The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has launched an historical exhibit on the contributions of Catholic sisters to US history that was praised by O'Malley, who is head of the USCCB's Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.
In letter to LCWR, O'Malley said, "The Church is grateful for all that your communities have done and continue to do to advance the mission of the Church, especially in the areas of health care, education, social services and pastoral ministry, as are highlighted in the exhibit."
LCWR is currently under an investigation by the Vatican's doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), for reported irregularities in the group's fidelity to Catholic teaching on female ordination, homosexuality and the role of the church in salvation. Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio is supervising the probe into what long-time observers have identified as one of the most prominent dissident and Catholic organisations in the US.
In his letter, O'Malley noted that "recent years have been a challenging time for religious communities."
"The Church needs your gifts of perseverance, commitment and fidelity, and your unique charism, as guided by the Holy Spirit. Please know that your ministry is greatly valued," he concluded.
LCWR was founded in 1956 as an umbrella group to represent the interests of religious sisters in the US to the Vatican and the US bishops.
In the 1960s the group itself and its member communities underwent a series of profound changes in the wake of the Second Vatican Council that included abandoning the habit as well as many of the Catholic devotional practices that were once common in convents.
Since then many US communities have adopted and promoted the principles of radical feminism and been leaders in the "progressivist" movement in the US Catholic Church that opposes the Church's teaching on abortion, homosexuality and artificial contraception.
While LCWR does not mention the injustice of abortion, among the causes listed as their priorities are immigration, "empowerment of women," wetlands and water resources, "climate change," opposition to the death penalty and, "Incorporating the Principles of the Earth Charter."
The head of the CDF, William Cardinal Levada noted that LCWR leaders had met with his office in Rome in 2001 to address their acceptance of Catholic teaching on the restriction of priestly ordination to men, the nature of the Church, other religions and Christian denominations and "the problem of homosexuality." Levada said that in the intervening years, "the problems which had motivated its request in 2001 continue to be present."
Levada cited plenary meetings of LCWR at which speakers regularly oppose Catholic teaching, especially on sexuality. At the group's 2007 meeting a keynote speaker described the more liberal or "sojourning" religious communities who are leaving behind "institutional religion" and "moving beyond the Church, even beyond Jesus."
"A sojourning congregation is no longer ecclesiastical," Dominican Sister Laurie Brink said. "Religious titles, institutional limitations, ecclesiastical authorities no longer fit this congregation, which in most respects is Post-Christian."
She added, "Jesus is not the only son of God. Salvation is not limited to Christians."
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