Monday, May 5, 2014

CDF Prefect Gerhard Muller takes LCWR to task

UPDATE 5/13/2014: Since this article was written, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has issued a more detailed statement regarding their meeting with Cardinal Müller. They called their conversation with him "constructive in its frankness and lack of ambiguity. It was not an easy discussion, but its openness and spirit of inquiry created a space for authentic dialogue and discernment." LCWR added that it was "saddened to learn that impressions of the organization in the past decades have become institutionalized in the Vatican, and these institutionalized perceptions have led to judgments and ultimately to the doctrinal assessment. During the meeting it became evident that despite maximum efforts through the years, communication has broken down and as a result, mistrust has developed. What created an opening toward dialogue in this meeting was hearing first-hand the way the CDF perceives LCWR. We do not recognize ourselves in the doctrinal assessment of the conference and realize that, despite that fact, our attempts to clarify misperceptions have led to deeper misunderstandings." The nuns also reaffirmed their "commitment to stay at the table and talk through differences."

Barbara Marx Hubbard, who was the target of some of Müller's most critical remarks, gave her own response, arguing that her writing has been inspired by Christian thinkers such as "Teilhard de Chardin, Ilia Delio, John Haught, Beatrice Bruteau, Fr. Thomas Berry, David Richo, Diarmuid O'Murchu, and others. And of course, from the New Testament itself..." She added that "meeting with so many women religious through LCWR, I see conscious evolution in action. They have been evolving the church and the world for hundreds of years through deep gospel living, a mystical presencing, faithfulness in serving unmet needs, solidarity with Earth, building community as 'whole-makers,' risk-taking for the sake of the mission, genius for cooperative self-governance and decision making, and above all bringing love and hope for the future into the lives of millions."


It would seem from Cardinal Gerhard Müller's address to officials of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious during their visit to Rome last week, that there is a vast paradigmatic gap between the American nuns and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Obviously, LCWR continues to view the Vatican's doctrinal assessment of their organization as a flawed document and at best, only a suggestive starting point for negotiations about how they will conduct business in the future.

Cardinal Müller, who evidently is either ignorant of -- or is choosing to ignore -- the more democratic mindset that prevails in the Catholic Church in the United States, including among women religious in this country, seems determined to impose the mandate in its entirety on LCWR. And Archbishop Sartain seems to be caught in the middle -- too much the obedient Catholic prelate to effectively mediate between the CDF and LCWR, too American to have the heart to impose the more dictatorial parts of the mandate on his "sisters".

Müller starts out by mentioning the progress he feels has been made, particularly in the "revision of the LCWR Statutes and civil by-laws." But the speech quickly takes a negative turn. He draws the distinction between himself and the nuns very clearly. LCWR, the cardinal points out, has consistently believed that the doctrinal assessment is "flawed and the findings based on unsubstantiated accusations" and he notes that the organization repeated its objections in the preface to its latest book, Spiritual Leadership for Challenging Times. In contrast, he asserts his opinion that the assessment is "accurate" and -- hyperbolically, in our opinion -- adds that "the path of reform it lays before the LCWR remains necessary so that religious life might continue to flourish in the United States."

Cardinal Müller dwells on two points in particular. First, he refuses to accept LCWR's view that the requirement that the organization have its speakers pre-approved by Archbishop Sartain is a "disproportionate sanction." He obviously doesn't understand or accept the long tradition of independence women's religious congregations have enjoyed, particularly in the United States. In a tone that, while trying to be helpful comes across as vaguely menacing, the prefect asserts that this pre-screening is intended to be "a point of dialogue and discernment. It allows the Holy See's Delegate to be involved in the discussion first of all in order to avoid difficult and embarrassing situations wherein speakers use an LCWR forum to advance positions at odds with the teaching of the Church. Further, this is meant as an assistance to you, the Presidency, so as to anticipate better the issues that will further complicate the relationship of the LCWR with the Holy See."

And Muller specifically takes LCWR to task for giving a platform and its Outstanding Leadership Award of 2014 "to a theologian criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in that theologian's writings. This is a decision that will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment. Not only that, but it further alienates the LCWR from the Bishops as well." That would be Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, whose 2007 book Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God, was condemned by the USCCB's Committee on Doctrine. Müller even has the gall to suggest that had LCWR involved Archbishop Sartain in its decision on whom to honor, it might have chosen differently. Clearly this man does not know American nuns. He adds that the choice of Sr. Johnson demonstrates that the selection process "is itself in need of reexamination". While he understands that the LCWR 2014 Assembly cannot be changed, Müller asserts that the "provision is to be considered fully in force" and that "it will be the expectation of the Holy See that Archbishop Sartain have an active role in the discussion about invited speakers and honorees" in the future.

The second bone of contention between LCWR and the CDF, according to Cardinal Müller, is what he views as LCWR's excessive interest in Conscious Evolution, following futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard's address to the group on that subject in 2012. Müller asserts that every issue of LCWR's newsletter since then has talked about the concept in some way. Müller's bottom line? "The fundamental theses of Conscious Evolution are opposed to Christian Revelation and, when taken unreflectively, lead almost necessarily to fundamental errors regarding the omnipotence of God, the Incarnation of Christ, the reality of Original Sin, the necessity of salvation and the definitive nature of the salvific action of Christ in the Paschal Mystery. My concern is whether such an intense focus on new ideas such as Conscious Evolution has robbed religious of the ability truly to sentire cum Ecclesia...I am worried that the uncritical acceptance of things such as Conscious Evolution seemingly without any awareness that it offers a vision of God, the cosmos, and the human person divergent from or opposed to Revelation evidences that a de facto movement beyond the Church and sound Christian faith has already occurred."

For those who might be newcomers to this debate, "Conscious Evolution" according to Wikipedia "refers to the claim that humanity has now acquired the ability to choose what the species Homo Sapiens becomes in the future, based on recent advancements in science, medicine, technology, psychology, sociology, and spirituality. Conscious evolution assumes that human beings may be positioned at the crest of the ongoing evolution of the universe. Conscious evolution suggests that humanity can choose advancement through co-operation and co-creation or self-destruction through separateness and competition." According to Müller (another hyperbole alert!), "the futuristic ideas advanced by the proponents of Conscious Evolution are not actually new. The Gnostic tradition is filled with similar affirmations and we have seen again and again in the history of the Church the tragic results of partaking of this bitter fruit. Conscious Evolution does not offer anything which will nourish religious life as a privileged and prophetic witness rooted in Christ revealing divine love to a wounded world. It does not present the treasure beyond price for which new generations of young women will leave all to follow Christ. The Gospel does! Selfless service to the poor and marginalized in the name of Jesus Christ does!" Despite what Cardinal Müller seems to think, the nuns in LCWR are quite capable of listening to and evaluating new concepts like Conscious Evolution while maintaining their age-old service to the poor and marginalized in whom they see the face of Christ.

Cardinal Müller ended his address by saying that women religious are "the ones who instilled in me a love for the Lord and for the Church and encouraged me to follow the vocation to which the Lord was calling me." According to the usual tactful "just the facts" press statement issued by LCWR this afternoon, "Archbishop Müller's opening remarks released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith accurately reflect the content of the mandate communicated to LCWR in April 2012. As articulated in the Cardinal's statement, these remarks were meant to set a context for the discussion that followed. The actual interaction with Cardinal Müller and his staff was an experience of dialogue that was respectful and engaging."

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