Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

Recently at the Vatican the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released their findings of the Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). In order to implement the findings of the doctrinal assessment, the Holy See, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has appointed Most Reverend Peter Sartain, Archbishop of Seattle, as its archbishop delegate for review, guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work of the LCWR. Most Reverend Leonard Blair, Bishop of Toledo, and I were also appointed as assistant delegates.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is an association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States. According to canon law, conferences of major superiors are an expression of the collaboration between the Holy See, superiors general, and the local conferences of bishops in support of consecrated life. In addition to LCWR, there are two other conferences of major superiors in the United States: The others are the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

It is important to note that the doctrinal assessment of LCWR does not deal with the faith and life of the 57,000 women religious in the United States. This has been the task of the recent apostolic visitation conducted by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The doctrinal assessment is not meant to call into question the faith and witness of so many dedicated and faithful women religious throughout the country. In fact, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith affirmed them in its doctrinal assessment of the LCWR, saying, "The Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contribution of women religious to the church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years."

Nevertheless, the doctrinal assessment reveals serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life. In fact, the doctrinal assessment is very specifically focused on three areas of concern:

  • Addresses at the LCWR assemblies. Addresses given during LCWR annual assemblies manifest problematic statements and serious theological, even doctrinal errors, such as a talk by Sister Laurie Brink about some religious sisters "moving beyond the church" or even beyond Jesus. Not only is this contrary to core Catholic beliefs; such a rejection of faith is also a serious source of scandal and is incompatible with religious life. Such unacceptable positions routinely go unchallenged by the LCWR.

  • Policies of corporate dissent. "Leadership teams" of various communities of religious sisters, among them LCWR officers, have protested the Holy See's actions regarding the question of women's ordination and of a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons. These sisters collectively take a position not in agreement with the church's teaching.

  • Radical feminism. There is a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR, including theological interpretations that risk distorting faith in Jesus and his loving Father who sent his Son for the salvation of the world.

Bishop Blair and I will be assisting Archbishop Sartain with his mandate as the delegate, which includes the following:

  1. To revise LCWR Statutes to ensure greater clarity about the scope of the mission and responsibilities of this conference of major superiors.

  2. To review LCWR plans and programs, including general assemblies and publications, to ensure that the scope of the LCWR's mission is fulfilled in accord with church teachings and discipline.

  3. To create new LCWR programs for member congregations for the development of initial and ongoing formation material that provides a deepened understanding of the church's doctrine of the faith.

  4. To review and offer guidance in the application of liturgical norms and texts. Specifically, the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours will have a place of priority in LCWR events and programs.

  5. To review LCWR links with affiliated organizations, e.g., Network and the Resource Center for Religious Life. While there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the church's social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a defining issue that is part of the current public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States.

In sum, the purpose of the doctrinal assessment is to work collaboratively to renew LCWR and strengthen the doctrinal foundations that should guide the organization's many important initiatives and efforts. Please pray for the success of this task.

May God give us this grace. Amen.