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The Vatican vs. the LCWR = Theory (Doctrine) vs. Practice (Spirituality)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) August 16, 2012: Because the Vatican is not in good odor with the media in the United States, the media in the United States gave the Vatican enormous free publicity by publicizing the Vatican's critique of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in the United States. They say that no publicity is bad publicity.


Because the media in the United States relish sensationalistic stories, the Vatican's critique of the LCWR was reported in the media with relish. White male chauvinists in the Vatican versus hard-working Catholic sisters. Bad Vatican guys versus Good American gals.


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To be sure, the Vatican's critique of the LCWR does involve are sharp contrast. But this contrast is best understood as the contrast between theory (Catholic doctrine), on the one hand, and, on the other, practice (spiritual practice based on the practice of spirituality).


In short, those nutty Vatican fellows are obsessed with Catholic doctrine, as all Catholic bishops are. With the fervor of their religious zealotry, they talk the right talk. As a result, they think all Catholics should also talk the right talk. But they do not excel at walking the walk as their talk would presumably have them walk their talk, as the bishops' role in transferring priests against whom allegations of sex abuse had been reported to the bishops.

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However, during the decades when the Catholic bishops in the United States and elsewhere were transferring priest against whom allegations of sex abuse had been made to the bishops, the Catholic women in religious orders in the United States were free of any negative publicity about comparably serious misbehavior. By contrast with the Catholic bishops, the Catholic sisters look like they know how to walk the walk that the bishops evidently do not know how to walk.


I would suggest that this difference is best understood by noting that most Catholic sisters cultivated a renewal of Catholic spirituality that most Catholic bishops, most diocesan priests, and most lay Catholics simply have not yet experienced.


At the forefront of the renewal of Catholic spirituality in the United States was a charismatic Jesuit priest and retreat director from India named Anthony de Mello (1931-1987). During many summers in the 1970s and 1980s, he toured the United States giving preached retreats and short counseling workshops. Some of his preached retreats were broadcast via satellite. In addition, he published a number of widely read books. Through his books and audiotapes of his workshops, he had an enormous influence on the renewal of Catholic spirituality in the United States, especially among men and women in Catholic religious orders. From 1979 to 1987, he was the director of a retreat center in India, where men and women in religious orders could go to participate in one his lengthier counseling workshops, which were deeply influenced by his understanding of Fritz Perls and gestalt therapy.

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Because he held a graduate degree in pastoral counseling from Loyola University Chicago (1964), he blended a lot of ideas from humanistic psychology (e.g., Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls) together with insights from Buddhist meditation. From masters of meditation such as Jiddu Krishnamurti, Anthony de Mello learned that there is a psychological experience that is enormously important to have, if we are so lucky as to have it. This enormously important psychological experience enables us to transcend the limitations of our ego-consciousness. Buddhist meditation is the way we can open ourselves up to having this enormously important experience. In Catholic circles in the United States, the spirit of Buddhist meditation was practiced as centering prayer.


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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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