The controversial investigations of the US women religious by the Vatican stemmed largely from a “cultural chasm”, the group’s president has said.
But the chasm is closing, Sister Sharon Holland added, and a new era of communication has begun.
Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Holland, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, told the group’s annual assembly yesterday (August 12) that behaviour that is normal for a woman in American culture – such as asking questions and thinking critically – might easily be perceived as disrespectful in another setting.
Directly addressing the apostolic visitation of women religious in the United States and the doctrinal assessment of LCWR, she said at the previous assembly there had been more “tension” as well as nagging question of why the two investigations were happening.
Both have now ended.
Speaking to the 800 LCWR leaders gathered, Sr. Holland said she had posed the “rhetorical question” whether it was an issue of doctrine or docility.
She added: “I had no doubt that it was about both. Some honestly believed we were off track on certain doctrinal matters; some simply were convinced that we were disrespectful of the ecclesiastical authority.”
But those beliefs, she said, were caused by differences in perception – a “cultural chasm” between the church hierarchy and women religious.
She gave the example of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s mandate to reform LCWR, which included recommending removing the ‘Systems Thinking Handbook’ from the group’s website.
The handbook, according to Sr. Holland, was rarely used and had been replaced by newer versions, but included a case study of a religious congregation disagreeing over Eucharistic celebrations for sisters’ jubilees.
The handbook suggested a process of how an agreement between the various sides could be reached.
Sr. Holland said it was seen “as if, by discussion, you could change doctrine” – though she argued this was not the case, she believes it is how the Vatican perceived it.
But there are powerful signs that the “cultural chasm” may be closing, she said, with the joint final report issued at the end of the mandate and the photo of religious and Pope Francis when the mandate ended two years early.
“It is not the usual practice to have a joint report in processes such as this,” Sr. Holland said. “It may sound very sensible to Americans, but normally, delegates sent from the Apostolic See submit their report directly to those who sent them. They don’t give it first to the persons they were visiting.”
Not only was LCWR given the report, the group was invited to collaborate on it.
Sr. Holland said: “There will be more explanation of this in the coming days, but we were the prime authors of that report.”
She also praised the photo saying it was “immediately recognised as a long-awaited public symbol of the communion our sisters feel and desire with and within the church. … It is a powerful symbol; not a resting place, but a launching pad.”
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