Catholic news sites and discussion boards have been hopping these past 24 hours. Two major stories were head-lined yesterday at the National Catholic Reporter.
The first, by John Allen, was titled Lefebvrite schism may be nearing an end. According to the story, the Vatican confirmed Wednesday that the Society of St. Pius X, the traditionalist movement founded by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, has responded to a “doctrinal preamble” presented in September as a precondition for reunion with the Catholic Church. With only minor concessions remaining, formal readmission of the Society of St. Pius X into full communion with Rome is probable.
The second news came at noon. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has ordered the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the largest leadership organization for U.S. women religious, to reform its statutes, programs and affiliations to conform more closely to “the teachings and discipline of the Church.”. The news was announced in a press release Wednesday morning from the U.S. bishops’ conference. It was accompanied by an eight-page document of the doctrinal congregation and a one-page statement from Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the congregation.
This morning, another NCR article, LCWR ‘stunned’ by Vatican’s latest move, describes not only the shock of the women at LCWR, but also their disappointment at not being allowed to share the news with their members before it became public.
Commentaries and discussion boards are heating up with opinions on these two stories. As usual, the voices are easily categorized by ideology.
Concerning the first story, the more progressive souls are angry. Why is Rome spending so much time appeasing the right-wing, ultra-traditional SSPX who chose to not only ignore, but denounce the Second Vatican Council? What about the anti-Semitic remarks by one of their bishops? Some are even hinting at conspiracy theories in the Vatican halls. Is there a connection between this apparent embracing of the SSPX and the publication of the New Roman Missal, with its pre-Vatican II language and theology?
The issue of the LCWR has reopened the wounds surrounding the initial investigation of women’s religious orders in the USA by the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Both investigations were perceived by many as a bullying tactic on the part of the bishops. (More traditional orders were not included in the visitations.) While the simmering pot of clerical abuse was ready to explode, the leadership in the Church was spending time and energy on a costly visitation. (The religious orders, themselves, were expected to pick up the cost of these uninvited visitations.) Response on discussion boards has been quick and emotional.
More conservative souls are basking in a sense of triumphalism. A move towards reconciliation with the SSPX affirms their desire to return to a more clerical Church with a more Tridentine form of worship. For extreme traditionalists, Vatican II was a grave error. The modernization of religious orders, with their focus on apostolic mission instead of convents and habits, is a concrete example of this error. They believe it is time for these free-thinking women to be reined in, to once more embrace the role of humble, obedient, handmaiden at the service of priests and bishops. For them, the heavy handed investigation of the LCWR is good news.
Looking at the bigger picture, it is difficult to understand the workings of the great minds behind these and other recent initiatives. On the one hand, there is much talk about a new evangelization; to re-ignite our zeal and faith. But, can they not see what we in the pews are seeing?
We see extraordinary measures being taken to draw an ultra-conservative sect back into the fold. We see Ordinariates being formed to welcome disgruntled Anglicans into the Church. The welcome is extended to their married priests and use of their liturgy.
Meanwhile, we are struggling with the mandatory use of a difficult and awkward new Missal, with no option to return to the liturgy that many of us love. We are seeing priests and bishops being chastised for even suggesting the possibility of women’s ordination or a married priesthood. We are seeing our Pope use his Holy Thursday homily to denounce the Austrian priests who are trying to dialogue on issues that are embraced by many in the pews.
We see many faithful Catholics struggling to stay in the Church. Many who want nothing more than to be fed at the Eucharistic table are being excluded because their relationships cannot be legally recognized or blessed according to our Canon laws. Where are the extraordinary efforts to ensure that they feel welcome? Where are the extraordinary efforts to bring back those who have left because of hurts and despair inflicted by the Church on her own members?
Michael Sean Winters knew that the news of the Levebvrites being welcomed back would bring gnashing of liberal teeth. He reminded his readers of the great James Joyce line. The Catholic Church means “here comes everybody.”
It’s funny that he said this, because I was thinking the exact same thing. So, while my liberal teeth are gnashing, I still believe that there is room in our great Church for all, regardless of where they fit on the trad-lib scale. But we, as a Church, are not taking the meaning of the word catholic to heart. Instead of opening our arms to everybody, we are picking and choosing with greater exclusivity whom we want to welcome.