Theologian Implores Women Religious to Remain Prophetic

By Fox, Thomas C. | National Catholic Reporter, August 20, 2010 | Go to article overview

Theologian Implores Women Religious to Remain Prophetic


Fox, Thomas C., National Catholic Reporter


DALLAS * M. Shawn Copeland, professor of theology at Boston College, challenged more than 750 U.S. women religious leaders here to live in a state of radical openness, to be willing to suffer for the mission of the church and to keep their voices full of hope in a difficult time in church history.

Copeland Aug. 11 addressed the annual gathering of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which met in Dallas Aug. 10-13. Her talk and private discussions among the women that followed were aimed at helping the women to better discern their futures as they operate under the cloud of two Vatican investigations.

Copeland told the women the primary concern in her presentation was to examine the role of women religious in the context of their relationships to the mission of Jesus of Nazareth. She addressed the uncertainty in which Christians, especially women religious, find themselves.

"Even as we may disagree about the nature of our predicament, on nearly all accounts, we admit that our tradition is in crisis. The whole of the church is quite bewildered by what we are (or are not) doing, by what is (or is not) happening to us, by what we are (or are not) doing to ourselves."

In such a situation, she said, prophetic ministry "not only is needed, it is imperative."

Copeland then listed five characteristics of prophetic ministry, saying it protests idolatry and ideology, assumes a critical attitude and posture toward established power, reads "the signs of the times," uncovering and meeting hidden and neglected human suffering, witnesses unyielding hope that resists despair, and bears the wound of knowledge of the pained heart of God.

Encouraging the assembled women, Copeland concluded that women religious today have become a "living protest of a perhaps unintentional, but nonetheless real reduction of ourselves as church to the law-abiding, but lukewarm; the unthinking, but self-righteous; the domineering, but fearful.

"We 'good Catholics' would like to make you--and you must resist--into the talisman, the good luck charm of our call to holiness. You must not, indeed, you cannot allow or submit to this. The very nature of prophetic ministry opposes patronage and true prophets are never on sale."

Vatican officials told the Leadership Conference of Women Religious 18 months ago that it faced a doctrinal inquiry for allegedly failing to uphold church teachings on homosexuality, the primacy of the Catholic church, and women's ordination. …

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