A nun's view inside the Catholic Church

Sister Patricia Crawley gives Eight Forty-Eight a glimpse into the Leadership Conference of Women Religious

August 17, 2012

Caroline O'Donovan

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Sister Patricia Crowley doesn’t look like a radical feminist, but she might be, depending on how you define radical. She also doesn’t look much like a nun — no habit, no robe — but she’s actually the Prioress at St. Scholastica Monastery.

Sister Patricia is a member of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a canonical organization that is part of the Catholic church. The women of the LCWR are dedicated to providing service to needy communities in the “modern world,” a fairly Christ-like ambition. For the Catholic leadership, however, it seems the sisters might be striving too hard to integrate their work into today’s world, and not hard enough to serve Christ. After a four year doctrinal assessment, Church leaders announced their intention to reform the organization.

In 1962, the Second Vatican Council made a series of modernizing changes to both the doctrinal and functional arms of the Catholic church. The changes, known as Vatican II, suggested an unprecedented ability for adaptation on behalf of the Church leaders. Since then, organizations within the church have continued to grow and change. From the outside, Sister Patricia says, it can seem that the Church is a dominating, hierarchical place, but it has “a tremendous capacity to hold diversity. . . there is a tremendous amount of diverse lifestyle and opinion.”

Diverse thought the Church may be, it is apparently no longer willing to accept some of the views and practices of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. According to the Associated Press, the LCWR has opposed the all-male priesthood, and diverged from Church policies on matters of both birth control and homosexuality. Sister Crawley, for her part, took greater issue with the accusation that she and her fellow sisters have been dedicating enough of too much of their time and energies to serving the poor, and not enough to serving Christ. “That Christ would not be the center of our lives is truly not a fact,” she said.

Nine hundred members of the LCWR met in St. Louis last week to open a dialogue on the potential reform, a meeting that was both contemplative and anxiety ridden, according to Sister Patricia. She said that at this time the sisters are not considering relinquishing their canonical status, and that they hope to continue in a reflective, productive and democratic relationship with the Church hierarchy.