A subject much in the news lately and this article from the current issue of New Oxford Review is a good catch-up.
“Everyone is entitled to his opinion” — so goes the old adage. And there’s more than a germ of truth in that. What that adage is too pithy to include, however, is that before we form an opinion, we need to make an honest effort to understand the issue at hand. That means — ideally — that we seek out facts, analyze them with a critical eye, and evaluate and interpret them in light of some objective criteria. Failing this preliminary legwork, we’re prone to knee-jerk reactions, to forming opinions that are meaningless and misleading.
“The Vatican’s recent call for a deep reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has lit up opinion pages in major newspapers and magazines across the country. The mainstream media love a Vatican controversy. It’s an easy target, especially since most American newsmen, editorialists, and talking heads understand precious little about religion in general, and internal Church matters in particular. It comes as no surprise, then, that countless pundits have taken this as another opportunity to slam the Vatican, not with honest criticism of some wayward decision or action, but with knee-jerk reactions grounded in scant facts. One wonders: Does anyone read primary source material anymore? How many, for instance, actually read the text of the Vatican’s document on the LCWR before lighting the cannon or cocking the pistol?
“This April, after a three-year investigation into the state of non-cloistered women’s religious life in the U.S., the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) released an eight-page report on the doctrinal health of the LCWR and its affiliated congregations. [Also this one-page intro by Cardinal Levada] The LCWR represents about 55,000 sisters in eighty percent of the women’s religious congregations in the U.S. The CDF’s report, titled “Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious,” is based on the findings of apostolic visitator Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, and cites a number of egregious theological and doctrinal errors advanced by the LCWR, including dissenting positions on ministry to homosexual persons and the “prevalence of certain radical feminist themes” that are incompatible with Church teaching, including the ordination of women to the priesthood. The document announced the Vatican’s call for a significant overhaul and reform of the LCWR and named Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle as its archbishop delegate for the initiative.
“The outcome of the investigation has been welcomed — and was, in fact, anticipated — by orthodox Catholics, who have been sounding the alarm for decades now over the theological rubbish that has issued from the LCWR. “Better late than never,” has been the typical refrain.
“But what’s interesting in this case is the LCWR’s pre-emptive media strike: The LCWR, a kind of trade association that represents the majority of American orders of sisters, was quick to respond to the Vatican’s corrective. The organization’s response allowed it to cast reportage of the issue according to its own storyline: Remote male Vatican bureaucrats fault dedicated religious sisters for helping the poor and for working for peace and justice in the world. Consequently, news accounts of the story gave voice to the nun’s perspective, seemingly without any attempt to understand the Vatican’s stance in the matter. Newspapers reported on what the nuns say they see as the controversy, rather than the controversy itself. Why bother with the facts when they just get in the way?”