When I read the latest statement of Cardinal Gerhard Müller of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in regard to LCWR, I was stunned, angry, disappointed and perplexed all at the same time. My first thought: Has he heard that we now have a pope named Francis? His statement seems so out-of-step with the spirit and outlook of Pope Francis. But I do keep wondering when Pope Francis will step up and put a stop to this narrow and divisive behavior.
I was also amused when Cardinal Müller, in his statement, said that CDF insisted that LCWR seek the "help" of Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain to select speakers and awardees for the national conference. Assistance? Really? When LCWR never asked for "help" from an archbishop delegate and doesn't need it?
I also sensed an incredible sexism underneath this. I was left with the feeling that he was really saying, "You women can't be trusted to do this yourselves, so we men of the church will step in to help you."
I was also stunned to read his negative assessment of Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, one of the most renowned theologians in the United States and a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. Her book, The Quest for the Living God, came under criticism from the U.S. bishops' conference a couple of years ago. They criticized it without even a conversation with her. Still, she answered the critique thoroughly and was strongly defended by colleagues at Fordham University, where she teaches. So I'm left wondering: Is the real rub here that she is a feminist theologian who wrote a book titled, She Who Is? Johnson has been voted to receive LCWR's award this year, and it's well deserved.
I was also surprised by Müller's critique of the notion of "conscious evolution," promoted by thinkers like Barbara Marx Hubbard, who spoke at LCWR two years ago. Müller's statement likened it to gnosticism. You know, I am left wondering: Has he dialogued with Barbara Marx Hubbard? How well do CDF leaders understand concepts like this? Or do they simply reject new ideas out of hand if they don't fit with classic theology?
From our sister publication: A Place to Call Home, a new series focusing on women religious helping people who are homeless. Read more
Even Cardinal Walter Kasper criticized Cardinal Müller publicly, saying Müller's statement is "typical of the 'narrower' view that officials of the Roman Curia tend to take."
Kasper was being polite. But however one describes the situation, it's time -- past time -- for Pope Francis to prove that he meant it when he said he wanted to improve the position of women in the church. It's time for him to move beyond vague, feel-good remarks and step in and change the leadership at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Now, Kasper notes in a recent interview with Commonweal that ordination is currently required to lead CDF. If so, it's time to waive that requirement -- or simply implement Gospel equality when it comes to ordination.
Either way, my candidate to head the CDF is Sr. Elizabeth Johnson.