Media coverage of the LCWR: ignorance, bias and laziness, sloppy and incomplete

This is a little dated, but it helps to explain some prominent errors about what is going on the the Holy See’s reforming efforts concerning key women religious.

This was by Ann Carey on NRO.

Nun Too Accurate Reporting
By Ann Carey
June 4, 2012

The mainstream media has had a field day with the June 1 press release of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) accusing the Vatican of causing “scandal” and “polarization” by identifying doctrinal problems within the LCWR that need to be corrected. What is really an internal Church matter about the proper role of an organization that has canonical standing in the Catholic Church has become a hot topic in a media that seems to delight in any controversy within the Church, especially one that involves challenges to its authority.

Headlines like “U.S. Nuns crack back at Vatican crackdown” (USA Today, June 1) and “American nuns come out swinging against Vatican” (CNN, June 1) might be funny if they weren’t so very ignorant. In fact, ignorance and bias have marked much of the media’s coverage of the doctrinal assessment of the LCWR by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Or perhaps it’s laziness, for it is clear that many of the people writing about this issue know little about the Catholic Church and even less about the background for this story.

The June 1 New York Times editorial “When in Rome, Speak Up for Reality,” is a prime example of this ignorance/laziness/bias. For starters, the LCWR does not represent 80 percent of the sisters in the U.S., as the Times and many other media outlets claim. It represents only its 1,500 members, and sometimes even that is questionable, for it was only the LCWR 21-member national board that met and issued the June 1 press release well in advance of the August LCWR annual membership meeting.

Further, only members of leadership teams of religious orders belong to LCWR: The grassroots sisters in religious orders do not belong to LCWR, and have neither voice nor vote in the organization. Many of these sisters have told me they resent the LCWR claiming it represents them.

The Times editorial also claims that “many” see the Vatican action as “retaliation” for the LCWR endorsement of Obamacare, which the U.S. bishops opposed because of abortion funding and lack of conscience protection. If the editorial writers had read the CDF document, they would have seen that the decision to conduct the doctrinal assessment was made in 2008, when George W. Bush was still president and Obamacare was just a dream.

The Times and other media also persist in interpreting the Vatican action as insensitive to the good works sisters have done and continue to do. Again, if one actually read the CDF document, it would be clear that the good works of sisters are generously acknowledged and praised, and the CDF made clear that its action applies only to the 1,500-member LCWR.

However, good works do not justify doctrinal deviations, and again, the Times and most media have ignored sections in the Vatican document that discuss serious doctrinal problems such as a “rejection of faith.” And the issues cited in the document under the heading of “radical feminism” (a term called “a particularly dated canard” by the Times) include distortions of faith in Jesus and the structure of sacramental life, as well as undermining the doctrines of “the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture.

These are all major doctrines of the Catholic Church, not just “basic, nonheretical questions about gender equality in the church,” as the Times editorial claims.

Such sloppy and incomplete reporting leads one to think that the Times and other secular media rather enjoy playing up any controversy related to the Catholic Church, even when they do not know the facts.

— Ann Carey is author of Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women’s Religious Communities.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Clinton says:

    “The 84-year-old John Paul was laid out in the Clementine Hall, … tucked under his left arm
    was the silver staff, called the crow’s ear, that he had carried in public.” That was part of the
    story on the funeral of the late Pope written by Ian Fisher of the New York Times and
    published by the International Herald Tribune.

    I’ve got to wonder just what qualifications, if any, are expected of reporters writing on Catholic
    issues. Evidently, the list includes neither a passing familiarity with one’s subject, nor an
    acquaintance with either a fact-checker or an editor. However, I do suspect that it is mandatory
    that one be thoroughly grounded in the ideology of our liberal establishment.

    With the coverage of the Church so obviously ignorant, biased, lazy, sloppy and incomplete,
    it behooves us to be skeptical of the mainstream press’ coverage of everything else…

  2. dans0622 says:

    “Radical feminism” might be “a particularly dated canard” but it is appropos since the LCWR is, by and large, particularly dated.

  3. DJPNicholls says:

    “U.S. Nuns crack back at Vatican crackdown”
    We did tell them not to overexert themselves at their age, and now they’ve gone and done themselves a mischief.

  4. Supertradmum says:

    “good works do not justify doctrinal deviations”

    is my favorite phrase from this article—did not we settle this in 2000 years of Scripture and Tradition, including John 3:36; Rom. 1:5, 6:17; 15:18; 16:26; 2 Cor. 9:13; 1 Thess. 1:3; 2 Thess. 1:11; 1 Peter 2:7-8; Heb. 5:9; cf. Rev. 3:10; Ex. 19:5 and others? I would say that works without obedience are dead works. And it is the Teaching Magisterium which makes our works meritorious, not the other way around.

  5. Bea says:

    Sr, M.F. (Militant Feminist?) (AKA Margaret Farley) gets standing ovation from Theological society
    see link

    The scariest part of this article are the responses in her defense.
    Is heresy and disobedience THAT widespread?

    “Yet when the Son of Man comes, will he find, do you think, faith on the Earth?”
    Luke 18:8

  6. BaedaBenedictus says:

    “The scariest part of this article are the responses in her defense.
    Is heresy and disobedience THAT widespread?”

    Of course it is, and has been, for over 40 years. The Church is still in *crisis*. Those of us who have not been captured must get to our battle stations.

  7. ContraMundum says:


    It took me several minutes before I caught what was meant by “crow’s ear”.

    That reminds me of a student paper several years ago in which the king was addressed as “your hinus”. At first I thought it was a clever joke, but eventually it became clear that it was not intended as a joke at all.

  8. Marty says:

    Roma locuta est. Causa finita est.

  9. Kathleen10 says:

    Great article, the kind of thing I’d write myself if I spent a couple hours or months.

    At least, one can say positively, that there is at least more awareness of these heresies on the part of Catholics who pay attention. For the longest time, the sense of things not being quite right was there, but we had no one to go to that would either confirm or deny what was observed or heard about. So wonderful to have a spiritual home, even if virtual.

    The address for the Papal Nuncio is a good one to keep. There is a proper way to address concerns and thank you, Fr. Z., for your instructions on that proper way.

  10. Kathleen10 says:

    If this posted twice, I’m sorry. My “post” comment button went crazy for a moment!!

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