Laudamus te for ‘feminine genius’
Some years ago the Vatican patriarchy sounded an alarm and conducted an investigation of American women religious who blazed trails on unfamiliar terrain or who held views that were not of the Vatican variety.
Nuns who belong to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) were perceived to be too feminist and secular for the Church’s comfort. About 80 percent of American women religious are affiliated with LCWR.
The women were not about to back down; as far as they were concerned, they were faithful daughters of the Church in the way that Jesus would have expected them to be. Still, it was worrisome.
In 2009, the Vatican, during the papacy of Benedict XVI, began an investigation of the religious life of American nuns. The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith carried out the investigation and took over LCWR in 2012.
There was yet another investigation—apostolic visitation, it was called—conducted by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
LCWR was viewed as promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” Other “damning” accusations were promoting “a distorted ecclesiological vision, and (having) scant regard for the role of the Magisterium as the guarantor of the authentic interpretation of the Church’s Faith.”
For example the Vatican denounced the book “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics” by moral theologian Sr. Margaret Farley of the Sisters of Mercy. I did write about this and the support Farley received from the Catholic Theological Society of America.
A well-respected and admired theologian, Farley also initiated a big project in Africa to educate the nuns to work in a proactive way in the AIDS crisis. Farley was instrumental in the founding of the All-Africa Conference: Sister to Sister that offers ways to empower African women to more effectively address HIV and AIDS issues and to bring new information and hope to every village and hut in the sub-Sahara.
A Filipino nun-theologian said to me then: “The Vatican keepers of the gate have inferior knowledge of the whole living tradition compared to Farley! And she lives it totally!”
Now the good news is that the Vatican has changed its tone. Mending fences, offering an olive branch—these are some of the descriptions of the Vatican’s major shift. The mode has changed: from crackdown to buildup. The mood has shifted: from condemnatory to laudatory. As in, laudamus te, benedicimus te.
The “Final Report on the Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the U.S.A.” released last month came from the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
An Associated Press news report said: “The overwhelmingly positive report… also promised to value their ‘feminine genius’ more, while gently suggesting ways to serve the Church faithfully and survive amid a steep drop in their numbers.
“It was cheered by the American sisters themselves, dozens of whom swarmed the Vatican news conference announcing the results in a rare occasion of women outnumbering men at the Vatican.”
Quotes from the report:
“This Congregation (for Institutes of Consecrated Life) is committed to collaborate in the realization of Pope Francis’ resolve that ‘the feminine genius’ find expression in the various settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 103). We will continue to work to see that competent women religious will be actively involved in ecclesial dialogue regarding ‘the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life.’
“Indeed, the entire Church sings the ‘Magnificat’ to celebrate the great things that God does for women religious and for his people through them. We look to Mary, who constantly contemplates the mystery of God in our world, in human history and in our daily lives, the one who set out from her town ‘with haste’ (Lk 1:39) to bring Jesus and the Gospel gift to others.
“In the words of Pope Francis we turn to Mary in prayer: ‘Star of the new evangelization, help us to bear radiant witness to communion, service, ardent and generous faith, justice and love of the poor, that the joy of the Gospel may reach to the ends of the earth, illuminating even the fringes of our world (Evangelii Gaudium, 288)’.”
From LCWR: “While the Vatican’s decision to conduct an apostolic visitation caused great pain and anxiety for many Catholic sisters, our members frequently speak of how our experience of the study became the source of profound transformation for our institutes. The process led us to study the heart of our vocation as we engaged one another in significant conversations that explored our spirituality, our mission, our communal life, and our hopes for the future. As we did so, our bonds with one another grew even deeper and our understanding of the potential of this life to serve the needs of the world grew even keener.”
Indeed it was the Holy Spirit at work, through Pope Francis whose mercy-and-compassion mindset is prevailing over the stuffy Vatican power niches which he is slowly breaking open to let healthy air in. Didn’t he just point out and enumerate the deadly rot in the Vatican curia? He spoke softly and carried a big stick.
This Pope does not care to watch his back. No wonder the marginalized of this world are falling in love with him. Two weeks from now he will step on Philippine soil and see for himself a slice of the world gone awry and, more important, the loveliest, liveliest people of this planet who, I hope, will keep the papal visit politics-free and garbage-free.
A year of grace awaits us. A joyful 2015!
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