O'Malley calls Vatican investigation of LCWR 'a disaster'

Editor's note: This NCR article summarizes a follow-up piece O'Malley wrote for his archdiocesean newspaper.

Boston Cardinal Seán O'Malley, a key advisor to Pope Francis, called the Vatican investigation of American women religious “a disaster.”

Speaking to CBS 60 Minutes interviewer Norah O'Donnell for Sunday night’s episode, O’Donnell said the investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “looked like a crackdown from men at the Vatican,” and O’Malley responded, “A disaster.”

O’Donnell stops her question and asks, “a disaster?” and O’Malley says again, “Disaster.”

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, made up of Catholic women religious who are leaders of their orders in the United States, represents about 80 percent of the 51,600 women religious in the country. The LCWR has been undergoing a Vatican-ordered doctrinal assessment since 2009, and following the investigation, in 2012, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ordered LCWR to reform its statutes and appointed Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain to oversee changes.

Currently, under Vatican orders, Sartain must approve speakers at the group’s events.

Meanwhile, the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life conducted an Apostolic Visitation from 2009 to 2012 to examine “the quality of life” of women religious in the U.S. The report from that effort is expected to be released soon, but what it will say is unknown.
Ever since Pope Francis was elected in March 2013, women religious have hoped the pontiff, who is trying to remake the church into more of a pastoral institution, would come to their aid.

There was a glimmer of hope when Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, who has led the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life since 2011 said last year that the decision to put LCWR under the control of bishops was made without his knowledge, though his office normally deals with matters of religious life. The move, he said at the time, caused him "much pain."

Now O’Malley, called the pope’s “closest American advisor” by 60 Minutes, has given the clearest sign that their prayers could be answered.

In the broadcast, O’Donnell doesn’t ask O’Malley to elaborate, but instead moves on, asking if there should be more women in positions of power in the Curia.

“Yes. I think there should be. And – hopefully, there will be,” O’Malley says.

When O’Donnell asks when that will happen, O’Malley laughs and looks at his watch.

“Well, that – I can't tell you what time, but hopefully soon, you know,” he says.

But don’t expect women priests anytime soon, O’Malley says.

They have a lot of important roles, such as running charities and schools, but priests reflect the incarnation of Christ as a man, he says. When O’Donnell asks if it is immoral to exclude people based on gender – noting the church would never exclude people because of race – O’Malley says that “Christ would never ask us to do something immoral.”

But if were up to him?

“If I were founding a church, you know, I'd love to have women priests,” O’Malley says. “But Christ founded it and what he has given us is something different.”

The 13-minute segment ends with O’Donnell asking O’Malley if Francis will change the future of the church.

“There’s no doubt,” he says.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. His email address is dstockman@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @DanStockman.]