Ann Carey, expert on women religious, dissects LCWR keynote – “convoluted, confused, and unfounded”

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Liberals, Magisterium of Nuns, Puir Slow-Witted Gowk, Women Religious, You must be joking! and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Clinton says:

    I’m aware that the LCWR only represents a portion of the nuns and sisters here in the
    States– but why on earth don’t we hear criticism of the LCWR’s bilge from their fellow
    sisters? I’d think what sane sisters we have remaining would be eager to keep themselves
    from being tarred with the LCWR brush– or are they OK with most of us laity assuming the
    LCWR speaks for all sisters? There exists an alternative organization for congregations of
    sisters that haven’t drunk the ‘middle space noosphere kool-aid’. It would be nice if they
    made their views known, because where I’m from, qui tacit consentire videtur.

  2. Eugene says:

    I can honestly say this has to be the most confusing document I have ever red in my life. If this is truly represents the best from the LCWR then I think these women truly need some professional help, as they are living in some sort of 5th dimension of the twilight zone or is that the middle space.
    I have never red such a mixed up self serving set of statements like these.
    If the Pope, CDF and Bishops don’t act soon then they will continue to undermine the faith but I guess some bishops are too busy monitoring admonishing and creating havoc for the traditional movement.

  3. MrTipsNZ says:

    “Ogres are like onions, they have layers” – by someone else called Shrek

  4. mrshopey says:

    The underside, as they refer to it, consists of darkness and shadows. Not a good thing. That is why people are concerned, frightened as they put it. Praying that they may come out of the shadows, and if not, the Church will do what is necessary to keep the faith undefiled.

  5. Mike says:

    The LCWR and their clerical enablers spawned by the specious and damnable “Spirit of Vatican II” continue to spew forth contemptuous psycho-babble while nations destroy themselves — and the faithful, who persevere in the face of ceaseless threats from without and within, are alternately humored and hectored as if they are idiot children.

    Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us!
    St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us! St. Pius X, pray for us!

  6. Andrew D says:

    These feminists (I can’t call them sisters anymore) should have spent their conference looking around the room and asking themselves why there weren’t any young women in the audience and why there aren’t any vocations in their orders.

  7. Ed the Roman says:

    Great is the Middle Space of the Ephesians!

  8. James says:

    Claim a secret knowledge? Check. Radically different understanding of the Gospels? Check. Bizarre, gobbledegook terminology? Check. This is straight up Gnosticism.

  9. Magash says:

    Not quite fair MrTipsNZ, Shrek’s statement about Onions is actually pretty deep and has meaning. The drivel coming out of the LCWR is just New Age double talk.
    I wonder if Archbishop Sartain was there to hear it, or was he, like Fr. Z denied access?
    This is part of the same old problem. The LCWR was told to run their award selections and speakers past the archbishop last year. They chose not to and the response was, “Next time make sure you do what we told you to do last year.” What will be done when they ignore the requirements next year? A strict diplomatic letter? A cross word and sour look?
    How much longer are they going to be allowed to flaunt the authority of the Church? There is already a orthodox leadership group for women religious in the United States which has recognition. It’s way past time to stop enabling the dissident behavior of these people. Withdraw Vatican recognition of them and force their religious congregations to either conform to the Church or stop pretending they are Catholic.

  10. They really ought to put down their bong before speaking in public like that. Really does nothing to further their cause.

    Maybe not…they are caricatures of themselves, which is a paradox. The image of Weeping Angels or Daleks comes to mind.

    Weeping Angels it is.

  11. pmullane says:

    Its difficult to see how these people, both as individuals and orders, can be brought back into thinking with the Church, they have twisted the language to the point where their ideas are seemingly fully removed from those of the Church. Please God grant a miracle that they can return to the Christ their spouse, because opinionated spinsters =/= nuns.

  12. dans0622 says:

    I was amused by Sister’s use of the “word” “leaderful.” Something like “leaderful like St. Catherine of Siena”…

  13. RobS says:

    That was inspiring. Vocations to serve the glorious Middle Space must be booming.

  14. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    Sister Schreck is schrecklich. Some of us in seminaries back in the 80s suffered from her type. I’m willing to bet that most of her kind were born between 1945 and 1965. Their patron saint is Puff the Magic Dragon. They are the “old Church” now.

  15. priests wife says:

    I think it is time to highlight the awesome nuns and sisters that exist- do these LCWR types even pray their rosary???

    We have some local sisters- Sisters of the Servants of Mary- they are all registered nurses, doing home health care (free) at NIGHT so that families can sleep while their chronically ill/dying family member is in the home. They pray, they do not average 70 years old, they wear a simple habit with veil, and they have a few young women inquiring. amazing women!

  16. jjoy says:

    All of a sudden I am transported back (forward?) to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series:
    “We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!!”

    -reason #34,597 for Summorum Pontificum….

  17. AdIesumPerMariam says:

    I would LOVE for these “womyn” to meet St. Francis himself. Now that would be an apparition worth reading about…

  18. pseudomodo says:

    I, for one, welcome our new Middle Space Overlords!

    All your Middle Space are belong to us….

  19. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    In decades gone by, the works of Eric Voegelin inspired the cry, “Don’t let them immanentize the Eschaton!”

    Readers of Voegelin may here be inclined to either or both of:

    “Don’t let them immanentize the Middle Space!”

    “Don’t let them apotheosize the Middle Space!”

    or perhaps, “Don’t let them hypostatize the Middle Space!”

    May they come heartily to echo Dante: “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura”, for their Middle Space seems closer to a dark wood than Voegelin’s Platonic ‘Metaxy’.

  20. JesusFreak84 says:

    The LCWR speeches make even less sense than Vonnegut…and I disliked Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five immensely… Do we get Cliff Notes to translate Loony Tunes to Reality-land?

  21. Stephen D says:

    ‘The new cosmology’, surely those words should be enough for the CDF just to order them to shut up totally until they come back to their senses. They are exponents of a new age philosophy not only totally alien to orthodox Catholicism but actually in opposition to it.

    (Strange that they discard their habits but all manage to look almost exactly alike anyway.)

  22. albinus1 says:

    [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.]

    Isn’t it wonderful how the Catholic Church suddenly discovered poor people in 1965! All those centuries in which no one in any religious order had any idea that poor people existed, let alone ever felt called to work with them!


  23. LeeF says:

    I hope that God grants that I live long enough for the time to come when LCWR finally represents less than 50% of US nuns. With the biological solution and the difference in vocations between LCWR and CMSWR, that’s perhaps another 20 years.

    Father’s mention of the Sisters of Charity was particularly apt. Some sisters actually spend so much time serving the poor that they don’t have time for reading jargon-filled rubbish about the “new cosmology” and attending conferences. And while probably exhausted at the end of each day, they draw their spiritual sustenance from the graces God gives them through the sacraments and traditional prayer and devotions.

  24. acricketchirps says:

    JF84: Did we confuse Voegelin with Vonnegut? If not, how in the Eschaton’s name did we get there?

  25. DanBurke says:

    Keep an eye on the National Catholic Register on this story. Ann will provide a more full account of the zany goings on some time this evening.

  26. Sonshine135 says:

    I shall stay out of Sister Shreck’s swamp!

  27. eiggam says:

    Sr. Nancy Schreck was one of my high school religion teachers over 40 years ago in Iowa. She showed her non traditional views back then as Jesus as Man was emphasized. There were other Dubuque Franciscans at the school who kept the habit and were great teachers. This situation with the LCWR will take a long time to fix.

  28. Joe in Canada says:

    “Environmental racism”?

  29. Mojoron says:

    Me good, we take care of the poor. You bad, you want us to follow rules. Rules are impinging on our belief’s, we don’t like that.

  30. Stephen McMullen says:

    Within one generation, there will be no radical “nuns” They are barren, and bear no fruit…..or vocations.

  31. Reconverted Idiot says:

    Middle-space (n): neither hot space nor cold space, i.e. the lukewarm space;
    neither outer-space nor inner-space (cf. underside – “Amen I say to thee, unless thou be underside of theology, thou shalt not live in the middle-space, but shalt be as the stardust of outer-space” — 1 Aquarius 19:69; “We are stardust” — 1st Letter of St Joni of Mitchell to the Woodstockians).

Comments are closed.