A case of secrecy and self-silencing

National Catholic Reporter – Global Sisters Report

by Jeannine Gramick Jul. 29, 2015

April 16 was a momentous day for U.S. women religious, and indeed for all Catholics. The Vatican and other Catholics on both sides of the Atlantic breathed a collective sigh of relief when the doctrinal assessment of the U.S. Leadership Conference of Women Religious by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the congregation’s mandate for implementation came to a conclusion.

In a May 15 statement, the LCWR officers said that the process was conducted in a spirit of prayer and openness, but it was “time-consuming,” “difficult” and “had its costs.” The officers were “deeply saddened that the report caused scandal and pain,” and said they “felt publicly humiliated” by false accusations.

I surely sympathize with all the heartache, frustration and anger these leaders must have felt in the years of dealing with the assessment and the mandate because I was engaged in a Vatican investigation of my ministry to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from the mid-1980s to 1999. It was a time of great anxiety and distress for me, but I remember the caution that former LCWR officers urged me to keep in mind: “Do not confuse the personal with the structural.”

So while I feel deep sympathy for the personal toll suffered by these leaders, I also feel deeply troubled by the structural implications of the settlement. I believe the two main pillars of the church’s bureaucracy have been maintained. There is still secrecy and there is still self-silencing.

The LCWR officers spoke honestly and directly with the Vatican representatives, but they did not share these conversations with the media. I believe the matters they discussed affected the whole church, so what was spoken should not have been treated as confidential matter between two parties. Through the media, we in the Catholic community can become informed and learn how to deal with conflict in an adult and Christian way.

LCWR missed a golden opportunity to help move the church hierarchy toward transparency, which is increasingly being called for in civil and ecclesial arenas. Transparency is a means of accountability to the faith community. Instead, LCWR and the doctrinal congregation followed the old model of a closed and secret system — a process that the Vatican has used for centuries to rule and intimidate.

What was said, and who said it, during the three years of discussing the mandate? What was said about the charge of radical feminism or the charge of questioning the hierarchy’s position on women’s ordination and homosexuality? What was said about the charge of silence on the issues of abortion and euthanasia or the charge that some of LCWR’s public statements challenge positions taken by the bishops? How did LCWR handle the congregation’s claim that dissent from the doctrine of the church is not justified as an exercise of the prophetic office because prophecy cannot be directed at the magisterium?

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