Experts Say Vatican Investigation of Dissident U.S. Nuns Long Overdue

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

Experts say the Vatican’s “doctrinal assessment” of dissident U.S. nuns involved in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is long overdue.

Donna Steichen, author of the landmark study of dissident US women’s religious orders, “Ungodly Rage: the Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism,” told LifeSiteNews that she welcomes the Vatican intervention but says it is “at least 30 years behind the need.”

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) announced in February that it was launching a “doctrinal assessment” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the largest umbrella organization for sisters in the US, after “concerns” were raised about the “tenor and doctrinal content” of some addresses at the group’s annual meetings since 2001.

Some of this troublesome doctrinal content includes dissident stances on subjects such as homosexuality, women’s ordination and the role of Jesus Christ in salvation.

For instance, in one keynote address delivered at an LCWR meeting in 2007, Dominican Sister Laurie Brink confirmed that the more liberal or “sojourning” congregations were leaving behind “institutional religion” and “moving beyond the Church, even beyond Jesus.”

“A sojourning congregation is no longer ecclesiastical,” she said. “Religious titles, institutional limitations, ecclesiastical authorities no longer fit this congregation, which in most respects is Post-Christian.”

She added, “Jesus is not the only son of God. Salvation is not limited to Christians.”

The LCWR was founded in 1956 and has more than 1,500 members representing about 95 per cent of the 59,000 women religious in the U.S. However, its member communities are uniformly aging with few new recruits and an increasing amount of their resources devoted to caring for elderly sisters.

Steichen said that in the last several decades, “The communities involved [in the LCWR] have almost completed their suicides, and they know it, and it gives them pause.”

She pointed out that, in her opinion, “The future clearly lies with the new and reformed young orders of, one might say, ‘primitive’ [traditional Catholic] observance.”

Many of these “new and reformed” orders belong to a smaller, counter-organization to LCWR that was set up in the United States in 1992 for those religious orders who had rejected the revolt of the LCWR communities against the teachings of the Church. Its growing list of communities is characterized by the sisters’ youth, adherence to Catholic teaching and their retention of the traditional observances of the religious life such as the wearing of a habit.

Fr. Philip Powell, a priest of the Dominican order and an author and popular Catholic blogger, agrees with Steichen but says the investigation may not yield much because the LCWR “culture of opposition” is so entrenched. To get experienced private investigation click on Investigation Hotline website.

“From some of the things I’ve read about LCWR and from my own personal experiences as a seminarian and in religious life, there’s a real tendency of these women to form their identity around their opposition.”

“The LCWR has worked to undermine the Church’s ancient teachings,” he said, “particularly those about nature of Christ and the Church and sexuality.” Fr. Powell said that the group’s keynote addresses and speeches “have been uniformly anti-hierarchy, anti-clerical, anti-magisterium. They tend to push an eco-feminist ‘new cosmology’ ideology over and against basic Christian beliefs.

“They aren’t simply tinkering with the packaging here. They are gutting the gift.”

Fr. Powell believes the LCWR’s future looks dim. “Any kind of positive sense they [LCWR communities] have of themselves is a result of their opposition to the Church,” he said.

“In LCWR keynote speeches you’ll see they see themselves as persecuted, misunderstood and ignored prophets. It seems important to them to continue playing this role.”

The future, he said, is not bright for these communities, given the rising median ages of the sisters and the very few applicants. Fr. Powell said it is amazing that they continue so doggedly on the path of “dissent.”

“The prescriptions being offered in their addresses are only going to guarantee their continued decline,” he said. “It seems extraordinarily odd that they can’t see that no one wants to buy what they’re offering.”

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