25 April 2012

8 Themes of the LCWR Worldview

[NB.  Given recent developments on the CDF/LCWR front, I thought I'd repost about a piece from April of 2009 on some of the presidential addresses delivered at the LCWR annual assemblies.  2012 editions are bracketed in red.]

Again, waiting for my bowl of coffee to kick in, I did a little browsing on the website of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). They have posted information about their annual assemblies, including the texts of the presidential addresses and keynote speeches.

I read through several of the keynote speeches, and I noticed a couple of themes (that's what we Old Lit Teachers do--look for themes). Here's just a few in no particular order:

1. "Mission": all of the addresses I read (four of them) exhort the sisters to mission. But never the mission of the Church that we would recognize as evangelization, that is, the preaching and teaching of the gospel that Christ gave to the apostles. The mission the sisters are exhorted to take up is always, always some form of left-liberal social engineering disguised as caring for Earth or insuring access to adequate health [care] for women.  ["Adequate health care for women" is usually U.N. code for "abortion/contraception," but the addresses do not speak to the issue directly.  The 2012 CDF document lauds the good work the LCWR does in promoting certain social justice issues but notes their total silence on the issue of abortion.]

2). Insularity: despite the exhortations to "mission," all of the addresses I read include broad descriptions of the history of women religious as a way of "situating" the experience of these women within their own "mission," in other words, they spend a lot of page space on talking to one another about one another's grand innovations after the VC2 and how these innovations are radically different from anything that's come before [Novelty for the sake of novelty is a mark of modernity in literature, art, architecture, etc.  Ezra Pound, "Make it new!"]. There's quite a bit of self-congratulation here, along with laundry lists of excuses why their missions have failed to produce global results. The villain in their failures, by the way, is always the hierarchy. Big surprise.

3). "Prophetic": as a corollary to their mission and insularity, the addresses harp on how "prophetic" women religious are in these innovations. As far as I can tell, "prophetic" means whatever they want it to mean. It clearly does not mean what the Church means by the term. If the examples used are typical, "prophetic" means something like "doing what we please and then accusing the Church of being too traditional, oppressive, and isolated from the world for not following our lead." Beware self-anointed prophets!  [The 2012 CDF document notes that public statements by the LCWR use "prophetic" in a way that "justifies dissent by positing the possibility of divergence between the Church’s magisterium and a “legitimate” theological intuition of some of the faithful."]

4). "We missed out": probably the most interesting theme is what I will call the We Missed Out theme. This theme arises in several discussions of the scientific and technological revolutions of the 20th century. Apparently, this theme is meant to demonstrate the superiority of a modernist worldview over and against a wholly Christian worldview. But what arises is a kind of lament that these women have somehow missed out on the revolutions and long to stir one of their own so as to feel somehow prophetic. I've found a similar theme in recent court opinions allowing same-sex "marriage"--judges too young to have participated in the heady days of near absolute judicial power during the civil rights era of the 60's invent a place for themselves in legal history by making what laws they can from the bench. We want to shine. . .but a light we ourselves generate.

5). Futility: without exception the addresses I read painted depressing portraits of women religious as a tiny rebel band fighting the Sheriff of Rome. As part of the insularity painted by these addresses is a tragic sense of loss and the futility of their "mission" in the face of overwhelming authoritarian oppression by men. Apparently, we are to believe that women religious in the U.S. are guerrilla-fighters engaged in a war of attrition against the Church. Unfortunately for them, the attrition is all on their side. Rhetorically, these portraits serve an important purpose: by painting themselves as righteous rebels fighting a losing battle against the Man, the sisters are able to both continue their rebellion and justify their material failures all the while claiming moral victory. Neat, uh?

6). Jesus ain't the Way: also without exception the addresses forthrightly deny Jesus' own claim that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. As a way of undermining the Church's legitimate mission of evangelization, Jesus becomes just another good guy with a really cool message of pacificism, egalitarian communal life, and a feminist concern for eco-politics. In one address, delivered by Joan Chittister, the arrival of mosques in historically Christian lands is celebrated as a great advance for liberty and the pursuit of religious diversity. She argues that worrying about the decline in numbers of women religious is a "capitalist question" and holds that the the decimation of covents and monasteries after VC2 is a good sign for the Church! Apparently, the complete loss of a discernible Christian identity among some women religious is to be celebrated as a movement of the Holy Spirit and a great advance in human-spiritual evolution.  [From the 2012 CDF document:  ". . .a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR, including theological interpretations that risk distorting faith in Jesus and his loving Father who sent his Son for the salvation of the world. Moreover, some commentaries on “patriarchy” distort the way in which Jesus has structured sacramental life in the Church; others even undermine the revealed doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture."]

7). Monotonality: the addresses are uniformly written and delivered by women religious who tell the gathered sisters only what they wanted to hear. There were no addresses that seriously challenged any of the preconceived notions held dear by these women. Without exception. the meme's of "We Are the Future and Our Agenda is of God" is heard in terms of ecclesial revolution and theological dissent. Not one address challenged the sisters to rethink their assumptions along orthodox lines. Not one address asserted a theme, idea, theology, or political notion that would upset or stir the secular feminist pot these women are stewing in. Despite the constant harping on the need for a variety of voices to be heard in the Church and the desperate need for new ideas among God's people, these addresses repeated in predictable loops one stale feminist cliche after another. Ironically, the obstinate refusal to listen to different voices is routinely described as a failing characteristic of the male-dominated Church hierarchy! [Though I hope and pray the bishops appointed to help the LCWR meet with cooperation, I suspect that the lack of intellectual diversity among the sisters running the show will produce a lot of obstruction.]

8). New Stories: as a result of the We Missed Out theme, the addresses pull on recent developments in cosmology to construct "new stories" about creation, space-time, human evolution, and the role of consciousness in our pursuit of holiness. Of course, none of these new stories read like anything found in scripture, tradition, science, or Church teaching. In fact, the purpose of the new stories is to lay a narrative foundation for a particularly gnostic-feminist view of the human person that "frees" us from the confines of patriarchal thinking by re-situating the human race as just another evolved species living and dying in a vast cosmos. Routinely, the addresses privilege "new cosmologies" over and against our biblical narratives of creation and the end of space-time, and undermine God's Self-revelation in scripture. Rhetorically, the new cosmologies give the sisters a means of defying our Judeo-Christian tradition with the authority of modernist science. Unfortunately, their grasp of the scientific details of cosmology is woefully inadequate, leaving them to play with a pathetic parody of actual cosmological theories. [Thus, the invitation made to New Age guru and junk theologians like Barbara Marx Hubbard and her "conscious evolution."]

Let me point out here that the LCWR is a leadership conference. By no means am I attributing these themes or attitudes to all women religious in the congregations that participate in the LCWR. [From the 2012 CDF document:  "The Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contribution of women Religious to the Church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years. . .While recognizing that this doctrinal Assessment concerns a particular conference of major superiors and therefore does not intend to offer judgment on the faith and life of Women Religious in the member Congregations which belong to that conference, nevertheless the Assessment reveals serious doctrinal problems which affect many in Consecrated Life."  So, the Evil Vatican Stomps on Poor Nuns meme and the All U.S. Sisters are Whack Jobs meme are both wrong.] I know sisters in LCWR congregations who fret about the feminist turn of their communities and lament the loss of their Christian identity to trendy New Age gnosticism. Younger women religious aren't buy this anti-Church junk food, choosing instead to nourish themselves on the vast variety of legit Catholic traditions well within the generous range of orthodoxy. My fisking here is directed at the addresses themselves and what they tell us about what the LCWR is hearing and/or wants to hear. As anyone who's a member of a large organization knows: leadership is often way, way out in front of those they lead. . .sometimes too far out. I think this is certainly the case with the LCWR.

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  1. Anonymous4:59 PM

    Good work, Friar.

  2. Anonymous5:44 PM

    You bring to mind one of the many stomach-churning happenings at the Catholic girls high school where I teach and from which my daughters graduated. While discussing the ethics of new genetics technology, one of my science students asked my opinion. I told her I didn't know what to think, yet, as I still had to read what Fr. Pacholczyk(sp?)had to say on it from the Catholic Bioethics Center. The response was heart-breaking: "You're going to let someone else do your thinking for you?!?!" "They're just a bunch of old white men!" I did my best to enlighten them on the narrowness of their views, but, sadly, that is what the "sisters" at this school have passed on for the past 30 years. Two of my three daughters lost their Catholic faith because of the direction their theology classes sent them. Just today, one of my students expressed absolute shock that the Catechism of the Catholic CHurch even exists. She had never heard of it!
    I am so angry about the damage these "sisters" have done that I'm damaging my own soul!!!!!!!!!

    1. Righteous anger is legitimate. In fact, I believe Aquinas condemns the person who doesn't get angry at injustice and evil. And Fulton Sheen has a wonderful quote about how the problem with the modern world isn't that it's intolerant,but that it's too tolerant of sin. So keep fighting the good fight! You never know when some of these misguided souls will have a conversion like William Coulson who helped Carl Rogers destroy the IHM order. Keep fighting the good fight. I blogged on this at lesfemmes-thetruth.blogspot.com after watching Fr. James Martin's dishonest video thanking the nuns. God certainly won't thank somee of Fr. Martin's heroines for their destruction of the faith of those around them.

  3. Anonymous7:20 PM

    Another theme to observe is the influence of Wicca on do-it-yourself liturgies practiced among these post-Christian sisters. One such liturgy I observed during a Catholic teacher's retreat involved everyone "bowing to the Crone", the oldest sister. The concept and action were lifted directly from Wicca. The whole thing was so absurd that it was difficult not to giggle. Intellectual and spiritual mediocrity gives rise to this kind of tackiness, along with an underdeveloped sense of the ridiculous and an over-developed sense of self-importance. It's no surprise that these congregations are aging rapidly, since they're totally stuck in the 1970s.

  4. Anon., if I had a dime for every Catholic who's told me about a family member or friend who's left the Church b/c of some goofy sister-nonsense, I'd never have to beg for books again!

    The Wiccan influence comes from an obsession with Native American spiritualities, or rather, what I call "Epcot Center Native American Spirituality." No substance, all decoration. Bunch of white women throw up a dream catcher and put a big rock near a bowl of water and pretend they're being all tolerant and diverse. It's embarrassing and insulting.

  5. Anonymous9:19 AM

    I thought this would be something that would happen now. What is being reported, not so, or at least they are going on with the show in Aug.
    "When the Vatican put the largest organization representing U.S. women religious into church receivership, saying it needed to submit to the control of an archbishop and reform its statutes, a major criticism cited was the group’s annual assemblies, which were said to have presented viewpoints that were “a serious source of scandal.”

    Despite that concern, this year’s assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, planned for August, is to go forward with Vatican acknowledgement, NCR has learned."

  6. Jesus' so often said to his disciples: "Peace be with you". So why are we brothers and sisters in Christ fighting, some with statements that are quite cruel, and sometimes ignorant of facts. If Christ is among us, can we let go of our condemnations of others as Jesus taught? Can we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit and consider that the "other" person might just have some insight too? This situation breaks my heart. Let us return to the Gospel and look to Jesus.

    I promise to do this right now and from now on.

  7. Daisy, you're assuming that the women of the LCWR are our sisters in Christ. I'm not saying that they aren't, but that's the question in dispute. Are the women who run the LCWR actually followers of Christ in the Catholic tradition? Do they claim to be followers of Christ?

    The evidence suggests that they follow trendy New Age gurus, eco-feminism, leftist political ideology, and various warmed-over heresies from the first few centuries of the Church.

    The whole of the CDF investigation is to answer the question at hand. They found that the LCWR tends to follow any and every goofy idea that comes along. . .instead of following Christ and his Church. This is a significant problem given that these women have taken vows and run a Church-approved institution. The Church has a right and a duty to ensure that those who represent her publicly do so in way that reflects her identity.

  8. Anonymous10:04 PM

    I'm wondering how you can call your blogspot "Te Deum Laudamus"? There is not one paragraph in your article or in the comments that follow that is not sarcastic, insulting, mean-spirited, judgmental, and at times outright vicious and vitriolic. Why would you, Fr. Powell, write an article that would encourage such scandalous rhetoric? "Te Deum Laudamus?" I don't think so. God is not praised in this.

  9. Anon @ 10.04pm,

    Thanks for the comment. . .I really mean that, btw. It's not pleasant getting scolded, but it rarely kills.

    Two requests: 1). Can you give me specific examples of scandal, keeping in mind that "giving scandal" doesn't mean "you hurt my feelings"?; 2). Could you sign your comment? Anonymous criticism is largely pointless b/c it often means that the critic has an agenda other than the truth. I sign all my posts. If you prefer, I will not publish your comment.

    God bless, Fr Philip Neri, OP

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