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Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz (CNS photo)

This week saw several moments of high drama in the on-going (soap opera-like?) controversy involving the Vatican and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. To recap:

On Sunday, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Religious, told a group women religious leaders that last year’s doctrinal assessment of the LCWR was conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith without consultation or input from the Congregation for Religious. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Cardinal Braz de Aviz said that the CDF assessment caused him “so much pain.” The assessment, which found “serious doctrinal problems” in LCWR materials and programs and which put Archbishop J. Peter Sartain in charge of revising and reviewing the group’s statutes and publications, was reaffirmed in its findings by Pope Francis, according to a statement released last month by the CDF.

From the NCR article:

[Cardinal Braz de Aviz] said that his office -- which is tasked with overseeing the work an estimated 1.5 million sisters, brothers, and priests around the world in religious orders -- first learned of the move against the U.S. sisters' group in a meeting with the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith after the formal report on the matter had been completed.

…"We will obey what the Holy Father wants and what will be decided through you," Braz de Aviz told the sisters he had said to [CDF prefect Cardinal] Levada. "But we must say that this material which should be discussed together has not been discussed together."

…Speaking at a press conference following his talk, Braz de Aviz said that while his office "always obeys" the pope, "the problem very often is what kind of news goes to the Holy Father."

Saying that different Vatican offices will sometimes give the pope varying viewpoints on situations like the LCWR matter, Braz de Aviz said "there's a sort of like 'Who is going to win?'"

The NCR report also included statements from the cardinal regarding Church authority and obedience:

“We are in a moment of needing to review and revision some things,” Braz de Aviz said. “Obedience and authority must be renewed, re-visioned.”

“Authority that commands, kills,” he continued. “Obedience that becomes a copy of what the other person says, infantilizes.”

On Monday, it was reported, Cardinal Braz de Aviz met with Archbishop Gerhard Müller, current prefect of the CDF.

On Tuesday, the Vatican Press Office released a statement downplaying the curial differences of opinion made public by Cardinal Braz de Aviz, saying that “recent media commentary” on the cardinal’s remarks that suggest “a divergence between the CDF and the Congregation for Religious in their approach to the renewal of Religious Life” are “not justified.” “The prefects of these two Congregations work closely together according to their specific responsibilities and have collaborated throughout the process of the Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR,” the Vatican statement continued.

Commentators on both sides of the aisle were unhappy with the Vatican’s statement; NCR’s Jamie Manson bemoaned Cardinal Braz de Aviz having been “taken to the doctrinal woodshed,” and CatholicCulture.org’s Phil Lawler said the statement “[denied] what any intelligent observer recognizes as the truth [and] does contain one nugget of reality.”

On Wednesday, Cardinal Braz de Aviz said at a press conference that the NCR report on his original remarks was “precise”; while he quibbled with the translation of “authority” in one part of the interview (“But the question on authority, that translation was not accurate. I was trying to stress that authority cannot be domination”), he said that “the rest was OK.”

Finally, on Wednesday, Pope Francis addressed the triennial assembly of the International Union of Superiors General—the same audience to which Cardinal Braz de Aviz made his controversial remarks on Sunday. Pope Francis exhorted the women religious leaders to live out their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience:

Obedience as listening to God's will, in the interior motion of the Holy Spirit authenticated by the Church, accepting that obedience also passes through human mediations. … Poverty, which teaches solidarity, sharing, and charity and which is also expressed in a soberness and joy of the essential, to put us on guard against the material idols that obscure the true meaning of life. Poverty, which is learned with the humble, the poor, the sick, and all those who are at the existential margins of life. Theoretical poverty doesn't do anything. Poverty is learned by touching the flesh of the poor Christ in the humble, the poor, the sick, and in children.

And then chastity, as a precious charism, that enlarges the freedom of your gift to God and others with Christ's tenderness, mercy, and closeness. Chastity for the Kingdom of Heaven shows how affection has its place in mature freedom and becomes a sign of the future world, to make God's primacy shine forever. But, please, [make it] a 'fertile' chastity, which generates spiritual children in the Church. The consecrated are mothers: they must be mothers and not 'spinsters'! Forgive me if I talk like this but this maternity of consecrated life, this fruitfulness is important! May this joy of spiritual fruitfulness animate your existence. Be mothers, like the images of the Mother Mary and the Mother Church. You cannot understand Mary without her motherhood; you cannot understand the Church without her motherhood, and you are icons of Mary and of the Church.

Stay tuned…
 
About the Author
Catherine Harmon catherine.harmon@catholicworldreport.com

Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.
 
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