Leadership Conference of Women Religious: No Retreat, No Surrender

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has offered a response to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s April 18th scathing critique of the organization. In response to the CDF’s censure, the LCWR says it will continue discussion but “will reconsider if forced to compromise the integrity of [their] mission.”

During the meeting this week in St Louis, the nuns experienced a tremendous outpouring of support from lay Catholics, who stood with signs outside the meeting in St Louis showing their support. Franciscan Sr. Pat Farell instructed the sisters to be “fearless” in their response to the Vatican, and the end of her speech as she stepped down from her office was a phrase she learned in Chile during the Military dictatorship. “They can crush a few flowers, but they cannot hold back the springtime.”

It is probably going to take a spring storm of sustained measure to stop the CDF and the Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle appointed to oversee the CDF mandate to carry out reforms in the LCWR. New President Franciscan Sr. Florence Deacon will lead the LCWR during this time. She will have to forge a path to keep the organization intact, while dealing with clerics who would rather watch and censure than engage in dialogue.

As a Church Historian, I applaud this move. Anyone with an eye towards church history knows that sometimes groups can talk forever to the Vatican and hold them at bay, as long as no one is frog marched into a courtroom or prison.

Long winded dialogue is what the Vatican does best. If the Sisters can keep the male clerics talking, chances are they may be so caught up in their desire to make perfect doctrine that the Sisters of the LCWR can continue their good work.

*As of this writing on Friday afternoon, a complete statement has not been released, but as soon as it is, I will update this post!

Anthea Butler [@AntheaButler] is a Contributing Editor to Religion Dispatches. Her forthcoming book, in’The Gospel According To Sarah: How Sarah Palinin’’s Tea Party Angels are Galvanizing the Religious Right will be out in 2013.