LCWR

Leadership Conference of Women Religious

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LCWR History

1950 | 1960 | 1970 | 1980 | 1990 | 2000 | 2010

1950

Pope Pius XII convenes the First General Congress of the States of Perfection, calling to Rome the superiors general of religious orders throughout the world. 

August 1952

The heads of men and women's religious organizations meet at the National Congress of Religious of the USA. Reverend Arcadio Larraona, secretary of the Congregation for Religious, refers to a "movement" requiring change: "We must live in our times and according to the needs of our times." Mother Gerald Barry, OP, chaired a national committee of sisters to plan the women's section of the Congress. 

September 1952

At the First World Congress of Mothers General of Pontifical Right, Larraona again asks the women present what their founders would do if confronted with the needs of the world today. 

April 1956

The Vatican's Congregation for Religious asked U.S. sisters to form a national conference. 

November 24, 1956

The U.S. sisters' committee invites general and provincial superiors of pontifical communities to Chicago to discuss the formation of a national conference. By unanimous vote, the Conference of Major Superiors of Women (CMSW) is launched to: 

  • promote the spiritual welfare of the women religious of the USA 
  • insure increasing efficacy in their apostolate 
  • foster closer fraternal cooperation with all religious of the United States, the hierarchy, the clergy, and Catholic associations. 

1958

The Conference promotes its first regional program: "Revitalizing Religious Life for the Individual and the Community through Combating the Effects of Naturalism, Lack of Mortification, and Excessive Activity." 

1960

CMSW forms standing committees on Latin America, Catechetics, Health, and Finance. Florence Wolff, SL, is named the first part-time national coordinator.

1961

Second National Congress of Religious in the USA convenes superiors of men's and women's communities at the University of Notre Dame. Archbishop Agostino Casaroli asks U.S. communities to commit ten percent of their personnel to Latin America over the next decade. 

1963

The National Secretariat moves to Washington, DC. 

1964

First "CMSW National Conference" brings together membership in a single location for the first time with a program that included a formal business meeting. National Chair, Consolatrice Wright, BVM, challenges communities to listen to the "eternal now" of the Spirit. Mary Luke Tobin, SL, is elected national chair; the CMSW National Executive Committee sends her to Rome to "hang around the halls of the [third session of the Second Vatican] council" to see what she could learn. On the way to Rome, she is invited by the Vatican to be one of a handful of women observers. Rose Emmanuella Brennan, SNJM, becomes the first full-time executive director of the Conference. 

1965

A national gathering of CMSW with the theme, "Sisters and the Council," marks the beginning of annual assemblies. The National Executive Committee initiates the Canon Law Committee so that U.S. women religious have a voice in the revision of church law. The first of many assembly resolutions is adopted at the national meeting. 

1967

The national assembly, called "The Sisters' Survey," focuses on results of a Conference-sponsored survey of active women religious in the United States. The study, conducted by Marie Augusta Neal, SND, is designed to provide hard data to individual communities about their members' readiness to adopt Vatican II's mandate for renewal. 

1968

CMSW submits Proposed Norms for Consideration in the Revision of the Code of Canon Law to the cardinals on the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law. In a follow-up questionnaire, eighty-nine percent of members indicated that Norms had a positive influence on renewal in their communities. The first meeting of "the new liaison committee" marks a formal mechanism for regular CMSW contact with American bishops. 

1969

The National Executive Committee begins an organizational study of CMSW's purpose and services. 

1970

The regions are restructured with the original six replaced by the present fifteen; and all members enjoy universal suffrage, able to vote for national officers for the first time. The concept of a three-stage "presidency" is defined. 

1971

The national assembly, meeting in Atlanta, adopts new bylaws and changes the name of the organization to Leadership Conference of Women Religious . Other "firsts:" The first assembly entrusted to a program committee; the first with pre-assembly seminar preparation; the first mixing content with large group and workshop sessions; turned the face of the Conference firmly toward justice issues. 

A splinter group of CMSW members holds a meeting. With the name Consortium Perfectae Caritatis (CPC), the group drew members concerned that the newly-named LCWR was deviating from "authentic" church teaching about the essentials of religious life.  The first of ongoing periodic meetings among women and men religious in Canada, Latin America, and the United States. 

Meeting as we do at a moment when our nation, our world, our Church are all "facing an uncertain future" (Apostolic Letter from Paul VI on the Occasion of the Eightieth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum), we have a special opportunity to witness to the charity that fosters mutual trust, the charity that casts out fear, the charity that is the source of joy which we experience when, in Christian hope, we feel we can face the future with confidence. I am confident that we can spend these days together in Atlanta, to quote a phrase from [Paul VI's recent apostolic exhortation to the religious of the world], in "that understanding cordiality which nourishes hope." The theme of this national assembly is expressed in a sentence spoken at a historic moment by Pope Paul VI: It was November 21, 1964, the closing of the third session of the Second Vatican Council "The Church," the Vicar of Christ affirmed, "is for the world!" At that moment the Pope was stating in capsule form what the Council said at great length and in many ways.  
-- Angelita Myerscough, ASC, LCWR President 1971-72

1973

National membership numbers 648 members from 370 religious communities. They are 241 general superiors; 267 provincial superiors, and 140 others (regional superiors, members of executive committees, etc.). The Assembly has been responsive to the needs of migrant people, the displaced people of Northeast Pennsylvania, the oppressed of Bangladesh and of others in the Third World. The United States Catholic Mission Council, the National Sister Formation Conference, the National Sister Vocation Conference and NETWORK have been beneficiaries of LCWR members' support.

  
One danger for us is that we may become legitimators of society's commonly held values. The values we hold and the faith we articulate require strong supportive communities and a degree of apartness from the dominant culture if our life and mission are to be counter-signs to society's consumptive style, to its power to alienate and to destroy. Can we as a Conference discover ways to be supportive to one another in offering alternatives to society's prevailing mores?  
-- Margaret Brennan, IHM, LCWR President 1972-73

1974

Regional programs and activities emphasize evangelization, the Gospel way of justice and the faith dimension of femininity. The creation of communications centers; the sharing in national Catechetical Directory (NCD) consultations; reconciliation experiences; participation in workshops sponsored by the LCWR Global Ministry committee; days of retreat; inter-congregational renewal experiences; actions in reference to the displaced persons of southeast Asia; assisting in the programming for the 41st International Eucharistic Congress; and efforts to speak out when human rights are violated are among regional endeavors. 

1976

The Conference began a goal-setting process to clarify priorities in programming and allocation of resources. The resulting goals: to articulate a contemporary theology of religious life; education for justice; prayer, study and action on women's issues; collaboration with others to the maximum extent possible. 

1977

The LCWR Office is granted non-governmental status at the United Nations, bringing the perspective of the woman religious to issues of disarmament, woman, and human rights through the practice of permitting certified organizations to participate on international committees. Marjorie Keenan, RSHM, of the LCWR staff, was appointed to the Peace and Justice Commission of the Vatican, a first for an American woman religious. 

1978

The first joint LCWR/CMSM assembly, "Convergence," focuses on the connection between actions of U.S. corporations and poverty and oppression in the Third World.

  
Since 1973, the Conference has carried out extensive programs related to transforming the perceptions of and about women. We have promoted the recognition of sexism as destructive of both women and men. If we choose to continue work on this goal, from the position of our increased consciousness, we need to determine what options will most effectively insure images, structures and ways of relating consonant with God's reign. 
-- Joan Keleher Doyle, BVM, LCWR President, LCWR Conference Report 1978 

1979

Theresa Kane, RSMLCWR president Theresa Kane, RSM addresses Pope John Paul II at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC on October 7, 1979.

As president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, it was my privilege to extend greetings to the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, last October when he visited this country for the first time. I thought it appropriate to pledge our solidarity with the Pope as he called our attention to the serious responsibilities we have to our sisters and brothers who live in poverty and destitution. I also sensed the need of some women to articulate their growing concern about being included in all ministries within the church. ä Within my own heart there were only sentiments of profound fidelity, honesty, and sincerity to our God and to our Church. As a result of the greeting, a few congregations withdrew from the conference. ä Through that experience LCWR became more public; the membership gained new responsibilities. Reflection papers commissioned by the Conference will analyze "the voice of the faithful" as found in the thousands of letters received. 
-- Theresa Kane, RSM, LCWR President 1979-80

1980

1982

Purchase of Silver Spring, MD, property gives National Office a permanent home. No-interest loans and gifts from members help LCWR secure the 8808 Cameron Street office it shares with CMSM. 

The challenge of leadership in our time is balanced in the tension of two juxtaposed realities. The first, graphically illustrated in the recent Study of Retirement Concerns, shows increasing numbers of aged members and dwindling financial resources. The second, our expanding awareness of human needs crying out for our presence, is the hard country we are called to enter. ä We are on a frontier of vast need, desirous of fulfilling our destiny to be servants, given that others might have life. There are far fewer of us than the tasks demand, but enough to begin. The exploration into prophecy does not require large numbers, but large faith. 
-- Bette Moslander, CSJ, LCWR President's Message, 1981-82

1984

The Papal Commission on Religious Life (Quinn Commission) is instituted. LCWR members assist ordinaries and vicars in the design of listening sessions. Bette Moslander, CSJ, is appointed the Commission's official liaison with LCWR. In her response to Archbishop John R. Quinn's presentation about the Commission at the November 1983 National Conference of Catholic Bishops' meeting, she became the first woman to address the NCCB body.  The 1984 National Assembly in Kansas City resolved LCWR had a legitimate role to play in assisting members facing ecclesiastical problems. After a statement on plurality and abortion appears in the New York Times (October 7, 1984), the Conference provides canonical and theological resources to members involved in the resulting controversy; the LCWR presidency met with the apostolic pro-nuncio and the NCCB. 

1986

The Tri-Conference Religious Retirement Office is formed by LCWR, CMSM, and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. (The office is later named the National Religious Retirement Office.) 

The theme of the assembly this year , uncovering the holy , invites us to find and reveal God in every reality we encounter: ourselves, others, the events and situations of life; it summons us to reverence what is holy and to transform what is not. ä Transformation calls us to justice; communion moves us beyond justice to love with the foolishness of Christ. The feminine experience of exclusion leads us to seek a God whose power invites, enables, and loves. The experience of domination teaches us to embrace conditions of life in order to use our power to transform them. 
-- Miriam Therese Larkin, CSJ, LCWR Presidential Reflection, 1986

1989

First meeting of the Tri-Conference Commission on Religious Life and Ministry formed as the result of a Quinn Commission recommendation. The bishops, CMSM, and LCWR choose to focus on three areas: identity of religious life, collaboration, and procedures for ongoing issues. 

The 1989 Assembly explores the future of religious life; and results in the articulation of ten "transformative elements" that describe how leaders see religious life of the future. 

1990

1990

LCWR establishes a framework for collaboration with the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) by approving a memorandum of understanding on collaboration between the two Conferences.

. .. I see our collective efforts have focused on creating the results we desire through active engagement with others ä we had opportunities to be in dialogue with several groups: those representing women religious not affiliated with LCWR, the Catholic Health Care Coalition, the Catholic Education Futures Project, and the InterAmerican Conference. These encounters revealed the complexities of inter-organizational dynamics and the need for openness and flexibility in dealing constructively with diversity in language, process, and corporate culture.
-- Kathleen Popko, SP LCWR President 1990-91  

1992

LCWR publishes Threads for the Loom: LCWR Planning and Ministry Studies , a compilation of the comprehensive ministry survey engineered by Anne Munley, IHM. 

1994

Synod on Consecrated Life is held in Rome. LCWR members participate in pre-synod activities, including a comprehensive critique of the lineamenta . LCWR past president, Doris Gottemoeller, RSM, is named an auditor of the Synod. 

A think tank on the viability of religious institutes launches the Collaborative Viability Project, a joint effort of LCWR, the National Association for Treasurers of Religious Institutes (NATRI), and the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO). The project later publishes materials to help religious institutes assess their likelihood of survival into the future and offers consultation teams to help religious interpret results of their viability self-assessment. 

1995

Louise Akers, SC, the associate director for social concerns, and other LCWR members participate in the UN's Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. 

The renewal of our congregations, accomplished amidst unprecedented changes in culture and world order over the past thirty years, has brought us to a moment where the only questions that matter are profound: What is the mission God asks of religious in this post-modern world? What is the unique contribution of this way of life to the community called Church? 
-- Doris Gottemoeller, RSM LCWR President 1994-95

1996

LCWR publishes Creating a Home: Benchmarks for Church Leadership Roles for Women , the result of a two-year study addressing a question from U.S. bishops: If ordination is closed to women, in what alternate ways can they exercise leadership in the church? The book lists 15 recommendations covering due process, personnel policies, compensation, theological education.  Prior to the national Assembly in Atlanta, more than 400 LCWR members hold a prayer vigil outside the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, home to the School of the Americas. The sisters call for the closing of the School, which has trained numerous Latin American soldiers tied to death, disappearances, and human rights abuses. 

1997

A think tank on leadership results in the identification of capacities, skills, and competencies required for effective religious leadership. A small booklet, Dimensions of Leadership , defines these capacities as spiritual, relational, and organizational. LCWR collaborates in the Collaborative Viability Project to assist communities in assessing their "health" in the areas of mission, leadership, membership, resources, planning, and risk taking. LCWR further trains leaders to participate in on-site consultations, along with finance experts, to help communities evaluate their responses to the self-assessment. 

1998

Another LCWR collaboration, the Center for the Study of Religious Life, opens in June at its headquarters at Catholic Theological Union. Its mission is to undertake interdisciplinary reflection on the experience of religious life since Vatican II. LCWR's partners are the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and CTU. 

The CMSM-LCWR joint assembly, "Human Rights at the Heart of Our Mission" results in "a clear call to conversion" from participants on attitudes, understand of and complicity in racism, sexism, unjust economic systems and other human rights violations. 

An LCWR task force begins a study of non-ordained persons in significant leadership positions in the church. The outcomes projected are quantitative and qualitative data to advance the discussion of the role of women in the church. 

Responding to a call from the LCWR Women's Task Force, women religious throughout the country organize "Gatherings of Women" to promote the roles of women in society through dialogue with women who are socially, economically, and culturally diverse. 

Several hundred women religious join thousands who gather at Fort Benning, the Georgia military base that houses the School of the Americas, which trains military leaders, and some say terrorists, from Central America. The peaceful protest succeeds to the degree that the hundreds who crossed the line without permission are not arrested and the publicity raises consciousness about legislation to close the SOA.

1999

The LCWR Ministry Committee conducts a survey on the foundations and grants which religious communities use to fund collaborative ministries.

LCWR representatives from across the 15 regions gather to draft goals for the next five years, 1999-2004.

2000

2001

LCWR members commit themselves to a year of contemplation and fasting for the healing of broken relationships within the church and society. Individual congregations commit themselves to taking at least one day of the year to hold the church and world in a contemplative space, thus ensuring that prayer and fasting were happening every day of the year 2001.

The Conference of Pastoral Planning and Council Development honors LCWR with its 2001 Lumen Gentium Award, as "an effective vehicle for women religious in planning and process development."

LCWR publishes Women and Jurisdiction: An Unfolding Reality, a ground-breaking benchmarks study examining how women in Catholic church leadership roles participate in decision-making in the church with regard to church personnel, property and policy.

2002

LCWR publishes Carriers of the Story: A Leadership Conference of Women Religious Ministry Study, authored by Anne Munley, IHM, which traces the ministries of US women religious in institutes led by LCWR members.

2003

Mary Luke Tobin, SLLCWR establishes its Outstanding Leadership Award to recognize and honor persons and groups who have significantly contributed to the ministry of leadership and who reflect the LCWR mission. The award is presented annually at the LCWR assembly. The first award is presented to Mary Luke Tobin, SL.

2005

LCWR and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) conducts a study to assess the extent to which religious institutes of women have put in place policies, procedures, and practices to prevent sexual abuse by members and to address allegations when they arise.

2006

At the LCWR assembly, members call for a coordinated effort to assist the women religious in New Orleans in their recovery from the previous year’s hurricanes. In response, LCWR, in collaboration with the Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA), establishes the New Orleans Recovery Project. The money raised will assist women religious to restore or reconstruct their ministries and housing, enabling them to continue their service to the people of New Orleans.

2009

In March 2009 LCWR receives a letter from Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), announcing a decision to conduct a doctrinal assessment of the activities and initiatives of LCWR. The letter expressed concern with “both the tenor and the doctrinal content of various addresses given at the annual assemblies of LCWR,”  [specifically regarding “controverted issues such as the Apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotis, the Declaration of this Congregation Dominus Jesus, and the problem of homosexuality.”] The assessment will have as its principal purpose “to review the work of the LCWR in supporting its membership as communities of faith and witness to Christ in today’s Church, and to offer any useful assistance.

CDF appoints US Bishop Leonard Blair to begin the assessment. The bishop sends a letter to LCWR with some preliminary considerations and some of the doctrinal issues that have precipitated CDF’s concerns. [Bishop Blair states that “at annual LCWR Assemblies from 2003-2008, some of the guest speakers, officers, and honorees espouse erroneous theological positions and manifest the strong influences of disturbing theological trends, including a general antipathy to the ‘institutional church.’”] [The letter and an accompanying paper list examples from various addresses, as well as from LCWR’s Occasional Papers and the LCWR website.  He asks about the attitude of the LCWR leadership regarding the hierarchical structure of the Church, the teaching office and authority of the Pope and Bishops, and their “understanding of their responsibility to maintain and foster the reception of controverted doctrines.”]

Meetings and correspondence take place between the LCWR presidents and executive director and Bishop Blair centered on these questions. From LCWR’s perspective, the perceptions of LCWR held by CDF are based on incorrect information about the conference.

On May 19 the LCWR traveling exhibit, Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America opens at The Cincinnati Museum Center. The exhibit tells the story of women religious and their contributions to the growth of the United States and showcases more than 70 artifacts never before on public display. These items include a handwritten letter from President Thomas Jefferson, a cradle from the New York Foundling Home, a replica of an infant incubator designed by a sister, traveling trunks, journals of immigration experiences, pioneering healthcare devices, diaries, musical instruments, and more. The exhibit is scheduled to go to The Women's Museum: An Institute for the Future (Dallas, Texas); the S. Dillon Ripley Center at  Smithsonian (Washington, DC); Statue of Liberty National Monument/Ellis Island Immigration Museum (Liberty Island, New York); the Mississippi River Museum (Dubuque, Iowa); the Maltz Museum for Jewish Heritage (Cleveland, Ohio); Mount St. Mary College (Los Angeles, California); the Center for History (South Bend, Indiana); and the California Museum of History (Sacramento, California).

2010

Bishop Blair writes to LCWR to state that CDF has now directed him to assess the LCWR “formative programs” and “other LCWR programs and resources” and asks for LCWR materials used over the past five years and for information on LCWR’s various subsidiary and related organizations and their formational programs and resources. All materials are sent to CDF. The LCWR officers meet with CDF officials during their annual visit to the Vatican in April and further discuss CDF’s concerns.

On September 22 the US House of Representatives unanimously approves a resolution honoring the historic contributions of Catholic women religious. The resolution (HR 441) "honors and commends Catholic sisters for their humble service and courageous sacrifice throughout the history of this nation; and supports the goals of the Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America Traveling Exhibit, a project sponsored by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in association with Cincinnati Museum Center and established to recognize the historical contributions of Catholic sisters in the United States." The Honorable Marcy Kaptur of Ohio introduced the resolution.

At its annual national conference Pax Christi USA bestows the Eileen Egan Peacemaker Award on LCWR.

2011

Several organizations honor LCWR with awards. The University of San Francisco confers the degree doctor of humane letters on LCWR on behalf of all US women religious. The American Catholic Historical Society bestows its Service to Catholic Studies Award for the Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America exhbit. The National Federation of Priests' Councils presents its Mandatum Award for service to the Gospel of Jesus Christ given by LCWR and women religious.

LCWR produces a one-hour documentary entitled Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America that also tells the story of the contributions of women religious to the nation. National Public Radio senior news analyst and ABC News political commentator Cokie Roberts donates her services as the documentary narrator.

All of the documentation from the doctinal assessment is presented to the Ordinary Session of the Cardinal and Bishop Members of the CDF on January 12, 2011.  They decide that “the current doctrinal and pastoral situation of the LCWR is grave and a matter of serious concern,” that after the Visitation of religious in the US was completed, the Holy See should intervene “to effect a reform of the LCWR,” and that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will “examine the various forms of canonical intervention available for the resolution of the problematic aspects present in the assessment.” Pope Benedict XVI approves the decisions of the Ordinary Session of the Congregation and ordered their implementation.

Nothing about this decision is communicated to LCWR.

2012

On April 12, during LCWR’s annual visit to the CDF, Cardinal Levada distributes copies of a Statement of the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  LCWR is informed that a press release is being issued about this mandate of reform which involves the appointment of Archbishop J. Peter Sartain who is assisted by two other US bishops to carry out a mandate of reform of LCWR.

Because during 2009 and 2010 LCWR had addressed the doctrinal concerns, clarified where inferences had been drawn other than what was intended or that did not accurately represent statements that were made by LCWR speakers, sent all requested materials, cooperated fully and continued to visit CDF on an annual basis, they are shocked by the results of the doctrinal assessment and its mandate for implementation.

Throughout the remainder of 2012 through spring of 2015, LCWR, the three bishops, and other CDF officials work through a long process of dialogue and reflection about LCWR. Concurrently, many women and men religious throughout the United States and the world, as well as members of the Catholic Church and the public follow this process closely. LCWR close to 100,000 people correspond with LCWR through emails, letters and petitions. The vast  majority express support for LCWR and ask the conference to maintain its integrity as it works through the mandate. A few express support for the concerns of CDF. The media throughout the world follow the story, and many write articles, and produce radio and TV programs on this, including a segment on 60 Minutes that aired in 2013, as well as many other national media outlets such as MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, National Public Radio, Time Magazine, New York Times, BBC Radio, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, The GuardianChicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Women’s eNews, and others.. The vast majority of what is printed and published express concern about the Vatican’s handling of this situation.

During the years of the Vatican investigation of LCWR, many organizations honor the conference with awards for its years of service and for its integrity. These include the US House of Representatives, Call to Action, Pax Christi, the Interfaith Center of New York, Herbert Haag Foundation for Freedom in the Church, several universities, including Harvard Divinity School. LCWR officers are invited to speak about the experience throughout the United States and in several countries in Europe.

2014

LCWR president Sharon Holland, IHM is invited to Rome by the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life to receive the report of the apostolic visitation of US women religious and participate in a press conference where the study is shared publicly.

The Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life invites LCWR president Sharon Holland, IHM to Rome in December to receive the report of the apostolic visitation of US women religious and participate in a press conference where the study was shared publicly. Following the release of the report, LCWR issued a statement which says in part: “We are pleased that this data, as well as the experiences, hopes, and dreams shared during the onsite visits, resulted in an accurate report of both the blessings of US women’s religious life as well as its challenges…. We are grateful that each religious institute has been entrusted with discerning its way forward in fidelity to its mission in the church. We are confident that US women religious will carefully read and study the report, discuss it with others, and discern what its call is to their own institutes.” This ends a long, controversial process initiated by the Vatican in 2009 that caused great concern among Catholic sisters and the wider church. Media outlets throughout the world cover the release of the report.

2015

On April 16, the CDF and LCWR officials meet to conclude the mandate. Immediately following their meeting at the Vatican, the four LCWR officials meet privately for a one-hour meeting with Pope Francis, a meeting which receives wide media attention. On that day, CDF and LCWR issue a rare joint statement declaring that the mandate is completed.

On May 15 LCWR issues its own statement about the experience which reads in part:

We have been asked by our members and the public for our thoughts and reflections regarding the completion of the mandate of implementation issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) after its doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). We do so here, but emphasize that these are only preliminary personal observations and reflections. We will not have the opportunity to reflect on the experience in its entirety with the members of the conference and hear their insights until the LCWR assembly in August 2015.

From the time of the 2012 public issuance of the findings of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR, we had serious concerns about both the content of the assessment and the process by which it was prepared. We believed that the sanctions called for in the CDF mandate were disproportionate to the concerns raised and we feared the sanctions could compromise the ability of the LCWR officers and members to fulfill the mission of the conference.  Furthermore, we were deeply saddened that the report caused scandal and pain throughout the Catholic community. We, along with our members, felt publicly humiliated as the false accusations were re-published repeatedly in the press.

Beginning with our first meeting with LCWR’s board of directors in May 2012 shortly after the issuance of the mandate, we situated all discussions of the assessment and mandate in a context of communal contemplative prayer. This involved acknowledging the depth of our feelings about the actions of CDF; careful listening to all perspectives on the matter; engaging in honest conversations with one another about not only LCWR and its work, but our own faith journeys; communally sitting in silence to ponder all we heard; and bringing our insights to God in prayer. We continued to utilize contemplative processes each time we gathered as the executive officers of the conference, as a board, and as an assembly to discuss the mandate. We believe this approach strengthened our capacity to hear and better understand the concerns of CDF as well as clarify and strengthen our own convictions about the mission and purpose of LCWR. The processes in which we engaged as a conference became a profound source of personal growth for each of us and deepened and strengthened the bonds that exist among us as women religious.

We brought this desire for deep listening and respectful dialogue to our work with the CDF officials and found they held a similar desire. Our interactions with the CDF officers and the three bishops whom CDF delegated to implement its mandate -- Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, Archbishop Leonard Blair, and Bishop Thomas Paprocki -- were always conducted in a spirit of prayer and openness. We engaged in long and challenging exchanges with these officials about our understandings of and perspectives on critical matters of faith and its practice, religious life and its mission, and the role of a leadership conference of religious. We believe that because these exchanges were carried out in an atmosphere of mutual respect, we were brought to deeper understandings of one another. We gained insights into the experiences and perspectives of these church leaders, and felt that our experiences and perspectives were heard and valued.

Preparation for and participation in such rigorous dialogue and exchange of ideas was time-consuming and, at times, difficult. The choice to stay at the table and continue dialogue around issues of profound importance to us as US women religious had its costs. The process was made more difficult because of the ambiguity over the origin of the concerns raised in the doctrinal assessment report that seemed not to have basis in the reality of LCWR’s work. The journey in this unchartered territory at times was dark and a positive outcome seemed remote.

We were encouraged, however, to remain in the process by the manner in which Archbishop Sartain journeyed with us. His presence to us as the LCWR officers, as well as to our members at the LCWR assemblies and board of director meetings he attended, spoke clearly of his sincerity and integrity. His capacity to listen to us from a stance of respect and genuine care strengthened our confidence that honest dialogue would eventually help us all to recognize our commonalities and gain clearer understanding of and appreciation for our differences.

LCWR has a long history of conducting evaluations and assessments of its work and has always welcomed new ideas that could strengthen its mission. We appreciate what we learned through our work with Archbishop Sartain and the other CDF officers and delegates about how LCWR is perceived by others and are integrating these new insights into the work and life of the conference. One example is the recommendation of theological reviews of LCWR periodicals. We accepted and already implemented this suggestion because we believe such a review will fortify LCWR’s publications.

From the beginning of LCWR’s work with the bishop delegates in 2012, we agreed that we would speak honestly and directly with one another and not through the media. We recognize that this decision frustrated some of our own members, as well as the public and the media. We were highly aware that many people throughout the world were concerned about LCWR and were supporting and praying for us. While at times we too wished we could have shared more along the way with all who cared about this matter, we believe that by keeping our conversations private, we were able to speak with one another at a level of honesty that we believe contributed to the mandate coming to its conclusion as it did. Of utmost importance to us throughout this process was the directive we had received from our own members not to compromise the integrity of LCWR. We believe that integrity was not only kept intact, but perhaps deepened and strengthened through the process.

We acknowledge as well that the doctrinal assessment and mandate deeply disturbed many Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the world. Thousands of people communicated to us their concern not only for LCWR and Catholic sisters, but for the ramifications these two actions could have for the wider world and church. Many perceived the assessment and mandate as an attempt to suppress the voice of LCWR which was seen as an organization that responsibly raises questions on matters of conscience, faith, and justice. Repeatedly, we heard that people were praying that the manner in which LCWR and the bishop delegates engaged in this process would lead to the creation of safe spaces where matters of such importance could be discussed with openness and honesty, and in an environment freed of fear.

Our hope is that the positive outcome of the assessment and mandate will lead to the creation of additional spaces within the Catholic Church where the church leadership and membership can speak together regularly about the critical matters before all of us. The collective exploration of the meaning and application of key theological, spiritual, social, moral, and ethical concepts must be an ongoing effort for all of us in the world today. Admittedly, entering into a commitment to regular and consistent dialogue about core matters that have the potential to divide us can be arduous, demanding work, but work that is ultimately transformative. However challenging these efforts are, in a world marked by polarities and intolerance of difference, perhaps no work is more important.  In an epoch of massive change in the world, we believe such efforts towards ongoing dialogue are fundamental and essential for the sake of our future as a global community. We hope that our years of working through this difficult mandate made some small contribution to this end.

2018

LCWR initiates a new governance model whereby its governing board is now comprised of the LCWR presidents, as well as members elected at large by the members.

Because of the public attention given to LCWR through the Vatican’s investigation, many organizations and individuals express interest in learning how LCWR managed the six-year crisis that resulted from the investigation. People are attracted to the style of leadership they saw manifested by LCWR. LCWR decides to publish a book of what it learned entitled, However Long the Night: Making Meaning in a Time of Crisis. Authored by those who led LCWR through the experience, the writers share the values, attitudes, and practices that helped them personally and aided the organization nationally with the hope that these processes and conceptual frameworks can assist others who living or leading in a complex and challenging situation.

LCWR embarks on an emergent planning process that begins with an assessment by its members of its current programs, resources, and structures. The inquiry expands to gather information from a number of other collaborators and members of the public about their ideas of how LCWR can best serve religious life and the wider world.