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I have a request to make of all Catholic bloggers.
Whenever you write anything about the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, try to work in the phrase “Magisterium of Nuns“. I don’t care if you give any sort of attribution. Just use it. Use it all the time.
The LCWR isn’t the “Magisterium of Nuns”. It is a subset, a “subsidiary” if you will, a symptom of a larger phenomenon.
Never mind the distinctions about “nuns” and “sisters”… blah blah blah. Lump them all together for this, because it is more annoying that way.
The phrase “Magisterium of Nuns” came out of the obvious attempts of some women religious, such as Sr. Carol Keehan (GIVE BACK THAT PEN!) of the Catholic Health Association, to establish themselves as a Catholic teaching authority over and against the teaching authority exercised by bishops. (“The bishops might say X, but we say Y. You are still Catholic and in good conscience if you listen to us and not to them. “) At that time they desired to give cover to Catholic politicians (mostly pro-abortion democrats) so that they could claim to have a good conscience in keeping with Catholic teaching and vote in favor of Obamacare (which would lead among other things to tax payer funding of abortion and other objectionable things).
This is a pernicious phenomenon and it must be unmasked.
The moniker is getting some traction. It (therefore I) was attacked explicitly in America Magazine in an article by someone I had never heard of, one Christine Firer Hinze who works for Jesuit-run Fordham University. Here is the relevant paragraph:
As Vatican II affirms, the episcopal office uniquely serves the revealed truth of the gospel. But that truth resides in and with the whole church. Beholden to military or business organizational models, pundits who deride L.C.W.R. sisters for posturing falsely as a “magisterium of nuns” disrespect the authentic authority not only of religious communities, but of the laity in their various charisms and vocations. Because the official magisterium does not have a monopoly on gospel truth, office-holders must constantly listen for that truth in the whole church, and all must work to avoid what Avery Dulles, S.J., called “excessive conformism” and “excessive distrust” among hierarchy and faithful.
First, what, may I ask, is the “authentic authority” of religious communities? More on that, below.
I particularly enjoyed the shot about being “beholden to military or business organizational models”. I think that means that I am a cog in the Catholic equivalent of a Military Industrial Complex. In other words, I am a warmongering capitalist and, therefore, my phrase “magisterium of nuns” is not accurate.
Did you feel the iron-jaws of logic closing upon your brain?
Be careful when reading any defense of the Magisterium of Nuns to watch for code language like this: the phrase “the official magisterium”.
Let’s see it in situ:
Because the official magisterium does not have a monopoly on gospel truth, office-holders must constantly listen for that truth in the whole church, and all must work to avoid what Avery Dulles, S.J., called “excessive conformism” and “excessive distrust” among hierarchy and faithful.
We can rest our case on that. The writer proposes that there is a “magisterium” over and against that exercised by the bishops. It is “unofficial”, but it is – for her and those who hark to the Magisterium of Nuns – more compelling. They owe their obedience to that “magisterium”, the “unofficial magisterium”.
A “Magisterium of Nuns”.
Since there was no citation in the paragraph above for the late Card. Dulles’s phrases (which I am guessing are from the old Models of the Church, which Dulles later in life revised), I suggest that you review Lumen gentium 25 and 12 and then get your hands on – get your hands on NOW – Dulles’s book Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith (UK link HERE). Therein you will find a more accurate account of what Dulles thought about the Church’s Magisterium and our role when there is any doubt, contrast, or – quod Deus avertat – conflict.
In a nutshell, presumption should always favor the Magisterium. Theologians who have doubts and who may even dissent are invited, as we find in Donum veritatis, to express their concerns privately to the CDF. If they have useful observations, they can actually be of service to the Church! In all cases, people must avoid scandal, which – as Dulles put it – “harms the Church in the eyes of the general public” and which divides Catholics against each other.
That is exactly what the LCWR (a subsidiary of the Magisterium of Nuns) is doing. When you hear them talking of the “official” Magisterium, they are suggesting that there is another “magisterium” over and against that exercised by the Church’s shepherds. Those who defend the “official” Magisterium will be fixed by them with labels such as “militarist” or “capitalist”, as the writer did, above.
Here now is something for reflection from Lumen gentium 12:
“The holy people of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to Him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to His name. The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when ‘from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful’ they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God. Through it, the people of God adheres unwaveringly to the faith given once and for all to the saints, penetrates it more deeply with right thinking, and applies it more fully in its life” .
And as far as the women religious are concerned, this from the Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata 46:
“In founders and foundresses we see a constant and lively sense of the Church [sensus ecclesiae], which they manifest by their full participation in all aspects of the Church’s life, and in their ready obedience to the Bishops and especially to the Roman Pontiff. […] A distinctive aspect of ecclesial communion is allegiance of mind and heart to the Magisterium of the Bishops, an allegiance which must be lived honestly and clearly testified to before the People of God by all consecrated persons, especially those involved in theological research, teaching, publishing, catechesis and the use of the means of social communication. Because consecrated persons have a special place in the Church, their attitude in this regard is of immense importance for the whole People of God. Their witness of filial love will give power and forcefulness to their apostolic activity which, in the context of the prophetic mission of all the baptized, is generally distinguished by special forms of cooperation with the Hierarchy. In a specific way, through the richness of their charisms, consecrated persons help the Church to reveal ever more deeply her nature as the sacrament ‘of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind’”.