Scholar says nuns, not hierarchy, are renewed post-Vatican II

A distinguished American feminist theologian says post-Vatican II renewal has not taken place in the Church’s hierarchy.

Fordham University theologian Sr Elizabeth Johnson told an assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in Nashville that tension between the Vatican and women religious has historical, sociological and ecclesiastical roots.

But a solution could be found, she said told the sisters, who had honoured her with an Outstanding Leadership Award.

Sr Johnson said there have always been tensions between religious communities and the hierarchy.

This is because one is based on a radical living of the Gospel and the other is based on administration, which requires order.

The issue is also sociological, she said, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

“The Church did not start out this way, but as an institution, it has evolved a patriarchal structure where authority is executed in a top-down fashion and obedience and loyalty to the system are the greatest of virtues,” Sr Johnson said.

Finally, she said, the tensions are ecclesiastical because women religious have undergone the renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council and the hierarchy has not.

“Certainly, the LCWR and the sisters they lead are far from perfect, but they have got the smell of the sheep on them,” she said.

“Post-Vatican II renewal has not taken place at the [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith].”

The decision to honour Sr Johnson led CDF prefect Cardinal Gerhard Muller in April to order that future speakers at LWCR assemblies be approved by a Vatican representative.

Cardinal Muller had noted the US Bishops’ conference criticisms of Sr Johnson’s writings because of the “gravity of the doctrinal errors”.

But Sr Johnson said Cardinal Muller’s comments showed he had not read her writings and simply reiterated the US bishops’ criticisms.

She said the latter were deficient and unworthy of the teaching office of bishops.

Investigating women’s orders was unconscionable when there were grave issues like covering up abuse and financial mismanagement in the Church, she added.

The LCWR has been undergoing a Vatican-ordered doctrinal investigation since 2009.

In 2012, the CDF ordered the group to reform its statutes and appointed an archbishop to oversee changes.

Sr Johnson praised the sisters for their commitment to “meaningful, honest dialogue” and urged them to stay the course.


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