Women Religious Have Been Faithful to Mission

By McBrien, Richard P. | National Catholic Reporter, July 24, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Women Religious Have Been Faithful to Mission


McBrien, Richard P., National Catholic Reporter


In a letter written Feb. 20, the prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada, informed the officers of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious that the congregation would be conducting a "doctrinal assessment" of the organization.

The leadership conference is an association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States, with more than 1,500 members representing about 95 percent of the 68,000 U.S. women religious.

In a statement released soon there after, the officers acknowledged receipt of the letter and pointed out that the leadership conference "faces this process with confidence, believing that the conference has remained faithful to its mission of service to leaders of congregations of women religious as they seek to further the mission of Christ in today's world."

The Vatican assessment became necessary, according to Levada, because the three issues that were surfaced at a 2001 meeting in Rome between the officers of the leadership conference and the congregation remain in his mind unresolved.

Those three areas of doctrinal concern are the 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis on the ordination of women to the priesthood, the congregation's 2000 declaration Dominus Iesus on the unique role of Christ in Salvation, and "the problem of homosexuality."

Levada informed the officers of the leadership conference that "given 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."

Levada also acknowledged that his decision to conduct this "doctrinal assessment" was reached in concert with Cardinal Franc Rode, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which had announced last December that it was initiating a "visitation" of communities of women religious in the United States, to examine the "quality of life" among their members and to determine why their numbers have declined in recent decades.

Not having at hand copies of the talks given at leadership conference assemblies since 2001, I am not in a position to evaluate Levada's expressed concern about these addresses nor how the three issues (women's ordination, salvation and homosexuality) were treated in these presentations.

However, I do know enough about the nature and history of the leadership conference to express amazement that there could be any "doctrinal" concerns about the organization and its leadership.

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