In praise of Colleen 'common sense' Campbell

When the leadership of the LCWR publicly rejects Catholic teaching on the all-male priesthood, as it did in 1977, or publishes a handbook encouraging sisters to consider scrapping celebration of the Mass because some find the presence of a male priest "objectionable," or hosts a keynote speaker at its 2007 national assembly who calls Catholic sisters to move "beyond the church, even beyond Jesus" — well, it's not hard to see why non-Catholics and even many Catholics might be confused about what the church teaches and how much it matters. Nor is it surprising that the Vatican would try to rein in a group that enjoys all the perks of calling itself Catholic without abiding by the restraints that come with that institutional identity — namely, the responsibility to publicly defend Catholic teachings even when they clash with the cultural zeitgeist.

The real problem with groups like the LCWR is not their rebellion against church authority but their conformity to the spirit of the age. In attempting to become "relevant" to the world, they have rejected the most characteristic markers of Catholic religious life — from communal living to shared prayer regimens and fidelity to church teaching. Yet a 2009 survey by Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found that those are the very markers that attract today's young adults to religious life.

The Vatican is not waging a war on nuns. It is calling the LCWR and its graying membership to rediscover the riches of tradition, to renew their commitment to a faith ever ancient and ever new. It's a challenging and humbling call, but it's not an act of aggression. It's an invitation to renewal, one that is long overdue.

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