Tag Archives: priesthood

Vatican denies internal split on crackdown against liberal U.S. nuns

The Vatican this week denied there were any internal divisions over its crackdown on the largest umbrella group of U.S. nuns after a top Vatican official complained that he had been sidelined by the reform project.

The head of the Vatican’s office for religious orders, Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, was quoted as saying his office wasn’t consulted or even advised by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about its decision to overhaul the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 80 percent of American sisters. He said the crackdown had caused him “much pain.”

The Congregation last year placed the Leadership Conference under the authority of a U.S. bishop after determining that the sisters took positions that undermined Catholic teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality while promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Braz de Aviz was quoted by the National Catholic Reporter as telling an international gathering of sisters in Rome that he only learned of the Congregation’s crackdown after its report had been completed. He said he told the then-prefect of the Congregation, U.S. Cardinal William Levada, that the issue should have been discussed with his office but wasn’t.

Braz de Aviz was quoted as saying he hadn’t spoken out publicly before about the lack of consultation because he “didn’t have the courage to speak.”

Earlier this week, the Vatican said Braz de Aviz’s words were misinterpreted.

“The prefects of these two congregations work closely together according to their specific responsibilities and have collaborated throughout the process,” the statement said.

It said Braz de Aviz and the current prefect of the Congregation, Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, met and reaffirmed their commitment to renewing religious life in the U.S. as well as to the Vatican’s reform plan for the Leadership Conference. It stressed that Pope Francis approved of the plan.

The Vatican’s crackdown unleashed a wave of popular support for the sisters, including a U.S. congressional resolution commending the sisters for their service to the country. It also cost Braz de Aviz’s deputy his job: Archbishop Joseph Tobin was removed after he spoke publicly about the need for the Vatican to mend fences with American sisters. Tobin is now archbishop of Indianapolis.

The sisters’ hopes for a change in approach with the arrival of Pope Francis – a Jesuit dedicated to the poor – were dashed last month when Mueller said he had discussed the crackdown with Francis and that the pontiff had reaffirmed the original findings and reform plan.

As part of its imposed reforms, the Vatican appointed Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain and two other bishops to oversee a rewriting of the conference’s statutes, to review its plans and programs, approve speakers and ensure the group properly follows Catholic prayer and ritual.

The conference represents about 57,000 sisters. It has argued that the Vatican reached “flawed” conclusions based on “unsubstantiated accusations.”

Late last week, the head of the nuns’ conference addressed the Rome meeting of the International Union of Superiors General – the gathering of all the heads of women’s religious orders – and provided the most extensive criticism to date about the three year process that led to the Vatican takeover.

Among other complaints, Franciscan Sister Florence Deacon said the Vatican took the conference to task for matters that were completely beyond its authority and purpose, such as criticizing it for not having programs dealing with homosexuality.

In a transcript of her speech posted on the National Catholic Reporter website, Deacon said the Vatican should have directed its concerns to individual religious orders, since they are responsible for such training programs, not the conference.

“LCWR has no authority over the formation programs of an individual congregation,” she said. “Our goal is not set up as an organization to teach church teaching.”

She concluded that the Vatican’s assessment showed “there is serious misunderstanding between officials of the Vatican and women religious, and the need for prayer, discernment and deep listening.”

While remarkably blunt and forthcoming, Braz de Aviz’s revelations about the internal divisions sown by the stealth nature of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are not new.

In 2009, the Congregation announced it had created a new church structure to make it easier for Anglicans upset over the progressive trends in their church to convert to Catholicism. The Vatican’s office for relations with Anglicans and other Christians wasn’t consulted, much less advised, about the initiative.

The retired head of that office, Cardinal Walter Kasper, has since become one of the most vocal proponents for a reform of the Vatican bureaucracy so that its departments actually work together rather than against one another.

US nuns consider response to Vatican censure

At a pivotal national meeting, members of the largest group for U.S. nuns have been weighing whether they should accept or challenge a Vatican order to reform what it called their “certain radical feminist themes.”

The national assembly is the first since a Vatican review concluded the Roman Catholic sisters had tolerated dissent about the all-male priesthood, birth control and homosexuality, while remaining nearly silent in the fight against abortion. Officials at the Holy See want a full-scale overhaul of the organization under the authority of U.S. bishops.

The 900 sisters at this week’s meeting “are asking God to show us to the next best step we can take,” said Sister Mary Waskowiak, director of development for the Mercy International Association. The executives of the group have called the Vatican report flawed.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious represents about 80 percent of the 57,000 American sisters. The rebuke from the Holy See, issued in April, prompted an outpouring of support for the sisters nationwide, including protests outside the Vatican embassy in Washington. A spokeswoman for the nuns group said they had received more than 1,500 cards from supporters from around the world, some of which were placed on tables at the meeting.

“Thank you for all you do to support the needy and underserved in our world,” read one.

“Have courage! It doesn’t have to be this way,” read another.

The Vatican orthodoxy watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, began its review of the organization in 2008, following years of complaints from theological conservatives that the nuns group had become secular and political while abandoning traditional faith.

After the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, many religious sisters shed their habits and traditional roles as they sought to more fully engage the modern world. The nuns focused increasingly on Catholic social justice teaching, such as fighting poverty and advocating for civil rights, but insisted they had kept prayer and Christ central to their work.

Vatican investigators praised the nuns’ humanitarian efforts but said the conference had “serious doctrinal problems” and promoted “certain radical feminist themes” that undermine Catholic teaching. Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain has been appointed along with two other American bishops to oversee rewriting the groups’ statutes, reviewing its plans and programs and ensuring the group properly follows Catholic ritual.

The sisters face a limited range of options for how they can respond, given that their organization was created by the Vatican. The president of the nuns group, Sister Pat Farrell, was expected to make an announcement as the meeting ends. She has indicated in her public remarks this week that the sisters may not formulate a definitive response.

Sister Mary Rose, a Connecticut nun for 51 years, believes the nuns can resolve their disagreements with church leaders.

“I think we probably have differing perspectives. We come from a lived experience that is different,” she said. “But I think we have the same goal in mind, which is the following of Jesus Christ. I’m convinced the spirit will lead all of us.”

Gay ex-New Jersey governor denied bid to join clergy

Former N.J. Gov. Jim McGreevey, who abruptly resigned in 2004 after declaring himself “a gay American” and admitting an extramarital affair with a male staffer, has had his pursuit of the Episcopal priesthood put on hold indefinitely.

The New York Post reported that the church has deferred his bid to join the clergy.

The church, which accepts gays and women into the clergy, wants McGreevey to wait so he can put more distance between his possible ordination and the fairly recent turmoil in his life: his coming out in a nationally televised speech, his resignation and a messy divorce from his ex-wife wife Dina Matos in 2008.

The Rev. William Sachs, director of the Center for Interfaith Reconciliation in Richmond, Va., said it’s “not unusual” for people to be deferred. Sachs said church officials would be interested in how someone with McGreevey’s baggage would handle the ministry.

“How would he apply what he’s learned to his ministry? Does he translate from being the person he was in the political realm to being in ordained ministry,” Sachs asked. “It doesn’t surprise me there would be an instinct to defer.”

Neither McGreevey, a Democrat, nor the Episcopal Diocese of Newark would comment on his potential ordination, saying the process is confidential.

McGreevey, 53, earned a master of divinity degree last spring, three years after entering General Theological Seminary in New York City.

The Rev. Patricia McCaughan, who writes for the Episcopal News Service, said ordination is a complicated, subjective process that differs from state to state.

“If a person is deemed not ready to go forward, that doesn’t mean that’s the end,” she said. “People can always try again.”

For now, McGreevey said he plans to continue ministering to inmates and helping raise his daughter, who is in elementary school.

“I’m enjoying prison ministry, particularly with the women in Hudson County Jail who have suffered tremendously in their lives,” he said.

McGreevey, a former Catholic altar boy, shocked the nation by declaring his homosexuality with his stunned wife and parents at his side. He was the nation’s first openly gay governor, but he resigned three months later.

He converted from Catholicism after leaving office. His divorce from Matos followed a protracted public trial during which she claimed she was duped into marriage to advance his political career.

The couple spent four years married and living together and had one child, named Jacqueline. They formally separated in February 2005, three months after he left office. They publicly sparred about their breakup, each writing a tell-all book about the relationship, with almost no detail deemed too embarrassing to reveal.

McGreevey has lived with real estate executive Mark O’Donnell in Plainfield since 2005. He has made few public appearances since leaving office.

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