SEATTLE — The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, in a letter to Pope Francis, criticized the head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for his recent comments chastising the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
The Seattle-based association, which claims 1,000 U.S. priests as members, focused its letter to the pope on comments made by the congregation’s prefect, German Cardinal Gerhard Muller, in an April 30 welcoming address to LCWR leadership.
LCWR is a Maryland-based umbrella group that claims about 1,500 leaders of U.S. women’s communities as members, representing about 80 percent of the country’s 57,000 women religious. The group is currently undergoing a major reform ordered by the Vatican in 2012.
Cardinal Muller’s remarks were “self-confessedly blunt,” said the letter, signed by Fr. David Muller of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the association’s president, and members of the group’s board.
Dated June 2, the letter was released to the media June 12.
The prelate’s comments included, among other things, the view that an LCWR award to one sister whose book was subject to doctrinal scrutiny “will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the doctrinal assessment”; that LCWR is promoting futuristic ideas he described as “opposed to Christian revelation”; and there is “increasing concern” over the “directional statements” of some LCWR member congregations.
LCWR plans to give a major award at the group’s annual assembly in August to Sr. Elizabeth A. Johnson, a Sister of St. Joseph. In 2011, the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine criticized one of Sr. Johnson’s books as containing “misrepresentations, ambiguities and errors” related to the Catholic faith.
The cardinal’s remarks were released by the congregation “without any aspects of the subsequent discussion being included,” the U.S. priests told the pope.
“Does that kind of premature, one-sided public comment build trust? Does it help the process or the public perception of the church?” the letter asked. “Rather it projects what many perceive as clerical/hierarchical bullying of religious women, publically shaming them. That is deeply regretful. A joint concluding statement after the discussions would have been more appropriate.”
The LCWR later issued its own statement describing the dialogue that ensued as “honest, respectful, and engaging” during which the LCWR leadership was able to “offer responses that illuminated some of the perceptions about the LCWR held by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
“We perceive you to be promoting an entirely different way of dealing with matters of concern within the church, allowing honest dialogue without preemptively defining the outcomes,” the priests told Pope Francis. “The process CDF is using with LCWR seems to us … far removed from 1 Peter’s recommendation on the Sixth Sunday of Easter that we explain our reasons for our ‘hope’ – our positions, our convictions, our perspectives – ‘with gentleness and reverence,’ in short with respect for those with whom we talk.”
The letter added, “We pray that abuse of process and persons will not continue in this case or others, but that a genuinely dialogic process, conducted with gentleness and reverence, will bring this issue to a conclusion more in keeping with … your own pastoral approach.”