Summary: Early in 2009, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) began to assess the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) regarding ongoing concerns about LCWR's adherence to Catholic doctrine and practices. The CDF's April 2012 report included a mandate that LCWR revise its statutes and reform its programs. The report spurred nationwide protests in support of LCWR. Vatican oversight of LCWR ended in April 2015. This page includes excerpts of LCWR statements throughout the process.
(Click here for a timeline of the events.)
March 31, 2009
Doctrinal assessment initiated: https://lcwr.org/media/news/doctrinal-assessment-lcwr-vaticans-congregation-doctrine-faith
On March 10, 2009, J Lora Dambroski, OSF, as president of LCWR, received a letter from Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), informing her that CDF decided to initiate a doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).
The letter refers back to the 2001 meeting in Rome of the LCWR officers with the CDF staff and notes that LCWR was invited at that time “to report on the initiatives taken or planned by your Conference to promote the reception of the Church's teaching among your member communities, especially on issues such as the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, the Declaration of this Congregation Dominus Jesus, and the problem of homosexuality.” The letter goes on to state that, “Given both the tenor and the doctrinal content of various addresses given at the annual assemblies of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the intervening years, this Dicastery can only conclude that the problems which had motivated its request in 2001 continue to be present.”
The letter states that CDF has decided that “a doctrinal assessment of the activities and initiatives of the LCWR would be helpful” and that this decision was reached in communication with Cardinal Franc Rodé, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
CDF asked Bishop Leonard P. Blair (Toledo, Ohio) to be its delegate in conducting the assessment, with its principal purpose being “to review the work of the LCWR in supporting its membership as communities of faith and witness to Christ in today's Church, and to offer any useful assistance.”
April 23, 2009
Statement of officers: https://lcwr.org/media/april-23-2009-lcwr-officers-statement-doctrinal-assessment-lcwr
[Rome, Italy] As leaders representing the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, we are very aware that it is our responsibility to be faithful to the conference’s mission and goals. Thus our first responsibility is to represent our members, nearly 1,500 leaders of institutes of Catholic sisters, with honesty, integrity, and transparency. We thank these women religious who have offered their prayer and fasting for our work this week as we met in Rome with various officials of the Vatican. This expression of support has only strengthened the great solidarity that exists among us as we together carry out the mission of LCWR.
We were disappointed to learn from an April 22 National Catholic Reporter article that some US bishops and/or members of the Committee on Doctrine of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops may have requested a doctrinal assessment of LCWR by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. We have always been clear that we are open to dialogue with our US bishops and, during the last 12 months, have been in contact with several of them over issues of concern regarding our ongoing relationships with local and international church leaders. We continue to remain open to conversation with the Committee on Doctrine and any bishop who would be interested in speaking to us.
Issued by J Lora Dambroski, OSF; Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA; Mary Whited, CPPS; and Jane Burke, SSND
April 19, 2012
Statement from LCWR presidency: https://lcwr.org/media/lcwr-statement-presidency-cdf-doctrinal-assessment
[Silver Spring, Maryland] The presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was stunned by the conclusion of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. We had received a letter from the CDF prefect in early March informing us that we would hear the results of the doctrinal assessment at our annual meeting; however, we were taken by surprise by the gravity of the mandate.
This is a moment of great import for religious life and the wider church. We ask your prayers as we meet with the LCWR National Board within the coming month to review the mandate and prepare a response.
May 29, 2012
National board to meet: https://lcwr.org/media/lcwr-board-discuss-cdf-assessment
The national board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious will meet May 29 - June 1, 2012 to begin its discussion of the conclusions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s doctrinal assessment and the implementation plan put forth by that Vatican office. The board will conduct its meeting in an atmosphere of prayer, contemplation and dialogue and will develop a plan to involve LCWR membership in similar processes. The conference plans to move slowly, not rushing to judgment. We will engage in dialogue where possible and be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. We ask your prayer for us and for the Church in this critical time.
June 1, 2012
Board meets to review CDF Report: https://lcwr.org/media/news/lcwr-board-meets-review-cdf-report
[Washington, DC] The national board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) held a special meeting in Washington, DC from May 29-31 to review, and plan a response to, the report issued to LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The board members raised concerns about both the content of the doctrinal assessment and the process by which it was prepared. Board members concluded that the assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency. Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission. The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.
The board determined that the conference will take the following steps:
- On June 12 the LCWR president and executive director will return to Rome to meet with CDF prefect Cardinal William Levada and the apostolic delegate Archbishop Peter Sartain to raise and discuss the board’s concerns.
- Following the discussions in Rome, the conference will gather its members both in regional meetings and in its August assembly to determine its response to the CDF report.
The board recognizes this matter has deeply touched Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the world as evidenced by the thousands of messages of support as well as the dozens of prayer vigils held in numerous parts of the country. It believes that the matters of faith and justice that capture the hearts of Catholic sisters are clearly shared by many people around the world. As the church and society face tumultuous times, the board believes it is imperative that these matters be addressed by the entire church community in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, and integrity.
June 12, 2012
LCWR, CDF leaders meet: https://lcwr.org/sites/default/files/media/files/press_statement_-_june_12_2012.pdf
[Silver Spring, MD] On June 12, LCWR president Sister Pat Farrell, OSF and executive director Sister Janet Mock, CSJ, met with Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and Archbishop Peter Sartain. The meeting had been requested by the LCWR to address what the conference considered deficiencies in the process and the results of the doctrinal assessment of the organization released by the CDF in April.
“It was an open meeting and we were able to directly express our concerns to Cardinal Levada and Archbishop Sartain,” said Sister Pat Farrell. . . .
June 18, 2012
Board briefed on CDF meeting:https://lcwr.org/sites/default/files/media/files/june_18_2012.pdf
[Silver Spring, MD] The board members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) held a special session on Friday night, June 15, where they were briefed by conference president Sister Pat Farrell, OSF and executive director Sister Janet Mock, CSJ on their June 12 meeting in Rome with officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). The LCWR leaders had requested the meeting at the Vatican to address their concerns about the doctrinal assessment report of LCWR conducted by CDF and released on April 18.
While the LCWR officers reported that they were able to express their concerns during the meeting with openness and honesty, they acknowledged that the meeting was difficult because of the differing perspectives the CDF officials and the LCWR representatives hold on the matters raised in the report.
Since the release of the findings in April, some Vatican officials and US bishops have publicly claimed that the report is not a reflection on all US Catholic sisters and is directed only to LCWR, the organization of leaders. The board noted that the actions of CDF are keenly felt by the vast majority of Catholic sisters who have elected, and therefore feel a close identity with, their leaders. Moreover, the statements and gestures of solidarity from men religious and from conferences of Catholic sisters in other countries, as well as the letters and petitions from thousands of lay supporters worldwide, indicate that many others are also concerned about how to live as people of faith in the complexities of these times. The concerns they have shared with LCWR will be part of the conference’s discernment of its response to the CDF report.
LCWR members will continue their careful, prayerful discernment in their geographic regions throughout June and July, and at LCWR’s annual assembly in August.
August 10, 2012
LCWR assembly plans response to CDF: https://lcwr.org/sites/default/files/media/files/lcwr_2012_assembly_press_releases_-_8-10-12.pdf
[St. Louis, MO] At the annual assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) held in St. Louis, MO, August 7-10, the more than 900 participants planned their response to the doctrinal assessment of the organization by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
As the meeting took place, participants were reminded of the thousands of people throughout the country and the world who had been communicating with the LCWR since the CDF report was issued on April 18, urging that the response be one that helps to reconcile the differences that exist within the Catholic Church and creates spaces for honest and open conversation on the critical moral and ethical questions that face the global community. Since receiving the CDF report, the LCWR officers made efforts to hear the voices of as many of its 1,500 members as possible by inviting them into processes of prayerful consideration of the report’s findings and recommendations. Members then gathered in regional meetings throughout the country to share their insights, which became the basis for the conversations that took place at this assembly, which was the first gathering of the majority of its members since the CDF report was issued.
Using a three-day process of sustained prayer and dialogue, the assembly participants considered various responses to the CDF report, which the goal of deciding together on next best steps for the conference following the assembly. Recognizing that this is a time of historic challenge for the church and for LCWR, the participants expressed the hope of maintaining LCWR’s official role representing US women religious in the Catholic Church. While acknowledging deep disappointment with the CDF report, the members proclaimed their intention to use this opportunity to explain to church leaders LCWR’s mission, values, and operating principles.
The members charged the LCWR officers with beginning a conversation with Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, the apostolic delegate appointed by CDF to oversee LCWR. Their expectation is that open and honest dialogue may lead not only to increasing understanding between the church leadership and women religious, but also to creating more possibilities for the laity and, particularly for women, to have a voice in the church.
The assembly articulated its belief that religious life, as it is lived by the women religious who comprise LCWR, is an authentic expression of this life that must not be compromised. The theology, ecclesiology, and spirituality of the Second Vatican Council serve as the foundation of this form of religious life – and while those who live it must always be open to conversion – this life form should not be discounted.
The assembly instructed the LCWR officers to conduct their conversation with Archbishop Sartain from a stance of deep prayer that values mutual respect, careful listening and open dialogue. The officers will proceed with these discussions as long as possible, but will reconsider if LCWR is forced to compromise the integrity of its mission. The members reiterated the importance and value of LCWR’s mission to its members and its role as a voice for justice in the world. They urged the officers not to allow the work with CDF to absorb the time, energy, and resources of the conference nor to let it distract the conference from the work its mission requires. . . .
August 13, 2012
Statement about meeting with Sartain: https://lcwr.org/sites/default/files/media/files/lcwr_public_statement_-8-13-12.pdf
[St. Louis, MO] On August 11, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain met for the first time with the national board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
The LCWR board members believe they were able to express both their concerns and their feelings about the CDF report with great openness and honesty, and that Archbishop Sartain listened carefully. The archbishop asked for assistance from LCWR to learn more about the conference and about the members’ experience and understandings of religious life. LCWR will provide Archbishop Sartain with resources they believe will be helpful, and its officers plan to meet with him again later in the fall.
The LCWR assembly, which closed the day before the board met with Archbishop Sartain, had charged the board to conduct their conversation with the archbishop from a stance of mutual respect, careful listening and open dialogue. The expectation of the LCWR members is that open and honest dialogue may lead not only to increasing understanding between the church leadership and women religious, but also to creating more possibilities for the laity and, particularly for women, to have a voice in the church. Furthermore, the assembly instructed the board to articulate its belief that religious life, as it is lived by the women religious who comprise LCWR, is an authentic expression of this life that must not be compromised.
November 12, 2012
Preliminary discussion of assessment: https://lcwr.org/media/statement-archbishop-j-peter-sartain-and-florence-deacon-osf
[Baltimore, MD] Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and LCWR president Sister Florence Deacon, OSF, have issued the following statement:
The three bishop delegates of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, Bishop Leonard P. Blair, and Bishop Thomas John Paprocki; the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), Sister Florence Deacon, OSF; Sister Pat Farrell, OSF; and Sister Carol Zinn, SSJ; and LCWR executive director, Sister Janet Mock, CSJ, met Sunday, November 11, for preliminary discussions about the doctrinal assessment of LCWR by the CDF.
The discussion was open and cordial and those present agreed to meet again to continue the conversation.
April 15, 2013
First year of mandate reviewed: https://lcwr.org/media/lcwr-statement-meeting-cdf
On April 15, 2013 Sister Florence Deacon, OSF, LCWR president; Sister Carol Zinn, SSJ, LCWR president-elect; and Sister Janet Mock, CSJ, LCWR executive director; met with Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF); Archbishop Luis Ladaria, secretary of CDF; and other members of the CDF dicastery. Archbishop J. Peter Sartain was also present.
The LCWR officers reviewed the activities of this past year since receiving the report of CDF’s doctrinal assessment of LCWR in April 2012.
In his opening remarks, ArchbishopMüller informed the group the he had met with Pope Francis who "reaffirmed the findings of the assessment and the program of reform for this Conference of Major Superiors".
The conversation was open and frank. We pray that these conversations may bear fruit for the good of the Church.
August 19, 2013
2013 assembly and board meeting: https://lcwr.org/media/2013-lcwr-assembly-and-board-meeting
. . . Three executive sessions were held during the course of the assembly where LCWR members discussed the doctrinal assessment of the organization by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). The findings of that investigation resulted in the appointment by CDF of Archbishop J. Peter Sartain as the Holy See’s apostolic delegate for the doctrinal assessment of LCWR. LCWR invited Archbishop Sartain to attend the assembly so that he could meet the members, experience firsthand the conference’s annual gathering, and hear the members’ concerns about the doctrinal assessment findings and plan for reform.
At the first executive session, the LCWR officers shared their impressions of the meetings that had taken place between themselves and Archbishop Sartain, as well as his two assistants, Bishop Leonard Blair and Bishop Thomas John Paprocki. LCWR invited Archbishop Sartain to address the assembly during the second session and then to listen to the members’ response to his remarks. At a third session the members gave direction to the LCWR officers for next steps in working with the three bishop delegates. All sessions were conducted in a process of contemplative discernment where time was provided for prayer, silence, and respectful listening.
Immediately following the assembly, the 21-member LCWR national board held a three-day meeting that began with a two-hour debriefing session with Archbishop Sartain. At the conclusion of its meeting, the board issued the following statement:
“The session with Archbishop Sartain allowed a profound and honest sharing of views. Due to time limitations during the assembly, Archbishop Sartain had little opportunity to answer the members’ questions. Clearly, however, he had been listening intently and heard the concerns voiced by the members, and their desire for more information. The extraordinarily rich and deeply reverent conversation during the board meeting gave us a greater understanding of Archbishop Sartain, and we believe he now also better understands us. Although we remain uncertain as to how our work with the bishop delegates will proceed, we maintain hope that continued conversations of this depth will lead to a resolution of this situation that maintains the integrity of LCWR and is healthy for the whole church.”
May 8, 2014
Meeting with CDF: https://lcwr.org/media/lcwr-statement-meeting-cdf-0
[Silver Spring, MD] Over the past several days, there has been much public commentary on the opening remarks of Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) at their annual meeting April 30, 2014. In a public statement after the promulgation of the Cardinal’s beginning remarks, in separate releases, both Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, archbishop delegate overseeing the implementation of the CDF mandate, and the LCWR presidency affirmed the accuracy of the Cardinal's remarks and commented on the positive conversation that followed. For LCWR, this conversation was constructive in its frankness and lack of ambiguity. It was not an easy discussion, but its openness and spirit of inquiry created a space for authentic dialogue and discernment.
The meeting with CDF must be viewed within the context of LCWR’s entire visit to Vatican dicasteries. In our first visit on April 27 to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Monsignor Paul Tigue, Secretary, shared that Pope Francis insists upon creating, as part of the New Evangelization, a culture of encounter, marked by dialogue and discernment. We experienced this culture of encounter in every Vatican office we visited in the Curia, an encounter marked by genuine interaction and mutual respect.
We also experienced the Church Universal as we learned about the many international meetings the Holy Father has convened and is planning to convene, addressing global issues like the economy, environment, family life, hunger, poverty, water, violence, human trafficking, and the desire to engage all people – the young, the old, the rich, the poor – in communion, working together for the common good of the planet. We felt the energy flowing from these initiatives which are not new for the Vatican but have a renewed sense of urgency and possibility.
In our meetings at CDF, LCWR was saddened to learn that impressions of the organization in the past decades have become institutionalized in the Vatican, and these institutionalized perceptions have led to judgments and ultimately to the doctrinal assessment. During the meeting it became evident that despite maximum efforts through the years, communication has broken down and as a result, mistrust has developed. What created an opening toward dialogue in this meeting was hearing first-hand the way the CDF perceives LCWR. We do not recognize ourselves in the doctrinal assessment of the conference and realize that, despite that fact, our attempts to clarify misperceptions have led to deeper misunderstandings. This is a very complex matter, yet LCWR was heartened by the attempt of both CDF and LCWR to find a way through that honors the integrity and mission of both offices.
Passion for all that the Church can be deepens our commitment to stay at the table and talk through differences. We want to be part of the universal Church rooted in the Gospel, a Church that hears the cry of the poor and is united in its response. At the same time, we cannot call for peace-making in Syria, the Middle East, in South Sudan, unless we too sit at tables with people who hold varying views and work patiently and consistently for a genuine meeting of minds and hearts.
In some ways, for LCWR, nothing has changed. We are still under the mandate and still tasked with the difficult work of exploring the meaning and application of key theological, spiritual, social, moral, and ethical concepts together as a conference and in dialogue with the Vatican officials. This work is fraught with tension and misunderstanding. Yet, this is the work of leaders in all walks of life in these times of massive change in the world.
At our meeting with the CDF officials, we experienced a movement toward honest and authentic conversation on some of the matters that lie at the heart of our faith and our vocation. We have come to believe that the continuation of such conversation may be one of the most critical endeavors we, as leaders, can pursue for the sake of the world, the Church, and religious life.
August 18, 2014
2014 assembly: https://lcwr.org/sites/default/files/calendar/attachments/lcwr_2014_assembly_press_release_-_8-18-14_0.pdf
. . . During the assembly, the LCWR officers updated the members on their work with the bishops delegated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to implement a mandate of reform. Following discussion of the update, the members offered direction to the LCWR national board and to the LCWR presidency for its work with Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.
Immediately following the assembly, the 21-member LCWR national board held a three-day meeting that began with a one-hour session with Archbishop Sartain. At the conclusion of its meeting, the board issued the following statement:
Our study, discernment, and prayer led us to reaffirm our strong belief that ongoing conversation with church leadership is key to building effective working relationships that enable both women religious and church leaders to serve the world. It is our deepest hope to resolve the situation between LCWR and CDF in a way that fully honors our commitment to fulfill the LCWR mission as well as protect the integrity of the organization.
We will continue in the conversation with Archbishop Sartain as an expression of hope that new ways may be created within the church for healthy discussion of differences. We know that thousands of persons throughout the country and around the world long for places where they can raise questions and explore ideas on matters of faith in an atmosphere of freedom and respect. We believe that the ongoing conversations between CDF and LCWR may model a way of relating that only deepens and strengthens our capacity to serve a world in desperate need of our care and service.
April 13, 2015
CDF concludes mandate (news release and final report): https://lcwr.org/media/news/congregation-doctrine-faith-concludes-mandate-regarding-lcwr
- Press Release on the Final Report regarding the implementation of the LCWR Doctrinal Assessment and Mandate of April 2012 by CDF
- Joint Final Report on the Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)
Press Release on the Final Report regarding the implementation of the LCWR Doctrinal Assessment and Mandate of April 2012 by CDF
Officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Archbishop Peter Sartain and officers of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) met April 16. Archbishop Sartain and LCWR officers presented a joint report (attached) on the implementation of the CDF Doctrinal Assessment and Mandate of April 2012. The joint report outlines the manner in which the implementation of the Mandate has been accomplished. The Congregation accepted the joint report, marking the conclusion of the Doctrinal Assessment of LCWR. Present for the April 16 meeting were His Eminence Gerhard Cardinal Müller, Archbishop Peter Sartain, Sr. Carol Zinn, SSJ, Sr. Marcia Allen, CSJ, Sr. Joan Marie Steadman, CSC, and Sr. Janet Mock, CSJ, and other officials of CDF.
During the meeting, Archbishop Sartain and LCWR officers outlined the process undertaken by the Bishop Delegates and LCWR over the past three years, noting the spirit of cooperation among participants throughout the sensitive process. Cardinal Müller offered his thoughts on the Doctrinal Assessment as well as the Mandate and its completion. He expressed gratitude to those present for their willing participation in this important and delicate work and extended thanks to others who had participated, especially Archbishop Leonard P. Blair, Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, and the past officers and Executive Directors of LCWR.
Following the meeting, Cardinal Müller said: “At the conclusion of this process, the Congregation is confident that LCWR has made clear its mission to support its member Institutes by fostering a vision of religious life that is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ and is rooted in the Tradition of the Church. It is this vision that makes religious women and men radical witnesses to the Gospel, and, therefore, is essential for the flourishing of religious life in the Church.”
Sr. Sharon Holland, IHM, President of LCWR, was unable to be present for the meeting but commented, “We are pleased at the completion of the Mandate, which involved long and challenging exchanges of our understandings of and perspectives on critical matters of Religious Life and its practice. Through these exchanges, conducted always in a spirit of prayer and mutual respect, we were brought to deeper understandings of one another’s experiences, roles, responsibilities, and hopes for the Church and the people it serves. We learned that what we hold in common is much greater than any of our differences.”
Archbishop Sartain added, “Over the past several years, I have had the honor of working with LCWR officers and meeting a large number of LCWR members through the implementation of the Mandate. Our work included the revision of LCWR Statutes; review of LCWR publications, programs and speakers; and discussion of a wide range of issues raised by the Doctrinal Assessment, LCWR, and the Bishop Delegates. The assistance of CDF officials was essential to the great progress we made. Our work together was undertaken in an atmosphere of love for the Church and profound respect for the critical place of religious life in the United States, and the very fact of such substantive dialogue between bishops and religious women has been mutually beneficial and a blessing from the Lord. As we state in our joint final report, ‘The commitment of LCWR leadership to its crucial role in service to the mission and membership of the Conference will continue to guide and strengthen LCWR’s witness to the great vocation of Religious Life, to its sure foundation in Christ, and to ecclesial communion.’ The other two Bishop Delegates and I are grateful for the opportunity to be involved in such a fruitful dialogue.”
Joint Final Report on the Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)
Following the publication of the Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (April 18, 2012), the officers of LCWR and the Bishop Delegates began working in close collaboration toward the implementation of the Mandate which accompanied that document. From the beginning, our extensive conversations were marked by a spirit of prayer, love for the Church, mutual respect, and cooperation. We found our conversations to be mutually beneficial. In this Joint Final Report, we set forth the manner in which the implementation of the Mandate has been accomplished.
LCWR Statutes: The Statutes of the Conference were definitively approved for the first time by the Sacred Congregation for Religious in 1962; a revised text was subsequently approved by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life on June 29, 1989. LCWR had initiated a review of the Statutes prior to receiving the Mandate. In response to the 2012 Mandate, a subcommittee representing LCWR and the Bishop Delegates reviewed that document, attentive to the Mandate’s request for greater clarity in expressing the mission and responsibilities of the LCWR as a Conference of Major Superiors under the ultimate direction of the Apostolic See. Through a collaborative process of mutual learning and of refining several drafts, it was agreed that “the role of the Conference as a public juridic person centered on Jesus Christ and faithful to the teachings of the Church is to undertake through its membership and in collaboration with other sisters those services which develop the life and mission of women religious in responding to the Gospel in the contemporary world” (Statutes, Section 2). At the conclusion of this drafting and refining process, the subcommittee’s work was considered ready to be submitted to the LCWR Assembly. The 2014 Assembly overwhelmingly approved the text, and it was forwarded to the Apostolic See. Following a positive review by the CDF, the revised Statutes were approved on February 6, 2015 by Decree of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
Conference Publications and Programs: The Mandate also called for a review of LCWR publications to ensure that the Conference’s mission would be fulfilled in accord with Church teaching. The Conference’s mission is in service of its members and their positive role of collaboration in the Church’s mission. At the same time, LCWR publications serve a larger audience in the Church. Many persons desiring spiritual growth have become readers of various publications. The nature of LCWR publications is intended to address spiritual matters rather than engage in formal theological inquiry. Nevertheless, because of the vital link between spirituality and theology, and in order to inspire, help evaluate experience as Women Religious, and challenge to growth, publications need a sound doctrinal foundation. To this end, measures are being taken to promote a scholarly rigor that will ensure theological accuracy and help avoid statements that are ambiguous with regard to Church doctrine or could be read as contrary to it. This exercise of theological responsibility is for the sake of both Conference Members and other readers. At the same time, it serves to protect the credibility of the Conference itself as a long-standing canonical entity of the Church. In addition, a publications Advisory Committee exists and manuscripts will be reviewed by competent theologians, as a means of safeguarding the theological integrity of the Conference.
The Mandate also addressed care in the selection of programs and speakers at General Assemblies and other LCWR-sponsored events. The choice of topics and speakers appropriate to the Conference’s mission and service will be carried out in a prayerful, thoughtful and discerning manner. As with written publications, LCWR expects speakers and presenters to speak with integrity and to further the aims and purposes of the Conference, which unfold within the wider context of the Church’s faith and mission. When a topic explicitly addresses matters of faith, speakers are expected to employ the ecclesial language of faith. When exploring contemporary issues, particularly those which, while not explicitly theological nevertheless touch upon faith and morals, LCWR expects speakers and presenters to have due regard for the Church’s faith and to pose questions for further reflection in a manner that suggests how faith might shed light on such issues. As with publications, this kind of professional integrity will serve the Members well. Finally, a revised process for the selection of the Outstanding Leadership Award recipient has been articulated.
Other issues addressed by the Mandate: Over the past three years, considerable time and attention were given to dialogue regarding other matters raised by the Mandate, including the importance of the celebration of the Eucharist; the place of the Liturgy of the Hours in religious communities; the centrality of a communal process of contemplative prayer practiced at LCWR Assemblies and other gatherings; the relationship between LCWR and other organizations; and the essential understanding of LCWR as an instrument of ecclesial communion. These discussions had their origin in the Mandate and led to clarifying and fruitful conversation.
Conclusion: Our work together in response to the Mandate has borne much fruit, for which we give thanks to God and the gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit. The very fact of such substantive dialogue between bishops and religious has been a blessing to be appreciated and further encouraged. The Commitment of LCWR leadership to its crucial role in service to the mission and membership of the Conference will continue to guide and strengthen LCWR’s witness to the great vocation of Religious Life, to its sure foundation in Christ, and to ecclesial communion.
[Signed] Most Rev. J. Peter Sartain, Archbishop of Seattle; Sr. Sharon Holland, IHM, LCWR President; Most Rev. Leonard P. Blair, Archbishop of Hartford; Sr. Marcia Allen, CSJ, LCWR President-Elect; Most Rev. Thomas J. Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois; Sr. Carol Zinn, SSJ, LCWR Past President; Sr. Joan Marie Steadman, CSC, LCWR Executive Director
May 15, 2015
Statement of LCWR officers on CDF doctrinal assessment and conclusion of the mandate https://lcwr.org/media/statement-lcwr-officers-cdf-doctrinal-assessment-and-conclusion-mandate
Issued by Sister Sharon Holland, IHM (LCWR President); Sister Marcia Allen, CSJ (LCWR President-Elect); Sister Carol Zinn, SSJ (LCWR Past President); and Sister Joan Marie Steadman, CSC (LCWR Executive Director)
We have been asked by our members and the public for our thoughts and reflections regarding the completion of the mandate of implementation issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) after its doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). We do so here, but emphasize that these are only preliminary personal observations and reflections. We will not have the opportunity to reflect on the experience in its entirety with the members of the conference and hear their insights until the LCWR assembly in August 2015.
From the time of the 2012 public issuance of the findings of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR, we had serious concerns about both the content of the assessment and the process by which it was prepared. We believed that the sanctions called for in the CDF mandate were disproportionate to the concerns raised and we feared the sanctions could compromise the ability of the LCWR officers and members to fulfill the mission of the conference. Furthermore, we were deeply saddened that the report caused scandal and pain throughout the Catholic community. We, along with our members, felt publicly humiliated as the false accusations were re-published repeatedly in the press.
Beginning with our first meeting with LCWR’s board of directors in May 2012 shortly after the issuance of the mandate, we situated all discussions of the assessment and mandate in a context of communal contemplative prayer. This involved acknowledging the depth of our feelings about the actions of CDF; careful listening to all perspectives on the matter; engaging in honest conversations with one another about not only LCWR and its work, but our own faith journeys; communally sitting in silence to ponder all we heard; and bringing our insights to God in prayer. We continued to utilize contemplative processes each time we gathered as the executive officers of the conference, as a board, and as an assembly to discuss the mandate. We believe this approach strengthened our capacity to hear and better understand the concerns of CDF as well as clarify and strengthen our own convictions about the mission and purpose of LCWR. The processes in which we engaged as a conference became a profound source of personal growth for each of us and deepened and strengthened the bonds that exist among us as women religious.
We brought this desire for deep listening and respectful dialogue to our work with the CDF officials and found they held a similar desire. Our interactions with the CDF officers and the three bishops whom CDF delegated to implement its mandate -- Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, Archbishop Leonard Blair, and Bishop Thomas Paprocki -- were always conducted in a spirit of prayer and openness. We engaged in long and challenging exchanges with these officials about our understandings of and perspectives on critical matters of faith and its practice, religious life and its mission, and the role of a leadership conference of religious. We believe that because these exchanges were carried out in an atmosphere of mutual respect, we were brought to deeper understandings of one another. We gained insights into the experiences and perspectives of these church leaders, and felt that our experiences and perspectives were heard and valued.
Preparation for and participation in such rigorous dialogue and exchange of ideas was time-consuming and, at times, difficult. The choice to stay at the table and continue dialogue around issues of profound importance to us as US women religious had its costs. The process was made more difficult because of the ambiguity over the origin of the concerns raised in the doctrinal assessment report that seemed not to have basis in the reality of LCWR’s work. The journey in this unchartered territory at times was dark and a positive outcome seemed remote.
We were encouraged, however, to remain in the process by the manner in which Archbishop Sartain journeyed with us. His presence to us as the LCWR officers, as well as to our members at the LCWR assemblies and board of director meetings he attended, spoke clearly of his sincerity and integrity. His capacity to listen to us from a stance of respect and genuine care strengthened our confidence that honest dialogue would eventually help us all to recognize our commonalities and gain clearer understanding of and appreciation for our differences.
LCWR has a long history of conducting evaluations and assessments of its work and has always welcomed new ideas that could strengthen its mission. We appreciate what we learned through our work with Archbishop Sartain and the other CDF officers and delegates about how LCWR is perceived by others and are integrating these new insights into the work and life of the conference. One example is the recommendation of theological reviews of LCWR periodicals. We accepted and already implemented this suggestion because we believe such a review will fortify LCWR’s publications.
From the beginning of LCWR’s work with the bishop delegates in 2012, we agreed that we would speak honestly and directly with one another and not through the media. We recognize that this decision frustrated some of our own members, as well as the public and the media. We were highly aware that many people throughout the world were concerned about LCWR and were supporting and praying for us. While at times we too wished we could have shared more along the way with all who cared about this matter, we believe that by keeping our conversations private, we were able to speak with one another at a level of honesty that we believe contributed to the mandate coming to its conclusion as it did. Of utmost importance to us throughout this process was the directive we had received from our own members not to compromise the integrity of LCWR. We believe that integrity was not only kept intact, but perhaps deepened and strengthened through the process.
We acknowledge as well that the doctrinal assessment and mandate deeply disturbed many Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the world. Thousands of people communicated to us their concern not only for LCWR and Catholic sisters, but for the ramifications these two actions could have for the wider world and church. Many perceived the assessment and mandate as an attempt to suppress the voice of LCWR which was seen as an organization that responsibly raises questions on matters of conscience, faith, and justice. Repeatedly, we heard that people were praying that the manner in which LCWR and the bishop delegates engaged in this process would lead to the creation of safe spaces where matters of such importance could be discussed with openness and honesty, and in an environment freed of fear.
Our hope is that the positive outcome of the assessment and mandate will lead to the creation of additional spaces within the Catholic Church where the church leadership and membership can speak together regularly about the critical matters before all of us. The collective exploration of the meaning and application of key theological, spiritual, social, moral, and ethical concepts must be an ongoing effort for all of us in the world today. Admittedly, entering into a commitment to regular and consistent dialogue about core matters that have the potential to divide us can be arduous, demanding work, but work that is ultimately transformative. However challenging these efforts are, in a world marked by polarities and intolerance of difference, perhaps no work is more important. In an epoch of massive change in the world, we believe such efforts towards ongoing dialogue are fundamental and essential for the sake of our future as a global community. We hope that our years of working through this difficult mandate made some small contribution to this end.