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CDF head warns LCWR about need to bend to orthodoxy

Various members of religious orders for women in the Catholic Church in their religious habits at the canonization of Sts. Pope John XXIII and John Paul II.
Various members of religious orders for women in the Catholic Church in their religious habits at the canonization of Sts. Pope John XXIII and John Paul II.
Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

In remarks delivered on April 30th, but not released until this past Tuesday, May 6th, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Muller told the heads of the American organization the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has failed to be cooperative in the carrying out of a Vatican doctrinal assessment of the controversial organization, which the Holy See is entitled to do under canon law since the LCWR operates under Vatican supervision. “We believe the conclusions of the Doctrinal Assessment are accurate and the path of reform it lays before the LCWR remains necessary so that religious life might continue to flourish in the United States,” Muller told LCWR leaders, saying that a scathing report which said that the LCWR was no longer in doctrinal conformity with the Catholic faith, or perhaps even the fundamental principles of Christianity, is essentially accurate. Addresses at the organization's annual assemblies attempt to justify dissent from Church teaching and, the Head of the Holy Office said, shows “scant regard for the role of the Magisterium.” Cardinal Muller said that he believes that a movement away from the foundations of the faith on the part of the LCWR "has already occurred."

Cardinal Muller said that the LCWR has been unwilling to cooperate with the Vatican's demand that the Apostolic Delegate have some input into public speakers allowed at its official events. “It allows the Holy See’s Delegate to be involved in the discussion first of all in order to avoid difficult and embarrassing situations wherein speakers use an LCWR forum to advance positions at odds with the teaching of the Church,” the Cardinal explained. The LCWR has announced that it will honor Sister Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, who has faced criticism from the U.S. Bishops because she is seen to be spreading serious doctrinal and theological errors. “This is a decision that will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment,” pointed out Cardinal Muller, “not only that, but it further alienates the LCWR from the Bishops as well.”

Cardinal Muller said that while the supervisory provision is now lately "fully in force," the decision to honor Johnson, made before that was the case, “is indeed regrettable and demonstrates clearly the necessity of the Mandate’s provision that speakers and presenters at major programs will be subject to approval by the Delegate.”

“In the end, the point is this: the Holy See believes that the charismatic vitality of religious life can only flourish within the ecclesial faith of the Church. The LCWR, as a canonical entity dependent on the Holy See, has a profound obligation to the promotion of that faith as the essential foundation of religious life,” the Cardinal said. “Canonical status and ecclesial vision go hand-in-hand, and at this phase of the implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment, we are looking for a clearer expression of that ecclesial vision and more substantive signs of collaboration.”

The LCWR is in danger of losing its Vatican approbation if its leaders do not accede to orthodoxy. Another organization, the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious, has Vatican approval and is committed to tradition and orthodoxy.