The Reformation of the LCWR

Two days ago, after assessing the evidence gathered by investigation of religious life in the United States, the Vatican announced that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), needs a reform. The Vatican listed doctrinal and practical issues at the heart of the mandate for reform. (as an aside, my SOLT community is NOT a part of this organization. We are members of the other organization the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, CMSWR) 

This mandate for reform will potentially be a very explosive situation. I am personally glad that Archbishop Sartain has been chosen to lead this reform, he has a special charism which I believe will help in the healing of this process.

Allow me, as a religious sister, to say a few things about this mandate and the situation of the women in the LCWR.

First of all, don't believe the hype of the mainstream media. You will most likely read stories that this is yet another "war on women" by a male hierarchy or that it is another example of the Church imposing itself upon the private lives of people. None of that is true.

Let's be really honest, religious life in the United States has changed dramatically in the past 50 years. And although reform was needed, religious habits were "modified" and further exploration was taken into new forays of service for the women, not all of this has been good. The number of women religious in America has dropped dramatically in the past 50 years and people are left scratching their heads and wondering, "Why?"

What we find today in many religious orders is that the women no longer live or pray together in community, they no longer wear an identifiable habit and many are teaching and professing beliefs that are not part of the Catholic Church. Their communities are dwindling and new members are hard to come by.

What many people don't want to talk about is the fact that the newer communities who do live and pray in community, wear an identifiable habit, teach and profess beliefs that are at the heart of the Church (which we call being faithful to the Magisterium of the Church) are growing. They are attracting young, vibrant, educated women. Obviously this is saying something loud and clear.

It seems to me that the former situation is what many communities within the LCWR are facing. And there are many women in this organization who are honestly seeking to serve the church and attract new members to their communities and are confused as to why things don't seem to be working. However, their method of trying to answer the confusion doesn't seem to be getting them anywhere.

So the question is, "What is at the heart of religious life?"

Is religious life merely a group of women gathered together to serve the Church? Are they social workers? Are they individuals seeking personal fulfillment who happen to be part of the Catholic church? Are they somehow free to redefine doctrine and teach whatever they want because they bear the title "sister?"

The answer to all of the above is no.

The heart of religious life is a marriage, body and soul, to Jesus Christ. We are Brides of Christ. This is most fundamental reality of religious life and who we are. From that relationship flows everything else. We are Brides of Christ within a Church founded by Him.

Rather than the Vatican forcing reformation on a group of women (which is read by many as "these power- hungry men are trying to force women to do what they want and conform to a powerless ways of life"), the Vatican is merely pointing out that the communities in the LCWR have a dysfunctional marriage.

How could a couple remain happily married if one of them was unfaithful and not interested in repairing the relationship? What if one of them kept on attacking the other, speaking out against their Beloved and refusing to allow anyone to look at the issues?  That marriage wouldn't last and we know it.

There will always be conflict and tension between men and women, between family members, on this side of heaven. Nothing is perfect. But we do have a choice.

When you say you are a sister, you profess that you have made vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to your community in service of the Church at large and to all God's people. You are giving your ultimate "yes" to life, true love and service.

No one is forced to become a sister and enter religious life. Jesus is the one who asks, who proposes, but even He doesn't force Himself upon a woman. In fact, this commitment is so serious that it takes anywhere from 8-10 years for a woman to complete formation, profess first vows, and then make final vows. A woman has plenty of time to discern this call from Jesus and if she wants to embrace it and everything it entails. It's not an easy life whatsoever but to those who are called, this life showers the beauty of heaven upon earth.

It is a life worth living and it is worth living well.

Much healing needs to take place in all of our hearts. Authentic discipleship leads us along the path of daily conversion away from our brokenness and toward Jesus, The Man. We are all servants of the Truth.

So, before this issue gets too big, I invite you to think about it logically and reasonably. Pray for Archbishop Sartain and his assistants. Pray for the women of the LCWR and pray for all Catholics.

We need to make a choice. We will stand firm with the Truth or will we be washed out to sea?


So incredibly beautiful.. my admiration of your grows always, Sister. You continually reveal the person of our Blessed Mother, Bride of the Spirit and Body of Christ, in your work and in your person. May God bless you, and all others at the SOLT. I pray that all Catholics would humbly go to Jesus through Mary and petition for peace and unity, and for those who have gone astray, to humbly repent and come back to the sheepfold under our wonderful and loving Holy Father.
Anonymous said…
Once again I have to say: you are awesome! Do you mind if I copy your post and spread it among my flock.

Fr. Vogel
Fr. Vogel, my holy friend, feel free to pass along the post to whomever you like.
MMC said…
Very charitably said, Sister. Thank you for leading us all in seeking truth, embracing correction, not falling for the enemy's tactics, and being honest about the state of disobedience and turmoil within some women religious communities. My prayers go out to them, too:+) God bless~
Anonymous said…
Thank you for shedding light on an issue that over the past couple of days has had me very confused. Indeed, paying attention to the headlines has made me feel like I belong to a Church that's out to get women even if in my heart I know that's not so. Thank you again and God Bless you, your beautiful insight, and your community of sisters. Know that I am praying for you and all women religious.
Anonymous said…
Thank you Sister Miriam for your thoughtful comments on this issue. I will pray for all sisters as well as Archbishop Saritan. May God continue to bless you and may the Holy Spirit continue to guide your words.
A habit is not a qualifier of holiness. I have found a few habited nuns who lord their habits over the unhabited as if the habited are the truly holy. This is not so. It hurts me to see such condescension in nuns even today. Many, many sisters--most sisters--chose for very practical and spiritual reasons to not wear habits and they are out in the world every day BEING CHRIST to those who need him. They are not sinning. They are not in need of correction. The Vatican should focus its reform on pedophile priests and the fraternity that covers up that most heinous sin of child molestation.
Ms. Thurman, you are indeed correct that the habit is not a qualifier of holiness. I pointed it though, because orders that are growing are mostly those that wear a habit along with a life that embraces authentic discipleship of Jesus. That is just the truth. Its not condescending.

The American Church and Vatican are working on cleaning up the problems with the priests, this has been going on quite some time.
Dear Sr. Miriam,

Thank you for sharing all of this with charity. I am sometimes so overwhelmed by the meanspiritedness, cruelty and condemnation I see on Catholic blogs or posts. Being able to read about and discuss issues in kindness (while not compromising on truth) with those who have a different view is so important! May His love continue to shine through you!

Sister, thank you so much for this post. You've given me a simple and concise way to respond to those who believe the media's anti-Catholic diatribe. Thank you for speaking the truth in such a loving, gentle way. And thank you for remaining faithful to the Church!!!
Anonymous said…
Sr. Miriam,

I read through several of your blog posts and I would like to commend and encourage you. This is exactly the type of thing people, and especially our young women, need to read and contemplate.

Unfortunately the choking thorns and voracious birds of secular feminism have taken the seeds of faith of many of our youth and stolen from them the truth of Jesus Christ as authentically and faithfully transmitted by the Church's Magesterium.

My daughter attended your retreat this weekend in Port Orchard and I thank you for your influence. She had a remarkable time and couldn't talk enough about the things you said.

And so I don't embarrass her...

Anonymous Dad
Sueb said…
Thank you! I read the SEattle Times today and wanted to scream. Would you consider asking this we put in the Times? Would you be allowed to? We need the voice of a young Godly sister to quell the tidal wage of garbage. I work for the SEattle Archdiocese and know we can't always speak out on things or we may reflect on the diocese but this article is what is needed. How about sharing it with the Catholic NW Progress? Greg would love to read this. I am praying for the sisters. Thanks again!
Sue, feel free to pass along the post or forward it on to whomever you feel may benefit from it.
Joseph said…
Dear Sister Miriam James, May the peace and joy of our
risen Lord be with you and your Sisters! Like many Catholics in this country, I'm dismayed by the recent announcement by the CDF, whose prefect is American
Cardinal Levada. Sadly, the voices of moderation in the discussion related to LCWR are few and far between.
I am also perplexed that the leadership of the CMSWR has not come out in support of LCWR. Sister, I have the greatest respect for ALL women religious, whether they wear habits or not. For instance, I made my First Holy Communion at Rosary Hill Home (a Hospice near New York City), run by the Hawthorne Dominican Sisters. It was 47 years ago,
on the same day my paternal grandmother became a Catholic a few months before she died. I remain to this day in awe of the Hawthorne Dominicans who still war the habit. I'm equally in awe of a Franciscan Sister of Peace, Sister Margaret who's a Hospice Nurse in San Francisco. Affectionately known as Sister Maggie, one has no doubt they are in the presence of a very holy person, when they meet this
"street-wise" petite nun from the Bronx! As a Nurse,
I can tell you she's one of the finest I've ever worked with in my career; she's probably not worn a habit since the early 1970's. Every day to and from work, I have the pleasure of walking past Saint Ann's Home on Lake Street in San Francisco, and it's always a special joy to "run into" one of the Little Sisters of the Poor.
I clearly realize that there are numerous complex issues related to LCWR, and it's unfortunate much of it will be played out in the media. We can only pray for a positive outcome! May God bless your vocation, Sister!
Anonymous said…
Thank you for this post. I am truly humbled by your love of the Church. Please keep me in your prayers as I will you and your Sisters.
rhapsody said…
Wonderful post and blog, Sister -

Am very thankful to have found it!
Elise said…
Hi Sister Mariam,

You gave a speech at my high school in Surrey today and I didn't realize until now that you are the author behind this great blog. I actually used this article in my Socials class a couple of days ago! I wish I had put two and two together sooner.

The students loved your talk today, by the way, thank you so much for doing what you do! God Bless
Shannon B. said…
I loved this blog post Sister:) I think that many religious have lost sight of why they're religious in the first place, and have lost their sense of identity. You are a very intelligent sister indeed!

God bless you:)

P.S. Thank you for wearing the tradition habit:)
Anonymous said…
Dear Sister,

As a sister in a community in the LCWR, I have to address some of your generalizations.

I am a young, vibrant, well educated and passionate young religious woman. I live in a convent with the Blessed Sacrament and with other sisters. I teach in a Catholic school. I wear a habit. I pray with the sisters with whom I live and I am faithful to the Church.

I think some people have forgotten that the purpose of organizations like the LCWR is to provide resources to superiors - resources those superiors are free to take or leave. Not all communities are the same.

In my experience, very few sisters, even in the communities that don't wear habits, live by themselves in apartments with all their own things. There are very few communities that accept this as the norm.

I would also like to share while I'm here the only three experiences I have had with CMSWR sisters. The first time was when I traveled for a death in my family and there happened to be sisters in the parish at Mass. I heard them talking about me, about how they didn't like my habit, how the front of my hair showed. To put it plainly - they were being quite rude and mean. I couldn't believe that religious women would behave that way in Church. My second experience was when I was studying at the seminary in the summer. A large group of sisters from a very popular community were also there. I had classes with them. Not one of them EVER said "hello" to me. I was the only one from my community there. The third was when a lay person made a comment about "real sisters" (the ones with habits) and the sister agreed with them - as if she had the authority to dispense from the vows. I am sure not all of the CMSWR sisters are like these three incidents but no one has proved otherwise yet and I am open to being shown a different side of CMSWR sisters.

I have no anger at those sisters but I certainly think they could grow in charity and love for their sisters in Christ. The vows make a religious and all of us have that in common.

Prayers for you.
Sister, thank you for your comments and thoughts. I hope you understand that I was certainly not making a claim in the same regard as other sisters you have encountered.

I did not say that there aren't young and vibrant women in the LCWR. I am merely addressing generalizations that are, unfortunately, all too true.

I am sorry that you have had those experiences with the Sisters who are part of the CMSWR- that is certainly not charity or kindness or sisterhood. And you are right, wearing a habit doesn't make someone a "real" Sister.

We all do have the vows in common and our commitment to give ourselves to Jesus and love His people.

This is not the issue with the reformation of the LCWR. The issue is deeply doctrinal and apostolic, that's the fundamental issue.

We as women who are visible representatives of the Catholic church must stand firm in orthodoxy and authentic femininity. We can no longer embrace false feminism and progressive agendas.

I am praying for you too, and for your community at this time.

Bless you-
Samuel Bowling said…
The entire church needs reform. As one abused by a priest whom the church knew he was abusing boys, they played the shell game for over 30 years plus with him.

People we are human, we are meant to experience love in all facets, compassion in those around us and peace through the understanding that there is something so much larger then ANYONE OF US WILL GET!

Reformation of all the church hierarchy is most important. The fact that the Catholic church is one of the wealthiest establishments in the world should tell you something. Why does the Pope sit on a gold encrusted chair? Why did the Diocese of Orange County by the corrupt Crystal Cathedral for $57 million dollars but cannot help or aid those whom it has allowed to be abused.


Christ would have been the first one to hug me and tell me its ok, instead, someone whom represented him took advantage of me and 26 others along the way and that is but one story.

REFORMATION. I tac my thesis to the side of the vatican and walk away as Martin Luther did. I am not asking people to follow me AT ALL, I am asking them to hold true to the reality of this existence. WE are but one through the eyes of God and we are all meant to have whatever life we choose in this free will world.

I love you sister for dedicating your life to your beliefs but remember 7 billion people on this planet and everyone is exactly perfect in God's image. WE all have our own walk, support from a community is nice and I do not believe that reforming the women of the church is where it's at. It starts at the top, the Pope, the Cardinals and EVERYONE WHOM SAYS THEY BELIEVE IN THE ONE TRUE GOD to step up to the placate and release these judgements and man made laws.

Enough, I know you understand where I am at.

With gratitude, peace and humility, I thank you all for letting me open the door here. It is but through ENTIRE reformation of the church will ANY of this be truly addressed. Ask God, he will tell you what is right, you just have to listen.

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