When the dissenting sisters who comprise the Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR) recently honored a nun whose books were sanctioned by the U.S. Bishops, the Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) appears to have run out of patience.
Catholic World Report's Carl E. Olson is reporting that a recent decision by the LCWR to honor dissenting theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson, whose 2011 book, Quest for the Living God, was found to contain language that "does not adequately express the faith of the Church" appears to have finally pushed Church officials too far.
In an April 30 address to the LCWR presidency, the prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, said the decision to honor Johnson was seen as a "rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment. Not only that, but it further alienates the LCWR from the Bishops as well."
And this was just the beginning. In his address, Müller addressed two main points of contention from LCWR leadership - their insistence that the CDF's April 2012 Doctrinal Assessment against them was too harsh and that it's findings were "unsubstantiated"
"Let me begin with the notion of 'disproportionate sanctions,'" Müller said.
"One of the more contentious aspects of the Mandate—though one that has not yet been put into force—is the provision that speakers and presenters at major programs will be subject to approval by the Delegate. This provision has been portrayed as heavy-handed interference in the day-to-day activities of the Conference."
The CDF doesn't see it the same way.
It's not a "sanction," Müller said, but a "point of dialogue and discernment."
"It allows the Holy See’s Delegate to be involved in the discussion first of all in order to avoid difficult and embarrassing situations wherein speakers use an LCWR forum to advance positions at odds with the teaching of the Church."
This makes perfect sense when considering that last year's keynote speaker at the annual LCWR convention was New Age "conscious evolution" guru Barbara Hubbard.
Even though the provision was not yet in full force, after the Johnson debacle, the CDF decided "this provision is to be considered fully in force."
He is allowing this year's conference to go forward only because arrangements are at a very advanced stage. "However, following the August Assembly, it will be the expectation of the Holy See that Archbishop Sartain [who has been appointed as the Holy See's Delegate] have an active role in the discussion about invited speakers and honorees."
In addressing the second objection, Cardinal Müller said: "The phrase in the Doctrinal Assessment most often cited as overreaching or unsubstantiated is when it talks about religious moving beyond the Church or even beyond Jesus. Yes, this is hard language and I can imagine it sounded harsh in the ears of thousands of faithful religious. I regret that, because the last thing in the world the Congregation would want to do is call into question the eloquent, even prophetic witness of so many faithful religious women. And yet, the issues raised in the Assessment are so central and so foundational, there is no other way of discussing them except as constituting a movement away from the ecclesial center of faith in Christ Jesus the Lord."
Using the topic of last year's speaker, Barbara Hubbard as an example, he went on to say: "The fundamental theses of Conscious Evolution are opposed to Christian Revelation and, when taken unreflectively, lead almost necessarily to fundamental errors regarding the omnipotence of God, the Incarnation of Christ, the reality of Original Sin, the necessity of salvation and the definitive nature of the salvific action of Christ in the Paschal Mystery."
He added: "I am worried that the uncritical acceptance of things such as Conscious Evolution seemingly without any awareness that it offers a vision of God, the cosmos, and the human person divergent from or opposed to Revelation evidences that a de facto movement beyond the Church and sound Christian faith has already occurred."
Müller then raised an alarming question, asking whether many of the religious who were listening to Hubbard's talk "even hear the divergences from the Christian faith present?"
As Olson writes, this observation is especially notable, because it shows that Müller is "openly and publicly asking, in all seriousness, if the LCWR leadership even has the capacity—spiritually, theologically—to recognize falsehood and dissent, and to step away from it."
Müller concluded by reminding the LCWR that they are a canonical entity dependent on the Holy See and, as such, "has a profound obligation to the promotion of that faith as the essential foundation of religious life. . . . (A)t this phase of the implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment, we are looking for a clearer expression of that ecclesial vision and more substantive signs of collaboration."
We can only pray that these sisters will repent of their disobedience and return to the loving arms of the Church.
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