A Vatican cardinal pulls back the curtain

A Vatican cardinal pulls back the curtain

             Cardinal João Braz de Aviz

UPDATE: The Vatican on Tuesday issued a statement saying that Cardinal Braz de Aviz and Cardinal Muller had met Monday and "reaffirmed their common commitment" to the program of changes foreseen for the LCWR.

The statement blamed the media for its suggesting there was a divergence between the doctrinal and religious congregations at the Vatican "in their approach to the renewal of religious life."

Whatever spin the Vatican chooses to put on this, Cardinal Braz de Aviz was clearly criticizing the process by which the LCWR review was handled. He made it equally clear that he would support the doctrinal congregation's conclusions.

This is from the Vatican statement today:

Recent media commentary on remarks made on Sunday May the 5th during the General Assembly of the International Union of Superiors General by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, has suggested a divergence between the CDF and the Congregation for Religious in their approach to the renewal of Religious Life. Such an interpretation of the Cardinal’s remarks is not justified. The Prefects of these two Congregations work closely together according to their specific responsibilities and have collaborated throughout the process of the Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR. Archbishop Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Braz de Aviz met yesterday and reaffirmed their common commitment to the renewal of Religious Life, and particularly to the Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR and the program of reform it requires, in accordance with the wishes of the Holy Father.

My post on Monday:

The comments Sunday by Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, on how the Vatican's handling of the investigation of a group of U.S. Catholic sisters caused him "much pain," are stunning for several reasons.

First, the cardinal made it clear that the decision last year to insist on reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the largest group of U.S. sisters, was taken without consultation with his own office, the Vatican congregation that oversees religious orders around the world.

That opens a window on how little communication occurs between Vatican offices, even on matters that clearly require a joint approach and careful deliberation.

It also underlines how the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which issued the assessment of LCWR last year, continues to act as if there is no need for dialogue – not even with others in the Roman Curia.

As Cardinal Braz de Aviz said, the whole episode illustrates a power struggle dynamic at work inside the Vatican. “This struggle of who is going to win is not good,” he said, according to the report filed by the National Catholic Reporter.

And he zeroed in on another dangerous aspect of the way the Roman Curia operates: at least in the past, access to the pope has been limited, and influence on papal decisions may depend on who gets the pope’s ear. As the cardinal put it, “the problem very often is what kind of news goes to the Holy Father.”

What makes Cardinal Braz de Aviz’s comments all the more fascinating is that they seemed to express a personal cry of conscience. That may reflect a new freedom of expression at the Vatican under Pope Francis.

From the NCR report:

He also said it was the first time he was discussing the lack of consultation publicly, saying previously he "didn't have the courage to speak."

I’m guessing that the Brazilian cardinal discussed all this with Pope Francis before speaking Sunday to a meeting of international representatives of women religious orders in Rome. I don’t think, given Braz de Aviz’s remarks about the need for consultation, that he would have blindsided the new pope on this topic.

His comments also put a recent statement from the doctrinal congregation in a curious light. On April 15, Archbishop Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told the LCWR that Pope Francis had “reaffirmed the findings of the assessment and the program of reform for this conference of major superiors.”

Cardinal Braz de Aviz confirmed that the doctrinal review of the LCWR would go forward. Indeed, it would have been unusual for the new pope to undo a project that was essentially completed under his predecessor.

But it also seems clear that the process employed – in particular, the lack of real discussion at the highest levels of the Vatican – is due for an overhaul. And it would seem to make the idea of a meeting between Pope Francis and LCWR leadership all the more necessary.

31 comments (Add your own)

1. Paul Ben wrote:
The issue is not the structure of the Church, it's the lack of humility on the part of Her members.

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 9:28 AM

2. Lowell Rinker wrote:
A new era of transparency?....what a breath of fresh air that would be.

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 10:35 AM

3. S. wrote:
If there continues to be corruption within the congregations at the highest levels it is no surprise that those who had the Pope's confidence would protect the Holy Father and "filter" the news or information trying to get to him. This is why Jesus said: "A house divided cannot stand." And why there is need for a 'house cleaning.'

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 10:44 AM

4. clare wrote:
You are correct, Paul. There's nothing wrong with the Church herself. The problem is that most of the people in it no longer have a personal relationship with Christ, and this is true from the smallest parish to the great palaces. We have styled it a club, a game of politics, a cultural enclave, which it cannot be. We will continue to have problems and earn the incredulity of the world around us until we place the emphasis squarely on Christ. We believe in Christ, and we belong to the Church only through our relationships with him. He is our identity, not some collection of beads and papers.

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 10:44 AM

5. Paul Ben wrote:
They can turn the structure of the Vatican upside-down, they can do whatever "reform" as they call it, but if us Catholics don't reform ourselves, what good would it do to anything? The outside may look different, but the inside is still the same. We need to be honest with ourselves and with God. Nobody can fool God, unless you're a non-believer (obviously) or have a weak faith. First step is HUMILITY or I should say, reading the Bible and put into practice God's Word. I can't believe I'm advising the Church Leaders!

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 10:56 AM

6. shawnbm wrote:
i concur with Mr. Ben and Clare--the issue is the personal shortcomings of certain prelates in positions of influence with the Curia, not the Curia and its organization in and of itself. What is it the new pontiff said, the Church can't be beholden to "careerism" (and neither should many governments) or become to "self-referential". That is basically the thing.

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 11:39 AM

7. Kelly wrote:
I'm assuming that both Braz de Aziz and Mueller got to argue their cases before Francis. Both men seem to have the Pope's confidence and I believe that neither will be sent to the Curia's version of Siberia. I just think that Francis agrees more with Mueller on this one. The LCWR has really morphed into a political activist organization rather than a religious organization and needs to return to its mission.

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 11:57 AM

8. J.M.McKee wrote:
RE: Need for commentors to dial down their rhetoric

When it comes to speaking about the Church, we need stop using the highly charged language of the MS media -- loaded words like 'corruption' that have been used so often when reporting on the Church they slide easily off the tongue. Ditto for painting with too broad a brush, like saying that, "most of the people" in the Church "no longer have a personal relationship with Christ." These things hardly build up the Body and we have no way of knowing the truth of what after all are only our impressions.

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 12:03 PM

9. William wrote:
Look, if every act or decision taken by the Vatican had to undergo the scrutiny and approbation of each and every of its Departments, nothing (but nothing) would ever move forward and be resolved. Bureaucracy does and can function. The LCWR decisions were just and proper--though, understandably, those unwilling to serve with humility will never think so.

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 12:40 PM

10. George wrote:
But even with all that, it is still the only Church which the Divine Person Jesus Christ built, and against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 1:30 PM

11. Ann Phillips Browning wrote:
I am so optimistic and excited about Pope Francis and the new tone he seems to be setting. I am sure there are a lot of cardinals in the curia that a sweating. I believe that is a good thing. I hope everyone can learn from this, as Clare wrote, from the smallest parish to the Office of the Holy See, that God and His principles are what this church should be based on. I hope even local priests and Bishops are squirming, and questioning their own lifestyle and their own decision making processes. As a person in the pew, it has certainly made me think about MY own priorities!

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 1:31 PM

12. Florin wrote:
May 6th: Nonetheless, the Cardinal must have known because it was broadcast throughout the world and distorted in the process. There was 'dialogue' between the LCWR and those who were investigation - this has been going on for years. They are not following or teaching the Catholic faith, they distort or openly pervert the teachings of the Catholic Church; they are in defiance of their Bishops; they are doing terrible damage to those who follow these radical, anti-Catholic faith Superiors so however this came about or whatever - it was time. Pope Francis has himself stood by the conclusion that this is a radical group that needs purification and supervision. The Cardinals shouldn't be airing their problems in the media...talk among yourselves; talk with Pope Francis who is open to all. You, Cardinal Braz de Aviz must surely have known about the aberrations of the LCWR - why didn't you do something from your position of responsibility???

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 1:36 PM

13. Nathan wrote:
There is a time for dialog and a time for action. If anything we've seen too much dialog and too little action from the Vatican for the last 50 years. The CDF is responsible for overseeing the orthodoxy of groups claiming to be Catholic. If LCWR is teaching and living the Catholic Faith, they have nothing to be worried about. If they have "moved beyond the Church" and "beyond Jesus," then action is called for - not more meaningless dialog. If Cardinal João Braz de Aviz would have acted earlier the CDF wouldn't have had to step in.

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 1:42 PM

14. Tim Dooling wrote:
It becomes more evident with each revelation of this kind, that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is dysfunctional. Each little fiefdom believes and operates like it does what it wants- it does not even answer to GOD ! What a bunch of louts ! Tim

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 2:28 PM

15. Jim McCrea wrote:
This cardinal is young (b 1947) and a "newbie" cardinal (2012). Let's hope that he and his way of thinking are the future possibilty for Catholicism.

A great deal of hope (founded or otherwise) has been generated by the election of Francis. It appears that many of the previously silent senior churchmen have rediscovered their voices now that they are not in danger of banishment, silencing or other punishments prevalant in the prior 2 pontificates.

If this hope is dealt any kind of a crashing blow, will the last Catholic left please turn out the lights?

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 2:33 PM

16. Caspar wrote:
No matter what the Vatican politics may have been, it remains abundantly clear that the visitation and reform of the LCWR was long over-due.


Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 4:36 PM

17. taad wrote:
If this cardinal is okay with the LCWR, then he is very liberal and has his own agenda. The LCWR is terrible, and no longer catholic.

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 4:52 PM

18. Thomas wrote:
While it seems right that the various congregations and offices within the Curia could stand to improve their internal communication, nonetheless I don't think an improved level of communication would change two definitive points in this case: first and foremost, regardless of who had the ear of the Holy Father, there is no question that both Benedict XVI and Francis agree with the findings of the CDF in regards to the LCWR. Even a superficial understanding of their both men's respective theological projects and their lives of service in the Church should serve to eliminate any doubt in this regard. As a result, while increased communication would have been good in regard to fostering corporate solidarity in this case, it is not tenable to suggest or even imply that it would have changed the outcome. While Mr. Thavis may not mean to imply this, it is unclear from the post itself whether or not he is implying that increased communication could have fostered a different outcome. This leads to the second point, namely, this is first and foremost about doctrine, and it is also beyond dispute that the CDF has accurately judged the LCWR to be theologically problematic at best, and simply outside of Catholic orthodoxy at worst. So, regardless of "power", the truth is that the LCWR does not fully adhere to Catholic orthodoxy, and while one may commend their service in other areas, it is the job of the CDF to do precisely what they did, and I am not sure how more communication would have changed anything. So in conclusion, while I don't mean to imply that Mr. Thavis means to offer another expression of reducing internal eccleiastical operations to mere power politics, in the end one is left to wonder: what about the truth?

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 6:53 PM

19. mortimerzilch wrote:
the problem is one of not modernizing the Curial functions in accordance with the principles set down by Vatican II (which apply to all corporate and national entities by the way, and really constitutes a major shift in the mechanics of the entire political world.) Those principles which Vatican II said MUST animate structural operations are: SUBSIDIARITY and COLLEGIALITY. In the case above we are not seeing the proper Collegiality being carried through.

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 9:01 PM

20. David M Paggi wrote:
Great article - until the last sentence, wherein the author posits a massive non sequitur. It simply does not follow that a lack of communication between Vatican dicasteries, however demonstrable, could in any way be affected by a papal intervention in the matter of the LCWR. Conversely, there is no reason to believe that papal involvement, however pastoral, would result in a more fruitful outcome of that conflict than would otherwise obtain.

No one, particularly the CDF, has anything but praise for the valuable contributions these religious have made in many areas. The CDF's assessment is confined to the doctrinal content of the LCWR's programs, such as their convention speakers. For a sample, search for "Barbara Marx Hubbard" on YouTube, and try to view her recent video for more than 3 minutes. It's painfully apparent that she has nothing to say about our Blessed Lord and everything to say about absolutely nothing.

As far as the "Nuns on the Bus", it is instructive that the vehicle in question was no mere transport, it was a coach costing a half million dollars or more, which was apparently provided by financier and liberal activist George Soros. I wasn't there, but I would give heavy odds that the discussions on board were not about how to be more faithful to the Magisterium.

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 9:07 PM

21. Martha wrote:
SO is he also saying that there is nothing wrong with the LCWR? Because they really need to not only be investigated, but disbanded. I'm sure his opinion of the inner workings of the curia are accurate, but that does not mean that the investigation shouldn't have taken place. It should have been done 10 years ago.

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 9:30 PM

22. Robert Hall wrote:
Just finished reading all ultra positive comments over at NCR about this. But please try to remember WHY the CDF launched this investigation in the first place. Many of these nuns have been WAY off the reservation as far as Catholic doctrine is concerned and bound to go further off still. Any good doctor knows that when you come across a bleeding patient you need to "gain proximal control" of the bleeding or they will die. This Cardinal sounds like a whining child playing to the crowd. I don't trust him for a minute.

Mon, May 6, 2013 @ 11:28 PM

23. malcolm wrote:
Quote: He also said it was the first time he was discussing the lack of consultation publicly, saying previously he "didn't have the courage to speak."

If saints and martyrs had little courage, there would be none.

If a pontiff decides a specific course of action, then one would assume that it is his prerogative, as the supreme head of the Church.
One would then expect cardinals/bishops/priest to be one, to submit to that authority, in accord with our Pontiff.

Perhaps, there are some who still would want Our Lord to consult with them about the wisdom of His Revelation to mankind.

Tue, May 7, 2013 @ 5:58 AM

24. Captain America wrote:
The size and structure of the Vatican organization has here, and in other places, apparently created management problems.

The report on the American nuns has some modest merit---but the media and the reactionary sisters in the end have hurt their own cause. A big part of being Christian is believing and following in Christ, and the report unduly focussed on one New Agey-type, trying to create New Thoughts, who talked of going "beyond" Christ, which is a pretty vague thing to assert.

The Pope needs to lessen the politics of the Vatican, and more transparency would do this. More light, less heat. And less protection of the incompetent.

Tue, May 7, 2013 @ 8:06 AM

25. Kelly wrote:
It was interesting that Francis' homily today was about complaining. So I am wondering if this kerfuffle is on his mind, especially since they had to release a statement on the whole situation.

Tue, May 7, 2013 @ 10:02 AM

26. allison wrote:
I think it very easy to misunderstand what others say and mean. People may be working for the same goal and it may be unclear. I think it is unfortunate that in our current society that being a religious is not an honored way of life for the majority.

Tue, May 7, 2013 @ 10:49 AM

27. Bonnie Custer wrote:
The National Catholic Reporter exacerbates (big word alert)the division by it's assumption that there is nothing that needs fixing with the LCWR. Those of us who have seen first hand the destruction of religious life that is evidenced by the leadership in the LCWR,are eagerly awaiting the reform and it behooves (big word alert) us to pray earnestly for all religious communities in the Church.

Tue, May 7, 2013 @ 12:48 PM

28. Sam Schmitt wrote:
The fact is we don't know exactly what has gone on here. Cdl. Braz de Aviz is saying one thing (or at least his comments are being interpreted in a certain way) and the CDF is saying another. And after all, what Cdl. Braz de Aviz says is only his personal opinion.

People are taking sides based on what they already think of the LCWR investigation (and what they think of the CDF) - which means that their comments say more about their own views than about the reality out there.

Tue, May 7, 2013 @ 1:59 PM

29. Kevin wrote:
Many of these liberal nuns support abortion - they need to be shut down now!

The good nuns need to be supported but these radical leftist Sisters only harm souls - most of them don't even try to help the poor - they just talk about helping the poor.

Tue, May 7, 2013 @ 5:25 PM

30. Mary wrote:
My experience has been that sometimes, collective decision-making between different bureaus (or agencies or departments) produces a better result, but at other times, it produces a huge muddle. So, I have no expectation that merely increasing "communication" between various Vatican offices, whatever that means in real terms, will automatically improve the functioning of the Vatican. That depends on leadership and management.

To me, the comments made by Cardinal Braz de Aviz has shown him to be (as a leader) a bit of a loose cannon. But one person's "truth teller" is the next person's "loose cannon." I believe he has the best intentions, but his expectations of what his role should have been in the CDF doctrinal review of the LCWR seem exaggerated, given what I recall of events. The investigation began three years before he became the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life (etc.) and although that dicastery has responsibilty for religious communities, it has no role in doctrinal matters (at least that's my understanding, but if I'm wrong, there, please correct me). From the news reports that I recall, the review and assessment report were completed during the first months of 2011, just around the time he was appointed, but the assessment was held for a year while the apostolic visitation of women's religious communities, which was launched by his predecessor, was being completed. It's unlikely that towards the end of the LCWR review process, the CDF would significantly change course because the leadership of the Congregation had changed, and so his ability to play a major role was limited.

But given the soft-pedal approach that he and Archbishop Tobin took in respect to the apostolic visitation, I believe he would have pushed for a significant change of course, and maybe even a watering-down of the conclusions of the CDF review. Perhaps the CDF even feared that he'd sit on the assessment and do nothing. Certainly, the report from the apostolic visit, which was a project of his congregation, has not been released, although he may bear no responsibility for that.

I'm sure it's been frustrating for the Cardinal, given that he took the reins of the Congregation at a point where two major actions were nearing their conclusions, so that he had little influence over the course of either one and could only deal with the results. And it's tough to be on the losing end of a big decision. The LCWR assessment is only 8 pages long--it's not difficult or inaccessible, and Pope Francis would have been able to read it quickly, and to decide if he agreed or not. Maybe, as someone remarked earlier, he agreed more with the CDF than with Cardinal Braz de Aviz.

Tue, May 7, 2013 @ 6:17 PM

31. Jim McCrea wrote:
And then there is this:


The man appears to have kept his brass ones after he was made a cardinal.

Wed, May 8, 2013 @ 3:20 PM

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