Vatican Accuses Nuns of “Open Provocation”

In a statement just made public, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last week lambasted the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for questioning the basis of the Vatican’s controversial doctrinal assessment and for failing to sufficiently accede to the Vatican’s “reform” of the organization.

At the second meeting between Cardinal Gerhard Müller and the heads of the LCWR since it was disciplined by the Vatican in 2012 for “serious doctrinal problems,” Müller decried the LCWR’s recent decision to give its Outstanding Leadership Award to Sister Elizabeth Johnson. Johnson is a Fordham University theologian whose popular book Quest for a Living God was denounced by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Committee on Doctrine for not hewing to a traditional understanding of the Trinity.

The LCWR is now under the direction of Archbishop Peter Sartain, who was appointed by the Vatican to “reform” the organization by re-writing its statutes and approving all programs, speakers and publications. Although the speaker provision was apparently not yet fully implemented, Müller said the decision of the LCWR to honor Johnson and not inform Sartain until after the award was announced was “regrettable” and “will be seen as rather open provocation against the Holy See” that “further alienates the LCWR from the bishops.”

Müller said the speaker provision is now “to be considered fully in force” and said the embarrassment over the Johnson situation justified what the LCWR had objected to as disproportionate and heavy-handed interference in its day-to-day affairs.

Addressing the LCWR’s second contention that the charges of the assessment were unsubstantiated, Müller cited the organization’s invitation to futurist Barbara Max Hubbard to address its annual assembly on “conscious evolution,” a concept that he charged was permeating the publications of the LCWR and the directional statements of some orders. “The fundamental theses of Conscious Evolution are opposed to Christian Revelation and…lead almost necessarily to fundamental errors regarding the omnipotence of God,” he said, stopping just short of accusing the conference of heresy:

I am worried that the uncritical acceptance of things such as Conscious Evolution seemingly without any awareness that it offers a vision of God, the cosmos, and the human person divergent from or opposed to Revelation evidences that a de facto movement beyond the Church and sound Christian faith has already occurred.

Müller concluded by saying that the Vatican was looking for a “clearer expression” of the LCWR’s “ecclesial vision and more substantive signs of collaboration” from the conference.

In a statement the LCWR said that Müller’s “remarks were meant to set a context for the discussion that followed. The actual interaction with Cardinal Müller and his staff was an experience of dialogue that was respectful and engaging.”

Patricia Miller is the author of Good Catholics: The Battle over Abortion in the Catholic Church. Her work on the intersection of sex, religion, and politics has appeared in The Nation, Ms., and Huffington Post. She was the editor of Conscience magazine and the editor-in-chief of the National Journal’s health care briefings.