Patrick Craine

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Pope Francis backs reform of dissident U.S. women religious

Patrick Craine

ROME, April 15, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Pope Francis has “reaffirmed” the reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) that was undertaken last year after a doctrinal assessment of the group found “serious doctrinal problems,” the Vatican announced in a communiqué on Monday.

On Monday LCWR’s leadership met with Archbishop Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, the Holy See’s Delegate for the Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR.

According to the Vatican’s statement, Archbishop Müller told the LCWR that he had “recently discussed the Doctrinal Assessment with Pope Francis, who reaffirmed the findings of the Assessment and the program of reform.”

“It is the sincere desire of the Holy See that this meeting may help to promote the integral witness of women Religious, based on a firm foundation of faith and Christian love, so as to preserve and strengthen it for the enrichment of the Church and society for generations to come,” the statement added.

The news that Pope Francis will continue the reform, launched under Pope Benedict, will likely upset many who had hoped for a more permissive approach under the new pontificate. Traditional-minded blogger Fr. John Zuhlsdorf described the Vatican communiqué as “big news.”

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The LCWR is an association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States and represents more than 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in the country. Female religious communities more characterized by growth and fidelity to the teachings of the Church are generally members of another association called the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious.

The doctrinal assessment was released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in April 2012 under then-prefect Cardinal William Levada after a four-year investigation. Monday’s meeting was Archbishop Muller’s first with the LCWR since taking over the CDF in July.

Though Cardinal Levada had said the Vatican “aimed at fostering a patient and collaborative renewal,” their effort has been met with severe hostility. Last June, the sisters responded to the assessment by charging that it was “based on unsubstantiated accusations.”

In today’s statement, the Vatican indicates that Muller “highlighted” the teaching of Vatican II on “the important mission of Religious to promote a vision of ecclesial communion founded on faith in Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Church as faithfully taught through the ages under the guidance of the Magisterium.”

He also “emphasized” the need for “cooperation with the local Conference of Bishops and with individual Bishops” and reminded them that they “are constituted by and remain under the direction of the Holy See.”

In its own statement on Monday, the LCWR confirmed the meeting and characterized it as “open and frank.”

The CDF assessment had highlighted the group’s opposition to Church teaching in areas such as homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and criticized its silence on pro-life issues, despite their commitment to public advocacy in other areas.

The CDF said that the documentation “reveals that, 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 LCWR also failed to promote Church teaching on other “issues of crucial importance,” the CDF wrote, “such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality.”

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