The House Isn’t Ours to Remodel

I was 8 years old in 1997 when Gatorade released their famous “Michael vs. Mia” commercial starring Michael Jordan and Mia Hamm.  Both were at the pinnacle of their respective athletic careers, so naturally they were shown battling against one another in a handful of sports to the tune of Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do.”

The spot repainted the familiar picture of man vs. woman, suggesting that not only is the “battle” still ongoing, but also assuming that one will inevitably prevail and establish his or herself as the superior specimen.

I bring up Michael and Mia because I was reminded of it after reading the address given in Rome April 30 by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, who’s in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the office Pope Benedict held before becoming BXVI), to the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (or LCWR: the parent organization representing 80% of U.S. nuns and sisters).

A bit of background info: The LCRW has a long history of open dissent from the Vatican–nearly a half-century–one which came to a head in 2012 with a Vatican-directed reassessment and ship-righting, if you will, by Seattle archbishop Peter Sartain. Abp. Sartain was asked by Pope Benedict (and recently reaffirmed a year ago by Pope Francis) to ensure LCWR remained in line with the Church on euthanasia, women’s ordination, abortion, and homosexuality, and gave him a five-year window to accomplish it. If they don’t play their cards right, some have speculated, LCWR could lose its canonical standing with Rome. It also should be said that the LCWR, though it represents 80% of women religious in the U.S., it doesn’t necessarily represent the views of that 80%.

In his speech last week, Cardinal Muller was, in part, clarifying the Vatican’s intent in the face of LCWR accusations that the Doctrinal Assessment run by Abp. Sartain was “flawed and the findings based on unsubstantiated accusations.”  The Cardinal pulled no punches, speaking plainly and bluntly–freely admitting to doing both, no less–about the need for such an influential organization to come back in line with Church teaching.  Specifically, he expressed disappointment that the LCWR ignored a request to have the archbishop included and have final approval on things like award recipients and speakers.

Cardinal Muller and the CDF took issue mainly with the awarding of theologian Sister Elizabeth Johnson with LCWR’s Outstanding Leadership Award.  Sr. Johnson, to be fair, is a well-known writer and professor at Fordham University, and has led many people to the faith. However, her book Quest for the Living God was so soundly opposed by U.S. Bishops as contradicting key parts of the nature of God that they wrote 21 pages in response to it in 2011, an opposition still in effect today.

The way LCWR responded in the past and has responded in this case is described best, in my opinion, as pointing fingers at Cardinal Muller and the CDF for judging them, being a bully, “wagging a finger” in women’s faces, and so forth, as if to say “anything you can do, I can do better.” In any case, the LCWR claims to know better than those in Rome, otherwise they wouldn’t argue with every issue that’s brought up.

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After reading about this exchange, I had two thoughts for the LCWR:

#1: This is not, nor has it ever been, an “us against them” type of situation.
From the way the LCWR leadership acts towards Rome, you would think the relationship between Vatican officials and the independent organizations it oversees was meant to be a mano-a-mano, knock-down-drag-out Cage Match to see whose ideas will win out in the end. In reality, however, Vatican officials, in a manner of speaking, aren’t even playing with their own cards.

Jesus handed the keys of the kingdom to Peter, he didn’t sign over the deed to the kingdom itself.

The bishops and cardinals, led by Pope Francis, are protecting something that was passed down to them from the Good Lord himself, not hoarding something they themselves crafted. Therefore, the very dogmas the LCWR demands be changed, in point of fact, cannot be changed.

In the Book of Acts, when Peter and the apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin and threatened with death for following Jesus, a member of the Sanhedrin, “respected by all the people” named Gameliel had the apostles sent outside before speaking privately to his fellow high priests.

Gameliel said in Acts 5:35-39:

Fellow Israelites, be careful what you are about to do to these men. Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be someone important, and about four hundred men joined him, but he was killed, and all those who were loyal to him were disbanded and came to nothing.

After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census. He also drew people after him, but he too perished and all who were loyal to him were scattered.

So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” (emphasis added)

To this argument, the LCWR very well might contend that those in Rome are playing the part of the Sanhedrin, but recent evidence seems to show otherwise.

The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, the other group in the U.S. representing nuns and sisters in the U.S., broke off from LCWR in 1992 to follow more faithfully the hierarchy in Rome. It was reported not long ago that the CMSWR is attracting the majority of vocations of young people today. Sounds like all the LCWR is doing is destroying itself.

#2: If you don’t like the Church as She is, then why are you still here?
I sincerely wonder why the LCWR is still battling with Rome and hanging onto its canonical standing when they’ve railed against key aspects of the Faith for decades. It’s clear they don’t accept the Church as She is, so what’s the point of sticking around?

There’s something very wrong with sporting the badge labeled “Catholic” and, at the same time, outright rejecting the aspects of the Faith one doesn’t agree with.  With this in mind, it’s a good thing the Church is merciful, otherwise who knows how long ago LCWR would’ve been out the door.

How long would a police officer last if he decided he would rather arrest people without slapping cuffs on, or that he only wanted to give people warnings instead of writing tickets? “It’s okay,” he’d say. “You don’t have to follow all the rules to be a real police officer–those rules were made up a long time ago anyway.”

Truly loving the Church, as is the case in truly loving our spouses, our children, or our friends, involves making sacrifices, generally living outside ourselves, and trusting that we don’t always have to be in control.  Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not knocking the generosity and great service undoubtedly done by the same LCWR leadership in question.  However, truly loving the Church involves full faith in Her teachings and full faith in the institution created by God.

In my opinion, the LCWR has a pride problem. The group’s leadership has fought for its own interests, demanded solutions that only it offers, and has virtually refused to listen to anything else. There has always been a condition with LCWR in the last several decades, always been a smiling face with crossed fingers and an intent to ignore whatever mandate came down from on high. That, my dear readers, is pride, plain and simple,

C.S. Lewis wrote extensively about it in Mere Christianity, calling it “the essential evil, the utmost vice…not only [opposition] between man and man, but [opposition] to God.”

He went on, saying,

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison—you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

I think this is a good lesson for all of us. I know it is for myself, at least. Pride can ruin our souls, and even if we aren’t a large organization ignoring repeated reminders from the Keeper of the Keys, we all have stuff to work on before we can get to Heaven.

Anything God does, we can’t do better.

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