Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Rome OKs History Project on Women Religious

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Rome OKs History Project on Women Religious

Article excerpt

Two years after regaining a measure of autonomy from strict Vatican control, CLAR, the Latin American Conference of Religious, has circumvented a new confrontation with Rome concerning a groundbreaking project on women religious.

In April, Archbishop Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, halted progress of CLAR's "Recuperation of the Historical Memory of Women's Religious Life in Latin America."

This four-year initiative, according to CLAR President Elza Ribeiro, a Brazilian Sister of Providence, aims to help Latin American women religious "step out of anonymity and be recognized for their dignity and the role they play in church and society."

The project will document a 40-year history of women religious in Latin America by compiling historical records from religious communities, testimonies from women, surveys, written reflections and theological analysis. The group hopes to have the project completed by 1999, CLAR's 40th anniversary.

"It will not be written by historians but by women religious themselves, reflecting their perceptions, their form of critical analysis, their perspectives. We will tell our own stories," Ribeiro said, adding that CLAR will invite some male theologians to participate in the theological analysis.

The project was paralyzed in April, however, when Errazuriz impeded the distribution of a survey to 25 conferences of women religious after he received news of a controversial January 31 letter criticizing CLAR's actions. The letter was signed by Consuela Fernandez and was written on letterhead bearing the name of the Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a Colombian order. Copies of the letter reached some 30 cardinals and dozens of superior generals in Rome, CLAR Secretary-General Fr. Pedro Acevedo told NCR in a telephone interview from the organization's headquarters in Bogota, Colombia.

The letter, of which NCR obtained a copy, claims some religious "want to ruin traditional religious life" in Latin America in the same way others ruined it in the United States. It asks that CLAR's project be "urgently" stopped to "avoid this tragedy."

The letter blames Jesuit priests for introducing religious women to "radical, unsubmissive and rebellious feminism." A second letter from Fernandez to women superior generals, dated March 19, warns of the negative influence of Dominican, Jesuit, Claritian and Redemptorist priests.

Errazuriz requested further information about the project and summoned CLAR officials to discussions in Rome.

On April 16, CLAR received a letter from the superior general of the Daughters of the Sacred Hearts saying Fernandez was not a member of the congregation and that the letterhead did not bear the community's official stamp. …

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