The news and the real nuns story
Even traditional Catholics are torn by the friction between the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and the Bishops. Most Catholics remember their own experiences with teaching Sisters. In 1965, there were 104,314 teaching Sisters in the United States. In 1975, that number shrunk to 56,050, and today there are less than 30,000 teaching Sisters. Taken together in their various roles, there are now only 57,000 Sisters in the United States. Some 80 percent of their leadership belongs to the LCWR.
The long record of valiant service to the Church explains why Bishops have been slow to react to problems within the LCWR. It use to be that once a Bishop spoke, the media could easily dig up some theologian with a doctorate from the University of Chicago or some other non-Catholic university who disputed whatever the Bishop said. That doesn’t happen anymore. These days, doctrinal disputes more likely originate from the LCWR. However, there’s more to the story than the liberal press wants to talk about.
The LCWR was founded in 1956 as the ‘Conference of Major Superiors of Women’ (CMSW) to promote the spiritual welfare of women Religious in the United States, to insure efficacy in their apostolate, and to foster closer cooperation with the hierarchy, the clergy, and Catholic associations. Then in 1971, the organization changed its name to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and radically amended its purpose. The changes, which included deviations from Church teaching on the priesthood and even on the divinity of Christ, troubled the more traditional religious leaders so much that they formed a splinter group called the ‘Consortium Perfectae Caritatis.’
Over time, most of the leaders of congregations of women Religious, bound by organizational loyalty, retained their membership in the LCWR. Nevertheless, some of the leaders grew so uneasy about radical positions that the LCWR kept adopting that they joined the alternative conservative splinter group which is now the ‘Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious.’
It’s also important to remember that the LCWR is only made up of the leaders of religious orders. That means that the organization represents only 3 percent of the religious women in America. The views of the leadership are no more than that. Their views are not necessarily shared by the majority of the rank and file nuns and sisters in the United States.
Ann Carey, author of “Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women’s Religious Communities” predicts Church officials will be pastoral while patiently giving the LCWR time to think things out. She notes that the LCWR’s originally purpose “to facilitate communication between the Vatican and Religious” has obviously changed. Since the 1970’s it has ”become more of an independent, professional organization that sets its own agendas.” [More]