The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has awarded publication National Catholic Reporter a $2.3 million grant to provide publicity for a leadership group of Women Religious who are known for their “far-left” feminist views that are not in keeping with the Church’s teachings.
Catholic World News notes that the Reporter is “a newspaper with a long history of dissent from Catholic teaching,” and that the grant “comes at a time when women religious in the United States are under Vatican scrutiny.”
The newspaper’s coverage and editorial writing has been extremely critical of the Vatican’s doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) which represents 1,500 leaders of U.S. Catholic religious orders.
Annette Lomont, chairman of the board for the Reporter, said, “We’ve been standing with sisters from the beginning, and I consider the grant encouragement to go on telling their stories.”
According to Catholic News Agency (CNA), Brad Myers, a senior program officer for the Hilton Foundation’s Catholic Sisters Initiative, confirmed that the foundation’s board approved a three-year $2.3 million grant to the Kansas City, Missouri-based Reporter. Myers said the purpose of the grant is “to create what we’re calling a global sisters’ net.”
Myers said in a policy paper in February that the sisters are of central interest to the Hilton Foundation since they taught the Catholic hotel magnate in his childhood.
“The idea is a website devoted to the coverage of Catholic sisters globally,” Myers said. “Initially our focus is going to be on issues facing Catholic sisters in the United States and Africa. Ultimately we do have global ambitions. We have stronger networks between these two countries, so that’s where we’ll start.”
Myers said that the goal of the project was to “improve the support systems among religious life among women.”
According to CNA, the National Catholic Reporter is a dissenting Catholic publication whose Catholic identity has been questioned by local bishops on several occasions.
In January, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph said the Reporter takes stands “against authentic Church teaching and leadership.” Finn said the agency’s views “have not changed trajectory” since October of 1968, when Finn’s predecessor, Bishop Charles H. Helmsin, condemned the newspaper for “its disregard and denial of the most sacred values of our Catholic faith” and asked the publication to remove the name “Catholic” from the title. The editors refused to do so.
Finn also said that the paper should cease to call itself “Catholic” because of its continued hostility to Catholic teachings and persistent promotion of a socialist political agenda.
Finn listed editorial positions taken by NCR that condemn Church teaching:
…on the ordination of women, insistent undermining of Church teaching on artificial contraception and sexual morality in general, lionizing dissident theologies while rejecting established Magisterial teaching, and a litany of other issues.
Last December, the newspaper’s editorial staff announced their dissent from Church teaching on the ordination of women:
The call to the priesthood is a gift from God. It is rooted in baptism and is called forth and affirmed by the community because it is authentic and evident in the person as a charism. Catholic women who have discerned a call to the priesthood and have had that call affirmed by the community should be ordained in the Roman Catholic church. Barring women from ordination to the priesthood is an injustice that cannot be allowed to stand.
Myers would not comment on whether the publication’s history would allow it to reliably cover “Catholic” issues. LifeSiteNews reports that Myers said the Hilton Foundation “does not take a position on the controversy between the Vatican and the leadership conference.”
In an April 29th editorial, however, Reporter publisher Thomas C. Fox claimed that the LCWR was not “simply a group of ‘leftist’ nuns.” Fox challenged both the accuracy and the justice of the Vatican assessment of LCWR and characterized it as “Vatican muggings.”
The Hilton Foundation’s Myers linked to Fox’s editorial and several other Reporter pieces about the LCWR on his personal Twitter account, and also joked with a Reporter journalist about Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain’s address to the LCWR’s general assembly. Sartain and two other bishops had been appointed by the Vatican to oversee a rewrite of the LCWR’s statues, to review its programs, approve speakers, and ensure the conference follows Catholic prayer and ritual appropriately.
Regarding his tweets, Myers told CNA, “My personal opinions are my personal opinions.”
Last week, Myers tweeted from his account, @SisterBrad:
Does yielding to Vatican demands for secrecy at LCWR serve sisters’ best interests? NCR’s Ken Briggs weighs in: http://t.co/ttKwUH9shx
— Brad Myers (@SisterBrad) August 16, 2013
Myers was linking to an article by Ken Briggs at the Reporter entitled, “The Power of the Muzzle,” in which Briggs portrays the LCWR as a victim of the Vatican’s control:
Many sisters are no doubt caught in two church cultures at this point. Under the old order, acceding to the will of ordained male superiors was a given. Near absolute compliance was the order of the day. Vatican II scrambled that culture by encouraging sisters to take more initiative themselves, only to be widely opposed when they actually tried to do it. That left a good many sisters still caught between two cultures, the deeply ingrained instinct toward obedience tempered by relative autonomy. The experience has surely been wrenching and that calls for compassion.
CNA states that the assessment, which was initiated in 2008 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, discovered significant doctrinal and theological errors in the presentations at the conference’s annual assemblies. The Congregation expressed concerns about “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” that might distort Catholic teaching:
The assessment said that the conference’s material for new superiors and formators lacks sufficient doctrinal formation and may reinforce confusion about Church doctrine. The analysis also found that the conference is a strong advocate on many social justice issues, but has remained silent on the right to life.
In January of 2011, the Congregation announced that the LCWR’s current doctrinal and pastoral situation is “grave and a matter of serious concern, also given the influence the LCWR exercises on religious congregations in other parts of the world.”
In April, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis fully supported the Holy See’s crackdown on the U.S. nuns, which was protested in liberal parishes with prayer vigils and with demonstrations outside the Vatican’s embassy in Washington D.C. A U.S. Congressional resolution, sponsored by liberal Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) commending the sisters for their service to the country, was also announced but later died.
The Associated Press indicated the LCWR claimed that the Vatican had reached “flawed” conclusions about the sisters that were based on “unsubstantiated accusations.” LCWR’s officers said they would participate in dialogue with Bishop Sartain “as long as possible,” but vowed they would not compromise their group’s mission.
If the sisters were hoping for a different response from Pope Francis, he apparently did not present them with one. In addition, while enroute back to Rome from Brazil last month, Francis noted to reporters on his plane that while the role of women should be explored within the Church, “with regards to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and says no. That door is closed.”
The grant is the second awarded to the Reporter by the Hilton Foundation. In 2011, it approved a $150,000 one-year grant also to assist with a project on Women Religious.
The foundation’s grant recipients also include the National Religious Vocation Conference, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.