Authoritarian leaders thrive on control, especially if they are male authoritarians and they seek to control women…..and more especially if they are authoritarian religious men. We see it in the news each day, in often heart-rending reports. Whether Christian, Muslim, or Jew, authoritarian religious leaders think God is a guy who gives guys the right to control the non-guys.
This week we have seen another mysogynist authoritarian outburst from Rome. Pope Francis, however, of “Who am I to judge?” fame, has been deadly silent. He did say in June that women were “the most beautiful thing God has made,” and joked that women “came from a rib.”
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition) now directed by Prefect Cardinal Gerhard Müller, is not happy with LCWR — the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. He told them that, as of August 1, 2014, LCWR must clear, with a bishop overseer, any assembly speakers and honorees.
Joan Chittister, who was President of LCWR in 1976, described the situation quite succinctly, in her NCR column this week:
Next week, for instance, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious will face decisions that will move the question of the agency of women in a man’s church either forward or back. Strange as it may seem in the 21st century, the issue is whether or not women are capable of hearing diverse speakers and still remain faithful Catholics. The issue is whether or not women religious may discuss various points of view on major issues and still remain faithful Catholics. The issue is whether or not women religious can manage their own organizations and still be faithful Catholics. The Vatican’s answer to those questions is no. For the last 45 years, however, LCWR’s answer to those same questions has been a clear and persistent yes.
The members of LCWR will gather August 12-16 in Nashville, Tenn., for their annual assembly. At that time, more than 800 elected leaders will discuss how they plan to react to continued charges of infidelity leveled by the church’s top enforcer of orthodoxy and the Sacred Congregation’s plans to take control over LCWR.
I have been following LCWR ever since they started, almost fifty years ago. They were approved by the US Bishops and by the Vatican, as THE association of women religious to represent American women religious.
Things began to go wrong however, when LCWR leadership and its members became better theologically educated than many of their hierarchical critics. Grounded in a solid biblical and historical understanding of their faith, the women of LCWR moved forward, probing the questions of contemporary faith and life. Their ecclesiastical critics, meanwhile, had begun their pious retreat, back to a triumphant nineteenth century Catholic ethos, where Father always knew best.
I will be praying for LCWR. History in the making this coming week!