Ann Carey, author of the thoughtful and balanced Sisters in Crisis Revisited: From Unraveling to Reform and Renewal, masterfully dissected the astonishingly myopic and self-centered speech given at the recent LCWR meeting by Sr. Nancy Shreck. I urge you to read Carey’s autopsy report in full HERE.
Here are some snips… with my emphases, comments:
The LCWR Doubles Down on Dissent
Sister Nancy Schreck’s keynote address to the LCWR 2014 annual assembly was equally confused and defiant.
“We have been so changed that we are no longer at home in the culture and church in which we find ourselves.” [There’s a home for you in the Anglican church.]
This quotation from the keynote address (PDF) of Franciscan Sister Nancy Schreck to the August 12-15 annual assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is startling, considering that it comes from a vowed member of a religious order who is speaking for other sisters. While Catholics should not feel at home in this modern culture, not feeling at home in the Catholic Church is indeed another matter.
Yet that quotation and many of the other statements in Sister Schreck’s keynote do help explain why the LCWR has resisted the reform that was ordered two-and-a-half years ago by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and reaffirmed in April 2013 by Pope Francis. [Shreck claims that those who don’t work with or care for the poor can’t understand where the LCWR types are coming from. But… Pope Francis reaffirmed the CDF’s examination of the LCWR.]
Rather than indicating any conciliation with the Holy See and the US bishops, the assembly keynote address by Sister Schreck, who was LCWR president in 1995, tried to explain why the LCWR was justified in taking the road it followed, implying that the Holy See had misjudged and misunderstood the LCWR.
Unfortunately, her reasoning was convoluted, confused, and unfounded in many respects, and she indicated that maintaining close ties to the Church was somehow incompatible with service to the poor and marginalized, the only ministry that she seems to believe is worthy of attention by today’s sisters.
Sister Schreck began by taking selected quotations from Perfectae Caritatis, the Vatican II document on the proper renewal of religious life. She summed up by saying that the document focused on four areas: the call to follow Christ; the return to the original spirit of religious institutes; adapting to changed conditions of our time; and promoting among members adequate knowledge of the social conditions of the times and the needs of the Church.
The sisters have faithfully implemented that document, Sister Schreck contended. [Does anyone believe that? Does Shreck? I doubt it.] “We have become more faithful not less, more clear about who we are, not less, and more free to give expression to our call, not less,” she said. [And yet the are under the scrutiny of the CDF and US bishops. And does anyone think that the CDF and the US bishops wouldn’t rather be doing something else with their time and energy?]
Sister Schreck neglected to mention some other crucial elements in that council document, including the close relationship to the Church that is to be maintained by religious: “All institutes should share in the life of the Church, adapting as their own and implementing in accordance with their own characteristics the Church’s undertakings and aims in matters biblical, liturgical, dogmatic, pastoral, ecumenical, missionary, and social” (PC 2c). And: “Since the Church has accepted their surrender of self they should realize they are also dedicated to its service” (PC 5). [I wonder how much talk about “self surrender” there was during the LCWR meeting. How will we ever know, since they straight-armed the people who could have helped them to be more transparent?]
Yet Sister Schreck indicated that implementing Perfectae Caritatis meant leaving long-established Catholic institutions and “habits, and convents, and schedules,” in order to minister to “margin dwellers.” [NB: The CDF is not interested in whether sisters wear veils or live in convents. They are interested in their spirituality and formation.] She seems to have overlooked the directive of Perfectae Caritatis that “religious communities should continue to maintain and fulfill the ministries proper to them” (PC 20) while looking for new applications of those ministries in a changing world.
Instead of reflecting this classic understanding of religious life, Sister Schreck spoke with disdain for the “institutional church” and “royal theological positions,” seeming to prefer instead the “underside” of theology:
We came to know Jesus from the underside of theology, [Does that mean anything?] in the inner cities and homeless shelters, from immigrants and prisoners, with a view from prostitutes and from the children of slaves, from the scarred places on the earth, the places of environmental racism. We are continuing to explore who Jesus is and the meaning of the incarnation in the new cosmology. [Would that be the new cosmology of the 2012 keynote speaker? HERE and HERE. Maybe their underside theology involves synergistic convergence or cosmogenesis or even, wait for it… noosphere…! And last year’s speaker, HERE, took them on a trek through the cosmos to the edge of the universe. They learned that they were “stardust”. Remember that? Weird. But it seems that the lessons were deeply imbibed.]
She claimed that “the authority of those who suffer has a special claim on the obedience of religious congregations,” as if fidelity to the Church is somehow incompatible with helping the suffering. [Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity are well-known as being faithful to the Church’s teachings. They qualify as helpers of the poor, don’t they? I think that if Sr. Shreck and Co. are so focused on the poor, they should spend some time living like the Sisters of Charity.] She also seems to have forgotten that thousands of sisters who went before her ministered to the suffering precisely because they were motivated by the teachings of the Church.
The keynoter also claimed that LCWR sisters have a “clarity of identity and purpose which we cannot expect those who have not taken the journey and done the work ever to be able to understand.” [Pope Francis reaffirmed the CDF and US Bishops oversight of the LCWR… in case you had forgotten.] Conversely, she spoke of sisters being in a “middle space,” a state of “both creativity and disorientation” [The… noosphere… ?!?] in which “much of what was is gone, and what is coming is not yet clear.” [Perhaps it will synergistically converge on them from the theological underneath side of the, wait for it…. ]
This does not sound like clarity of identity and purpose. Sister Schreck said in the “middle space” [… YES! The “middle space”!] in which she locates religious life, “all of our theological categories are re-defined: concepts like love, divine presence, incarnation, and world view are reshaped.” [It’s the result of a cosmosynergism of the middle underside.]
Yet, in spite of this confusion and lack of clarity, the sisters are determined to “use what we know from this mysterious middle place as wisdom for other organizations and institutions not because we are right but because we are faithful to the work of the middle space.” [ALL HAIL THE MIDDLE SPACE! WE SERVE THE MIDDLE SPACE!]
It is as if Sister Schreck is claiming that in all the chaos and confusion sisters have experienced since they put their own interpretation on Vatican II renewal and completely changed the concept of vowed religious life, they have discovered rich truths unknown to anyone else in the previous 20 centuries of Christianity. “Many keepers of the great religious traditions now seem frightened by what we have come to know, they seem to find it difficult to converse with the complexities and hungers of our vision,” she claimed.
No, that’s not narcissistic. Nope, not at all.
Read the whole dissection for more.
What a train wreck.
And to think, LCWR denied me credentials.