Why the Good Sisters?

By Steve Dzida, Chair
Voice of the Faithful Orange County, California
(Originally written for distribution to VOTF Orange County, California, Affiliate members)

You may have heard in the press that the Vatican has criticized harshly the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) for what the Vatican terms “serious doctrinal problems.” The LCWR says it represents 80 percent of America’s 57,000 Catholic nuns. It is influential both in the United States and globally.

Apparently the Vatican believes the LCWR focuses too much attention on poverty and social justice concerns and not enough on abortion and gay marriage. Published reports say the Vatican (i) said the LCWR had been “silent on the right to life” and had failed to make the “Biblical view of family life and human sexuality” a central plank in its agenda, (ii) accused the group of promoting “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith,” and (iii) criticized American nuns for expressing, from time to time, positions on political issues that differed from views held by American bishops because such disagreement with the bishops, “the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals,” is unacceptable.

To address these urgent problems, the Vatican named Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain, Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, and Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, to undertake reforms of the LCWR’s statutes, programs, and its application of liturgical texts, a process it said could take up to five years.


Aren’t these the same nuns who have been the heart, soul and backbone of our Church for centuries? Aren’t these the same nuns who have ministered to us all, both in the Church and outside the Church, so faithfully in their selfless service in schools, hospitals and other institutions throughout the country with particular attention to the most vulnerable among us? Aren’t these the same nuns who walked side by side with Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez, exhorting us all to justice and peace? Aren’t these the “good sisters”? The Vatican says these giants of our Church are a “serious source of scandal?”

Let’s review the bidding–

  • There is a leadership group within our Church who has for decades tolerated and enabled criminal sexual abuse of children by ordained ministers in our Church. That group is not the LCWR.
  • There is a leadership group within our Church whose members have for decades knowingly transferred criminal sexual abusers from parish to parish without notice to parishioners and without effective controls to prevent further injury and crimes upon innocents. That group is not the LCWR.
  • There is a leadership group within our Church who, ten years ago, adopted new norms for handling allegations of sexual abuse by clerics and has thereafter turned a blind eye when its members criticize, ignore, and even violate those norms. That group is not the LCWR.
  • There is a leadership group within our Church whose gross and reckless disregard for the welfare of children in its care and its arrogant refusal to accept personal responsibility for its conduct and the conduct of its members has driven thousands of Catholics out of the Church. That group is not the LCWR.
  • There is a leadership group within our Church whose negligence and intentional disregard for the welfare of innocent children in its care has cost the People of God billions of dollars and may well continue to cost the People of God even more billions in years to come. That group is not the LCWR.

You guessed it. That group is NOT the LCWR, it is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Has the Vatican announced a “doctrinal assessment” of the USCCB? Has the Vatican declared the necessity to reform the USCCB and its statutes? Has the Vatican publicly proclaimed the USCCB a “serious source of scandal?” Has the Vatican even once offered the kind of public criticism of the USCCB or any of its members as it has just made against the LCWR? We haven’t heard any of that. Have you? (Of course, one could question the Vatican’s own handling of the sexual abuse scandal in so many countries around the world, but that’s a separate story.)

The USCCB and its members have been doing a good enough job on their own of convincing the country that the only “Catholic political issues” are abortion and gay marriage. By emphasizing social justice, poverty, health care, education, and peace the LCWR and its members remind us that the mission of Catholics is service of the Gospel in all its glory. The USCCB and its members have been doing a good enough job on their own of offering aid, comfort, and political cover to particular political parties. By daring to disagree with these positions, the LCWR and its members remind us that our Church officials owe us servant leadership, not institutional paralysis. The USCCB and its members have been doing a good enough job on their own of burying their heads in the sand in the face of the critical shortage of priests to serve the People of God. By challenging us to examine “radical feminist themes” (translation: ordination of women) the LCWR and its members remind us that it is the Eucharist that is the “source and summit” of our faith, not the male, celibate priesthood.

None of us is perfect. No group of us is perfect. Not the LCWR, not the USCCB, certainly not VOTFOC. But when the Church we love is facing life and death issues, is it really “servant leadership” to lead a witch hunt against our dedicated nuns? When there are giant logs in the eyes of the USCCB and its members, is it really in service of the Gospel to attempt surgery on any mote in the eye of the LCWR and its members?

Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if the USCCB’s response to the Vatican directive about LCWR was a simple “Nuts to that!”? Since we will likely wait a long time for such a response, we suggest that is it up to us, the People of God, to stand up and announce “Nuts to that!” We encourage you to discuss this with others who love our Church as you do. We urge you to forward this message to those you know who care what kind of Church we hand on to our children and grandchildren. We invite you to discuss this message with the priests of your parish and diocese.

Please write the Vatican at: Prefect Cardinal William Joseph Levada, Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Piazza del S. Uffizio 11, 00193 Rome, Vatican City. Send Cardinal Levada (formerly of San Francisco) an email at cdf@cfaith.va. Please write Bishop Brown at: Bishop Tod D. Brown, Bishop of Orange, P. O. Box 14195, Orange, CA 92863-1595. (Write to your local bishop.) Ask them for an explanation of just how the Vatican can justify this “visitation” (persecution?) of the LCWR and yet maintain their public silence regarding the USCCB’s scandal. Let’s make sure that the Vatican and Bishop Brown knows that we care about these important matters, that we have opinions about them, and that we want our voices to be heard. This is our duty and our right. We are the Church. We are the Body of Christ.

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  1. #1 by carolanal on May 30, 2012 - 12:45 AM

    There are religious communities, who for years did not have social security. Many of us worked for the Catholic Church, thinking our humble salaries given to the community and the goodness of the Church would take care of us as we aged. Not so. As a former Sister, I left community with $200.00 and ten years of work with no social security benefits. We know first hand what it is to be poor, to be put out on the street and to be ridiculed for our standing up to the bosses. We often said,
    “nuts to them”…now we need to support our sisters in standing up to the bosses again!


  2. #2 by Mark Mullaney on May 17, 2012 - 9:46 AM

    The bishops are where they are because of their own actions and the nuns are where they are because of their own actions. Frankly, if I was in need of help and I was offered help from a bishop or a nun I would take the nuns help first…it would be a lot saver. Regarding the cash and assets…again both groups are were they are because of their actions!


  3. #3 by merrybrown on May 16, 2012 - 10:37 PM

    I would suggest you get the blog out there for all to see! These matters are timely and it is important to add VOTF to the growing numbers of people protesting the treatment of the sisters! Let’s get this material wider distribution!


  4. #4 by Toni Conen on May 5, 2012 - 10:58 AM

    Interesting slant on this on NCR… The good sisters have pension funds and other assets. The bishops, going bankrupt because of sexual abuse settlements, may wish to appropriate the nuns’ cash and assets!


  5. #5 by Kevin Connors on May 3, 2012 - 4:37 PM

    It would, indeed, be a miracle if even one member of the USCCB would read this, and take it to heart. But Church leaders seem impervious to criticism. I am beginning to think that most of us who remain committed to the institution are eternal optimists that one day the Holy Spirit will thunder to the Vaticon and its minions,, “Enough of this clap trap! Out with all of you along with your fancy robes.” And to the leaders of the LCWR, “Come, ,make this Church the loving and inviting institution Christ intended it to be.”


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