Monday, October 05, 2009

Obedience and Dependence Are Opposites

A community is only as healthy as the solitudes that make it up.

One reason for the widespread dysfunctionality in many communities, especially women's religious communities, is a confusion between obedience and dependence.

To put this more bluntly, dependence, along with sycophancy, obsequious behaviour and language limited to pat, pious phrases, are often demanded in the name of obedience by superiors who are often mentally unbalanced and/or power-mad, who have inflated ideas of themselves and their office. For them the servant role is completely lost, as is any notion of collegiality, or the goal of Christian life, which is beholding (union with God).

Dependence and the tyranny that demands it, constitute a sickness that has come very close to destroying religious life for women; it is the elephant in the community room, the chapel, the superior's office. Some superiors are so caught in maintaining their own inflation that the welfare of the community and the maintenance of the plant are completely forgotten.

The fact that many women's communities are required to be dependent on men for the sacraments and for validation simply compounds the problem. In addition, late medieval and tridentine writings on the spiritual life, especially those aimed at women, exaggerate the role and power of the superior. This has led to violations of boundaries, especially those of conscience, breaching of confidentiality (if it exists at all), and confessionals that are so leaky that there might as well be a speakerphone line to the superior's office.

In fact, obedience can be licit only when it is freely chosen and freely given, and if people are dependent, they are not free. Dependence is a hindrance to obedience and a stumbling block in spiritual growth. The only legitimate dependence is on no-thing, the free-fall of faith and the security found in the depths of silence. The goal of Christian maturity is autonomy for the sake of community; a person who is growing into this maturity can give freely, can obey joyfully and completely, but can never be coerced.


Anonymous dFish said...

I guess this falls within your critique and analysis:

Thanks to recent Vatican actions, the LCWR has garnered a few headlines. In February the Vatican announced it would conduct a three-year “visitation” to assess the “quality of life” of American sisters. A month later, the president of LCWR received a letter from Cardinal William Levada, formerly archbishop of San Francisco and now head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), informing her that there would also be an investigation, or “doctrinal assessment,” of the Leadership Conference itself. Certain problems, Levada explained, needed to be addressed. As it turns out, these have to do with the LCWR’s alleged failure to express sufficiently rigorous doctrinal compliance with several recent church documents. Evidently, the Vatican is concerned that the LCWR has not been forthcoming about the magisterium’s teachings regarding the ordination of women, the relation of the Catholic Church to non-Christian religions, and the “intrinsically disordered” nature of homosexual acts.

The Vatican’s visitation—conducted under the auspices of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL)—does not assess the “quality of life” of cloistered orders of Carmelites, Benedictines, Dominicans, or other communities devoted to the monastic contemplative life. Neither does it assess international congregations with members working in the United States whose central motherhouses are outside this country. Rather, the visitation exclusively targets active women religious whose centers and houses of formation are in the United States—women educated here and trained for religious life here, women who work with major health-care and educational institutions in this country, and who collaborate with one another financially on ministerial projects such as peace and justice ministries."

The title of the whole article is Cross Examination (

1:03 am, October 09, 2009  

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