American Bishops Pushed Rome on Nun Crackdown

Grant Gallicho of Commonweal reads the Vatican-watching press and is, according to the title of his blog post, “seeing red:”

As [Robert] Mickens [of The Tablet] explains, the CDF [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] had been looking into the LCWR for quite some time:

The saga entered a new phase in 2005 when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope. He quickly appointed the then Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco to his old post as CDF prefect. Significantly, the soon-to-be Cardinal Levada was also chairman of the doctrinal committee of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). According to sources in Rome and Washington, his successor at the conference’s doctrinal office – the then Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut – was the man who formally petitioned the CDF to launch the current doctrinal investigation of the LCWR. Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced to resign as Archbishop of Boston in 2002 because of his perceived mishandling of the clerical sex-abuse crisis, was reportedly the person in Rome most forcefully supporting Bishop Lori’s proposal.

Both Cardinal Law and Archbishop Lori (he was appointed to the prestigious see of Baltimore in March) have long supported women’s religious orders that have distanced themselves from the LCWR. Cardinal Law, 80, staffs his residence in Rome with the Mercy Sisters of Alma (Michigan) and Archbishop Lori, 61, helped set up several traditional communities of sisters during his tenure in Bridgeport (2001-12). All these communities, marked by their loyalty to the hierarchy, belong to the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), which broke away from the LCWR in 1992.

Incidentally, Cardinal Law was a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious when it launched its own visitation – separate from the CDF investigation – of women’s communities in the US. According to news reports, that project was at least partially funded by the Knights of Columbus, a wealthy fraternal order of Catholic men for whom Archbishop Lori has been supreme chaplain since 2005. Under the leadership of an influential Washington lawyer and former Reagan White House official, Carl Anderson, the knights have increasingly backed conservative causes and routinely make sizeable donations to the Holy See.

Bishop Lori, of course, is the chair of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, instigator of the anti-contraception coverage battles and the upcoming “fortnight for freedom.” Gallicho examines the Knights of Columbus tax return, and finds that it “donated about $1 million to the Vatican. But the Knights of Columbus doesn’t cut checks just to Rome. In 2010, the organization gave close to $2 million dollars to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. And it donated $25,000 to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is spearheading the legal challenges to the contraception mandate; and $50,000 to the Federalist Society.” 

Gallicho concludes: 

American Catholics have not forgotten how long it took bishops to wake up to the sexual-abuse crisis they created. And now they see that the Vatican took just three years to determine that it had no other option but to put 80 percent of U.S. nuns — whose average age is seventy-four — into receivership, an effort led in part by Cardinal Bernard Law. That decision has unified a good deal of Catholics all right — against Rome.

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