Dear Pope Francis,
Can we talk about how your homeboys talk to female theologians and women religious? Last week Cardinal Gerhard Müller of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) essentially told the sisters of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) to shape up or ship out. As I’m sure you’re aware, the CDF has been playing heavy-handed brother knows best for the last few years and the LCWR has been anything but a meek while the two have tried to learn to play together nicely in the Catholic sandbox.
“Canonical status and ecclesial vision go hand-in-hand, and at this phase of the implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment, we are looking for a clearer expression of that ecclesial vision and more substantive signs of collaboration,” said Müller.
What Cardinal Müller sees as being more substantive signs of collaboration the LCWR sees as unnecessary interference. The most contentious issue Müller addressed was the “provision that speakers and presenters at major programs will be subject to approval by the Delegate. … It allows the Holy See’s Delegate to be involved in the discussion first of all in order to avoid difficult and embarrassing situations wherein speakers use an LCWR forum to advance positions at odds with the teaching of the Church.”
My beef with this provision is the sense that the CDF seems to think Catholic doctrine has remained static for the last two thousand years. One of the beautiful things about our Tradition is how it has grown and expanded on earlier ideas as more information on the nature of the universe becomes available. One of the things I take pride in as a Catholic is knowing that my church encourages scientific inquiry and philosophical thought, and despite the popular trope, has historically viewed both as important ways of furthering the mission of evangelization and deepening our human understanding of our Trinitarian God.
In a statement published on their website yesterday, the LCWR thanked Cardinal Müller for being so blunt with them and gave some context about the visit to Rome and the discussions.
“In some ways, for LCWR, nothing has changed. We are still under the mandate and still tasked with the difficult work of exploring the meaning and application of key theological, spiritual, social, moral, and ethical concepts together as a conference and in dialogue with the Vatican officials. This work is fraught with tension and misunderstanding. Yet, this is the work of leaders in all walks of life in these times of massive change in the world.”
Even the most celebrated Catholic theologians have at some point been the ones to suggest something new and develop an idea from nothing to an article of faith now being passed down. Theology doesn’t develop in a bubble, it needs to interact with people and respond to issues and questions of its time.
I won’t go so far as to say the LCWR was right to have objected to the initial assessment. Having learned how much time they were spending on conscious evolution and now done some reading on what conscious evolution actually is (big difference between evolution and conscious evolution) I’m no longer buying the story that the doctrinal assessment of the LCWR was unnecessary. I’ll give the CDF that point.
Having said this, I do very much object to Müller’s assertion (though he didn’t name her it’s easily deduced) it was inappropriate to award Elizabeth Johnson the Outstanding Leadership Award because she is “criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in that theologian’s writings.”
You said you wanted a theology of women Pope Francis. We can’t have a theology of women if we don’t let women do theology, and quite frankly, I’m with the feminists in believing a lot of our teachings could use a female perspective. The bishops don’t like Johnson’s book because she did years ago what you’re telling us to do today – she got outside the church, talked to people, and then she came back and told us what they had to say.
For real though, can you tell your homeboys to put their big boy shorts on? You know they know better.