The Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan have released what is, to the best of my knowledge, the first statement by an American order of women religious that openly criticizes the response of the LCWR to the Vatican’s recent doctrinal assessment.
The Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma (founded in 1973) are “dedicated to the Spiritual and Corporal works of Mercy” and operate Sacred Heart Mercy Healthcare Center, which, according to its website, “provides care for the whole person, working to heal those who are suffering from physical, psychological, intellectual, and spiritual woundedness.”
The statement touching on the recent actions of the LCWR is from those members of the Religious Sisters of Mercy who are physicians and physicians-in-training, and presents the community’s “vision of the religious woman in medicine” in addition to taking issue with the statements of the LCWR that “have created confusion, polarization, and false representations about the beliefs, activities, and priorities of a significant number of women religious in the United States.”
The doctrinal assessment from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) regarding the LCWR is in the language of faith. The responses of opposition are being expressed using the language of politics. There is no basis for authentic dialogue between these two languages.
The language of politics arises from the social marketplace. The Sisters who use political language in their responses to the magisterial Church reflect the poverty of their education and formation in the faith.
The sisters’ statement describes a call to the religious life as “a gift from God, not a right,” and emphasizes, “A woman religious…cannot separate her work from the Church.”
We praise the generosity and service of religious women who have gone before us. We see great hope for the future of religious life within the Church and for a continuation of its health care mission in the service of all people. This hope lies in remaining within the deposit of faith and the hierarchical structure of the Church. We cannot separate ourselves from sacred Tradition or claim to advance beyond the Church.
Catholic News Agency’s article on the order’s statement includes an interview with Sr. Jane Mary Firestone, RSM, one of the sisters involved in drafting the statement:
“[The LCWR has] taken this into the public political arena and it no longer stays in the dialogue of faith. Representation is always possible, dialogue is always possible, but it’s with the reverence towards the hierarchical Church.”
Sr. Firestone said that while Catholics do not believe the bishops are canonized saints, they are “not just ‘a bunch of men.’”
Those who live as religious women should, “live in the dimension of faith all the time” and recognize when they fail to do so, she said.
The Religious Sisters of Mercy belong to the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, a Vatican-approved congregation of women religious superiors established as an alternative to the LCWR in 1992.