Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

Radical feminist nuns’ group ‘stunned’ by Vatican criticisms, reform plan

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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VATICAN CITY, April 19, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The announcement yesterday by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that one of the most notoriously liberal radical feminist organizations in the American Catholic Church is to be the subject of a major reform effort has been met with surprise from the group and condemnation from some of its members. 

An initial statement from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) leadership says they are “stunned” by the critical comments made by the CDF in their doctrinal assessment. The CDF had specifically criticized the organization for its refusal to accept Catholic teaching on abortion, human sexuality and women’s ordination.

“Because the leadership of LCWR has the custom of meeting annually with the staff of CDF in Rome and because the conference follows canonically-approved statutes, we were taken by surprise,” the LCWR said in a statement. The leadership will meet in the next month to consider a comprehensive response.

Individual members, however, have been prompt in condemning the Vatican’s interest. Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a lobbying group of U.S. Catholic nuns cited as problematic in the CDF’s report, told the Washington Post, “It’s painfully obvious that the leadership of the church is not used to having educated women form thoughtful opinions and engage in dialogue.”

Benedictine sister Joan Chittister, a prolific author and the unofficial spokesman of the extreme feminist left among Catholic women religious, told the National Catholic Reporter, “When you set out to reform a people, a group, who have done nothing wrong, you have to have an intention, a motivation that is not only not morally based, but actually immoral.”

Chittister called the CDF’s proposals an attempt “to control people for one thing and one thing only – and that is for thinking, for being willing to discuss the issues of the age.”

“If we stop thinking, if we stop demanding the divine right to think, and to see that as a Catholic gift, then we are betraying the church no matter what the powers of the church see as an inconvenient truth in their own times.”

In an interview with LifeSiteNews.com in 2010, Chittister had said that while she is personally “against” abortion, “I would never condemn a woman who finds herself in the position where she believes that, or her doctor believes that, abortion is the only answer for her at that moment.”  She also criticized the Catholic Church as being based “on a patriarchal system” and described her admitted divergence from Catholic teaching as a “position of query, of theological and scriptural commitment and search.”

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While the LCWR leadership and supporters say they are surprised, others have noted that reform of the religious life has been a prominent feature of Pope Benedict’s papacy. Among his earliest acts as pope was the launching of a reforming investigation into the wealthy and influential Legion of Christ, founded by the now-disgraced, late Marcial Maciel, after years of accusations of misconduct.

One Vatican source told LifeSiteNews.com that while some may consider this action against LCWR typical of an “ultra-conservative” pope acting to suppress the liberal factions, “It should be remembered that Benedict’s first target was the Legionaries and Maciel, then the darlings of the conservative end of the Church.”

LCWR was founded in 1956 and approved by the Vatican as an umbrella organization representing sisters and nuns in the U.S. Its 1500 members are members of congregations representing over 80 percent of the 59,000 Catholic women religious in the United States. Since the 1960s, however, the LCWR has become the de facto representative of the far left in the U.S. Catholic Church, with its membership dedicated to, in the words of the CDF, “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith,” and “policies of corporate dissent,” from Catholic teaching.

CDF prefect Cardinal Levada said he had received many letters from women religious in the U.S. complaining about Catholic teaching. “The terms of the letters,” he wrote, “suggest that these sisters collectively take a position not in agreement with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality.

“It is a serious matter when these Leadership Teams are not providing effective leadership and example to their communities, but place themselves outside the Church’s teaching.”

The document from the CDF outlines the Vatican’s plan to spend the next five years reforming the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain has been appointed to oversee the reform of the organization, which will involve revising its statutes, creating new programs, reviewing and offering guidance on liturgy and reviewing LCWR’s affiliations with other organizations, citing specifically NETWORK and the Resource Center for Religious Institutes.

The announcement comes at a delicate time in the relations between the US Catholic Church and LCWR, with the latter endorsing the Obama administration’s health care plans and former leading a fight against the administration’s plans to impose birth control coverage on Catholic institutions and fund abortion in the health reform law. This conflict of interest seems to be in the mind of the CDF, which has an American, William Levada, as cardinal prefect. The document noted, “occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.”

The CDF said that the sisters represented by the LCWR, 80 percent of the remaining female Catholic religious in the US, are “in crisis.” They have moved away from the fundamental purpose of their existence as Catholic religious and are suffering from “a diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration,” it said.

“While there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States,” the document said.

If the LCWR leadership says it is “stunned” by the outcome of the CDF’s investigation, the reaction is possibly the result of statements previously coming from the Vatican itself. Following several negative reactions from LCWR sisters after the investigation was announced, the recently appointed Secretary of the Congregation for Religious, Archbishop Joseph Tobin, said that he anticipated no censure from Rome as a result.

“I can say that I would be very surprised if anybody would purport to give any punitive or overly prescriptive norms as a result of this visitation,” he said. “If the visitors, in dialogue with the sisters, have identified some specific issues that need to be dealt with, okay. But forcing people into habits or something like that? That’s not what this is about.”

Tobin also said that strong actions against American women’s religious orders “would be really disrespectful of what women religious in America have accomplished,” and that the “depth of anger and hurt that exists among the sisters ... can’t be ignored.”

Archbishop Tobin had previously told journalists that the animosity between the US religious orders and the Vatican is the Vatican’s fault. The real problem, he said, was the presence of “unscrupulous canonical advisers” in the Vatican.

Two years after Archbishop Tobin reassured LCWR, Mother Clare Millea, the sister appointed in 2008 by the Vatican to coordinate the Apostolic Visitation of all the U.S. active religious orders, issued a statement saying, “Although there are concerns in religious life that warrant support and attention, the enduring reality is one of fidelity, joy, and hope.”

She told Catholic journalist Ann Carey in January this year, “The dialogue promoted by the apostolic visitation is just a beginning of new vitality in religious life. I am confident that much more will unfold with the passing of time and that the Holy Spirit will continue to work in and through women religious to strengthen unity within the Church and further the saving mission of Christ.”

“As I learned of and observed firsthand the perseverance of the religious in the United States in their vocations, in their ministries and in their faith … I have been both inspired and humbled,” she added.

The situation of the Catholic sisterhoods in the U.S. has been in flux since the closing of the Second Vatican Council in 1965 ushered in a maelstrom of change. This change, while frequently lauded as “prophetic” by the LCWR sisters themselves, has seen the near-total collapse of the Catholic religious life, and after 40 years, the closure or effective secularization of hundreds, if not thousands, of schools, nursing homes, hospitals, colleges and other Catholic charitable institutions, including convents.

In the intervening decades, while new vocations became more rare, the religious orders turned their attention largely to political interests, with the sisters themselves focusing on an array of left-liberal and secular causes. Meanwhile, the average median age of women in LCWR institutes is now 74, and many of the LCWR-represented congregations are no longer accepting applicants, choosing instead to merge with other orders or shut down their operations entirely.


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Quebec groups launch court challenge to euthanasia bill

LifeSiteNews staff
By LifeSiteNews staff

As announced when the Quebec legislature adopted Bill 52, An Act respecting end-of-life care, the citizen movement Living with Dignity and the Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia, representing together over 650 physicians and 17,000 citizens, filed a lawsuit before the Superior Court of Quebec in the District of Montreal on Thursday.

The lawsuit requests that the Court declare invalid all the provisions of the Act that deal with “medical aid in dying”, a term the groups say is a euphemism for euthanasia. This Act not only allows certain patients to demand that a physician provoke their death, but also grants physicians the right to cause the death of these patients by the administration of a lethal substance.

The two organizations are challenging the constitutionality of those provisions in the Act which are aimed at decriminalizing euthanasia under the euphemism “medical aid in dying”. Euthanasia constitutes a culpable homicide under Canada’s Criminal Code, and the organizations maintain that it is at the core of the exclusive federal legislative power in relation to criminal law and Quebec therefore does not have the power to adopt these provisions.

The organizations also say the impugned provisions unjustifiably infringe the rights to life and to security of patients guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. They further infringe the right to the safeguard of the dignity of the person, which is also protected by the Quebec Charter.

In view of the gravity of the situation and the urgent need to protect all vulnerable persons in Quebec, they are requesting an accelerated management of the case in order to obtain a judgment before the Act is expected to come into force on December 10, 2015.


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Colorado baker appeals gvmt ‘re-education’ order

LifeSiteNews staff
By LifeSiteNews staff

A Colorado cake artist who declined to use his creative talents to promote and endorse a same-sex ceremony appealed a May 30 order from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to the Colorado Court of Appeals Wednesday.

The commission’s order requires cake artist Jack Phillips and his staff at Masterpiece Cakeshop to create cakes for same-sex celebrations, forces him to re-educate his staff that Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act means that artists must endorse all views, compels him to implement new policies to comply with the commission’s order, and requires him to file quarterly “compliance” reports for two years. The reports must include the number of patrons declined a wedding cake or any other product and state the reason for doing so to ensure he has fully eliminated his religious beliefs from his business.

“Americans should not be forced by the government – or by another citizen – to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree,” said the cake artist’s lead counsel Nicolle Martin, an attorney allied with Alliance Defending Freedom. “This is not about the people who asked for a cake; it’s about the message the cake communicates. Just as Jack doesn’t create baked works of art for other events with which he disagrees, he doesn’t create cake art for same-sex ceremonies regardless of who walks in the door to place the order.”

“In America, we don’t force artists to create expression that is contrary to their convictions,” added Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “A paint artist who identifies as homosexual shouldn’t be intimidated into creating a painting that celebrates one-man, one-woman marriage. A pro-life photographer shouldn’t be forced to work a pro-abortion rally. And Christian cake artists shouldn’t be punished for declining to participate in a same-sex ceremony or promote its message.”

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In July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, to make a wedding cake to celebrate their same-sex ceremony. In an exchange lasting about 30 seconds, Phillips politely declined, explaining that he would gladly make them any other type of baked item they wanted but that he could not make a cake promoting a same-sex ceremony because of his faith. Craig and Mullins, now represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, immediately left the shop and later filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The case now goes to the Colorado Court of Appeals as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Craig.

“Jack, and other cake artists like him – such as those seen on TV shows like ‘Ace of Cakes’ and ‘Cake Boss’ – prepare unique creations that are inherently expressive,” Tedesco explained. “Jack invests many hours in the wedding cake creative process, which includes meeting the clients, designing and sketching the cake, and then baking, sculpting, and decorating it. The ACLU calls Jack a mere ‘retail service provider,’ but, in fact, he is an artist who uses his talents and abilities to create expression that the First Amendment fully protects."

Celebrity cake artists have written publicly about their art and the significant expressive work that goes into the artistic design process for wedding cakes.


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Prisoner of conscience Mary Wagner appeals her conviction

Tony Gosgnach
By Tony Gosgnach

TORONTO -- As promised, Mary Wagner has, through her counsel Dr. Charles Lugosi, filed a formal notice of appeal on numerous points regarding her recent, almost two-year-long court case that ended on June 12.

Justice Fergus O’Donnell of the Ontario Court of Justice rejected every application made by the defence – including for access to abortion center records, public funding, standing for a constitutional challenge and for expert witnesses to be heard – before he found Wagner guilty and sentenced her to five months in jail on a charge of mischief and four months on four counts of failing to comply with probation orders.

He further levied two years of probation, with terms that she stay at least 100 metres away from any abortion site. However, because Wagner had spent a greater time in jail than the sentence, she was freed immediately. She had been arrested at the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site on Lawrence Avenue West in Toronto on August 15, 2012 after attempting to speak to abortion-bound women there. She then spent the duration of the trial in prison for refusing to sign bail conditions requiring her to stay away from abortion sites.

Wagner is using the matter as a test case to challenge the current definition of a human being in Canadian law – that is, that a human being is legally recognized as such only after he or she has fully emerged from the birth canal in a breathing state.

Wagner’s notice states the appeal is regarding:

  • Her conviction and sentence on a single count of mischief (interference with property),
  • Her conviction and sentence on four counts of breach of probation,
  • The order denying public funding,
  • The order denying the disclosure of third-party records,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts on the applicant’s constitutional challenge concerning the constitutional validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts concerning the construction of Section 37 of the Criminal Code,
  • The probation order denying Wagner her constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion on all public sidewalks and public areas within 100 metres of places where abortions are committed,
  • And each conviction and sentence and all orders and rulings made by O’Donnell.

In the notice of appeal, Lugosi cites numerous points on which O’Donnell erred:

  • He denied Wagner her constitutional right to make full answer and defence.
  • He denied Wagner her right to rely on Section 37 of the Criminal Code, which permits “everyone” to come to the third-party defence and rescue of any human being (in this case, the preborn) facing imminent assault.
  • He decided the factual basis of Wagner’s constitutional arguments was a waste of the court’s time and that no purpose would have been served by having an evidentiary hearing on her Charter application because, in the current state of Canadian law, it had no possibility of success.
  • He misapplied case law and prejudged the case, “giving rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias and impeding the legal evolution of the law to adapt to new circumstances, knowledge and changed societal values and morals.”
  • He accepted the Crown’s submission that it is beyond the jurisdiction of the courts to question the jurisdiction of Parliament legally to define “human being” in any manner Parliament sees fit.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code is not beyond the powers of Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code does not violate the Preamble to, as well as Sections 7, 11(d), 15 and 26, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • He denied Wagner standing to raise a constitutional challenge to the validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code.
  • He ruled that Section 223 of the Criminal Code applied generally throughout the entire Criminal Code and used it to deny unborn human beings the benefit of equal protection as born human beings under Section 37 of the Criminal Code.
  • He denied the production and disclosure of third-party records in the possession of the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site, although the records were required to prove Wagner was justified in using reasonable force in the form of oral and written words to try to persuade pregnant mothers from killing their unborn children by abortion.
  • He denied Wagner the defence of Section 37 of the Criminal Code by ruling unborn children did not come within the scope of human beings eligible to be protected by a third party.
  • He ruled Wagner did not come within the scope of Section 37 because she was found to be non-violent (in that she did not use physical force).
  • He ruled the unborn children Wagner was trying to rescue were not under her protection.
  • He denied Wagner the common-law defences of necessity and the rescue of third parties in need of protection.
  • He denied Wagner public funding to make full answer and defence for a constitutional test case of great public importance and national significance.
  • He imposed an unconstitutional sentence upon Wagner by, in effect, imposing an injunction as a condition of probation, contrary to her constitutional rights of free speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

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Among the orders Lugosi is seeking are:

  • That an appeal be allowed against conviction on all counts and that a verdict of acquittal be entered on all counts,
  • That Section 223 of the Criminal Code be found unconstitutional  and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, as well as the unwritten constitution of Canada,
  • That the sentence be declared unconstitutional and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the unwritten constitution of Canada or that a new trial be conducted, with Wagner permitted to make full answer and defence, be given standing to make a constitutional attack on Section 223 of the Criminal Code, with the admission of expert witnesses,
  • That the Women’s Care Clinic abortion site be made to produce third-party records pertaining to patients seen on August 15, 2012 (when Wagner entered the site),
  • And that there be public funding for two defence counsels at any retrial and for any appeal related to the case.

No date has yet been established for a decision on the appeal or hearings.

A defence fund for Wagner’s case is still raising money. Details on how to contribute to it can be found here.


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