Thursday, June 14, 2012

FAce-off between women religious and Vatican

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Clash of the titans. Crackdown. Chastisement. War on nuns. It’s been called all sorts of names. But what is it, really? The answer depends on which side of the debate (or the divide) you support.

The tension between the Vatican and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in the United States has generated all kinds of reactions. Among the protagonists’ supporters and observers, a duel has ensued in social media networks.

As if the Vatileaks of secret documents and the resulting scandal were not enough, now this. At the heart of the debate is the Vatican’s April report on the LCWR that has been described as “damning.” News stories said the Vatican report had accused the LCWR of “corporate dissent” from the Church’s teachings against homosexuality and claimed it was pursuing “radical feminist themes.” The nuns vehemently denied the harsh accusations.

The report said the LCWR has shown “a diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration which leads, in turn, to loss of a ‘constant and lively sense of the Church’ among some religious.”

The nuns were said to have been stunned and stung when accused of promoting “feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” and being “silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States.”

Other accusations: promoting “a distorted ecclesiological vision, and [having] scant regard for the role of the Magisterium as the guarantor of the authentic interpretation of the Church’s Faith.” The LCWR had been under Vatican “assessment” for three years.

The Magisterium refers to the church leadership (the Pope and bishops), which is the official teaching authority of the Catholic Church. Ecclesiological has to do with the church’s nature and functions.

According to its website, the LCWR is the association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States. It has more than 1,500 members who represent more than 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in America. Founded in 1956, the LCWR assists its members to collaboratively carry out their service of leadership to further the mission of the Gospel in today’s world.

The LCWR’s Philippine counterpart is the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (one for women and one for men), which had its share of Vatican sanctions during the martial law years. I don’t have the time now to dig up the documents on how AMRSP heads Sr. Christine Tan, RGS, and Fr. Benigno Mayo, SJ, were separately summoned to Rome for a chastisement (by a Cardinal Tabera, if I am not mistaken) during the last years of Pope Paul VI’s papacy. They and their ranks were deemed too involved in the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. But that is another story.

Last June 12, LCWR representatives and the Vatican’s formidable Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) met in Rome—to clear the air, it was hoped. Representing the LCWR were president Sr. Pat Farrell, OSF, and executive director Janet Mock, CSJ. They met with the CDF prefect, Cardinal William Levada, and Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain.

NBC News reporter Claudio Lavanga wrote: “What do American nuns do when they are accused of being radical feminists? They respond as radical feminists might: by challenging the male authority face-to-face.” Lavanga said the meeting was aimed at reconciling differences “but it has the potential to permanently alienate many American nuns from the Holy See.” The meeting, he said, was going to be “a titanic clash between strong-willed servants of God.”

Levada is said to have been tasked to supervise the overhaul of the LCWR, and Sartain, the rewriting of the women’s statues, agendas and liturgical texts. Ouch! Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi was quoted as saying that the LCWR “remains under the supreme management of the Holy See.” (Note “supreme management.”)

So what did the meeting amount to? Was it a pleasant chat? The two sides issued brief, separate statements that did not give details except to say that, according to the Vatican, it was done “in an atmosphere of openness and cordiality.” The nuns said they had requested the meeting “to directly express our concerns.” It ain’t over.

Last December, while the Vatican was conducting inquiries into the lifestyles and moral positions of women religious and the LCWR, the University of San Francisco honored women religious, through the LCWR, with an honorary degree, for their contributions to the country and the church.

The USF president, Fr. Stephen A. Privett, SJ, extolled them: “We honor Catholic women religious to recognize their uncompromising commitment to serve those underrepresented and underprivileged with love and concern. The sisters are extraordinary persons of faith devoted to building a better world through prayer and hard work. They offer an inspiring example of service in the modern world for our students and graduates.”

The LCWR is not without supporters from among the men. First to openly support the LCWR after the “damning” report came out were the Franciscans.

In this country, Filipino nuns have shown their mettle and exhibited grit and greatness of spirit in times of crisis. During the dark era of martial rule, they kept watch in the night. And now, as the nation undergoes severe tests, these women are there, either on the streets, fields and mountains, or on their knees, at prayer.

That’s woman power. More next week.