Robert McClory of the National Catholic Reporter is one of many, perhaps thousands, of people in the press that haven chosen to represent the issue between the USCCB and the LCWR as something akin to a hostile, corporate takeover. In his article, the bishops as juggernaut, he writes:
I do not understand what is going on in the upper echelons of the Catholic church.
It seems that there’s a new radical theology of obedience being foisted on us. I am alarmed, and I believe you should be, too. The presentation by Bishop Leonard Blair during his lengthy discussion with Terry Gross on public radio regarding the LCWR takeover runs contrary to what hundreds of thousands of Catholics have come to believe about their faith and their right to be treated as adults. Blair and presumably the other bishops who will be working with him in an effort to rein in these rebellious, free-thinking sisters are taking the church to a dark place where submission to episcopal teaching is expected to be automatically accepted — always and without exception.
McClory, like most reporting on this issue, refer to vague ideas to support their notion that the LCWR are victims. While romantic sounding, they do almost nothing to help shed light on the real issues at hand. I thought I would help Mr. McClory and his readers with a simple reply highlighting the simple fact that the sisters of the LCWR have always fallen under the auspices of the bishops.
Below is the reply I sent to Mr. McClory
Has anyone considered consulting the documents the Church consults on these matters (e.g. Canon Law, Catechism, Conciliar documents, etc.).
The sisters in the LCWR are not being “taken over.” That is hyperbole meant to incite readers. From some of the comments I read, I’d said it worked. Also, I think the author gives too much credit to the “hundreds of thousands of Catholics” and what they allegedly know “about their faith.” In both my online and in-person ministries, I encounter people (i.e. Catholics) daily who don’t have the foggiest idea what the Church actually teaches.
Without question catechesis in the U.S in the last 40-50 years has been in the dumps. However, Mr. McClory is right about one thing, the Church does consider the lay faithful to be “adults,” but I think there is a fundamental difference between the laity and the hierarchy on what that means. From the lay person’s perspective (esp. in the US), it means autonomy from the Church’s hierarchy. From the Church’s perspective, it means lay people need to take the time to educate themselves on what the Church teaches.
By way of example, consider some brief quotations that refute the idea that the sisters in the LCWR were ever on their own to do as the please:
- Religious life derives from the mystery of the Church (Catechism, 926)
- All religious, whether exempt or not, take their place among the collaborators of the diocesan bishop in his pastoral duty. (Catechism, 927)
- From the inexhaustible and manifold richness of the Spirit come the vocations of the Institutes of Consecrated Life, whose members, “because of the dedication to the service of the Church deriving from their very consecration, have an obligation to play a special part in missionary activity, in a manner appropriate to their Institute (JPII, RMiss, 69)
- The public witness to be rendered by religious to Christ and the Church entails a separation from the world proper to the character and purpose of each institute (Code of Canon Law, 607 §3).
So here is what we can conclude: the religious life of the sisters in the LCWR comes from the Church, they are responsible to their local bishop (individually, collectively to the USCCB), they are dedicated to the Church, and their public witness is not only to Christ, but to the Church as well.
So why is anyone surprised, especially the LCWR that they have found themselves in this place? Their existence since the very beginning was rooted in the Church. The Church is now just taking the time to remind them.