Sisters Hope for Dialogue

Sister Rebecca Ann Gemma, OP, Springfield Dominican and Chairperson of LCWR Region 8, was interviewed by Steven Spearie of the State Journal-Register upon her return from the LCWR meeting in Washington, D.C.  The article, Sisters Hope for Dialogue in Rome, appeared in the June 3, 2012 edition of the SJ-R.  Read the article below.  

Sisters Hope for Dialogue in Rome

Article published in The State Journal-Register, June 3, 2012

By Steven Spearie, Correspondent

 Sister Rebecca Ann Gemma is hopeful that meaningful talks can take place between the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and Vatican officials in Rome later this month.

But the Springfield Dominican, who is part of the national board for the LCWR, which represents 83 percent of the nearly 56,000 women religious in the U.S., isn’t backing down from a statement that asserts that a Vatican assessment aimed at reforming the group was “based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency.”

“The public statement was a statement of our truth and reality,” Gemma said in an interview Saturday at the Springfield Dominicans’ motherhouse after her return from four days of meetings in Washington, D.C.

Gemma is the chair of the LCWR region representing Illinois.

The LCWR response went on to say that sanctions imposed by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) “were disproportionate to the concerns raised.”

“The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community and created greater polarization.”

In April, the CDF cited “serious doctrinal problems” in announcing a major reform of LCWR, whose membership includes the Springfield Dominicans, the Hospital Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis and the Ursuline Sisters, all of whom have a presence in the Springfield Catholic diocese.

At that time, the Vatican also appointed Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle to oversee the process, along with Springfield Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, a specialist in canon or church law.

The best-case scenario, Gemma said, for the June 12 talks in Rome is that “genuine dialogue will be afforded, to continue this relationship of mutual searching for the (Holy Spirit’s) movement.”

“The worst-case scenario is that there is no dialogue,” she said.

After that meeting, she anticipated that each of the LCWR’s 15 regions would meet ahead of the LCWR’s national gathering in August in St. Louis.

Last week’s meeting in Washington, Gemma said, was a first chance to gauge the sentiments of the group’s members, and she acknowledged that “voices of pain, anger and confusion” filled the room.

“When there is pain and difficulty, lack of clarity or difference of perspective, there will be (hard) feelings,” she added.  “There was intensity, and there was numbness (from the fallout of the Vatican report) because we love the people of God. We know others whose faithfulness has been questioned as well.”

There have been national shows of support for the nuns, including vigils and prayer groups by Catholics and others who have benefited from longstanding ministries in education, health care and other social services.

Asked if any of the area women religious congregations might be hamstrung or afraid to speak out because of Bishop Parprocki’s role with the CDF, Gemma said she trusted that Paprocki “will serve with integrity as we will do the same.”

“If we really believe that the Spirit is guiding all of us, we need to resist the temptation to polarize and set up camps.”

A diocesan spokesperson said Paprocki was referring all media inquirires to Sartain’s response to the LCWR statement. In an interview with The State Journal-Register after his appointment in April, Paprocki said the Vatican report “was not an indictment of sisters across the board.”

Sartain, a former bishop of the Joliet diocese, acknowledged the wide-ranging work of women religious. He said he and the CDF “are whole-heartedly committed to dealing with the important issues raised by the doctrinal assessment and the LCWR board in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, integrity and fidelity to the Church’s faith.”

Reports that LCWR may shed its affiliation with Rome altogether may be premature, Gemma said. But she pointed out that the LCWR is “membership driven. It’s not mandated (that religious congregations must) belong to the LCWR.”

In the early 1980s, the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious was set up by Pope John Paul II as a sort of conservative counter to the LCWR.

Gemma, who is also part of the Springfield Dominicans’ leadership, said she left the Washington meeting confident that the LCWR was “being true to the mission of Jesus Christ and that in whatever way this plays itself out, our discernment will be about being faithful to that.”

“I see this as a moment in time in which women religious in the U.S. are called to be who we’ve become and continue to become: women steeped in the Gospel and in the charism of religious life, which is a gift of the church, and in the mission of who we are in our own congregation,” she said.

“Is this a watershed moment? I see this as a time of serious reflection, prayer, dialogue and faith.”

Steven Spearie can be reached at 217-622-1788 or

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