American Nuns Take a Stand


Crisis proceeds transformation. This is an idea that perhaps some of us can relate to, seeing how in our own lives we have experienced a personal crisis before a having a breakthrough and transformation. This is an idea that also speaks to a crisis and transformation that is currently happening within the Catholic Church between Vatican officials and American Nuns. By looking at this current conflict within the Catholic Church, how it began, how both sides are responding, we can more clearly see the blessing within the crisis, and that it is possible for this to lead to a transformation for the better within the Catholic Church.

Let’s begin by looking at the facts that pertain to this current conflict between the Vatican, which is the religious and administrative center of the Roman Catholic Church, and American Nuns. About 3 ½ years ago, Vatican officials began an investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which is a group that represents 80% of American nuns. As a result of the investigation, the Vatican issued an assessment of the LCWR, which stated that this group did not adequately support or represent the views of the Catholic Church, specifically around the issues of ordination of women, homosexuality, euthanasia, contraception, and abortion. The assessment also spoke against some radical feminist themes within the LCWR. To correct these problems that were found from the investigation, the Vatican assigned one Archbishop, and two Bishops to lead an overhaul of the LCWR, within the next five years, to get the sisters back on track.

In response to the Vatican’s mandate, the LCRW powerfully declared that they would not comply, but instead asked the Vatican to engage in “open and honest” dialogue about the issues in question. In addition, the LCRW expressed that the all-male leadership within the Church has serious disadvantages, as it leaves the voice of women out completely, and has little mechanism for accountability. The nuns also voiced that since they are the ones who, day in and day out, are out there serving people who are most in need, the sickest and poorest among us, they feel they have a better sense about how to best support people. They argued that preaching about the sins of homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion, etc. is not the best way to serve these individuals. Instead, as the nuns have been doing all along, they feel it is more important to embrace these individuals with love, compassion, and acceptance.

In response to the nun’s request for open discussion, Cardinal Levada, the person who led the investigation against the LCRW, said that the nuns should consider the mandate “an invitation to obedience” and warned of a possible “dialogue of the deaf”, insinuating that the nuns who were asking for a voice in the Church, were similar to people who were deaf.

The sisters are now left with some important decisions about how to proceed through this crisis. Some feel the nuns should comply with the Vatican’s mandate, while others feel the nuns should disband, leave the church, and form their own group. Currently, the nuns and Vatican are in dialogue about the issues raised in the mandate but the outcome is uncertain.

The current president of the LCRW, Sister Florence Deacon, recently spoke to the issue at hand by saying: “We are women of the church called on to expand perspectives to create a new reality which recognizes women’s identity, ability, mission and responsibility, both in the church and beyond.” Creating a new reality? Expanding perspectives? Recognizing women’s ability? Yes, yes, and yes!

Although it is uncertain how this conflict will be resolved, within the crisis we can see the beginning of a transformation for the better. The Vatican’s mandate that the nuns speak out more about what they consider to be “sins” is rooted in fear and separation. Conversely, the nuns, who have devoted their lives to serving those who are most in need, seek to spread a message of faith that is grounded in unconditional love and compassion. There is a blessing within this conflict, because crisis proceeds transformation. A system that is operating optimally must break apart before it can heal. And although the shift may at times be painful, it holds the potential to create a positive and powerful transformation within the Catholic Church and the world.

With love & gratitude ~ Erin Stohl


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