When I was preparing for Confirmation, my mother asked me to play nice for my sole Catholic grandparent and take her name as my Confirmation saint’s name. No way I was going to be Linda Susan Clara, so I went for the nearest – Saint Clare (I included the “i”). She was an Italian noblewoman, Chiara Offreduccio, born in Assisi, and a follower of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Clare founded the Order of Poor Ladies, a companion order to the Franciscans. Following her death in 1253, the order was renamed the Order of Saint Clare, also known as the Poor Clares.
With the 800 year association of the Franciscans to the Poor Clares, it was no surprise that the leaders of seven Franciscan provinces in the United States have publicly come out in support of the Leadership Council of Women Religious in their little spat with the Pope. The called the Vatican crackdown “excessive.”
The Vatican has condemned the LCWR, which represents most of the country’s 57,000 nuns, for not placing opposition to gay marriage, abortion and women’s ordination above their chosen vocation of serving the community. The Pope wants the nuns out there in lockstep with Cardinal Dolan and his political activities against secular society. The nuns want to focus on their students, the families in their parishes, care of those in need.
The Vatican has accused the LCWR of “prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” The Franciscans, in their statement of support, noted that the assessment was “excessive, given the evidence raised.” The went on to say, “The efforts of the LCWR to facilitate honest and faithful dialogue on critical issues of our times must not result in a level of ecclesial oversight that could, in effect, quash all futher discernment.” The Franciscans noted that disagreements about how the Church’s religious persons function in the community have not in the past been reduced to “equivalent to questioning the authroity of the Church’s magisterium.” Many believe the crackdown is caused by prominent nun’s support of the Affordable Care Act, which would ease the suffering of many of the people they care for by providing health insurance and certain basic health services. The bishops, led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, have fought the provisions of the bill which mandate insurance coverage for contraception, even in Catholic owned facilities like hospitals and colleges.
Like the nuns, the Franciscans have a long history of living and working closely with ordinary people in some of the worst places on earth. They understand the position of the nuns that caring for people is more important than standing around protesting secular government policies and trying to impose the church’s positions on a secular government.
The LCWR leaders are scheduled to meet in Rome on Tuesday with Cardinal William Levada, formerly Archbishop of San Francisco, the head of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith.