Pope Francis meets with representatives of the U.S. Leadership Conference of Women Religious in his library in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican, April 16.

CNS PHOTO | L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO

Pope Francis meets with representatives of the U.S. Leadership Conference of Women Religious in his library in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican, April 16.

May 4, 2015
CINDY WOODEN
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

The Vatican approved new statutes and bylaws for the United States Leadership Conference of Women Religious, ending a seven-year process of dialogue with and investigation of the group.

Conference officers met April 16 with Pope Francis, the same day the Vatican announced the conclusion of the process, which included oversight for three years by a committee of three bishops.

The membership of the LCWR represents more than 80 per cent of the 57,000 women religious in the U.S.

Four LCWR officers spent 50 minutes with Pope Francis, discussing his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel.

"Our conversation allowed us to personally thank Pope Francis for providing leadership and a vision that has captivated our hearts and emboldened us as in our own mission and service to the Church," they said.

The LCWR officers and the Vatican-appointed U.S. bishops overseeing the conference's reform issued a joint statement.

The LCWR promised that materials it publishes will first be reviewed to "ensure theological accuracy and help avoid statements that are ambiguous with regard to Church doctrine or could be read as contrary to it," the statement said.

In addition, programs sponsored by the conference and speakers chosen for its events will be expected to reflect Church teaching, the statement said.

In addition, it said, the doctrinal congregation, the bishops and LCWR officers had "clarifying and fruitful" conversations about "the importance of the celebration of the Eucharist; the place of the Liturgy of the Hours in religious communities; the centrality of a communal process of contemplative prayer practised at LCWR assemblies and other gatherings; the relationship between LCWR and other organizations; and the essential understanding of LCWR as an instrument of ecclesial communion."

GREATER CLARITY

The new statutes, the statement said, sought "greater clarity in expressing the mission and responsibilities" of the conference as a body "under the ultimate direction of the Apostolic See" and as a group "centred on Jesus Christ and faithful to the teachings of the Church."

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith began a "doctrinal assessment" of the LCWR in 2008 and then, in 2012, called for the revision of the conference's statutes and bylaws.

The reform, the Vatican said, was meant to ensure the conference's fidelity to Catholic teaching.

The assessment said, "Addresses given during LCWR annual assemblies manifest problematic statements and serious theological, even doctrinal errors."

LCWR members and even officers had been known to protest Vatican decisions, including those "regarding the question of women's ordination and of a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons."

ROCKY ROAD

The process of arriving at new statutes and bylaws was not always smooth.

Meeting conference officers last year, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the doctrinal congregation, said the reforms were necessary to ensure the LCWR remain solidly in harmony with the teaching of the Church.

Responding to Muller's remarks, the LCWR said it did not recognize itself in the doctrinal assessment of the conference. "Our attempts to clarify misperceptions have led to deeper misunderstandings," it said.

As the Vatican announced the conclusion of the process, it released a statement from Muller saying his office was "confident that LCWR has made clear its mission to support its member institutes by fostering a vision of religious life that is centred on the person of Jesus Christ and is rooted in the tradition of the Church."

Sister Sharon Holland, LCWR president, was unable to attend the meeting at the Vatican April 16.

However, the Vatican released a statement from her expressing pleasure that the process had reached a successful conclusion.