. But in my view it can result in caving in to the demands of the other if its own integrity bends too readily to hierarchical power rather than, let us say, "truth." Jesus stood up to a lot of people who had more worldly authority than he did. LCWR might have done the same, though the evidence so far indicates that the negotiating team transformed its views in the light of what it understood as greater wisdom.

LCWR is still recovering and has every right to determine its own future either as a chastened member of the greater church or to restore an edge that had the ring of the prophetic. From the NCR's good reporting from the scene in Houston, it looks like the organization for the moment has lost that edge and is recovering. Jesus exhorted his listeners to forsake being taken over by the world but to be transformed by the Spirit. That task is emboldening but also a puzzle. Transformation can lead to courage and exercise of conscience or numbing conformity. It is wonderful knowing that the gifted members of LCWR can tell the difference.

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