U.s.: Franciscans Side with the Lcwr

Vatican Insider
June 8, 2012

The Franciscan Brothers Minor have sent an open letter to Rome asking for the rules of the Catholic Magisterium to be respected

Some are talking about a "boomerang effect" but it is still early days. The reactions triggered by the Vatican's investigations into the LCWR show no sign of ceasing. After letters and demonstrations – such as last week's one in Washington, during which the city's Apostolic Nuncio, Viganò, opened the doors of the Vatican embassy to some LCWR demonstrators – and after stands were taken by important figures from the world of culture, journalists and individual clerics such as the Jesuit, James Martin, it is now the turn of the Franciscan Brothers Minor of the United States to do their bit. The organisation sent an open letter, dated 31 May, to Rome which is now being published across U.S. and foreign media.

The fact that the letter was signed by the heads of all 7 American Provinces and that the minister general was also an American – the only one in the Order's history – proves it is an influential document. The minister general, Fr. John Vaughn from the Province of Santa Barbara (which comprises all Western American states) had lived in Rome from 1985 to 1991.

The letter sent by the Franciscan brothers began: "We, the Leadership of the Friars Minor of the United States…". In it, they expressed "deep concern" regarding "the recent Vatican Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR)," led by American cardinal William Levada, who, they say "may inadvertently fuel the current climate of division and confusion."

"We write, too, as a public sign of our solidarity with you as you endure this very difficult moment. We are privileged to share with you the journey of religious life. Like you, we strive in all that we do to build up the People of God."

"For us, there can be no dispute that God has been and continues to be revealed through the faithful (and often unsung) witness of religious women in the United States." Indeed, this was recognise din the preamble of the Vatican note which announced that the nuns were being placed under investigation. Schools, hospitals and institutions supporting the poor were founded and still being run by religious male and female institutions. But this is not the only service provided by those who have opted for the evangelical counsels, the Franciscans wrote.

"The late 20th century and the beginning of this century have been times of great social, political and cultural upheaval and change" (in the U.S., the memory of the September 11 attacks is still very much alive and so there was no need to cite it). Such contextual changes require us, as faithful members of the Church, to pose questions that at first may appear to be controversial or even unfaithful, but in fact are asked precisely so that we might live authentically the charisms we have received, even as we respond to the "signs of the times. This is the charge that we as religious have received through the "Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life" from the Second Vatican Council and subsequent statements of the Church on religious life."

The Franciscan Brothers are convinced that many of the issues they currently face in today's society are challenges to respond better and faithfully to the Gospel, the Church and its Founders' charisms.

They confessed they were "concerned that the tone and direction set forth in the Doctrinal Assessment of LCWR are excessive, given the evidence raised." The worry is that "the efforts of LCWR to facilitate honest and faithful dialogue on critical issues of our times must not result in a level of ecclesial oversight that could, in effect, quash all further discernment." This could then be repeated in other sectors and groups within the Church.

We all operate within different areas of expertise, the Franciscans wrote, referring to the various groups within the Church. "When there appears to be honest disagreement on the application of moral principles to public policy, it is not equivalent to questioning the authority of the Church's magisterium."

"Rather than excessive oversight of LCWR, perhaps a better service to the people of God might be a renewed effort to articulate the nuances of our complex moral tradition. This can be a teaching moment rather than a moment of regulation - an opportunity to bring our faith to bear on the complexity of public policy particularly in the midst of our quadrennial elections," the Franciscans said. They then went on to suggest that this moment be transformed into an opportunity for comparison and dialogue, as set out in the Mutuae Relationis document on relations between clerics and bishops.

They explicitly added: 'it is desirable that questions having reference to both bishops and religious should be dealt with by mixed commissions consisting of bishops and major religious superiors, men or women."

"We hope that our bishops will take particular care to see that the way they take action is as important as the actions themselves in serving the People of God." This was said in reference to the inquiry Commission set up by the Vatican, led by the Bishop of Seattle, Sartain and made up exclusively of bishops, without the slightest involvement of the anticipated religious component.

The Franciscans ended their letter with the greeting "Fraternally", assuring their prayers. But the text expressed all the dignity of a body asking for the rules and pronouncements of the Catholic teaching to be respected.


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