A request to bloggers about the the phrase “Magisterium of Nuns”

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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’”.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Dismas says:

    It’s only a shame that “excessive conformism” and “excessive distrust” was used. “Lock step sheep and papal throwbacks,” has such a much nicer ring to it. Oh well, maybe their next article!

    [Don’t forget the mugs! HERE and for a description HERE.]

  2. AnnAsher says:

    Iron jaws of logic closing on my brain ? Yes.
    It makes me sad when I see women so eager to toss aside their God given femininity and it’s proper and fulfilling expressions in order to grasp at manhood. Truly sad in my heart for career women, altar girls, pseudo feminists and yes the Magisterium of Nuns.

  3. Rich says:

    I think by “authentic authority”, America magazine basically means anyone who thinks the same way they think.

  4. wmeyer says:

    One of my favorite authors of science fiction wrote long ago:

    “Whenever women have insisted on absolute equality with men, they have invariably wound up with the dirty end of the stick. What they are and what they can do makes them superior to men, and their proper tactic is to demand special privileges, all the traffic will bear. They should never settle merely for equality. For women, “equality” is a disaster.” — Robert A. Heinlein

    I was raised to believe in chivalry, and during the mad times in the 70s, the radical feminists never made any sense to me. The ones I got along with were those who were not offended by having a door opened for them, for one thing. The ones who felt the need to “assert themselves” in matters which are simple courtesy, I gave a wide berth.

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  6. Fr. Thomas says:

    In all reality, there is an “unofficial” source of Catholic teaching, it’s called the ‘sensus fidelium’ (LG 35). However, what is often left out in discussions of ‘sensus fidelium’ is that it is dependent upon the faithful having been properly instructed in the faith by their legitimate pastors and that the faithful are grappling these issues in conscience – seeking the truth and not what he or she desires the truth to be.

    Also Fr. Z I understand your point about mixing nuns and sisters together, but I have to disagree. [Too bad. This is the way it is. Rabbit hole…]

  7. Sword40 says:

    Sister Annmarie is out of the office until June 11. Think she’s ducking out. The heat is “on”.

  8. Pingback: St. Boniface the Hobbit Magisterium of Nuns Asia Bibi Sola Scriptura | Big Pulpit

  9. Peggy R says:

    Wow. The “official magisterium” doesn’t have a “monopoly” on the “gospel truth”??? Does she mean that “gospel” literally or in its figure of speech? No matter. Gee, I thought the Church was THE repository of the Faith and possessed the fullness of truth. So, she does not agree.

  10. Diane at Te Deum Laudamus says:

    My preference has been to place all open dissenters into the “pseudo-magisterium” column. I suppose the “magisterium of nuns” (with the objection above by Fr. Thomas noted), would be a subsidiary of the pseudo-magisterium. I had to find some other way to include the dissenting Catholic pols, journalists, and professors who are not religious sisters.

    I would hope we all know that the “Magisterium of Nuns” pertains mainly to the openly dissident leadership which is NOT representative of most sisters in the communities they represent (by most accounts).

    In light of the LCWR’s response, I think it is time for many communities to jump ship while the CMSWR is on the LCWR’s starboard side.

  11. wmeyer says:

    CCC 100: The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.

  12. Cathy says:

    wmeyer, great point! The radical feminista’s hold one point of Scripture, wives being submissive to their husbands as a suggestive of slavery. They always leave out the rest of the Scripture, that the woman is not cheap nor is she disposable. Her submission is worthy in accordance to the husbands sacrifice, offering himself and taking as his model the sacrifice of Christ, laying down His life for the Church. When the Magesterium of Nuns talk about “their” mission, they forget that each and every Catholic’s primary mission is submission to what our Holy Catholic Church proposes for our belief.

  13. Tom says:

    “Excessive conformism” …to the world, sisters?

  14. Kate says:

    I’ll fit it in this week. I also sent on the request to my friends at CathSorority. I bet they will have plenty to say.

  15. EucharistLove says:

    I used it in the combox over at Acts of the Apostasy (under the name “Jim”) and it was jumped on as coming from this fine blog (WDTPRS).

  16. The “official Magisterium” represents the “official Jesus”.

    The other “magisteriums”, not so much.

  17. The Cobbler says:

    “In all reality, there is an “unofficial” source of Catholic teaching, it’s called the ‘sensus fidelium’ (LG 35). However, what is often left out in discussions of ‘sensus fidelium’ is that it is dependent upon the faithful having been properly instructed in the faith by their legitimate pastors and that the faithful are grappling these issues in conscience – seeking the truth and not what he or she desires the truth to be. ”

    On top of that, there’s the fact that the Sensus Fidelium typically pertains to what the Faithful have always and everywhere believed (at least discounting passing disputes), if I understand correct, which I suppose is why the Church’s theologians typically dig into the approved theologians and bishops of the past to weigh in on matters that are under consideration for major current pronouncements (e.g. Dom Gueranger listing everything from Scripture through Augustine to the scholastics/thomists in laying out his defense of papal infallibility).

    Or, as Chesterton put it:

    Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.

    Orthodoxy, 1908 (Cue the same wicked laughter appropriate for linking to TVTropes on a writing forum.)

  18. andersonbd1 says:

    I bought Dulles’ book shortly after you suggested it about a month ago. It is EXACTLY what I’ve been needing – THANK YOU for the recommendation. I will be blogging about it shortly.
    -Ben Anderson

  19. benedetta says:

    How hilarious that they trot out two limited and distorted phrases attributed to the late Cardinal Dulles. There is no way that Cardinal Dulles would agree with what they are all about right now and would not take kindly to his words being misrepresented. The fact is the Jesuits were embarrassed of their Cardinal who received the red hat from JPII. I agree, buy the book and read for one’s self. If they can’t cite to the full authority, they have something to hide and there is your authenticity.

  20. Genesispete says:

    Recently seen in New Jersey on a bumpersticker – “Its all fun & games until someone gets burned at the stake.” Nuff said!

  21. NoraLee9 says:

    I hang my head in shame that I ever gave those Jebs in the Bronx a dime.

  22. j says:

    Hi, Father;
    Love the phrase, it has a nice ring to it. I would advise a little caution in trying to get it used too widely. I know what it means, you know what it means, and it seems your readers all have no trouble understanding what it means. In the general population, though, it is too easy to characterize as anti-nun in general, and thus by implication anti-women. It is not, of course, but it feeds into too much of the radical feminist dogma (I don’t think they “feminize” that word. Yet. ) about repression etc (blah blah blah) that is being brought to bear on the LCWR correction.

  23. mendezjb says:

    Wow, a Jesuit institution that confuses the laity, causes scandal and contradicts the faith? MADNESS! :)

  24. Hidden One says:

    Perhaps, per j, there is in some creative mind a useful and distinctive phrase for the nuns/sisters who are busy setting a good example for the rest of us (whether we know about it or not).

  25. Frankly, I think you missed the point of Prof. Hinze’s article. Her intent was indicate that both the LCWR and the hierarchy need to engage in a dialogue towards mutual reform. God knows there are doctrinal problems with some of the wayward sisters and nuns; but the doctrinal assessment also makes some dangerous declarations about prophetic theology that do not stand up to the scrutiny of tradition.

    As Prof. Hinze pointed out, the assessment claims that prophecy cannot be directed “at the Magisterium and the Church’s pastors” (italics in the original). Such an understanding of the prophetic office would seem to be difficult to reconcile with the writings of St. Catherine of Siena (a Doctor of the Church) or of the recently canonized and soon to be declared Doctor of the Church, Hildegard of Bingen, whose prophecies were frequently and explicitly aimed at the failures and abuses of the Church and her ministers.

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  27. No monopoly on the truth, no monopoly on the truth . . . let’s see, where have I heard something like that before?

    Oh, yeah!

    And they said: Hath the Lord spoken by Moses only? Hath he not also spoken to us in like manner? (Numbers 12: 3)

    The story ends badly, as I recall. Just sayin’, sisters. If you wake up with leprosy, don’t come crying to me. Or trying to convince me it’s a new charism in honor of St. Damien.

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