Because of the time sensitivity of last week's dramatic news of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith demanding a reform of the major U.S. group of leaders of women religious, I wasn't able to have a transcript available when I released my exclusive interview with Ann Carey, author of Sisters in Crisis. The transcript is now available, and you can read it below.
You can also listen to it in audio format by clicking here.
And now, the transcript . . .
I'm going to bump the podcast that I originally expected to release today by a week in order to be able to cover and important news story that broke this week in the Catholic world.
Basically, what happened is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which is the body at the Vatican that is charged with protecting the soundness of Catholic teaching, issued a report concerning a doctrinal assessment that had been done Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which is the largest body for women religious in the US.
The report indicated that there were grave doctrinal problems, and that the LCWR needs to be reformed. That's a dramatic story and to help me talk about this story, I decided to bring on Ann Carey. She's an author and I consulted her in preparing this story for the National Catholic Register that I wrote on this subject.
Ann is very well versed in this area so I decided to bring her on the show to help us understand it. Because of the timeliness of this story, I won't have had a chance to get it transcribed by the time I release it, but I will get the transcript done so we can release that as soon as possible.
Without further ado, let's talk about this week's dramatic developments...
I'd like to welcome to the show, Ann Carey, the author of Sisters in Crisis, Ann can you tell us a little bit about yourself.
"I've been a journalist in the Catholic Press since 1981. Since the early 90's, I've specialized in religious life issues. Because of this specialty, I was asked to write the book for our Sunday visitors. Sisters in Crisis came out in 1997, in that book I started tracing the history of women religious in this country from about 1965 to that current time. I did a lot of my research in the archives of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, so I've had a lot of background in that."
Why don't we clarify a couple of terms for people? We often hear the term 'women religious' sometimes we hear the term 'sister', and sometimes the term 'nun' Are those all referring to the same thing or are there differences?
"There are really specific differences, but generally people do use those terms interchangeably. A nun really refers to the cloistered sisters, (the sisters who do not go out and do the apostolic works; so they are cloistered communities). We think in terms of perhaps the Poor Clares, some of the Trappistine's, the Carmelites; those sisters that are considered cloistered or contemplative. Then there are the sisters who are in the apostolic orders and those go out into the world to some type of good apostolic work in the name of the church. I would say the apostolic sisters outnumber the contemplative sisters rather dramatically, I don't know the current numbers right now. There are 55,000 sisters in the country and of that number, I would say that 5000 or fewer are the contemplative."
Ok, what is the Leadership Conference of Women Religious? How big is it? Whom does it represent? How did it begin?
"Sure, it began in the 1950's, pre internet days, and back in the 50's the Vatican decided it would be a good idea to have conferences of the superiors of men and women, in all of the countries where the faith is. This would make it easier for the Vatican to communicate with the religious in those countries.
Since they could communicate through the one conference and that the conference in turn, made up of all the superiors of all the different orders. The conference could communicate to the superiors and the superiors could communicate with their members.
The Leadership Conference was back in the 50's had a different name then--The Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious United States. It turned out to be a very good thing by the Holy See. In erecting these conferences, they made the conferences canonical entities. There were very specific directions in how they were to operate, so the Vatican retains control over those specific entities erected.
About 1970, in some confusion and misinterpretation of the Vatican II mandates, some rather [problematic] sisters got themselves in to leadership positions in the Superiors Conference and I believe it was in 1971 that they changed the name to Leadership Conference of Women Religious. They claimed the old name was too hierarchical and militaristic for some reason. They also changed the statutes and by-laws, which allowed leadership teams to belong to the Leadership Conference because previously for each order, there were provinces and you had to be a superior in a province to belong.
Then suddenly they opened this up to leadership teams, which the more progressive orders were going to anyway. The more traditional orders might have one representative there, the more progressive orders might have six or eight because they had large leadership teams. This way they started to transform the conference away from this conduit between the Vatican and the religious and more toward their own agenda, which was focused very much on some of the feminist issues of the time, also toward more of a social justice inclination.
Bear in mind that only the superiors or the leadership can belong to the LCWR, so the current membership is about 1500 sisters, which is about 3% of the sisters in the country.
When the media that the LCWR represents 50,000 sisters, that's really not correct. It represents its 1500 members. Now those 1500 members are leaders of about 45,000 out of the 55,000 sisters. The other 10,000 are represented by sisters who belong to the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious. Now that is an alternative superiors conference that was erected by the Vatican in 1992 because so many sisters had gotten dissatisfied with the direction the LCWR was taking."
What was that direction, what caused them to be dissatisfied?
"Following the 2nd Vatican council, which did call for religious orders to renew, the LCWR's interpretation of that renewal was rather radical in that there was a distinct moving away from the authority of the Church. For instance, in 1971, the Pope issued an exhortation in which he evaluated the renewal that was going on and he pointed out the weaknesses and the strengths.
In reply, the Leadership Council issued a book called, Widening the Dialog, which basically said the Leadership Council didn't really approve of the tone of that particular papal document. They had authority to decide some of these things for themselves.
So there was a definite moving away from the authority of the church. Many of the progressive sisters thought that their orders should start leaving their traditional ministries of teaching, nursing, or catechizing and go out to work directly with the poor.
The LCWR was encouraging the sisters to do this sort of thing; there was a move to a more independent life style. Some of the more progressive orders moved away from community life and community prayer. This didn't sit well with the sisters who felt that this was not the image of religious life that the church had set forth which had been lived for all of these centuries. So they were very uncomfortable with the Conference so they left it.
For many years they met informally on their own and eventually they petitioned the Vatican and they were erected as a separate conference."
Since the 2nd Vatican Council, the state of religious life has really changed here in the US. It's my understanding that there's a third of the number of women religious that there were back then. That's obviously that's been something the Holy See has been quite concerned about.
In the last few years, two different dicasteries (departments at the Vatican) at the Holy See announced investigations of the state of the life of Women Religious here in the US. Can you tell us about the first announcement?
"Just to refresh people's memories, in 1965 when the Council ended, there actually were 180,000 sisters in the country. I've been told that could be somewhat of an anomaly because at that time, there were a lot of baby boomers, who were just getting into that age group and many of them joined religious orders.
That was before many occupations were opened to women. I think many people chose the religious life because that was one of the few choices available at the time.
That high number was a bit of an anomaly. Definitely, vocations have fallen off terrifically. In late 2008 or early 2009 the congregation that oversees religious life, The Congregation for Institutes for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, it's a long title."
They like those in Rome.
"They launched an apostolic visitation of the women religious order in this country and they said at that time it was to examine the quality of life of women religious here. Part of the reason for doing this was vocations had dropped off so precipitously. It was the impetus for that particular visitation.
That was concluded last December and we do not know the results of that yet. That was an entirely separate thing from the Doctrinal Assessment of Leadership Conference of Women Religious which was announced within two months of the apostolic visitation.
Lot of times people get those two mixed up. But this Doctrinal Assessment was an entirely different matter; it was conducted by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. That is what we are reading about now; their conclusion is that the LCWR needs to have some oversight and renewing itself."
So people understand, these two investigations, they're not of the same group of people, correct? The first one, the apostolic visitation is a survey of the quality of life for women religious in general in the United States. The second is a more focuses doctrinal investigation of this particular group, the LCWR.
"Yes. Something that's not often noted in the news stories that are coming out today either is the fact that in 2001, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith warned the Leadership Conference that it had doctrinal concerns about some of their printed materials, some of the training materials for training leaders of Orders that were affiliated with them and some of the speakers at their annual conventions; they wanted this to be corrected.
It's been 11 years since that warning was issued. So it's amusing now to hear the Leadership Conference react and say they are just stunned by this action by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, because they were put on notice 11 years ago that changes needed to be made.
I think the Vatican was pretty patient."
The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in its recent document that summarizes the results of the assessment mandated this new reform. They sited several different things that prompted them to initiate the investigation. Can you tell us a bit about what those concerns were doctrinally?
"They specifically mentioned, this was mentioned in the 2001 warning, that they had a distorted view of the Church's teaching on ministering to homosexual persons, a distorted view on their view on ordination of women, a distorted view on the centrality of the faith. They also noted what they called some feminist tendencies. Not sure what that is except that there definitely some news in the LCWR newsletters, etc. about sisters who pained by the all male priesthood.
Sisters who feel the male hierarchy is unfair to them because there are no women that that hierarchy level. But really, it would be interesting for anyone to read the entire document itself because it does go into quite a bit of detail on many issues."
Some of the things it mentions in that section; it talks about them criticizing 'patriarchy' and doing so in a way that, according to the CDF, would undermine things like the Doctrine of the Trinity itself. In particular, one speaker at one of their conferences that Cardinal Levada (the head of The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith) sited, that they had talked about some religious moving beyond the church and even moving beyond Jesus.
Obviously it's bad enough to have a distorted view of one of the aspects of the Church's teaching that is lower in the hierarchy of truths, but when you're talking about abandoning or moving beyond Jesus, and undermining the Trinity itself, that's really striking at the core of the Christian faith.
"Exactly, that was interesting. It was Sister Laurie Brink, a Dominican sister, who gave that talk at the LCWR assembly in '98 (I think). At the time, it struck me that finally named the elephant in the room. Because those of us who have studied religious life and followed the sisters, knew that there were some sisters who had indeed moved; they were considering themselves 'post-Christians' and had moved beyond Jesus.
But I had never before heard it acknowledged in such a way. I thought a lot of people blamed her for saying those things but really, she was being honest. She named four different models of religious life that women are living now and that was one of the models. She wasn't promoting it, she was just saying look this is what some of the sisters are doing.
I thought it was rather refreshing that someone admitted it. That did give the Church and other people the realization of how serious things had gotten.
You mentioned what the CDF had said in its documents. One of the things it talked about in its document was the Systems Thinking Handbook, which the Leadership Conference puts out for training leaders. They brought up the scenario 'Well we're going to have a meeting of all of our sisters and many of the sisters are so pained by the all male priesthood, that they don't want to have a mass at this meeting but here are other sisters who want to have a mass, how should we handle this?'
What the leadership handbook said was it gave different scenarios for how to address the problems the sisters had, but it never once said 'look it's appropriate that we celebrate the Eucharist as the summit of our faith at this particular meeting'.
It was omissions as well as downright, I hesitate to use the word hearsay but some of the statements were what I would call nearly heretical."
According to the document, Cardinal Levada notified them that this investigation would be happening. In one of their annual meetings in 2008, apparently the presidency of the LCWR goes over to Rome every April and meets with different Vatican officials. He told them in 2008 that this was coming.
It then became public knowledge in February of 2009, how did that happen?
"Well, that is very interesting. I think probably it was in respect to the LCWR's privacy that the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith did not make it public, it merely informed the LCWR.
It was the LCWR itself that revealed that this Doctrinal Assessment had been undertaken. It was revealed in the National Catholic Reporter with information that had been provided to it by the Leadership Conference. They revealed that themselves."
So they got a chance to frame this for victimized sisters being bullied by the Vatican.
"Exactly, that's what I think was very interesting about this particular document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith was apparently issued by our United States Bishop's Conference at that the same time the sisters were being told about it when they were in Rome visiting the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith for their annual visit.
This time there was no opportunity for 'spin', the Vatican did a preemptive strike on that.
It was also interesting that they only had it released here in the United States, through the US bishops; it did not appear for example, in the ordinary Vatican news feed. You could say it's because just dealing with the United States, but a collateral effective of that is that would draw less media attention in other countries and couldn't feed into problematic situations there as easily.
"Perhaps. I do know that in the document, it sited a negative impact that the LCWR was having some orders in other countries. It's hard to know exactly what motivates the CDF sometimes."
The doctrinal assessment began in 2008, at least that's when it reached the stage of initiation, then it was carried out in 2009 & 2010 and they had the results by early 2011 but they waited, they said in the document, to announce the results until after the apostolic visitation was done.
They didn't, I guess, want to interfere with that process. So it's come out, it's four years after initially was announced to the leadership of the LCWR. Some people look at that and say, that seems kind of slow, what's you perspective on that?
"I always say that Vatican time is not the same as American time. The Vatican thinks of terms of decades and centuries and Americans think in terms of minutes and days. I think for us it was really slow, that it took a very long time but I think for the Vatican, they moved pretty quickly on it."
It seems that way yes, for the Vatican.
"You know, we tend to think that the Imperial offices in the Vatican have a hundred people running them, but the staff of some of those offices are quite sparse. I'm sure it took a while for the small staff at those offices to have to work through all of this.
There was a lot of material to read. I think it was fairly quick, given Vatican time."
It also, given the dramatic nature of they ended up calling for, I'm sure they devoted a lot of thought to it. They said, in essence, we're requiring that the LCWR be reformed. So they mandated a reform of this group, what can you tell us about that reform? What's it supposed to do? Who's supposed to do it?
"Actually I was rather amazed at how comprehensive the directive was. Because it also mentioned that the affiliated organizations to the LCWR Network, which is sort of their lobbying arm, and the Resource Center for Religious Institute, (also affiliated, that gives legal and financial advice to religious), they also are to be involved in this reform.
The Archbishop of Seattle, Peter Sartain, was announced to head up this particular renewal and he will be assisted by Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo who did original doctrinal assessment for the Vatican. I think at the time Bishop Blair was appointed, I think he also headed up or served on the Bishops' Doctrinal Committee. I think that was a natural fit for him. The other person that will be helping, is Bishop Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., he is also a very well known Cannon and civil lawyer.
The document also said that there would also be clergy and women religious asked to assist. I think the CDF is trying to be sensitive to the fact that the sisters might be resentful of an all male group coming in and directing this. I think there will be some sisters who are sensitive in this area will be asked to assist too."
Among the things it said needed to be done, as part of the mandate, was a revision of the statutes of the LCWR, which would have the affect of its fundamental mode of behavior. Those are its internal rules that guide its behavior. Also, there's supposed to be approval of all of the speakers at their conferences and revision of materials, one book in particular that they are currently using, take it out of circulation immediately.
They talked about creating new materials for training purposes and so forth. Also you mentioned difficulty having some of these groups accept the centrality of the Eucharist of Catholic life, that was something else mentioned as one of the elements of the reform; training and guidance regarding the centrality of the Eucharist and proper celebration of the liturgy.
"Exactly there were some liturgical abhorations that had been noted yes."
It seems like a pretty through reform.
"Absolutely, I was amazed that it was so comprehensive. Back in 1971, when they changed their statutes, they were supposed to have Vatican approval to do that, and they didn't get the Vatican approval, they went ahead and implemented them.
I think about 6 months later the Vatican said, well we'll approve them but you have to make this change, this change, and this change. So I think over the years the statutes have been modified and sometimes written in ways that sisters might interpret them in their own way but still get a pass at the Vatican. I think that's why they decided they need a complete revision.
Because how sisters might interpret it one way might be totally wrong, I think they want to get that straightened out."
Obviously, we noted, this kind of feeds into, or can be made to feed into evil, Vatican over-lord brutalizing helpless women religious narrative, if you want to put it that way in the media.
"Yes, I've already seen the 'War on Nuns' headline."
Yeah, but if you read the statements that were made for example, by Cardinal Levada in releasing the document and that had been made by Archbishop Sartain, they go out of their way to talk about the value of the work that women religious do and the contribution they make to the Catholic community. They seem really determined to take as positive tone as possible while mandating these changes. Is that your impression?
"Yes, that's definitely my impression and I think that's the only right way to do it. I mean, anyone who knows anything about the Catholic Church, knows that sisters built the institution this church now has. I mean, they built the schools, they helped build many of the parishes, they certainly built the hospitals, the orphanages, these women did incredibly wonderful work. There's no question about that.
I think the LCWR has tended to hide behind that, they have gone their merry way in a very different direction than their predecessors who did all those wonderful works. But whenever they're criticized, they'll stop and say oh but look at all the great works sisters have done. Which is true, it's just that they are no longer doing that.
I think that it's very important for the Church and everyone else to be sensitive to the fact that for hundreds so years, in this country, sisters have been the backbone of the Church. There's no question about that. I think that the CDF will be very careful in calling the sisters back to that way of doing things.
Not that they're going to take them back to pre-Vatican II, I heard that argument too; oh they want to drag us back to the convent, back into the long habits, when the men are controlling everything...that's not true either.
They want them to update to the correct interpretation of Vatican II. It doesn't including forsaking the Eucharist and moving beyond Christ."
Ok. What reaction did the LWCR have when the doctrinal assessment results were announced?
"I wrote and asked the communications director for any statements that they had put out and she told me they were going to give this serious consideration before they put out anything that was comprehensive. But they did post on their website, something to the effect that the word was 'stunned' by this decision. That they were going to have to do sit down with their board and discuss what to do about it.
As I said before, I don't know how 'stunned' you could be when you've been studied for the past eleven years in this area. I think for the last forty years they've been fighting with the Vatican. What sustained them was that they felt that if they kept dialoging the questions would still be left opened and there would be no conclusions.
I think that this move by the CDF has put them on notice that the dialog is done now. I think they don't quite know where to go with that at this point."
In terms of the continuing dialog, that's obviously a strategy that's talked about in their books, and that was something the CDF document mentioned. Also, there was a theology professor named Sister Sandra Schneider's, who when the apostolic visitation (the broader investigation), when that was announced, she wrote an email that later became public, she didn't intend it to be, but it became public. In that she urged non-violent resistance is the best way to approach these things.
It fits in with the theme of "let's just continue to dialog indefinitely and we get to do what we want while that's happening."
"I think her specific words were that 'when the apostolic visitors come to the door, you allow them to come into the parlor, but you don't give them the run of the place' is the way she put it.
The LCWR led the charge against the apostolic visitation and reacted very negatively to it and in fact, many of them encouraged their member orders not to cooperate. I think many of them did not return the questionnaires that they were asked to be filled out. So they didn't cooperate.
What was your reaction when you read about the results of all this?
"Of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith moving on the LCWR? My reaction was that this was forty years in the making. Because I had studied all of this in their archives for my book about all of the different interactions, they'd had with the Vatican over many serious issues.
I think the Vatican was very, very patient. I think for the first ten or twenty years after the council, because the sisters had such a sterling reputation, I think the Vatican was patient because it felt the sisters would figure things out, they always had, they always came through this sort of thing on the right side.
Then I think when they didn't, things started to get out of hand and for a while, the Vatican wasn't quite sure what to do. There had been some negative publicity when a few bishops did try to keep things in control a little better.
I don't know if you remember back in the 1970's, Cardinal McIntyre, in California, had tried to have the Immaculate Heart of Merry Sisters (who taught in many of his schools), they were totally dismantling religious life in their order, and he told them he wanted them to return to the schools but if they were going to do that, that they needed to follow the guidelines of religious life in this county and they refused. So when he said well it's your decision, they basically made it sound like the church was beating up on the nuns.
I think there have been a lot of difficult examples like that that have given the Vatican and bishops caution. I think they finally decided that when you have vowed religious who are in open dissent against the church, that something needs to be done because it's creating scandal and confusion."
How do you see the process unfolding from here?
"I think that there are two directions the LCWR could take; one is that they could be open to this renewal and try to work the CDF and bishops in trying to do a real renewal of the organization. I think there are some moderates within the LCWR who certainly would argue for that. However, I know there are also some very convicted people in the LCWR who are not of the mood to give any ground on this.
So the other alternative would be that they could say don't need to be canonically recognized and they would just continue on as a professional group of sisters. I think Sister Joan Chittister recently suggested in what I read about her.
I think there are probably some serious discussions going to be going on within the LCWR. I think if they choose the non-canonical route, I think they will loose a lot of their credibility, they no longer recognize the official Superiors Conference.
So I think they would loose some of their membership."
Do you think they would also loose some of their membership anyway, if they decide to work with the CDF, some of the more hard-core people may say 'I don't want any part of this' and leave. Or is this the kind of situation where we could see a split in the group one way or the other?
"I think that's possible, sure. There are some religious orders that don't belong to either the Leadership Conference or the Council of Major Superiors. There are some religious orders would perhaps just go their own way.
Any more in this day and age, that that necessary connection for communication with the Vatican is not as crucial as it used to be."
I see. We're not going to know for awhile what their basic decision is, whether they're going to announce they're going to work with this or not.
"That's what the communications director indicated to me, I got the impression it would be a few weeks anyway."
What does your gut tell you? Do you have any sense which way it's likely to go or is it too hard to tell?
"You know, it's very hard to tell, I really don't know. All I can say is that I think there's going to be a lot of serious discussions within the LCWR and very strong feelings on both sides.
I hope and pray they do make the decision to work with the Vatican. To me that would be the best outcome for them and the church. I have the feeling it could be very nasty publicity for the church if this is a big fight."
Let's talk for a moment about the apostolic visitation. It was announced, at least publicly, somewhat before the Doctrinal Assessment became public. Since that time, the top two slots at the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life in Societies for Apostolic Life, the body that commissioned the apostolic visitation, those top two individuals has changed.
Why did that happen? Was there any criticisms, concern about the former individuals had been conducting the visitation or was it entirely different reasons?
"From what I understood, it was from age-related reasons. I believe Cardinal Rodé had past his 80th birthday and so it was definitely age-related retirement. I know his retirement had been planned for some time."
I think the age he was past was likely the usual retirement age of 75.
"Someone sort of cynically suggested the only reason he had the courage to do the apostolic visitation was that he was going to retire. So that was kind of his parting gift he left behind then he didn't have to deal with it after he made the decision.
I don't know how true that is but I know it was definitely an age-related retirement. When the prefect is changed, generally the secretary is in the imperial offices. Cardinal Aviz from Brazil, was named the prefect and an American, Father Joseph Tobin, has been elevated to Archbishop after he was named. He was formally head of the Redemptorists if I recall.
At first, the prefect didn't have a whole lot to say about the visitation. Archbishop Tobin was more outspoken, a little critical of Cardinal Rodé at first and I think that took a lot of people back and thought well, is he not going to be supportive, what's going on here.
My take is, and I've talked to some people who've been close to the situation, is that he simply wasn't up-to-speed on the whole situation; that neither of the new people were. This basically was willed to them from someone else.
It took a lot of reading, talking to a lot of people, and study for them to try to get up-to-speed on what was really involved. I know personally that many sisters have written and asked the Vatican to please have an apostolic visitation of women religious.
There was a symposium on religious life in 2008, at Stonehill College that I attended and Cardinal Rodé spoke there. Two different sisters got up and asked him, publically for an apostolic visitation. This had been in the works for a while I think and Cardinal Rodé finally pulled the trigger on it.
I think the new people hopefully, especially now that they have the reports there at the Imperial Office, all of the apostolic visitation reports. If you read the CDF report carefully, it refers to some of the reports from the apostolic visitation that reported that the leaders of many religious orders had not been adequately formed theologically.
I think that once that information is sifted through, I think the new people at the Congregation for Religious; I think that they'll get on board and make good use of the apostolic visitation. I think already we're seeing the results since it's referred to in the CDF study."
Some of the other things that we've touched on briefly before that are mentioned in the CDF document, there are a couple of groups that are talked about. One of them is Network, what can you tell us about them? Who are they and why might they have been drawn into all this?
"They are, supposedly, a social justice lobby. They were created by the Leadership Conference back in the 70's. They've always been on the cutting edge of the very trendy issues of the time. They supported the individual's right to act on conscious in pursuit of the public good, sort of veiled language for abortion rights and that kind of thing. They were a creation of the LCWR and a lot of times when, I know one of the presidents of the LWCR, Sister Catherine Pinkerton, when she finished her term, she moved on to run Network.
They were sort of this lobby arm of the LCWR and Network could afford to be a bit more cutting-edge because it had a different name and that sort of thing. It had some very controversial stands as far as doctrine and morality goes.
The other group was..."
Before we move off of Network, they, not so long ago, came to public attention here in America because of their role in the Obama care fight back in 2010. What did they do there?
"Yes, well shortly after the bishops had made it know that the Obama Care bill as written was not satisfactory because it did not provide conscious protection and because it funded abortion. The sisters from Network issued a letter to all members of Congress, about how wonderful Obama Care was and that they, the sisters on the ground floor in medical services, had been there and they understood the needs for this kind of care.
They endorsed it 100% and they alleged that they spoke for tens of thousands of sisters, those were the exact words that they used. Then it was signed by fifty-five people, sisters, or groups of sisters, the first one being the president of the Leadership Conference."
So the head of the LCWR herself?
"Yes, she signed it as herself. Many other sisters signed it as themselves only while others signed it as superior of such and such order. This prompted the bishops media office, Sister Walsh, to issue a statement saying wait a minute, this letter was signed by fifty-five people, in no way does it represent tens of thousands of sisters.
She was right about that, they'd attempted to set themselves out as spokespersons for thousands of sisters when in effect there were only fifty-five who signed the letter."
In addition, they were patently trying to neutralize the opposition of the bishops.
"That's what I was about to say. Nevertheless, they were invoked as well as the Leadership Conference as well as Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association. They were invoked by the Democratic lawmakers who were looking for some kind of cover.
I read recently that they (lawmakers) felt they were given moral permission by the sisters since the sisters approved of it, they were given moral permission to vote for it."
Lets talk about the other group that was mentioned: The Resource Center for Religious Institutes. Who are they and why might they have been drawn in to this?
"They grew out of the Leadership Conference also. They grew out of two separate organizations; one was an organization that the Leadership Conference started for treasurers for religious institutes. That was really very helpful for those people who were running the financial offices for their religious orders because they got help with how to do taxes, how to apply for Social Security benefits, what to do about insurance, what to do about employees and personnel stuff. That was all very helpful.
I believe they also cooperated with the Conference of Major Superiors of Men with that, so I think that, forgot the name, I think the National Association of Treasurers of Religious Institutes or something. It had been created by the Leadership Conference and they were the umbrella organization for them.
There was also a legal arm that was created by the Leadership Conference. These two organizations were then rolled together into this resource center for religious institutes. It was the old treasurers' conference and the old legal arm."
So they could provide legal and financial advice?
"Right, and there were Cannon lawyers as well as civil lawyers to give advice. That's a good think too for these religious institutes because they need that. Unfortunately, they got some very, non-orthodox people giving advice.
In fact, the leader of the whole office now, a Benedictian priest, Fr. Dan Ward, back in 2008, assisted an order of three Benedictian women in Madison, WS. These three women decided that they no longer wanted to be a Catholic order, they wanted to be ecumenical."
I think it may even have just been two.
"There might have been two; they had taken in a Presbyterian minister. I think you're right, there were two, plus the Presbyterian who they claimed had already taken vows as a Benedictian sister. Which I don't think is canonical.
He helped these three women become non-canonical, become ecumenical, and keep all the property. Which I think is probably not canonical, because that property should have been properly alienated as a, it should have been Catholic property, alienation is a canonical word for selling property.
Basically, what they did was sign the property over while they were still Benedictian sisters to this new corporation, which they also were officers of, so they got the property signed over before they renounced their vows as Catholic sisters. Fr. Ward assisted them in doing this.
Fr. Ward held a workshop at the annual assembly of this national resource center on how to go non-canonical. Now why a Catholic religious order needs to know how to leave the Catholic Church, I don't know.
I think that probably attracted the attention of the CDF also."
I would suppose so. Now one of the things that the LCWR does every year, is they give an award to someone for showing leadership. In 2011, the award was given to Sister Carol Keehan, who you mentioned is the CEO of the Catholic Healthcare Association. She was one of the people involved in the Obama Care fight, taking a position contrary to that of the bishops.
This year in fact, just last week or so, they announced that their honoree for outstanding leadership award this year is Sister Sandra Schneiders, who we also mentioned earlier. She advocated non-violent resistance to the apostolic visitation.
It struck me that they would have these two people as honorees for showing outstanding leadership as women religious during the very time the apostolic visitation and the doctrinal assessment were going on. It's really kind of brazen.
"It wasn't very smart, was it?"
Yes, does that choice of honorees suggest anything to you about their attitude or where they're coming from?
"Yes, it suggests to me that they asserting their independence and it's kind of an 'in your face' thing, that this is what we do. That's why I can't get over that they're surprised that this is happening to them."
Do you suspect that the profession of being stunned, shocked or whatever the word was they used, kind of like Claude Rains in Casablanca where he's shocked, shocked to learn that gambling is going on here as he collects his winnings?
"It could be and as I say too, I think they've always kind of hidden behind their rich, traditional history of women religious in this country. One of the reactions I heard was 'gosh, all we were doing was following our Vatican approved statutes.'
So it's like 'we can't believe this is happening because we're so good' and there again, hiding behind the wonderful reputation that women religious have had in this country.
We owe a terrible debt to them. Someone pointed out today that, even some of the more radical sisters, many of them are doing great work. They're out doing the gritty work of being in the soup kitchens, helping the prostitutes, the homeless people on the streets and stuff.
I think we can't denigrate some of the good work these sisters are doing, but we can certainly be concerned about the relationship with the Church."
Thank you very much Ann Carey for coming on the program today, where can people get your book and what can they learn from it?
"They can get my book on the Sunday Visitor which is www.osv.com. I think they can learn a lot of the history of what has lead up to this. I start tracing the Leadership Conference from its beginnings back in the 50's but I go step-by-step as they take themselves farther and farther away from the Church and down this road.
That's why I've had several calls from the media to ask me if I was surprised, if this was a new thing. I keep telling everybody, you know it was forty years in the making and that they could read up about many of those years in the book, hopefully it would educate them more. Then they could see that this is a logical conclusion of where this whole thing was leading."
If you've chronicled all that history and gotten it into written form about how this decay and degeneration happened, have you ever considered a career at writing horror novels? (laughing)
(laughing)"No, I'm not good at fiction. My genre is non-fiction but I really have found it very, very fascinating. My book came out in '97 and I think it's time for a new addition to update it with what's happened, especially most recently."
Ok, it's fascinating material and I really want to thank you for being with us today, and I encourage people to check out your book; Sisters in Crisis.
"Thanks Jimmy for having me and please pray for all the sisters."