Just Joan - Joan Huguenard

Nuns respond to Vatican attack

Following up on just joan reports of May 10 and 17, we acknowledge today a response to the Vatican from The Leadership Conference of Religious Women (LCWR.) On May 31, the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) covered the first official public response to Cardinal William Levada and the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith’s April 18 assessment of LCWR, which represents some 80 percent of U.S. Catholic sisters.

The group’s president will soon travel to Rome to ‘raise and discuss’ their concerns with Vatican officials. Their public statement includes the following:

“Board members concluded the assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency. Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission. The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.

“The board believes the matters of faith and justice that capture the hearts of Catholic sisters are clearly shared by many people around the world. As the church and society face tumultuous times, the board believes it is imperative that these matters be addressed by the entire church community in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, and integrity.”

just joan can’t resist following this news with the May 24 NCR column “Bulletins from the Human Side,” by Eugene Cullen Kennedy, emeritus professor of psychology at Loyola University, Chicago.

On Cardinal Levada’s right hand, the visionaries – on his left, women religious

I have pleasant enough memories of Cardinal William Levada who, as a young worker bee in the hive of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, helped me find my way through the dim warrens of the old Holy Office when I was questioned there more moons ago than I can now count. I cannot erase my gratitude despite his persistent efforts, now that he runs the whole waxworks of the congregation, to make me, along with millions of others, wonder if he lets his right hand know what his left hand is doing. Or perhaps that is exactly what bright young clerics must learn to do if they are to reach their career goals.

Cardinal Levada – I would call him Darth, but “NCR’s” editor won’t let me – has, of course, also had to master a straight face when issuing, as he did this week, “updated norms,” originally drafted when Paul VI was pope “regarding the manner of proceeding in the discernment of presumed apparitions or revelations.”

These regulations, he asserts, will help pastors “in their difficult task of discerning presumed apparitions, revelations, messages, or extraordinary phenomena of presumed supernatural origin.” The norms, he avers, should also “be useful to theologians and experts in this lived experience of the Church, whose delicacy requires an ever-more thorough consideration.”

Most pastors are too busy easing the broken hearts and patching the leaky roofs that constitute the real “lived experience of the Church,” as indeed are most theologians who are trying to be true to the lived experience of theology in the world, to let themselves get involved with, much less ever be approached by, people insisting they see things nobody else does.

Everyday Catholics – the people with a simple, hard-bought vision of what is demanded of them to be faithful and true to their word, their spouses, their families and their work – give us an example of how the sense of the faithful manifests itself and how we can confidently follow it…

It is instructive to note how, with the right hand, Cardinal Levada invites persons claiming to have visions or messages for a closer look and a tentative blessing, while with the left, he delays women religious with a border guard’s signal and treats them like the usual suspects while he carefully studies their passports.

While the great achievements for the church of women religious are ignored, as are their lives of personal sacrifice, and they are presumed guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors for such things as allowing speakers at their assemblies to speak of cultural realities that everyone can see, such as feminism, those who claim to see things that nobody else can see, and that, in fact, might not be there at all, are treated far more respectfully.

Those examining them, according to Cardinal Levada, should give good marks to vision claimers for their “personal qualities,” including their “psychological equilibrium and rectitude of moral life…” You need not be an expert to observe these qualities in American women religious who, on the basis of their goodness, built the Church in the United States.

Visionaries, according to these norms, are apparently only verifiable if they demonstrate “habitual docility towards Ecclesiastical Authority” and that their visions or messages are “immune from error.” There is a mix-up here, because the latter are the criteria for becoming a bishop and have no application to really saintly people or visionaries. St. Catherine of Siena, who confronted the pope of her time, would have to be removed from the heavenly rolls if these criteria were to be taken seriously.

America’s women religious easily fulfill the criterion of “healthy devotion and abundant and constant spiritual fruit (for example, spirit of prayer, conversion, testimonies of charity, etc.).” Women religious are even good at that et cetera, whatever that means to the good Cardinal Levada, who should remember and thank the nuns who may have taught him before subjecting them to monitoring by a trio of American bishops who have manifested that docility to Ecclesiastical Authority but have not been noted as exemplars of any of these other criteria.

The good cardinal has revealed something that you need not be a visionary to see, that Rome is more interested in the easy obedience of so-called visionaries who see things that might not be there to women whose creative energy has been expended in serving a world whose wounds and needs they see with Gospel clarity. They are too busy with these things they can see to have time seeing things that aren’t there. Extraordinary visions and special messages are not necessary for Christianity, and those who receive them generally do not seek attention from Rome or anyone else.

Perhaps Cardinal Levada should call off the bishops so carefully examining America’s women religious and recall what one of the greatest woman religious of all time, Teresa of Avila, said, when she went on visitation to a convent from which reports of visions had come, “Believe me, they won’t be seeing visions after I get there.”

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