June 6, 2012 | The Long Island Catholic Vol. 51, No. 10 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
May I begin this reflection with a confession? Sister Mary Hughes O.P., the prioress of the Dominican Sisters of Amityville and immediate past president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), is a friend of mine. I have the deepest respect for her. I admire her commitment to her order and to her own life as a consecrated woman. I admire her intelligence, her sensitivity and her many gifts including being a woman of the Church committed to reconciliation and unity.
Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) is and has been a friend of mine since I was 21 and he was 25. We were at the North American College, lived at Villa Stritch together when he worked in the CDF and I in the Commission for Justice and Peace. He too is a man of many gifts, a keen theological mind, pastoral wisdom, a good shepherd and a kind and faithful priest. He is a true man of the Church committed to reconciliation and unity.
Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle is a friend of mine. I have known him first when he was a seminarian at the College in Rome. He has served his home Diocese of Memphis as a priest, then as Bishop of Little Rock and, later, Joliet before being sent last year to Seattle by the Holy Father. He is a man of deep spiritual wisdom, a preacher of the Word who touches hearts and changes lives. He is a balanced and wise pastor. He is a holy priest committed to reconciliation and unity.
My hope is that these previous words set the context of what follows. When the CDF began a process of review of the statements — not the persons — involved in meetings of the LCWR, they were exercising their proper role in the Church in an ecclesial way. When they completed their work, they shared the results of that with the leadership of the LCWR. The CDF statement raised issues that needed and do need clarification. They were presented to the LCWR along with a structure for a dialogue. This was done in good faith and with a desire for reconciliation and unity within the Church on matters that matter to the Church: the faith we share, the life we lead and the roles and responsibilities proper to all of us in our respective capacities. The concern was the faith of the Church and how it is professed. The goal is to maintain that as the foundation stone of the unity of the Church which was the centerpiece of the great prayer of the Lord on the night before he died (cf. John 17).
The women religious who met with him received the observations of the CDF along with the suggested avenue to pursue the dialogue and resolve the issues. We know that they received the observations of the CDF with surprise and some dismay. After prayer and reflection, they issued a statement (June 1) in which they presented some reactions including some objections. As I write this, that is where the matter stands.
Now it is time for the conversation to move forward and the dialogue begin with the principals who have all been identified and who all are men and women of the Church. They are charged by the Holy Father with a delicate and difficult task, but one for which they, individually and together, have the gifts and the talents to work together for a resolution that will be good for the LCWR, good for consecrated life in our country, good for the Church in our country and good for the unity of the Church “that they may be one, Father, as I am in you and you are in me.”
And what of the rest of us? What is our role? Our role, I would respectfully suggest, is to pray. This is not a time for “taking sides.” This is not a situation that should be placed in the context of politics or partisanship. All too often in our contemporary American society we have become so accustomed to the political model of resolving things that we let that approach control our own conversations and our own opinions. People have written to me, some demonizing the Holy See and U.S. bishops. Others are condemning the sisters. Both are wrong and wrong-headed. This is an ecclesial issue and it is being handled in the way of the Catholic Church. How sad it would be if we were to fall into the trap of increasing division in the Church when we are concerned with so rich a treasure as religious life. How wrong it is, and how contrary to the words and spirit of the Second Vatican Council, if we were to dismiss or ridicule the sincere commitment to an ecclesial conversation on the part of Roman offices and bishops who have been charged to fulfill this responsibility by the Vicar of Christ and the supreme pastor of the universal Church, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.
There is too much bickering, name calling and partisanship in our American society. Sadly it has infected some members of the Church in their attitude to the Church, her teaching, her leaders and her responsibilities. As your pastor who loves the Church and knows you love the Church, I plead with one and all to respect her, and in your love, to respect all those who are participants in this delicate and important dialogue.
The Church lives by the Holy Spirit, the bond of love. She is guaranteed her visible unity by the Holy Father and the bishops in communion with him. Of bishops, the council tells us that to reject them is to reject Christ, the one we bishops are sent to represent.
The Church needs the prayer and witness of the consecrated life of men and women. We hear often, because it is true, of the many ways consecrated life has been the instrument that has built so much of the Church in our country, especially, but not limited to, schools and hospitals. Much of religious life and religious witness has changed in the last 50 years. Change brings many good things. It is natural and human that it might also bring some things that need to be examined, discussed and even refined. We bishops need always to pray for God’s guidance and be humble in our exercise of our office. But exercise it we must. Consecrated women and men need always pray for God’s guidance that what they undertake is truly a charism of the Spirit within the Church that builds up the Church. Their gifts too need to be exercised with humility. We need the prayers and support of the lay faithful for whom we exist and at whose feet we lay our lives of service.
All this calls for a commitment of us all to pray, pray for the unity of the Church, pray for respect and dignity of everyone in the Church, pray and act as true brothers and sisters in Christ, that we may be one as the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father, that we be one so that the world may believe.