Anyone who watches the news is probably aware of the debate between the Vatican and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). It’s been all over the news and is usually (and unfortunately) presented as a rift between the out-of-touch boys club that many consider the hierarchy of the Church to be and the women religious who are seen to be fighting the injustices of outdated and oppressive teachings. I recently listened to an NPR interview of Sister Pat Farrell, the president of the LCWR. For me, it was a heart-wrenching experience to hear her perspectives, because I could tell that, for her, they are heart-felt.
It can be all too easy for those of us who unwaveringly commit ourselves to following the Magisterium of the Church to dismiss such views as rebellious and/or irrational. I think this is a mistake. First of all, such a dismissal does not adequately correspond to the dignity of the human person, which demands a respect that includes a willingness to listen and to try to understand why one believes what one does. Secondly, it exacerbates a polarization in the Church which is undeniably hurtful to the Body of Christ.
On the other hand, listening with compassion and genuinely trying to understand a person’s perspective does not translate into a willingness to compromise the teachings of the Church. The Church is not a democracy, and obedience to her teachings is essential to the life of the Church. At the same time, the Holy Spirit does guide her to positions that are rational. They can, and should, be understood and explained. Sometimes the full meaning of these teachings takes centuries to unfold; nonetheless, it is vital that we unfold them.
Both the Magisterium and the organization that represents many women religious in the United States have expressed views. However, there is still something missing from the dialogue. It’s time for the women of the Church, both lay and religious, who are loyal to her teaching authority to make their voices heard.
Our society, and the other members of the Body of Christ, need to hear the voices of the daughters of the Church. From an outside perspective, it does appear that the teaching on the all-male priesthood, for example, is a matter of great injustice. We shouldn’t gloss over that. It’s especially important then that women, who seem to be victims of this perceived injustice, strive to understand and help articulate this teaching and how it is misunderstood. The world and our Church need, more than ever, to hear our voices.