Ann Carey is a veteran journalist who has written hundreds of articles for many prestigious Catholic publications during her 31-year career in the Catholic press. She is a member of the Catholic Press Association and has won awards for news and feature writing, as well as investigative reporting. Her specialty is women religious, and she is working on a new, updated edition of her book, Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women’s Religious Communities, to be published by Ignatius Press. She and her husband live in Indiana and are the parents of three grown children.
A late Amtrak train kept me away from the opening of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious assembly Tuesday night, but I am told that Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis gave a warm welcome to the 900 sisters who are at the event.
Archbishop Carlson said he realized the importance of the meeting for LCWR and prayed that the LCWR dialogue with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) would not be politicized, but rather “worked out within a community of faith.”
That question about how LCWR members will respond to the reform of their organization mandated by the CDF is on the minds of everybody here, but that burning issue is the “elephant in the room” that we all know about but nobody is supposed to talk about.
It’s amazing how the sisters can make even a disadvantage sound positive, though: We media folks were specifically told not to approach any LCWR members about the decision, and the members have been told — more than once — not to discuss the topic with the media.
Just to be sure everyone knows who we media are, we were issued bright neon-green name tags with matching ribbons emblazoned with “MEDIA.” (For this former English teacher, the badge reminds me of Hester Prynne’s “Scarlet Letter.”) And, to make us all feel welcome, we were told, we media were asked to stand up and be recognized at the first open session so that LCWR members could thank us for our good work covering their story this year.
The LCWR members, on the other hand, have white name tags that are their tickets into the “executive sessions,” where the CDF mandate will be discussed.
But even the members were warned this afternoon before the first executive session about the need for confidentiality. LCWR's president, Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell, told the assembly that the LCWR style was “transparent,” but since this was a “critical moment” for the organization, confidentiality was necessary:
“If in your own conscience you cannot understand or perceive confidentiality as anything other than total transparency, we ask you to think about not coming to the executive sessions, not in the interest of ever excluding anyone, but in creating the kind of environment we need to really discern with each other in freedom and openness.”
In the first open session, the featured speaker, futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard, was led through the assembly hall at the Millennium Hotel by several sisters who were waving orange scarves draped over their arms.
Once on the stage, the sisters moved in a circle around Hubbard as they raised and lowered the scarves, and the assembly was asked to extend their hands in blessing while singing, “Spirit of vision, Spirit of life! Spirit of courage, be with her now! Wisdom and truth be on her lips!”
Hubbard is an engaging speaker, and she knew how to connect with her audience, though the futurist terminology she used left this journalist reaching for a dictionary to look up “noosphere,” “cosmo genesis,” synergistic convergence” and “Christification.”
Hubbard believes that we are at a critical time in humanity, a “tipping point” that will lead to either breakdown or evolutionary breakthrough. She made vague references throughout her talk to the “crisis” the LCWR was facing, and she encouraged the members by saying that breakthroughs often happen only after chaos or crisis. Furthermore, she proclaimed, the LCWR members were just the kind of people to lead humanity to this breakthrough because of their “evolutionary capacities” that had guided the organization over the past 40 years.
“So, my conclusion is that you are the best seedbed I know for evolving the Church and the world in the 21st century,” Hubbard said.
“Almost all structures are top down,” Hubbard continued, giving the examples of nations, states, organized religions and corporations. “So what is needed today,” she continued, “is a radical reform of existing institutions from their top-down version.”
I might be wrong, but I believe she was talking about that elephant in the room, and, if so, I have to think that is not what Jesus had in mind when he said: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church.”
Maybe I’ll find out tomorrow, for Hubbard will offer her response to a panel on the topic of “Religious Life in the Future: What Might It Look Like?” with Tom Fox, publisher of National Catholic Reporter; Jamie Manson, a columnist for the Reporter; and Sister Jennifer Gordon of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, who is active in Giving Voice, an organization of younger sisters.