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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Lisa Bourne

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61% of Americans don’t want Supreme Court to force gay ‘marriage’ on the states: poll

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

February 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- A vast majority of Americans want the government to stay out of their personal affairs when it comes to defining marriage and how they conduct their work lives or businesses, a new survey says. And a great majority also oppose the idea of the Supreme Court forcing the entire country to accept marriage redefinition.

Eighty-one percent of Americans agree with the statement, “Government should leave people free to follow their beliefs about marriage as they live their daily lives at work and in the way they run their businesses,” according to a survey commissioned by the Family Research Council (FRC) and the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB).

The poll breakdown also showed that 80 percent of even those who never attend church believe the government should leave people alone in observing their faith when it comes to marriage. While the figures were very high across the board in support of allowing Americans freedom to practice their faith pertaining to marriage, it was highest among Hispanics at 89 percent.

Along with profound opposition to governmental tampering with religious freedom, more than six in 10 Americans also agreed with the statement, “States and citizens should remain free to uphold marriage as the union of a man and a woman and the Supreme Court shouldn’t force all 50 states to redefine marriage.”

That statistic is especially significant given the Supreme Court is set to rule on the constitutionality of homosexual “marriage” this summer.

The survey was conducted by WPA Opinion Research, which polled 800 registered voters from February 2-4.

A majority of Americans, 53 percent, agree that marriage should be defined only as a union between one man and one woman, the survey also found.

The results fly in the face of the presumption for Americans to concede that the whole country accepts homosexual “marriage,” undoubtedly telling a different story than what the media would have everyone believe, said FRC President Tony Perkins.

"It's clear, based on (this) polling, that Americans have not reached a broad social consensus that marriage should be redefined," Perkins told Baptist Press.

A Fox News poll also found last fall that a more Americans oppose legalization of homosexual “marriage” than support, at 47 percent and 44 percent respectively.

A recent Associated Press poll said most Americans favor not forcing the owners of wedding-related business to go against their religious convictions by compelling them to provide services for homosexual “weddings.”

Perkins also disapproved of any effort by the Supreme Court to impose marriage redefinition nationally.

The court "will be at a point of overreach if they impose a one-size-fits-all definition of marriage on the nation by redefining it," he said.

“What this survey tells us is that the American people won't accept the redefinition of marriage by judicial fiat,” he continued in a statement on the findings.

NRB Jerry President described the survey results as "incredible," and also said it is a "slam dunk" for more than 80 percent of Americans to agree that citizens should be free of governmental interference in the practice of their faith, including in their businesses.

"Government has no right establishing speech codes or business codes on marriage and 81 percent of Americans agree entirely," said Johnson.

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The Center for Arizona Policy also welcomed the survey results, further expressing importance of listening to the will of the people.

“It’s clear that marriage matters to voters,” the group’s President Cathi Herrod said in a statement. “Furthermore, the freedom of belief and the freedom to vote for a cause are of the utmost importance.”

“The Supreme Court should not silence the will of the voters,” she said. “What’s more, the government should not penalize people for believing that marriage is between a man and a woman.” 

Herrod decried religious discrimination with the recent examples where Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired from his job and Washington state florist Barronelle Stutzman is being sued by the state’s attorney general and the ACLU.

“What should be simple matters of disagreement has turned into government coercion,” said Herrod. “Instead of respecting differences of opinion, the government is now being used to stifle differing beliefs.”

Perkins was confident that Americans will not stand by for the redefinition of marriage to be imposed by the nation’s high court.

“If it dares to redefine an institution as old as civilization itself,” he said. “Like life, the marriage debate will only intensify as the American people realize that they'll be required to surrender their fundamental right to live and work according to their beliefs.

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Cardinal Raymond Burke was one of the principal authors and supporters of the book defending the Church's teachings on marriage that was allegedly blocked by Cardinal Baldisseri.
Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary

Synod’s chief organizer seized books by top cardinals defending Church’s marriage teachings: report

Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary
By Hilary White

ROME, February 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Allegations have surfaced this week that the lead organizer of the Vatican’s controversial Synod on the Family in October personally intervened to block the distribution of a book distributed by high-ranking cardinals, including Cardinal Raymond Burke, that defended the Church’s teachings on marriage.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary for the Synod of Bishops, who became the focus of much criticism from bishops at the Synod for allegedly “manipulating” the process, is reported to have ordered that the books be seized, despite them having been posted through the official Vatican City State postal service.

The highly respected Vaticanist Edward Pentin, writing for NewsMax on Wednesday, said “reliable and high level sources” had confirmed that the book, “Remaining in the Truth of Christ,” was “intercepted” on the orders of Cardinal Baldisseri on the grounds that it would “interfere with the synod.” Baldisseri was also said to have been “furious” at the attempt to distribute them.

Cardinal Baldisseri reportedly claimed the books were confiscated because they had been distributed “improperly.” Those entrusted with ensuring the books made it into the hands of the Synod bishops, however, insisted that the books had gone through the regular Vatican postal service, and were therefore legally protected material, Pentin reports.       

The book includes a set of essays defending and explaining the Catholic teaching on the indissoluble nature of marriage and was intended by its authors as a means of clarifying the discussion.

The book was organized and authored by a group of the Church’s highest-ranking prelates – including Cardinal Raymond Burke, then-head of the Vatican’s highest court, and Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – who were gravely alarmed not only at the “proposal” by Cardinal Walter Kasper but at its positive reception among bishops and Catholic laity.

Cardinal Kasper had shocked the Catholic world at last year’s consistory of cardinals by his “suggestion” that the Church change its practice of withholding Communion from people in “irregular unions,” and by his claim that the pope had approved the proposal. The so-called “Kasper proposal” has since become the focal point of a nearly open civil war in the Church in which decades-long divisions between the “liberal/progressives” and orthodox prelates has been revealed by the world’s press.

At the Rome launch on October 6 of a different book opposing Kasper’s proposal, Cardinal George Pell, a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Nine, said that changing the practice or teaching of the Church would be “disastrous.”

Pentin writes, “Those responsible for mailing the books meticulously tried to avoid interception, ensuring the copies were sent through the proper channels within the Italian and Vatican postal systems.” Pentin added that his sources had “strongly” refuted the claim by the Synod’s secretariat that the books had been distributed “irregularly,” saying they had used the normal postal service that is governed according to Vatican state and international law and is known in Rome for its superior service to the Italian postal system.

Throughout the Synod, rumors circulated broadly among the assembled corps of journalists that the highly anticipated books had failed to reach the bishops and had in fact been confiscated on the orders of the Synod’s leadership. At the time, although this strange story had spread widely, none of the principal parties involved in the book’s publication or distribution were willing to come forward.

That rule of silence appears to still be in place; today none of the book’s authors or editors were willing to speak with LifeSiteNews “on the record” to confirm what had happened, and attempts to reach the Synod office went unanswered. It is public knowledge, however, that only a handful of bishops had been able to obtain a copy during the Synod itself.

Edward Pentin reported yesterday that the story has not stopped circulating in Rome since the Synod, despite having been dismissed at a December press conference by Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi. “Since then the allegations have become more widely known and have been corroborated at the highest levels of the church,” Pentin writes, saying that his sources believe the seized books were likely destroyed.

It is notable that the accusation could have a potential of a criminal liability for unlawful seizure of posted materials. The Vatican City State postal service is a member of the Universal Postal Union, a body under the auspices of the UN, which regulates the postal service practice of 192 member states. One Vatican source told LifeSiteNews today that a first attempt had been made to stop the books being sent by the Vatican Post Office, but that the postal workers had refused to cooperate, saying that it would be “unethical” to tamper with the mail.

Baldisseri, appointed as a permanent Secretary of the Synod of Bishops by Pope Francis, has become a public spokesman for the Kasper Proposal and he was heavily criticized during the Synod by many of the bishops themselves, who complained that the process was being strictly controlled to produce a particular outcome.

At a conference in Rome last month, Baldisseri told delegates that “dogma can evolve” and that the purpose of the Synod was not merely to restate Catholic teaching. He also confirmed that the documents of the Synod, including the highly contested “mid-term Relatio” that had called for the Church to “accept and value” the “homosexual orientation” had been read and approved for publication by Pope Francis. 

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Chen Guangcheng contradicts Hillary’s version: Obama admin abandoned him, caved to ‘hooligans’

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By Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Chen Guangcheng, the blind lawyer who exposed the brutality of China's one-child policy, is again questioning the official party line – the Obama administration's account. This time he is contradicting Hillary Clinton's story of his escape from home captivity in a new memoir.

Hillary, who was Secretary of State at the time Chen fled his captors and sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy, has steadfastly denied she lobbied Chen to leave the premises, despite tense negotiations with the Chinese. But Chen writes that he felt so pressured and abandoned by U.S. officials, he was “overcome by sadness and wept.”

Chen so angered Chinese officials by uncovering the corruption and coercion of the nation's forced abortion regime that he was imprisoned for years. After his release, he and his family were held under house arrest inside a garrisoned village.

But on April 22, 2012, Chen scaled the wall and ran, on a broken foot, for miles. After going through a series of safe houses, a car took him to Beijing, where he sought sanctuary in the U.S. Embassy.

Hillary and Chen agree on that much – but the rest of their tales diverge.

Hillary spent chapter five of her memoir, "Hard Choices"  “Beijing: The Dissident” – discussing Chen's plight. The light-selling autobiography claims that Hillary got a call on the yellow phone on April 25, telling her about Chen's plea. “I said, 'Go get him,'” she wrote, adding that it “wasn't a close call.” She later told the Council on Foreign Relations that she authorized some “James Bond-ish kind of activity” for his rescue.

But Chen's escape came just days before Clinton was to arrive in China for a diplomatic visit. Chen and those close to him have always maintained that Chen faced coercion to leave the U.S. Embassy – and that U.S. officials broke their word after he complied.

The State Department passed along threats that, if Chen did not leave the Embassy for a Chinese communist-controlled hospital, his family would face repercussions from government officials. Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, while denying any wrongdoing, admitted that “U.S. interlocutors did make clear that if Chen elected to stay in the embassy, Chinese officials had indicated to us that his family would be returned to Shandong, and they would lose their opportunity to negotiate for reunification.”

But in "Hard Choices", Hillary says U.S. officials were so considerate of Chen that the then-ambassador to China, Gary Locke, and State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh “spent hours sitting with Chen, holding his hand, soothing his fears, and talking about his hopes for the future.”

Hillary maintained, “we had done what Chen said he wanted every step of the way.”

Chen tells a much different tale in his newly published memoir, "The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man's Fight for Justice and Freedom in China", portions of which were published by Canada's National Post.

Chen said he was “pressured to leave” after the State Department accepted an “absurdly inadequate deal” with Chinese officials, essentially trusting them not to harm Guangcheng and his family on their honor.

“I hadn’t expected so many people on both sides would be working so hard to get me to leave, without guaranteeing my rights or my family’s safety,” Chen wrote. “No one seemed to be putting pressure on the Chinese Communist Party; instead they were dumping shipping containers of weight onto my shoulders to get me to do their bidding.”

Ultimately, he left the Embassy, filled with “disappointment and despair.” He said he “was overcome by sadness and wept.”

“What troubled me most at the time was this: when negotiating with a government run by hooligans, the country that most consistently advocated for democracy, freedom, and universal human rights had simply given in,” he said.

Those who were involved with the events as they unfolded agree that Hillary's account is off-base.

“I completely support Chen Guangcheng's account,” Reggie Littlejohn of Women's Rights Without Frontiers told LifeSiteNews. “In sharp contrast to Hillary Clinton's self-glorifying version, the actions of the U.S. government were a great disappointment to Chen and to the human rights community.”

“Why did U.S. officials pressure Chen to leave by May 2?” asked Littlejohn, who met Chen's plane when he finally landed on U.S. soil on May 19. “This was the very day that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to arrive in Beijing for trade talks. To all appearances, the State Department under Hillary Clinton was willing to sacrifice one of the great human rights activists of the world in order to conduct unimpeded trade talks.”

Littlejohn and others familiar with the events have told the same story since it occurred.

“The State Department likes to say now that they played some kind of a heroic role,” Littlejohn told LifeSiteNews in an exclusive video interview at the time. “I would dispute that characterization of their actions.”

Bob Fu, the president of China Aid and a longtime associate of Chen, said at the time that Chen Guangcheng said that “he was under enormous pressure to leave the Embassy. Some people almost made him feel he was being a huge burden to the U.S.”

After Chen left for a hospital, he said the State Department did not keep its promises to protect him.

Chen said U.S. officials were not taking his calls, nor had they accompanied him from the embassy to the hospital, as they promised. “The Embassy kept lobbying me to leave and promised to have people stay with me in the hospital,” where his room was surrounded by at least 10 plainclothes guards, he said. “As soon as I checked into the hospital room, I noticed they were all gone.”

“Nobody from the (U.S.) Embassy is here. I don’t understand why. They promised to be here,” he said.

President Obama refused to comment on the matter on April 30.

Days later, Congressional Republicans called a hearing, where Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, and then-Congressman Frank Wolf pressured the Obama administration to fix the “scandal.” Chen telephoned the May 3 hearing, and Bob Fu translated as Chen spoke to him: “I want to meet with Secretary Clinton. I hope I can get more help from her,” he said. “I really am afraid for my other family members’ lives.”

Chen specifically thanked Congressman Smith and other Congressional leaders in his book.

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also criticized the Obama administration's handling of the affair.

“Eventually, as a result of efforts on many fronts, the Chinese authorities had no choice but to allow me, my wife and my children to leave for the United States,” Chen wrote last year. He arrived on U.S. soil on May 19 and is now a fellow at The Witherspoon Institute.

This is not the first time Chen has criticized Hillary's book. He disputed Clinton's assertion that Chinese Communist officials had been “scrupulous” about living up to their commitments in a June 24, 2014, op-ed for The Washington Post.

“Not only has the Chinese government relentlessly persecuted members of my family since my departure, it also never investigated its prior abuses, as it committed to do. And it imprisoned my nephew, who remains in jail today,” he wrote. “Clinton and her staff were keenly aware of the attacks on my family.”

Despite the fact that Chen's account undermines a major part of Hillary Clinton's autobiography – and calls into question her judgment and commitment to human rights – it has made few ripples in the U.S. media. The two primary stories have been in Canada's National Post and the Telegraph of London.

“I bet that most of you have never heard about any of this before,” Moe Lane wrote at RedState.com. “And it’s largely because Hillary Clinton is a Democrat, and Chris Smith is a Republican.”

The America Rising PAC, a Republican political action committee, commented, “while Clinton hides from the press potentially through the summer, no one will have a chance to ask her why Chen’s account flatly contradicts her own – a story she directly profited from by including it in her book.”

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