There's not a whole lot of "common ground" to be found between these two readings of the post-conciliar history of women's religious life in these United States. Either Tom Fox is right in his general view of the situation, or Walker Percy is right in his. Yet while Percy would almost certainly have agreed that there are many holy and devoted women doing great service to Church and society within the LCWR orders, Fox seems unlikely to make any such concession about the bishops who have, over three decades, raised concern about the spiritual life of those orders. If inflexibility and intellectual bullying are at work here, they're far more prevalent on the port side of the Barque of Peter than on the starboard side.
There is also a question of demographics to be considered, in assessing these two views. Ann Carey's 1997 book, ''Sisters in Crisis,'' reported a hard fact, thoroughly supported by the data: progressive orders of religious women don't generate new vocations. LCWR-affiliated sisters responded that their job was "not to grow but to be." How one could "be" without new recruits was not explained--a reflection, perhaps, of the same cast of mind that led a recent LCWR annual assembly speaker to praise the "post-Christian" stance of some religious orders. In any case, there can be no denying that the "renewal" of women's religious life led by the LCWR and its affiliated orders has utterly failed to attract new vocations. The LCWR orders are dying, while several religious orders that disaffiliated from the LCWR are growing.
And this is the question that neither the LCWR nor its defenders, like Tom Fox, ever engage: If what you've been doing for about 40 years is so right, why do young women not find it attractive?
Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor, however, would understand.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
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