Association of U.S. Catholic Priests criticize head of doctrinal congregation for rebuke of LCWR
The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests in a letter to Pope Francis criticized the head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for his recent comments chastising the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
The Seattle-based association, which claims 1,000 U.S. priests as members, focused its letter to the pope on comments made by the congregation’s prefect, German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, in an April 30 welcoming address to LCWR leadership.
LCWR is a Maryland-based umbrella group that claims about 1,500 leaders of U.S. women’s communities as members, representing about 80 percent of the country’s 57,000 women religious. The group is currently undergoing a major reform ordered by the Vatican in 2012.
Müller’s remarks were “self-confessedly blunt,” said the letter, signed by Fr. David Cooper of the Milwaukee archdiocese, the association’s president, and members of the group’s board.
Dated June 2, the letter was released to the media June 12.
The prelate’s comments included, among other things, the view that an LCWR award to one sister whose book was subject to doctrinal scrutiny “will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the doctrinal assessment”; that LCWR is promoting futuristic ideas he described as “opposed to Christian revelation”; and there is “increasing concern” over the “directional statements” of some LCWR member congregations.
LCWR plans to give a major award at the group’s annual assembly in August to St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson. In 2011, the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine criticized one of Johnson’s books as containing “misrepresentations, ambiguities and errors” related to the Catholic faith.
The cardinal’s remarks were released by the congregation “without any aspects of the subsequent discussion being included,” the U.S. priests told the pope.
“Does that kind of premature, one-sided public comment build trust? Does it help the process or the public perception of the church?” the letter asked. “Rather it projects what many perceive as clerical/hierarchical bullying of religious women, publically shaming them. That is deeply regretful. A joint concluding statement after the discussions would have been more appropriate.”
The LCWR later issued its own statement describing the dialogue that ensued as “honest, respectful, and engaging” during which the LCWR leadership was able to “offer responses that illuminated some of the perceptions about the LCWR held by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
“We perceive you to be promoting an entirely different way of dealing with matters of concern within the church, allowing honest dialogue without preemptively defining the outcomes,” the priests told Pope Francis. “The process CDF is using with LCWR seems to us … far removed from 1 Peter’s recommendation on the Sixth Sunday of Easter that we explain our reasons for our ‘hope’ — our positions, our convictions, our perspectives — ‘with gentleness and reverence,’ in short with respect for those with whom we talk.”
The letter added, “We pray that abuse of process and persons will not continue in this case or others, but that a genuinely dialogic process, conducted with gentleness and reverence, will bring this issue to a conclusion more in keeping with … your own pastoral approach.”
The Text of the letter is available at

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  1. Mark Mohan says:

    In recent times we use the words of Christ in John 17:21 at inter-church gatherings, now with inter-church dialogue quite agreeable should we use them at a presbyteral level ?

  2. Leadership is a two way process for in listening to each other faith grows and is vitalised. The days of diktat are gone as we struggle to find expression for faith in this present tense.
    That is the charge that has been laid heavily on the shoulders of Francis by the Holy Spirit and in recent months he has shown himself up to the challenge. Whether or not the same can be said of recent declarations by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is debateable. He recently told the leadership group of Women Religious (LCWR) in the United States they were ignoring procedures for choosing speakers for their annual conferences and questioned if their programs were promoting heresy. This long-standing challenge by the Vatican, through the office of the CDF, to the Mission of the Sisters in the US does not help to instil confidence. These Sisters have lived their faith daily alongside people in parishes, hospitals and schools and they have responded to their needs. Yet they are being challenged for the risks they have taken. They have confronted the experience of the Risen Christ and acted accordingly. It is good that the US priests association have responded on behalf of the sisters.

  3. It is necessary to continue to challenge the CDF on their behaviour, and I’m glad the American ACP have written a letter. We know, though, that the CDF will probably remain “stiff-necked”. We must be making a lot of collective noise in the wilderness, yet, will we ever be heard?

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