Saturday, July 21, 2012

Is the LCWR a cause of scandal?

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) represents over 80% of the 57,000 Catholic women religious in the United States.  The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has completed a doctrinal assessment of the organization, and found the LCWR lacking where the rubber meets the road, where church teaching and secular morality clash.  According to the CDF, some of the activities and theology of the LCWR undermine the moral credibility of the Catholic Church.

In a video, posted on YouTube, entitled “Reality Check: the LCWR, CDF and the Doctrinal Assessment”, Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo presents the case against the LCWR.  The video is a response to the overwhelming support for the LCWR and the criticism of the doctrinal assessment process. In the video, Blair discusses two areas of concern: what the LCWR says, and what it leaves unsaid.

"Reality Check" and what the LCWR says
Blair discusses problems with the theology of the LCWR, which is labelled as "radical feminist theology".  He specifically mentions the content of several keynote addresses, going back to 1997, at the annual assembly of the LCWR. Among the objectionable examples are:
  • Sister Sandra Schneider’s comments in 1997 on the issue of faith in religious congregations
  • Sister Laurie Brink’s comments in 2007 about a post-Christian era
  • Father Michael Crosby’s 2004 remarks supporting the ordination of women 
  • the choice of this year’s keynote speaker, Barbara Max Hubbard, a conscious evolution theorist. It remains to be seen in what ways her address will be offensive.

Schneider has two strikes against her in the “Reality Check”.   The major objection to Schneider seems to be her critique of patriarchy as incompatible with the Gospel. The truth often offends, and Schneider seems to have a struck a nerve with her insights.

Theology - a tradition of faith seeking understanding
I find it hard to become anxious about the theological questions that the LCWR raises in its assemblies.  They are voicing the questions that many Catholics, and people of good will, are asking, not only about morality, but also about the place of women in the Church. Theology is "faith seeking understanding"; it is not about checking your brain at the door to the church.

When I was watching the “Reality Check” video, I recalled an encounter my mother-in-law had with a priest over thirty years ago. She had found a theologian who was asking the kind of questions that she and others were discussing amongst themselves. She was reading with interest and excitement “On Being a Christian” by Hans Kung, a theologian whom the Vatican censured. She couldn’t wait to share this book with her parish priest. To her dismay, the priest instructed her to put the dangerous and heretical book aside. My mother-in-law kept right on reading.

This little vignette should remind us of the tension that has existed for centuries between theologians and the Magisterium. It is not surprising that the teaching authority of the Catholic Church continues to butt heads with 21st century theologians. The vignette also illustrates the futility of attempts to silence questioning and to circumscribe thought. Many thoughtful, faithful Catholics probe the depths of human existence and faith. Questioning traditional teachings does not scandalize them.  

"Reality Check" and what the LCWR does not say
Apart from what the assessment considers the LCWR’s questionable theology, the video mentions  the LCWR’s silence on two major moral challenges of our time: the right to life of the unborn, and the meaning of marriage as the exclusive and permanent union of one man and one woman.

While Church teaching is clear on these two moral issues, it also asserts the primacy of conscience. Even informed Catholic consciences face gut wrenching moral choices, and “good” Catholics sometimes do not abide by the moral teaching of the Church.

While the bishops may wish that the LCWR more vigorously promoted Church teaching on abortion and homosexuality, being present with people as they agonize over difficult choices is also a strong and persuasive witness to the Gospel. The sisters bring the love of our compassionate God, revealed to humanity in the person of Jesus, to the people on the streets.

A sad irony
There is a sad irony in the title of the video, “Reality Check”.  Scandals, particularly those of clerical sexual abuse, have tarnished the image of the Catholic Church. These scandals have done more to undermine the moral credibility and teachings of the Church than the activities of the LCWR. The reality is that people in today’s world are less inclined to blindly accept pronouncements from an institution that, in its humanness, is full of its own sinful contradictions.

For a National Public Radio interview with the president of the LCWR, Sister Pat Farrell, go to: An American Nun responds to Vatican Criticism.  The program "Fresh Air" will feature Bishop Blair next week. 

The National Catholic Reporter has a section on the LCWR.  The Prairie Messenger also has commentary; go to the link and enter "LCWR" in the search box to access a variety of articles.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

An arkful of books

My neighbors were making plans to build an ark, and last week, I was tempted to hustle over and join them, but I was comfortably curled up with a good book. We had the rainiest June in decades, and the weather was beginning to feel a bit Biblical.

"Noah leading the animals into the ark" c.1665
Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione
I wonder how Noah and company passed 40 wet days and nights on the ark. After feeding the animals and mucking out the stalls, I wonder if they sat around telling stories. 

If I were on an ark, I would want a library. The challenge would be which books to bring along due to the limited space. Needing some assistance with this challenge, I asked family and friends, “If you were on the ark, what book would you bring along?”  The responses were creative, humorous, and intriguing.

Some interesting suggestions:
One of the ark-building neighbors had a unique idea. He said that he would take an author, instead of a book, so that he would have the benefit of many stories.

My daughter’s first thought was a journal, providing pens were permitted. If a family were confined on an ark with a bunch of animals, there would surely be stories worth recording. We could write our own, but friendlier, version of “The Life of Pi” by Yann Martel.

Both my son-in-law and my son suggested “The SAS Survival Handbook: How to Survive in the Wild in any Climate on Land or Sea” by John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman. This same son thought we’d need “The Story of Doctor Doolittle” by Hugh Lofting.  We could pick up a new language, and meditate disputes between the aardvark and the zebra. My son-in-law, concerned that me might be in danger of contracting cabin fever and going a little “squirrely”, would also like a book that conjures up images of land to help us stay grounded.

According to my other son, Darwin’s Origin of the Species”, and George Orwell’s  “Animal Farm” were obvious choices. He also recommended “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin”, not because Franklin invented the lightning rod, but because Franklin’s ideas on living a morally good life might be helpful in recreating society once the ark docked.

Noah and the inhabitants of the ark were the precursors of the ancient nation of Israel. Although this was not the foremost reason for her selection, a friend suggested “Exodus”, by Leon Uris, the historical novel that depicts the creation of the modern day state of Israel. First published in 1958, this novel continues to impact readers with its story, and themes of human cruelty, intolerance, vengeance and forgiveness.

One of my sons and I discussed including Timothy Findley’s “Not Wanted on the Voyage”, an imaginative but very disturbing account of Noah and the ark.  We were a little hesitant, but I decided to include it with the following disclaimer: this book contains graphic scenes of violence and may offend readers.  This is not a novel for the reader who is faint of heart, or religiously invested in the Genesis account of the flood. “Not Wanted on the Voyage” raises questions about the nature of human society and religion, the human lust for power, and the need to dominate others and the natural world. 

Another neighbour suggested Bryce Courtenay’s “The Power of One”. This is the story of Peekay, a vulnerable little boy whose character is sorely tested. This novel is an inspiring tale of remaining afloat against all odds, and overcoming obstacles that have the power to destroy our spirit.

Independently of each other, my husband and I both selected “The Confessions” of Saint Augustine, translated by Maria Boulding. In the Genesis account of the flood, the ark is a refuge from the turbulent waters of destruction, and is symbolic of God’s caring presence.  In “The Confessions”, Augustine recounts his spiritual journey away from inner turbulence and disbelief towards belief and stillness in God.

“The Confessions”, like the story of Noah and the ark, has survived for centuries. Its themes of doubt and restlessness resonate with human experience. Who among us has not longed for stillness, or has not sought a refuge from trouble? Has there ever been a spiritual journey that was totally devoid of doubt?

While my question prompted some unexpected replies, the eclectic collection of ideas makes for an unusual summer reading list that will entertain us, stretch the confines of our mind, and, in the case of Augustine, uplift our soul.