Church needs more open dialogue, LCWR leader says

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Having experienced six years of a Vatican investigation that shrouded the work of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Sr. Carol Zinn, the organization's past president, called for more open, honest and heartfelt dialogue across the divides within the church.

"The conversation needs to happen face-to-face and it needs to happen in relationship," Zinn said during a break from a conference for Canadian sisters and religious order priests and brothers in Toronto June 3. Zinn, a Sister of St. Joseph, was a conference speaker.

Zinn's one-year term as LCWR president began in 2013 as the organization worked with the Vatican under a mandate to reform aspects of its operations. The mandate emerged from a doctrinal assessment conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that started in 2009.

The Vatican and LCWR, whose 1,500 members represent 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in the United States, announced April 16 that the reform process had been successfully concluded.

Zinn ruled out questions about the mandate and the doctrinal assessment but spoke freely about polarization and the need for more conversation in the church.

"We need more conversations on all levels within the church and not talk to each other through the media, but talk to each other," Zinn said.

Nor should the Catholic conversation be limited to official bodies, clergy and religious, she added. All Catholics need to find ways of talking directly to each other about and despite their differences, she said.

"My hope is that there will be more and more opportunities for whatever the polarities are to listen and not move to judgment," Zinn said.

The LCWR officer pointed to Pope Francis as an example for Catholics seeking ways to start and maintain a dialogue. Zinn was one of a small group of LCWR leaders who met with the pope for nearly an hour April 16 to discuss the future of religious life and women religious in the United States after the conclusion of the reform process.

In the context of dialogue, Zinn said she looks forward to the June 18 release of Pope Francis' encyclical on ecology and the environment.

"The upcoming encyclical will have opportunities to listen," she said. "We tend to listen to the voices that are most like ours."