Bridget Mary's Reflection:
I agree with Jamie L. Manson's assessment. After an open, prayerful dialogue, the next move will be the Vatican's. Will they dissolve LCWR or not? The nuns are not going to make statements supporting the Vatican's hard line on contraception, gay marriage, and women's ordination. So when the rubber hits the road, what will be next? The LCWR is willing to let go of their official status if forced to do so. Perhaps, a miracle will happen and the Vatican will back down from its hostile take over. I don't expect Archbishop Sartain to attend any of our ordinations of women priests any time soon, although he would certainly be welcome. However, the Vatican could take steps to incorporate women in top decision making positions in the church that are now tied by Canon Law to Holy Orders. It is time for the Catholic Church to follow Jesus' example and treat women as disciples and equals. (Luke 8) Now if the LCWR dialogue with the Vatican results in a step in this direction it will have been worth the pain!
Bridget Mary Meehan, arcwp
".... Up until the doctrinal assessment, the Vatican had typically tried to pick off individual sisters for "unorthodox" actions. Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Sr. Louis Akers, Sr. Louise Lears and their respective superiors all experienced their own individual showdowns with the Vatican and the USCCB.
We justifiably equate sisters as advocates for the marginalized. But their advocacy by and large has been for those who are marginalized by society rather than those marginalized by the church. This is the first time women religious, as one body, have found themselves in direct conflict with the Vatican. As one sister told me, "We haven't really been pushed to do this until now."
Now that they have accepted the call of those marginalized within the church, they will attempt to be a voice that "creates spaces for honest and open conversation on the critical moral and ethical questions that face the global community," as their press statement reads. Although some pundits have tried to argue that the sisters, and most progressive Catholics for that matter, no longer have any leverage within the institutional church, women religious have realized they do have positional authority, and it's time to use it.
Together, they are a large stakeholder in the church. Most of them have money, property and influence. Many Catholics see them as leaders in the church, and their consecrated lives give them a powerful presence in the Catholic community and in wider society. They are attempting to use whatever privilege they have been given to bring the church to greater justice. In doing so, they will be the largest group of Catholics to corporately challenge the hierarchy to open itself up to dialogue. And, as the many nun justice vigils attest, there is strong lay support behind them.
As one sister told me, they "will try to create a way where there is no way," echoing a common refrain used in the Civil Rights movement. They will not walk away from the institution without taking this unprecedented opportunity to invite the larger church into deeper conversation. The fact is, I don't believe women religious will ever walk away from their connection to the institutional church. One thing I learned for certain last week: If the sisters go, it will be because Vatican tossed them out.
At one point during the LCWR press conference, one particularly aggressive journalist insisted that Sr. Pat Farrell, then LCWR's president, tell us what exactly LCWR wants.
"I'm hearing a lot of vague language about dialogue," he barked at her. "But what do you want to walk away with?"
She paused for a moment, then responded quietly:
[Jamie L. Manson received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. Her columns for NCR earned her a first prize Catholic Press Association award for Best Column/Regular Commentary in 2010.]