Pope Francis’ outstanding address to international leaders of women religious

Today Pope Francis met with some 800 leaders of women’s religious institutes from around the world in an organization called the International Union of Superiors General (UISG). Think of an international version of the LCWR.

This meeting of women religious in Rome has been injected with controversy by American nuns of the LCWR who went there, and who have openly tried to draw attention to their own difficulties with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The LCWR is under doctrinal scrutiny. More controversy was introduced by the strange remarks made to the international group by the Prefect of the Congregation for Religious (the title is longer than that, but I am not going to write it out all the time), His Eminence João Card. Braz de Aviz, who claimed – perhaps through a momentary memory lapse – that the CDF had not kept Religious in the loop in the doctrinal investigation. Those remarks got the liberal sisters and their camp-followers all worked up yesterday as they sensed a rift which they could exploit, if only they cold pour some noise and energy into it.

Today, however, I think their hopes are greatly diminished.

As you read my quick translation (I haven’t seen anything official), keep a few things in mind.

  • A couple weeks back Pope Francis approved of what the CDF was doing in regard to the LCWR, thus prompting the LCWR types and their pets in the catholic media to wonder whether the Prefect of the CDF hadn’t maybe lied to Francis, or had not shared enough information with him.
  • The sisters of the LCWR, as well as all the expounders of the “Magisterium of Nuns” (the gals who seek to place their own pronouncements over and against that of the Magisterium of the bishops), have been droning mantra-style that focus on being obedient to God rather than to the Church.  That’s as fine as goes, in an ultimate sense, but the sisters wind up pushing the Church out of the picture completely.
  • The other day Card. Braz de Aviz said some incomprehensible things about “obedience” in his address to this UISG group.  In effect, from what I read, obedience became so vague that it could mean almost anything.
  • It is my bold bet that the CDF contributed in a major way to Pope Francis address to the UISG.
  • That said, here are two excerpts from Francis address to this international group of leaders of women’s religious institutes, the UISG.

From the first part of Francis’ talk:

Obedience as listening to the will of God, in the interior movement of the Holy Spirit authenticated by the Church, accepting that obedience passes also through human mediation. Remember that the relationship of authority-obedience is contextualized in the much larger context of the ministry of the Church and it constitutes a special fulfillment of its mediating function (cf Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life… The service of authority and obedience, 12)

To my mind, this runs over what Card. Braz de Aviz said the other day. Francis reminds the sisters that, yes, you do have to obey your human superiors, and the Church – no individuals – gets to authenticate the motions of the Spirit.

Note that Francis quoted a curial document.

And now this, which will make this a pretty bad day for the LCWR types (once someone tells them what Francis said).  Note that the phrase in Italian “sentire con la Chiesa” is very tricky to translate.  “Sentire” means a whole range of things, but it points to “sensing your way, trying to discern, feel, apprehend with the Church”.  It has to do aligning your mind, heart and will with what the Church thinks and wills.  I chose “think with the Church”, to underscore that we must keep the rational dimension of the “sensing” front and center.  That said:

Finally, the ecclesial aspect (ecclesialità) as one of the constitutive dimensions of the consecrated life, a dimension which must be constantly recovered and deepened in life. Your vocation is a fundamental charism through the journey of the Church, and it is not possible that a consecrated woman or man do not “think” with the Church, which gave birth to us in Baptism; a “thinking” with the Church which finds its filial expression in fidelity to the Magisterium, in communion with the Shepherds and the Successor of Peter, Bishop of Rome, visible sign of unity. The announcement of and the witness to the Gospel, for every Christian, is never an isolated act.  This is important, the announcing of and the witnessing to the Gospel for every Christian is never an isolated act or that of a group, and no evangelizer whosoever acts, as Paul VI recalled so well, “under the force of his own inspiration, but in union with the mission of the Church and in her name” (Ap. Ex. Evangelii nuntiandi, 80) [sic… probably should be par. 60]. Paul VI continued: “It is an absurd dichotomy to think to live outside the Church, to love Jesus without living the Church (cf ibid., 16). Feel strongly the responsibility that you have to care for the formation of your Institutes in the sound doctrine of the Church, in the love of the Church and in the ecclesial spirit.

In sum, the centrality of Christ and of the Gospel, authority as a service of love, to “think” in and with Mother Church: these are the three main points I desire to leave with you, to which I join once again my gratitude for your work, which is not always easy.

1) Christ and the Gospel are central
2) authority as a service of love (which is charity)
3) aligning one’s heart, mind and will with the Church

That is what I had time to render for you this morning.  I think these are the more important sections of Francis’ address.  No doubt the whole thing will be available soon in English.

Bottom line:

In this address, Francis gently but effectively said “No” to what the LCWR has been doing and saying and he again, publicly, gave support to what the CDF has undertaken.

UPDATE: 15:53 GMT:

What to make of Cindy Wooden’s under-reporting of Pope Francis address for CNS?  HERE

Is it my imagination or does her article leave out the real meat of Pope Francis’ message to the sisters?

Take a look for yourselves.

UPDATE: 17:23 GMT:

It is now after Noon in Kansas City, MO, where the National Schismatic Reporter has its offices.

Do we find on their fishwrappy site anything precise or accurate about Pope Francis’ address to the UISG?  I can’t see it.  Maybe I missed it?

On the other hand, the report of what the Pope has been available on the Vatican website for over 5 hours.  I found it easily enough, and I’m recovering from a fever.

Perhaps, so far, all NSR has depended on is Cindy Wooden’s story.

What gives?  Fishwrap was beating an excited drum about this audience for days.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Father Z:

    It looks like the reference to Evangelii Nuntiandi no. 80 is wrong. Perhaps it should be no. 60 where it says: “Ex hoc inducitur eum non veluti sibi sumpto sponte officio, nec sua ipsius ductum mentis incitatione agere, sed in communione cum Ecclesiae munere atque eiusdem nomine.” I could be wrong but I don’t see anything under no. 80 that might fit the quotation. [Thanks. I’ll add a note, above. The text cited was 80.]

  2. joecct77 says:

    So? Unless the bishops start exercising their roles as teachers and shepherds the flock is dispersed and an easy target for the wolves and predators upon the faith.

    Say “No” more often.

  3. Theology Nerd says:

    Thanks be to God! We have hoped and prayed for years for someone to help bring our congregations of women religious in the U.S. back into the Church, and, just when it seemed that the good work begun under Pope Benedict would come to nothing, the CDF and Pope Francis save the day!
    So very many of our women are so hateful toward the Church and anyone who upholds Church teaching…their talk of tolerance and love is a ruse. If you speak in support of the Church, they will do all in their twisted power to DESTROY you (believe me, I’ve been on the receiving end of their wrath).
    One question: how on earth did João Card. Braz de Aviz ever get put into his current job? He and Archbishop Tobin have done so much damage to a good work that had begun. :(

  4. ACS67 says:

    According to CNS and the Sisters quoted, they were not upset at Pope Francis’ talk at all. They see hope in him. They took the talk positively. That’s a good sign. Perhaps Pope Francis will be the pope who can bridge the many differences and divisions in the Church.

  5. JacobWall says:

    So, “mean” Pope Benedict took a full 4 years to announce that action needed to be taken and another 3 years to begin. “Nice” Pope Francis has taken less than 2 months to verbally chastise them and actively support the action already being taken. If he were so worried about being “nice” to everyone, and going the opposite direction of Benedict, I don’t think he would be moving so quickly to show his support for this – actively.

    This is an excellent example of how Francis is working in continuity with Benedict, building on what he already started, and upholding the good work done by his predecessor. It also shows that Pope Francis is certainly not some wishy-washy “nice guy” that’s going to let people trample all over the Church. Combining the CNS excerpts with those Fr. Z translated here, it’s clear that Pope Francis is reaching out to the LCWR, and – as Pope Benedict before them – showing Christian mercy by giving them more chances than they deserve; but he is making the context and expectation of this reaching out and compassion clear – Christ, the Gospel, the Church’s authority and thinking and acting with and within the Church. (This is what the Christ does for us through the Church – giving us more chances than we deserve, but making the conditions for those chances unquestionably clear.)

    This is wonderful!

    [Yep. You hit it on the head.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  6. JacobWall says:


    The sisters quoted are NOT LCWR sisters, which is a solely U.S. organization; they are from India, Germany and Ireland/Sudan. I’m sure even many sisters from the U.S. who are not the LCWR type would be inspired by this speach. So, I don’t think that the renegades at the top of the LCWR are the ones coming away from this hearing Holy Father’s words inspired and motivated – although it would be a pleasant surprise if they were.

    Any nun who is dedicated to the three points he mentioned already would most certainly be inspired and motivated by this speach. It is a great encouragement in addition to chastisement; to those who don’t need correction, they will only hear the encouragement. (Those who ignore the correction are a different story …)

    I share your enthusiasm that we will see a great amount of inspiration during this pontificate. But judging by his words, I don’t think it will be the “we’re all OK, let’s just get along” approach many people are expecting. I suspect that he will bring many people home, back into the fullness of the Church, but not by simple “dialogue” or “bridges,” but rather by bringing people to a point where they have to choose one way or another. When disenters see his compassionate firmness, I think and I hope that many will choose the obediance to the Church that he is offering.

  7. q7swallows says:

    CNS also had this story:
    “An official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told CNA May 7 on the condition of anonymity that it is “perplexed” by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz saying it did not discuss with him their decision to require an American group of religious superiors to undergo reform.

    ” ‘We are perplexed because the matter is the exclusive responsibility of the congregation and we aren’t stepping on anyone’s toes,’ the source said early on Tuesday afternoon.”
    The rest here: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-doctrine-office-confused-by-cardinals-lcwr-comments/

  8. majuscule says:

    Hope this isn’t off topic!

    From: http://ncronline.org/news/sisters-stories/lcwr-president-talks-church-authority-dialogue

    Said on the “sidelines ” of the meeting—

    Listening to God, said Franciscan Sr. Florence Deacon, the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), includes listening to the “Spirit among all of us.”

    “If the Spirit speaks among all of us or is in all of us, then authority is listening to others too,” said Deacon. “You listen to the will of God in a whole lot of ways.”

  9. ACS67 says:

    U.S. Sister Mary Lou Wirtz, superior of the Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and president of the International Union of Superiors General, said the sisters “are very pleased with the pope, and it gives them hope of maybe some change happening in the church.”

    She is LCWR. An interview with her here:

  10. ACS67 says:

    The link to the interview was May 6 but it still gives an idea of what her perspective and expectations were preceding this meeting with the Holy Father. If CNS is accurate in quoting her, she seems to be satisfied, for the moment at least.

  11. VexillaRegis says:

    “Feel strongly the responsibility that you have to care for the formation of your Institutes in the sound doctrine of the Church…” The nuns on the bus must be taking antihistamines now – hearing the phrase: “the sound doctrine of the Church” will cause rashes, stomach pains and maybe even anaphylactic shocks in the sensitive women.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  12. McCall1981 says:

    Can someone help me understand this? How can Pope Francis say all these good things about sound doctrine, obedience, motherhood etc, yet the LCWR Sisters have positive comments?

  13. VexillaRegis says:

    McCall: Their brains are incorrectly wired, so when the text says “wrong” they read “right”. Not sure if the cause is a collective psychosis or NPD, but I suspect the latter.

  14. anna 6 says:

    From Francis:
    “Think of how much damage to the people of God has been caused by men and women of the Church who are careerists, climbers, who use the people, the Church, their brothers and sisters – those they should be serving – as trampolines for their personal interests and ambitions,” he said. “This does great harm to the Church.”

    I LOVE that Pope Francis uses the word “careerists” in his talk to the sisters. This word is often used to describe the damage caused by the “men” in the curia. But he is acknowledging that some women religious have been guilty of the same sin and have caused at least as much damage.

  15. MikeM says:

    Card. Braz de Aviz met with Card. Müller after he made his statements and, according to the statement from the Vatican press office, they “reaffirmed their common commitment to the renewal of Religious Life, and particularly to the Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR and the program of reform it requires, in accordance with the wishes of the Holy Father.”

    It seems that Pope Francis has more than just acquiesced to program WRT the LCWR.

  16. Gregg the Obscure says:

    My wife was recently in the hospital (now home and improving, thanks be to God!) and a friend of hers who is a retired priest came to visit on Saturday. This retired priest is a pleasant fellow, but way past the left field foul pole. My wife mentioned her admiration for Pope Francis. The retired priest said he had liked Pope Francis at first, but has changed his opinion because of the Pope’s position toward the LCWR. The Richard Rohr/Joan Chittister crowd understands what JacobWall said so well above.

  17. JabbaPapa says:

    Note that the phrase in Italian “sentire con la Chiesa” is very tricky to translate. ”Sentire” means a whole range of things, but it points to “sensing your way, trying to discern, feel, apprehend with the Church”. It has to do aligning your mind, heart and will with what the Church thinks and wills. I chose “think with the Church”, to underscore that we must keep the rational dimension of the “sensing” front and center.

    Father, “sentire” in such usage is less tricky than you make it out to be — it’s perhaps a little colloquial and maybe even slightly dialectal, but it’s clear that the Holy Father was using it in the sense of “to understand” — so “understand with the Church”.

    To be fair, your translation is close enough !!! :-)

    “Sentire” is a passive verb in this usage, as “understand”, whereas “think” is an active one, to be more precise.

    Pope Francis is using it with reference to our thoughtful acceptance of the Revelation into our souls, more than to the rational activities of a Catholic mind — though I’ll certainly agree that this comment is a minor quibble, rather than any sort of criticism as such !!!

  18. JKnott says:

    McCall1981 says: “How can Pope Francis say all these good things about sound doctrine, obedience, motherhood etc, yet the LCWR Sisters have positive comments?”

    Just a guess , but Pope Francis has demonstrated such an option for the poor that the LCWR are almost backed into a corner because they base and justify so much of their heresy within the context of the poor and social justice. They are pretty light on logic and reason but probably have enough craftiness to realize attacks against the Pope’s address would not be so politically correct, especially since (hopefully) the majority of the religious WOMEN will find solace and inspiration in his words.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

    [Great entry. Concise. Pertinent. With a touch of humor. Dead on.]

  19. Clinton R. says:

    …”a “thinking” with the Church which finds its filial expression in fidelity to the Magisterium, in communion with the Shepherds and the Successor of Peter, Bishop of Rome, visible sign of unity. ”

    If you are not in the Barque of Peter, which has Christ as her captain, then one (religious man or women or the laity) is in a boat destined to crash into the rocks and sink. Heretical views and teachings can only lead one onto the path of perdition. Kudos to Pope Francis for his clarity on this matter.

  20. THREEHEARTS says:

    I would like to ask all of you a question. You may wish to answer it or perhaps Fr Z. might wish to do a separate blog on the subject. Should we address the feminism in our Catholic Church today, and believe me how even amongst those in the pews who support their sisters in the Church fallen or otherwise, address it as a schism or tell the truth and name it an outright heresy????

    [Oooooh yes. You are now digging into a rotten tooth. This will happen.]

  21. ACS67 says:

    According to the NCR article the Sisters came away happy with the Pope’s words. I’m glad. Pope Francis is going to be one who unites, not divides.

  22. McCall1981 says:

    Throughout all this LCWR stuff lately, Pope Francis has never mentioned a greater, or even a changed, role for women in the Church. I think this is pretty conspicuous in it’s absence, particularly in an address like this one.

  23. VexillaRegis says:

    What a surprize! Pater Zuehlsoppidum mihi dedit stellam auream primam!

    [Calm down.]

  24. Father Z,

    A humble question from this reader who has some Latin but no Italian: Both languages use “sentire” in the quoted expression. I know the Latin is the infinitive, i.e., “to think.” Is “sentire” in Italian also the infinitive?

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

    [See my separate entry.]

  25. southern orders says:

    I think too, in the colloquial sense, sentire when used by most Italians also means to listen up, pay attention, make sure you hear what I’m saying, this is important.

  26. mark says:

    Yes, sentire is the infinitive – of an Italian verb with multiple meanings (including to feel, to hear, to know).
    In Pope Francis’ concluding phrase, he says:- “sentire” in e con la Madre Chiesa. (In the Italian original text the word ‘sentire’ is in double inverted commas.) I believe his words mean:- ‘Thinking, feeling and truly being in and with Holy Mother Church…’. So, a bit more than ‘just’ thinking. I hope this helps,
    A half-Italian Mark!

  27. Pingback: Pope Francis personally challenges the dissent and disobedience of women religious leaders « Protect the Pope

  28. Luciano says:

    Oh, Lord. Seems that some liberal people in the US are upset because Pope Francis use the word “zitella” (‘od maid’ in english) in his speech. I’ve just read on Robert Moynihan website. ‘Sigh’

  29. ACS67 says:

    Thank you McCall1981 for posting the link to the full text. It is an absolutely beautiful speech.

  30. JabbaPapa says:

    Seems that some liberal people in the US are upset because Pope Francis use the word “zitella”

    oooh — was THAT the word he used ?

    LOL — I do love the Holy Father’s cheeky sense of humour !!!

  31. Bea says:

    Fr Z said:
    “It is now after Noon in Kansas City, MO, where the National Schismatic Reporter has its offices.
    Do we find on their fishwrappy site anything precise or accurate about Pope Francis’ address to the UISG? I can’t see it. Maybe I missed it?
    What gives? Fishwrap was beating an excited drum about this audience for days.”

    Maybe they’ve pulled back to “regroup” in order to plan their mode of attack after conferring with their allies (the LCWR)

  32. kpoterack says:

    This will be interesting to watch.

    Even outside of an ecclesial context, let us imagine a new boss who comes to work and finds he has to deal with two employees: One, let us call ‘Mr. Gerhard Mueller,’ who consults with the boss, does his work, and is generally an upstanding guy; the other, let us call ‘Mr. Braz de Aviz,’ who complains about his fellow employees – and gives public interviews to this effect. Even ideology aside, which of the two do you think the boss will keep?

    My take on this is both that the libs are trying to spin the situation to the outside world AND that they are so certain that Pope Francis is one of their own, that they are trying to force him to take sides against the more “conservative elements” in the curia.

    My prediction is that this sort of politicized behavior will only annoy Pope Francis and will backfire on them.

  33. PA mom says:

    Very good! He has such enthusiasm and clarity, it is infectious! May it infect those who most need it!

  34. McCall1981 says:

    Isn’t Card. Aviz doing exactly what Pope Francis said not to do, as far as bringing in ideology, promoting himself, careerism, etc?

  35. Pingback: Ascension - Big Pulpit

  36. JabbaPapa says:

    Is “sentire” in Italian also the infinitive?


  37. kbf says:

    You might want to get Fr Finnigan’s help with this, but there was a great interview this morning on Radio 4’s Today Programme (not normally noted for it’s accuracy of reporting when it comes to the Church) with the English superior of an international congregation of nuns who is based in Rome and she hit the nail squarely on the head when quizzed on the HF’s comments on service and not seeking to be ambitious. She quite rightly pointed out she has a fixed tenure as the superior, and at the end of it could well find herself “cleaning the toilets” if asked to do so by the new superior on relinquishing the role and that it was exactly what she signed up to do when she took her vows, that she saw it entirely in the context of service, and that all understanding of “power” in a worldly sense has no application to her position as Superior of the order when pressed on the HF’s admonishment of “careerism”. She also spoke elloquently of the HF’s exhortation to open herself up through her vow of chastity and batted the snide line of questioning on the meaning of the HF’s comments about them not being “spinsters” right “out of the park” as you would say.

    And if you really want the killer quote to the nuns on the bus:

    “We think of the harm inflicted on the People of God by men and women of the Church who are careerists, social climbers, who “use” the people, the Church, brothers and sisters – those they should serve — as trampolines for their own personal interests and ambitions. But these do great harm to the Church”

  38. Sal says:

    How does a guy with a name like “Zuhlsdorf” get to be so good at speaking Italian? Italian on your mother’s side? [Welllll….. most of my theological formation was in Rome, I went to an Italian seminary, I lived in Rome for many years, I worked in the Roman Curia, I am Italian clergy… gee… not sure, now that you bring it up! o{];¬) ]

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