The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the umbrella group representing 80 percent of U.S. nuns, has faced scrutiny from the Vatican for years. In 2012, the Vatican’s doctrine office accused the conference of promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” The assessment also criticized sisters for not doing enough to oppose abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia. Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle was appointed to oversee the conference as LCWR officials continued to dialogue with the Vatican.
The hot seat just got a little hotter.
As first reported by the National Catholic Reporter yesterday, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, pulled no punches in an April 30 address to the leadership of LCWR. As Dennis Coday of NCR reports:
Using the most direct and confrontational language since the Vatican began to rein in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious two years ago, Müller told leaders of the conference that starting in August, they must have their annual conference programs approved by a Vatican-appointed overseer before the conference agendas and speakers are finalized.
Müller specifically challenged the LCWR leaders for deciding to bestow its 2014 Outstanding Leadership Award to “a theologian criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in that theologian’s writings.” Although he does not name her, Müller is referencing St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, a theologian at Fordham University.
This is a painful turn of events that sours some of the refreshing new spirit Pope Francis is bringing to the Catholic Church. Most Catholics and plenty of Americans with no connection to Catholic institutions have a deep appreciation for the way sisters minister to those on the margins. At a time when Pope Francis is calling for “a church for the poor,” there are few people who live that mission better than women religious.
When the Vatican signals it will micromanage LCWR operations by forcing the nuns to submit conference agendas and speakers for screening, the dynamics of power, gender and hypocrisy smack you in the face. Catholics have every reason to wonder why the Vatican is turning up the heat on nuns who serve the poor and fight for social justice at the same time a convicted criminal presides as bishop of a U.S. diocese.
Catholic sisters find themselves in good company. Doctrinal watchdogs have long scrutinized and censured those who became some of the most influential figures in the Catholic tradition. John Courtney Murray, S.J., the Dominican Yves Congar and the Trappist monk Thomas Merton all clashed with church authorities in their day. All of them left towering legacies that enriched the Catholic Church and the world.
LCWR should take at least some comfort in knowing that a prominent church official, Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany, a favorite of Pope Francis, told an audience at Fordham University in New York last night that “the church is not a monolithic unity. We should be in dialogue with each other.” His answer came in response to a question about LCWR, according to Rev. James Martin, S.J. of America magazine, who tweeted from the event. Speaking about Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, the Fordham theologian that LCWR will honor and the U.S. bishops’ doctrine committee has flagged for theological errors, the cardinal noted that “St. Thomas Aquinas was once suspect too. She is in good company.”
Keep the faith, sisters.
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I had the honor of speaking at the Brookings Institute last week with scholars and faith leaders about economic justice and the future of the progressive faith community. We heard from many perspectives and communities, but one message was clear – building a moral economy will be a central unifying cause in the years ahead. And in an age of rigid political polarization, a new moral narrative will be critical.
One part of remedying economic injustice is lifting up working families who are trapped in poverty. Sadly, many politicians just don’t get it. Yesterday 41 Republican Senators voted to block a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, permanently index the minimum wage to inflation, and increase the tipped wage to 70% of the minimum wage. While this measure is just one step in a long journey, it would give a badly needed raise to 25 million workers.
A day before the vote, FPL and Interfaith Worker Justice released a letter signed by more than 350 clergy from diverse traditions calling on Congress to increase the minimum wage, which said in part “Driven by Scripture’s repeated admonitions against exploiting and oppressing workers, we believe that every job must enable those who work to support a family.”
The press teleconference announcing the letter featured leaders from Catholic Charities USA, the Progressive National Baptist Convention and Interfaith Worker Justice, as well as U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and Senator Cory Booker. They not only emphasized the moral consequences of this issue, but also rebuked of those who voted to keep working families in poverty. Rev. Dr. James Perkins of the Progressive National Convention captured the essential truth of the matter, saying ““People who are opposed to raising the minimum wage are more interested in their economic ideology than they are in providing struggling people with the dignity of work.”
Overcoming this obstacle might take a while, but justice will be done.
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The “Fast for Families” tour came to Omaha to meet with faith leaders, clergy, students and community members at Creighton University. One Creighton student, Kelly Sullivan, committed to fasting every Wednesday of Lent in solidarity with the “Fast for Families. Kelly wrote the following blog post, which was published on Creighton’s website.
Prayer and Fasting – Testimonial by Kelly Sullivan, CCSJ Student Coordinator
So this was my sixth Wednesday fasting for immigration reform. Each week, it looks a little different, depending on my busyness, mental and physical health, and…whether I remember that I’m supposed to be fasting that day. Often, the thing that has been reminding me is that come lunch time, I remember I have a prayer service to go to! I then re-plan my meals for the day, and am reminded to pray throughout the rest of the day as my stomach growls in hunger.
One thing I did not expect from this experience was how much I would get out of these short prayer services that we have been holding on the steps of St. John’s as part of the fast. Each week, we have focused on a different aspect of the complex immigration issue. It is amazing how well these services have come together to address the different prayers and needs of the community during that week.
First, we were able to discuss the importance of a pathway to citizenship and pray for a long-time member of the Omaha community that is facing deportation. Then, we talked about refugees and asylees fleeing violence and poverty, just after a visiting anthropologist came to Creighton to discuss her study on migration aspirations and what causes people to want to migrate. The next week, we prayed about ways we can humanize our borders, and we reflected on the homily that Cardinal Sean O’Malley gave at the Border Mass in Nogales, AZ, the day before. And finally this week, while addressing the root causes of migration, we remembered the violence and conflict in Syria and reflected on the life and courage of the beloved Dutch Jesuit, Fr. Frans van der Lugt, who was killed in Homs on Monday.
As we took the time this week to remember Fr. Frans and support those on our Creighton campus affected by his death, I was just struck by how interconnected our world is. I feel like I often prevent myself from fully comprehending things like the 2 million deportations that have occurred in the past five years, or that truly horrible situations cause people to migrate, so that I might protect myself from pain. But praying through these stories has helped me realize the humanity in all of these situations and the real people that immigration reform will help.
As it says in Strangers No Longer, “We judge ourselves as a community of faith by the way we treat the most vulnerable among us” (#6). We need immigration policies that support our brothers and sisters and recognize their humanity, suffering, and value.
On April 8th, Creighton students erected a mock border wall on campus to bring attention to the plight of immigrants.
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Chinanu Chidi, one of the campus organizers at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, wrote about the experience of meeting the members of the “Fast for Families” tour. Here is what Chinanu had to say:
The “Fast for Families” bus tour stopped in Houston on the March 6. Initially, given that the stop occurred in the middle of midterms, I was concerned about turnout, but was relieved when dozens of students showed up to the event. There were also people from the Houston community that were present. Being an immigrant myself, I was happy that I got the opportunity to plan this event with Kevin Shaghagi, the other UST Campus CIR organizer and Jose Bolivar, a faculty member who has been very helpful with CIR activities on campus. The event started at about 5 p.m. at the Old Bookstore, and was opened by Fr. Dempsey Rosales Acosta, who is an immigrant priest on campus. We got to listen to two of the core fasters talk about their fasting experiences, and explain why we had to support immigration reform because of the fact that it keeps families apart from each other and that it is also detrimental to the society. Furthermore, we learned comprehensive immigration reform will help the economy of the U.S. in the long run.
Being an immigrant myself, I was honored to have this opportunity for my school to host this event because I understand it on a personal level. My family immigrated to the U.S. about four years ago from Nigeria, and we were very lucky to come here with visas. I personally know families that have been separated because of the current immigration laws in the country. I consider myself to be very lucky because my family was able to live together the entire period before my father was transferred back to Nigeria. This is also a reason why I see the need for immigration reform in the country. I was glad that I was able to share this story at the event on campus.
To top it off, there was some music by a local Houston band, and there was also a Question and Answer session. There were representatives of Univision at the event. A few of the UST students got to be on TV, and we were all excited that the event got some local coverage. There was an article about the event on the newspaper although it has not been published yet. There was also free food at the event, provided by Mi Familia Vota, a group devoted to registering voters in the area – which made hungry mid-term students happy! Overall, we were happy with the success of the event.
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Sabrina Hernandez, the Campus Organizer at Loyola University New Orleans, had the opportunity to meet with members of the “Fast for Families” tour, along with other community members and immigration reform advocates. Sabrina wrote the following about her experience during the New Orleans stop on the “Fast for Families” tour:
On March 17, New Orleans had the pleasure of welcoming the “Fast for Families” bus tour. As a lifelong supporter of immigrant rights, I was beyond honored to be present for this moment. This is an issue that has been pertinent to me from a young age. To be able to participate in a movement to bring about change and call for justice was exhilarating. The day began with a conversation among local members of the New Orleans community, specifically members of the Congress of Day Laborers, a group who had come to the U.S. primarily as construction workers in the rebuilding effort after Hurricane Katrina. It was particularly heartbreaking to hear the story of a local woman who lives with the constant fear that she will not return home to her children at night. She spoke of the tribulations she’s faced in the process of legalization. Her story was not unique in its portrayal of a system that harshly criminalizes people merely seeking a better life.
On a personal level, hearing the stories shared throughout the day brought to mind experiences of my own. Growing up in California, I was surrounded by undocumented immigrants seeking a better life in the United States. From stories of escaping persecution in home countries to stories of parents trying to provide basic necessities for their children, I have grown up familiar with the difficult choices that come along with seeking a home in the United States. The “Fast for Families” event was one of solidarity in which I found myself reflecting on the people who helped shape me as a person. The same people who are currently subject to a broken immigration system.
This is an issue that is not exclusive to a certain sector or geographic region of the country. This is an issue that has grown to affect the well-being of millions of Americans. Deportations tear apart families. It’s not a matter of jobs being stolen or the livelihood of documented citizens being threatened. Human rights are being violated and we need to prove to the current administration that we care. It gave me hope to see members of the Loyola University of New Orleans community, such as Father Fred Kammer, Director of the Jesuit Social Research Conference, who came out to show support and take on an active role in advocating on this social justice issue. In line with Jesuit values, this is also an issue of human dignity. The Church teaches that every human has a right to go out and seek a better life. The “Fast for Families” tour was able to bring the current battle in Washington to New Orleans, serving as a liaison through which our community could voice their sentiments on a broader scale. At a prayer service later in the day at Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, a large group of nuns came to discuss their work in advocating and providing access to resources for immigrant families.
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