Monday, August 10, 2009

LCWR May Learn Their Fate From The IHM And Their Fate Under Cardinal Mcintyre

I have to admit I'm kind of at a loss to explain why the Vatican has taken such an interest in investigating US religious women and specifically the LCWR. On one hand the various diocesan bishops, Vatican Congregations and assorted USCCB committees have been at this process more or less non stop since Cardinal Mcintyre of Los Angeles went head to head with the Los Angeles Immaculate Heart of Mary Congregation back in the late 1960's. Some years it's just more of a hot war than other years. This must be a 'hot' year. Thankfully for me, the NCR has just posted a Ken Briggs piece which chronicles this long simmering stew of differences of opinion.

There's something about the IHM conflict though which struck me forcefully as having great relevance to what's happening now. After doing some research it became apparent that everything hurled at the IHM's in the 60's and 70's is still being hurled at nuns today. One can go back and read some of Cardinal Mcintyre's demands of the IHM and find the same demands of women religious today. Demands which seem to insist that religious women go back to medieval concepts of dress, behavior, community, submission to authority, regimented spiritual practices, and charisms restricted to teaching, nursing, and praying. Somehow, all the social change and upheaval since WWII--not to mention Vatican II itself--should have no effect women's religious vocations or how they are expressed.

In that sense the conflict between Cardinal Mcintyre and the IHM's was just the first battle in a war about what it means to be an adult religious woman in today's world. For all the good Cardinal Mcintrye accomplished for the Archdiocese of LA, he did demonstrate quite the blind spot to the idea of an 'adult' woman.

This particular blind spot did not work well with a congregation of women of whom over half had college degrees and many of that percentage had advanced college degrees. They weren't a bunch of stunted pre pubescent girls in habits. They were a bunch of highly educated adult professional educators in habits. Unfortunately for Cardinal Mcintyre, they also taught in 50 of his parochial elementary schools, 11 of his high schools, ran their own highly ranked college, as well as two hospitals and various other endeavors. Given such a high presence in his Archdiocese the outcome of this conflict, which resulted in the dissolution of the Congregation, was a disaster for his diocese.

Even though the IHM's were a pontifical congregation, and not a diocesan congregation, somehow the Vatican allowed Cardinal Mcintyre a great deal of latitude in his exercise of authority over the IHM's. In the end he essentially he gave the IHM's the choice of capitulation to all his demands including the rejection of their own charter for renewal, or dispensation from their vows. Faced with this choice, fifty returned to the old days, 136 chose dispensation from their vows, and 400 formed a non canonical religious community which still exists to this day. In the meantime the parochial school system in LA found themselves short some 300 or so teachers. How did it ever get to that end?

That depends on what you read and who you believe. One of the more 'interesting' accounts is that of Dr. William Coulson who takes credit for most of the mess. He, along with Carl Rogers, conducted a two year experiment with the IHM in 1965-67 in which sensitivity or T groups were used extensively as part of IHM formation and also as a core part of their teacher formation. According to Coulson this was an experimental project that had no real desired outcome except to see if group and individual techniques that worked well with neurotic clients would have any effect on normal people. As Coulson says in this article, the T group process was a product of the Navy's OSA and an outgrowth of the CIA's psychological warfare program of the fifties. Many of these same group techniques have been modified and used by current right wing religious cults, but apparently that's escaped Coulson's notice.

Coulson maintains the sensitivity sessions had a profound effect, but almost exclusively to the detriment of the women involved. They had no background from which to deal with the intensity of the experience. (Essentially he's saying they were not 'mature' enough, not 'properly grounded in their faith') Instead of enhancing their faith experience, it killed it because it opened them up to repressed sexual and emotional desires for which no firm pastoral guidance was given. They were left to decide on their own whether to act on their sexual proclivities, and once they acted, their faith died with the sexual expression.
In his scheme of things it seems faith in the God of Catholicism is connected to sexual repression. Remove the repression and there goes the Faith in the Catholic God. He actually may have a legitimate point here, but not for the reasons he gives. In any event he cites less than a half a dozen examples out of some 600 to support his theory that he and Carl Rogers killed the IHM's. Unfortunately, this view from one man, holds a great deal of sway amongst the conservative elements with in the Church. Which is why we hear so much about feminazi's, capitulation to the 'me' culture, and the infestation of New Age spirituality in these rebellious liberal orders.

For another view, the story as told by Sr. Anita Caspary, in her book "Witness to Integrity" is probably more enlightening. Sr. Caspary led the order at the time Cardinal Mcintyre took exception to their attempts at renewal. After reading the book I was struck with what an enormously difficult period this must have been for her and her order. They were caught between the Vatican mandate to renew themselves, and Mcintyre's insistence he determine their 'renewal' even though they weren't under his Canonical jurisdiction. The saddest part for me is when it becomes apparent to Sr. Caspary that their Vatican 'defender' has no desire to take on Mcintyre and the forces that supported him. Once this knowledge became common in the order, the mass exodus began. In the end it wasn't the too much 'sensitivity' of Carl Rogers that killed this order, it was the too much sensitivity for Mcintyre in the halls of the Vatican.

Nothing will change this time around. Those orders who followed the path laid out by the IHM in Los Angeles and adopted much of their renewal are most likely in serious of jeopardy of facing the same choice the IHM did. Only this time we won't be talking about an order of 600 and it won't have the devastating consequences for any particular diocese. It may be the Vatican has waited this long to investigate the LCWR because they learned their lesson with the IHM. They waited until the repercussions would be much less devastating and the pickings even more ripe.

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