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  • John Thavis

A Vatican cardinal pulls back the curtain

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.

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