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​Delegation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious at the Vatican

A meeting with Pope Francis marked the end of difficult course of reconsideration of the role that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious plays in the Church. The president of this conference of religious superiors in the United States has been seen as a protagonist in recent years.

At the Vatican on Thursday, 16 April, the Pontiff received in audience a delegation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (lcwr), who were at the Vatican for a meeting with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. At that meeting along with the sisters was Archbishop James Peter Sartain of Seattle who had been appointed by the Holy See to oversee the mandated doctrinal assessment and overhaul of the organization of nuns. All participants emphasized that the sensitive process unfolded in an atmosphere of great cooperation which bore important and lasting fruit.

“At the conclusion of this process”, Cardinal Prefect Gerhard Müller noted, “the Congregation is confident that lcwr has made clear its mission to support its member Institutes by fostering a vision of religious life that is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ and is rooted in the Tradition of the Church. It is this vision that makes religious women and men radical witnesses to the Gospel”.

Sr. Sharon Holland, ihm, President of lcwr, was unable to be present for the meeting but commented: “We are pleased at the completion of the Mandate, which involved long and challenging exchanges of our understandings of and perspectives on critical matters of Religious Life and its practice. Through these exchanges, conducted always in a spirit of prayer and mutual respect, we were brought to deeper understandings of one another’s experiences, roles, responsibilities, and hopes for the Church and the people it serves”. “We learned”, she concluded, “that what we hold in common is much greater than any of our differences”.

All of this is also confirmed in the joint final report presented, at the conclusion of a three-year process, by the U.S. bishop delegates and lcwr representatives (also present at the meeting were Sr Marcia Allen, Sr Janet Mock, Sr Joan Marie Steadman and Sr Carol Zinn). The document also acknowledges that the commitment of the Conference’s leadership “will continue to guide and strengthen lcwr’s witness to the great vocation of Religious Life, to its sure foundation in Christ, and to ecclesial communion.’

The joint declaration also illustrates the revision of the statutes, to better define the role of the Conference, which, “centered on Jesus Christ and faithful to the teachings of the Church”, is “to develop the life and mission of women religious in responding to the Gospel in the contemporary world”. The revised Statutes were approved on February 6, 2015 by Decree of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Contextually, the declaration also gives an account of the survey conducted on publications, seminars and conferences of the lswr, “to ensure that the Conference’s mission would be fulfilled in accord with Church teaching”. The document indicates that considering the large demand in U.S. religious communities for published materials in the field of spiritual growth, measures have been taken “that will ensure theological accuracy and help avoid statements that are ambiguous with regard to Church doctrine or could be read as contrary to it”.

The declaration additionally describes that over the course of “the past three years, considerable time and attention were given to dialogue regarding other matters raised by the Mandate, including the importance of the celebration of the Eucharist; the place of the Liturgy of the Hours in religious communities; the centrality of a communal process of contemplative prayer practiced at lcwr Assemblies and other gatherings; the relationship between lcwr and other organizations; and the essential understanding of lcwr as an instrument of ecclesial communion”.

Great satisfaction was expressed for the atmosphere of great cooperation throughout the three-year process, which was “marked by a spirit of prayer, love for the Church, mutual respect, and cooperation”. The same concepts were also emphasized by Archbishop Sartain, who thanked the officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, calling their assistance “essential to the great progress we made”, and underscoring that the “substantive dialogue between bishops and religious women has been mutually beneficial and a blessing from the Lord”.

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