Since the Vatican attempted a takeover of nuns in the U. S. and accusing them of “radical feminism”, the sisters received a vast amount of support from the laity. This gave them courage to reject the Vatican takeover, with its conservative views on women.
The LCRW, which represents 56,000 nuns, started as a group of nuns assigned to help the poor and now the Vatican wants to force them to reform and start focusing on sexuality and theology. In the Vatican’s effort to do this, a takeover of the LCWR was ordered and four male clergy, which included Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.
Sister Donna Markham, a Dominican nun and health care executive, said that after the Vatican takeover was announced in April she felt “extremely, extremely hurt. I felt betrayed by my own church. It took everything in me to go to Mass.”
But she said the priest’s words of encouragement to the nuns in his homily that day prompted a standing ovation from the congregation.
“We were in tears. It was the strength of the laity at that moment that made it possible for us to walk through this time,” said Markham. “It’s been one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had in my entire religious life, and that’s 40 years.”
However, the nuns refuse to give up trying to make life better for the poor, thus rejecting the Vatican’s efforts to reform them, but agree to dialogue in an effort to compromise.
Over 900 nuns gathered in St. Louis, Missouri, during the weekend of August 10 to discuss how they would react to the pope’s demands and the assignment of Sartain and three other clergymen to reform them. The sisters’ decision was not an easy one, but they decided, if they need to do so, they could disband and regroup into another organization, which the Vatican cannot touch, in order to continue their mission with the poor.
Sister Pat Farrell, the "outgoing" president of the LCWR, addressed the group of 900 sisters, expressing “deep disappointment” with Rome’s verdict on the LCRW back in April.
They hope to keep dialogue open with the Vatican, in the hope of “creating more possibilities for the laity and, particularly for women, to have a voice in the church.”
“Dialogue on doctrine is not going to be our starting point,” Farrell told reporters.
Farrell added, however, that the sisters will reconsider their options if the LCWR “is forced to compromise the integrity of its mission.”
Farrell spoke on the group’s deep commitment to serving the poor, which sometimes pushes boundaries within the Church and mentioned that sometimes pushing boundaries leads to “suppression by the hierarchy”, but sometimes it leads to sainthood too, with changes that benefit all Catholics.
Farrell’s point, and one that seemed to emerge with growing force over several days of contemplation and deliberation, was that the sisters could not continue to expand the church’s frontiers on behalf of lay people and others if they placed themselves beyond the institutional church.
“There is an inherent existential tension between the complementary roles of hierarchy and religious (the nuns) which is not likely to change,” Farrell told the sisters. “In an ideal ecclesial world, the different roles are held in creative tension, with mutual respect and appreciation, in an environment of open dialogue, for the building up of the whole church.”
Stating the obvious, she said the Vatican’s mandate over the LCWR “suggests that we are not currently living in an ideal ecclesial world.”
The next step is a two-hour meeting with Archbishop Sartain, who, along with three others, is assigned to “overhaul” the LCWR over the next five years, but the sisters believe he can help them reach a compromise and reach a reasonable resolution with the Vatican.
However, some call the path that the LCWR has gone down is perilous and they need to save themselves and repair the way they are going. The LCWR rarely talk about Christ, Cardinal Raymond Burke stated, and believe that if the order cannot perform their mission, then the Vatican needs to shut them down. Cardinal Burke feels that the organization is no longer fulfilling the mission for which the Church founded and needs shutting down, if reform is not possible.
“If it can’t be reformed, then it doesn’t have the right to continue,” Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (Vatican Supreme Court) stated below in the video.
He believes the nuns are bound by the hierarchy and need to follow its mandates, "remaining faithful to their vows".
“Consecrated religious … are bound to the Vicar of Christ by a very significant bond because they have professed … to follow Christ in an exemplary way and so to be a source of strength and inspiration for the whole People of God,” he explained.
“The question now is for conversion to the true nature of religious life and to accept gratefully and humbly what the Holy Father is asking through his representatives and to reform the organization,” he added.
“The question is, ‘Can you be Catholic and have a questioning mind?’ That’s what we’re asking,” Sister Pat Farrell, LCWR’s president, told National Public Radio in July. “This mandate … puts us in a position of being under the control of certain bishops, that is not a dialogue. If anything, it appears to be shutting down dialogue.”
“The teaching and interpretation of the faith can’t remain static and really needs to be reformulated, rethought in light of the world we live in,” she added.