|Fr. Patrick Howell, S.J.|
In the seven years I have been writing this column, I have rarely dealt with issues specific to the Catholic Church. Rather I have tried to focus on contemplative walks in the Arboretum, the spirituality of gardening, the gift of family, strengthening Christian unity through ecumenical relationships, the importance of prayer, the wealth of spiritual resources in Catholic tradition and so forth. Two exceptions would be the sexual-abuse crisis, "Jesuits reflect on abuse scandal" (Seattle Times, April 30, 2010), and the election of the new pope in April 2005. But now the Catholic faithful have been rocked by another incredible initiative from the Holy See, and I cannot pass over in silence. (Note of explanation: "Holy See" refers to the central church leadership. "Vatican" refers to the city-state or political entity.) In this instance, the Holy See through the Congregation on Doctrine and Faith has mandated a reining in of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). It calls into question the leadership of the American Catholic sisters and hence their generous, intelligent, compassionate contributions, and their prophetic voice within the church. Many are shocked, even scandalized, by this intervention. The reasons given are even more problematic. The ones that leap out are that Women Religious has been silent on issues of sexual ethics, such as contraception and gay marriage, and that some of their invited keynote speakers at their national conferences have raised up significant issues the church still needs to deal with. By implication, they have focused too much on social-justice issues such as homelessness, oppressive political structures, capital punishment, and so forth without sufficient attention to the doctrinal teaching of the church. And they should never have raised questions about the ordination of women. Being called on the carpet for maintaining a respectful silence on controversial issues related to sexual ethics seems particularly inquisitional.