Seven is often referred to as the complete number, biblically and colloquially. In the bible, God completed His creation in seven days. There are seven days in a week. There are seven continents and there are the seven seas. There are seven deadly sins and so on and so forth.
Seven years after his election to the papacy in April 2005, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI began to show his muscle and temper as the former Vatican enforcer Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. On April 18, 2012, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ordered the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) to shape up and place itself under the authority of three U.S. bishops. LCWR represents about 80% of the 57,000 Catholic sisters in America. These sisters are known to be doing charitable and missionary work among the poor and infirmed. Their average age is 74 with decades and decades of service in their lifetime.
What the Vatican is worried about are the growing dissent of LCWR over such issues as ordination of women priests, ordination of married priests, celibacy, homosexuality, and even feminism. Because the sisters are often on the frontline contact with those most in need of the sacraments and assistance, I would not be surprised if on occasion they have acted as priests.
The LCWR was indeed taken aback by this turn of events. At the annual assembly this past August in St. Louis, the LCWR president Franciscan sister Pat Farrell said in her speech, “I think it (the LCWR response) would be humble, but not submissive, rooted in a solid sense of ourselves, but not self-righteous; truthful, but gentle and absolutely fearless.
“It would ask probing questions. Are we being invited to some appropriate pruning and are we open to it? Is this doctrinal process an expression of concern or an attempt to control?
“Concern is based on love and invites unity. Control through fear and intimidation would be an abuse of power.
“Does the institutional legitimacy of canonical recognition empower us to live prophetically? Does it allow us the freedom to question with informed consciences? Does it really welcome feedback in a church that claims to honor the sensus fildeum?”
Two weeks before he passed away last August 31, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini gave an interview on what’s ailing the Church. He said among many things that the Church is 200 years behind the times. He mentioned the shabby way the church has treated extended families, i. e. families resulting from divorce and remarriage. He was bewailing the loss of the future generations’ giving rise to pompous and empty churches and cathedrals, especially in the Western world.
I may add that the Church is 200 years behind in treating a good half of our population, the women. Modern women are definitely at par with men intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally despite being physically weaker. There are women in all professions and human endeavors—doctors, teachers, lawyers, caregivers, businesspeople, protestant pastors, writers, politicians, etc.—except the Catholic priesthood.
The old excuse that Jesus selected the twelve disciples to be all male is a red herring. Two thousand years ago, women were treated as chattel, movable property, a shade better than slave, people who take order, and are of no consequence.
The women religious, if anything, are doing work and solicitations closer to what Jesus was doing in his ministry. They are closer at heart and in mind to the teachings of Jesus. Perhaps it is best that they do not display the pomp and splendor of the hierarchy in the Vatican.
Unfortunately, many of them are approaching retirement and they depend on the Vatican for their wherewithal. If the Vatican is truly concerned with the welfare of the LCWR, then it should come out and guarantee that the sisters are taken care of in comfortable retirement. Better still is to let LCWR have full control over their affairs—governance and finances.
Among the old boys’ club, feminism is a bad word. Like the term “civil rights” in the ’60s, feminism is about justice and freedom denied to a huge segment of our population. The Church can use some wisdom and correct centuries of injustice to women.
I hope we do not wait 400 years when Pope John Paul II apologized to Galileo for what was done to him by the Church. In case you don’t know, here’s what happened. For promoting the Copernican theory of the planets as we know it today, Galileo was tried in 1633 by the Roman Inquisition, found guilty of heresy and sentenced to indefinite imprisonment.
The Church has many skeletons in the closet; foremost is the sexual abuse scandal including pedophile priests. The confrontation with the LCWR is a distraction—just like the introduction of the new Roman Missal. We are so busy learning the new responses at Mass, we ignore the real problems. God help us!