Sign of the times


“At all times the Church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel, if it is to carry out its task.”
That sentence from the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World helps in understanding a bit of news from last week.
The news: the Vatican says there are “serious doctrinal problems” in the major leadership group of American nuns. In other words, something disloyal and subversive is going on among the 50,000 or so women represented in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).
So says the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, often referred to as the Church’s “watchdog” of orthodoxy, or right belief.
So, are these women who run Catholic hospitals, teach in our schools and serve the poor, the sick and the lost in hundreds of ministries — women like the Sisters of Humility headquartered in Davenport and the Clinton Franciscans — really a mortal danger to Catholic integrity?
Perhaps, in the same sense that any of us is a danger because our particular focus tends to be on a part of some whole and our energy necessarily flows in that particular way. The LCWR is a gathering of women who represent nearly 50,000 other American Catholic women religious dedicated to Christ. They seem too open to and affected by the feminism that has been a feature of world history since the mid-20th century, according to the doctrinal congregation.
A new consciousness of their dignity and human equality grew rapidly among women beginning about 50 years ago. New technology and easier birth control made it possible for women to think and plan for a life that exercises their gifts beyond child-bearing and family-making, much like men could think.
This is that “sign of the times” which women religious are uniquely qualified to enter and bring the light of Christ. The Vatican — it’s fair to say the men of the Vatican — fear that the Sisters may identify so much with the problems and desires of women today that they neglect some of that “light.”
The men who lead the Church, the bishops, have their own responsibility in reading the signs of the times. We should not be reading last week’s news about the LCWR assessment in terms of good guys and bad guys.
What we might be concerned about, though, is the respect that will be given to women of the LCWR as they meet with the bishops assigned to “review” their work and give them “guidance.” These women are not simply erring subjects whom the bishops will instruct and correct. They know half of the human race in ways deeper than the bishops do. They must be given serious and sustained listening. This requires the virtue of humility. Only then will a discernment emerge worthy of our faith.
Let us pray that everyone involved in this tension, women and men together, is humble enough to learn a truth more adequate for the Church’s mission today.
Frank Wessling

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