VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis told leaders of women’s religious orders today that their vocations can only be recognized within the fold of the Church.
“Your vocation is a fundamental charism for the Church’s journey, and it isn’t possible that a consecrated woman or man might ‘feel’ themselves not to be with the Church,” he told around 800 religious superiors on May 8.
The International Union of Superiors General has been meeting for its general assembly in Rome since May 3.
In attendance this year were more than 150 U.S. sisters, some of whom also belong to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which has had a strained relationship with the Vatican since the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith mandated a doctrinal assessment of the LCWR in April 2012.
Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, carried out a four-year review and found “serious doctrinal problems” and the need for the LCWR to undergo renewal.
The assessment of the leadership conference expressed concern over “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” that were in some presentations sponsored by the conference.
One such address discussed religious sisters “moving beyond the Church” and beyond Jesus.
The CDF put Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle in charge of working with the sisters to reform the organization for a period of up to five years.
On May 5, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, spawned controversy when he told the sisters gathered in Rome that he was not consulted about the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s decision on reforming the LCWR.
His words drew a rare May 7 statement from the CDF, headed by Archbishop Gerhard Müller, which aimed to dismiss the idea of a “divergence” between the doctrine and religious congregations.
In addition to highlighting the need for the organization to provide adequate doctrinal formation for its members, the CDF report also voiced concern over letters from LCWR officers suggesting “corporate dissent” from Church teaching on topics such as the sacramental male priesthood and homosexuality.
Pope Francis seemed to address this history during today’s meeting. He told the sisters about the “‘feeling’ of being with the Church,” given to them through baptism.
It is a “feeling,” he said, “that finds its filial expression in fidelity to the magisterium, in communion with the pastors and Successor of Peter, Bishop of Rome, visible sign of that unity.”
To be otherwise, he said, would be against their vocation.
“It is an absurd dichotomy to think of living with Jesus but without the Church, of following Jesus outside of the Church, of loving Jesus without loving the Church,” he stated.
“Feel the responsibility that you have of caring for the formation of your institutes in sound Church doctrine,” the Holy Father said, “in love of the Church and in an ecclesial spirit.”