Outgoing LCWR president urges sisters to move forward with prayer, hope
By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service
ST. LOUIS - Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell said her final address as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was a much different speech than she initially imagined she would deliver.
The 900 women religious she was addressing Aug. 10 - participants at the annual LCWR assembly in St. Louis - nodded and laughed in agreement to the obvious reference to the Vatican doctrinal assessment of LCWR released four months ago.
The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the assessment April 18 calling for a reform of the organization, an umbrella group of 1,500 leaders of U.S. women’s religious communities representing about 80 percent of the country’s 57,000 women religious.
Sister Farrell, who told the group they were in the “eye of an ecclesial storm with a spotlight shining on us and a microphone placed at our mouths,” said it would be a “mistake to make too much” or too little of the doctrinal assessment.
In this middle ground, she urged the sisters not to allow the Vatican document to “consume an inordinate amount of our time and energy or to distract us from our mission.”
The Vatican assessment said reform was needed to ensure LCWR’s fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas that include abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality. The organization’s canonical status is granted by the Vatican.
In April the Vatican also named Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to provide “review, guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work” of the organization, with the assistance of Bishop Leonard P. Blair of Toledo, Ohio, and Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill.
Archbishop Sartain was expected to meet with LCWR officials Aug. 11 in St. Louis, after the close of the assembly.
In her remarks to the assembly, Sister Farrell said it is not “the first time that a form of religious life has collided with the institutional church nor will it be the last,” noting that some religious women who had been excommunicated by the church were later canonized.
Conversely, she noted that the doctrinal assessment’s “historical impact” could not be ignored.
“Yes, much is at stake,” she said, pointing out that LCWR can only go forward with “truthfulness and integrity,” which she said she hoped would both contribute to the “good of religious life everywhere and to the healing of the fractured church we so love.”
“It is no simple thing,” she added, saying the leaders of women’s religious congregations “walk a fine line. Gratefully, we do it together.”
Sister Farrell urged the sisters to move forward by making use of their “spiritual DNA - tools that have served us through centuries of religious life.”
She said the way to “navigate the large and small changes” they were experiencing was through prayer as well as continuing to be a prophetic voice and being in solidarity with the marginalized. She also advised the sisters to rely on their communities and on the collaborative models they have developed and to remain hopeful.
“We look forward to a future full of hope in the face of all evidence to the contrary,” she said, noting that this hope is in the “uncontainable power of God.”
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops