An enormous controversy currently surrounds US Catholic women religious. A recent doctrinal investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) concluded with the appointing of an archbishop to review, guide and approve the work of LCWR.
LCWR is an association of the leaders of communities and congregations of Catholic women religious in the US, representing more than 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in the US today. The actions of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) have stirred deep emotions throughout the US and beyond and made LCWR a familiar acronym to those who follow these news reports.
We, the sisters of Benedictine Women of Madison, find ourselves in a very unusual position in the midst of all of this controversy. Having chosen in 2006 to re-found our community as a fully ecumenical Benedictine community, we participate in LWCR as affiliate members. Our decision to become an ecumenical community came through a long process of prayerful discernment and engagement with guests and retreatants from a variety of faith backgrounds.
The first steps were inspired by the decrees of the Second Vatican Council. In the mid-60s the Community of Taizé, France, local religious leaders, and lay people of various faith traditions asked us to become an ecumenical retreat center where all could pray together, meet and listen to each other and discover our similar journey – if not the same journey. Ecumenism became a part of the core of our community and our ministry.
In the early 1990s, with the wisdom of professed Benedictine women and men along with many friends and a lot of prayer together, the path became clearer to us. We, as a community, felt the call to deepen our commitment to ecumenism. This commitment is our mission: a Benedictine community open to Christian women where all are equal, who live the Gospel and support each other in our quest for God.
For our community, it has been a history of much change, listening to the Spirit and to the signs of the times, consulting with spiritual friends, and resolutely making our way into an always unknown future. Throughout this process, the constant values of the Benedictine Women of Madison have been the cultivation of prayer and spirituality, providing hospitality, striving to live justly, and caring for the earth.
Today we are sensitive to the struggles of sister communities and congregations that find themselves the objects of close scrutiny and criticism by the CDF. The LCWR has a long and graced history. It continues to lead and inspire its membership and many other women and men. The conference promotes and follows Catholic social teaching in “serving the poor and advocating for public policies that help the most vulnerable among us.” (Bill Ritter, Jr, Guest Commentary in the Denver Post, May 1, 2012)
During the Easter season we are reading selections from Behold, I Am Doing Something New, a 2011 publication of LCWR. Readings are individual reflections submitted by members of the communities and congregations of women represented by LCWR. The choice to read from this publication preceded the current news surrounding LCWR. Especially through these recent days, however, we continue to be inspired by the faith, integrity and wisdom of these women, and we, Benedictine Women of Madison, stand with the members of LCWR as sisters united in Christ.