Head of Vatican office for religious says dialogue is best to improve relations with U.S. nuns’ group


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Anytime there are misunderstandings, errors or problems concerning religious orders, dialogue is the best way to deal with the situation, said the head of the Vatican office that oversees the world’s religious orders.

“At times there are things that either may not have been understood or are deviations, too, but which we haven’t talked about and we have to talk about again with trust,” said Brazilian Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

The cardinal’s remarks were in response to a question about the nature of the Vatican’s current rapport with religious sisters in light of recent “difficulties,” particularly in reference to the U.S.-based Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which is undergoing a major reform ordered by the Vatican in 2012.

Cardinal Aviz and Sister Carmen Sammut, president of the International Union of Superiors General, were speaking at a news conference May 20 to highlight how religious sisters around the world were mobilizing to prevent human trafficking and exploitation during the World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil June 12-July13.

A reporter asked the cardinal and Sister Sammut, a member of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, whether the Vatican’s support of the sisters’ initiative was “a sign of coming together, perhaps a healing of the relationship.”

The cardinal said, “The Holy See has a very close relationship” with the vast numbers of religious congregations and orders around the world.

“There are positive aspects and less positive aspects just like in life,” he said. “There have been more sensitive moments in which, let’s say, we have had to clarify positions, but we see that there is complete collaboration, and the desire for dialogue and coming together is very great.”

“This great sensitivity,” Cardinal Aviz said, can also be seen in Pope Francis’ desire that “consecrated life recover all its strength for serving the church” and the world.

Whenever there are difficulties, “we have chosen the path of dialogue because it is the best thing there is,” and it has been producing results that are “always better,” he said.

Sister Sammut said that, as president of the superiors’ group she has “seen a lot of collaboration” with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

“What is important is that we can dialogue together and that we can walk together,” she said. “Like any other organization we can have differences. But what is important is that we are true to each other.”

She said it was important “that we can mention what we see as questions, as challenges to each other and that we can try to find solutions together.”

Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, recently voiced “increasing concern” with positions being taken by the officers of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a Maryland-based umbrella group that claims about 1,500 leaders of U.S. women’s communities as members, representing about 80 percent of the country’s 57,000 women religious.

In an April 30 meeting with LCWR officials, Cardinal Muller rebuked the “concept of conscious evolution” in various LCWR publications and in “directional statements” of some member congregations. He also criticized the group’s plan to honor a Catholic theologian, St. Joseph Sister Elizabeth Johnson, whose work he said has been judged “seriously inadequate.”

In 2012, the Vatican announced a major reform of the LCWR to ensure its fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality.

The group’s leaders said the cardinal’s recent address to them was “constructive in its frankness and lack of ambiguity. It was not an easy discussion, but its openness and spirit of inquiry created a space for authentic dialogue and discernment.”

The group also said in the same written statement May 8 that they have “experienced a culture of encounter, marked by dialogue and discernment” in all of their visits to Vatican offices as part of the reform process.

However, the LCWR leadership also expressed disappointment about how they continue to be perceived by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“During the meeting, it became evident that despite maximum efforts through the years, communication has broken down and as a result, mistrust has developed,” the LCWR leaders said, adding that they did not “recognize ourselves” in the Vatican’s doctrinal assessment and that their attempts to “clarify misperceptions have led to deeper misunderstandings.”