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VATICAN-CLAR Apr-24-2012 (790 words) Backgrounder. xxxi

Latin American religious recall tough decisions, emphasis on dialogue

By Ezra Fieser
Catholic News Service

(CNS/courtesy LCWR)

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (CNS) -- The decision to take over leadership of the largest U.S. group of Catholic nuns for its "serious doctrinal problems" was not the first time the Vatican reined in a group of religious.

Two decades ago, the Vatican appointed a bishop to oversee the work of the Latin American Confederation of Religious, known by its Spanish acronym as CLAR. At the time, the confederation represented 160,000 men and women religious in the region.

"It was a very difficult moment for the confederation," said Father Gabriel Naranjo Salazar, a Vincentian priest involved in CLAR at the time and who is now secretary-general of the organization.

"It was not only difficult because it affected the (CLAR's) ecclesial independence and its mentality, but also because it seemed completely unjustified," Father Naranjo told Catholic News Service in mid-April.

Now CLAR, which currently represents about 130,000 religious, has a strong relationship with the Vatican and the Latin American bishops' council, or CELAM, Father Naranjo said.

Father Naranjo said the transition, while painful at the time, was made easier by a good working relationship with the Vatican delegates.

In 1989, the Vatican decided to directly supervise the confederation's "Word-Life" evangelization plan after it was criticized for its "reductionist" readings of the Scripture and for relying too heavily on Marxist analysis of social ills. Shortly thereafter, the Vatican took over the group's leadership committee.

Two years later, the Vatican suspended CLAR's procedures for electing leadership and appointed its own delegates to lead the confederation.

"The new directors named by the Vatican, who were very faithful to the spirit of the CLAR, worked for and encouraged the return of the (confederation) to its normal function in less than the three-year period" that had been mandated, Father Naranjo said.

The leadership of the Maryland-based Leadership Conference of Women Religious had a similar reaction in the days following an April 18 doctrinal assessment of its agenda. The assessment cited the conference's failures to adhere to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women's ordination and homosexuality.

The conference, which represents some 80 percent of the United States' 57,000 women religious, responded with a statement saying it was "stunned by the conclusions," adding conference leaders were "taken by surprise by the gravity of the mandate."

The Vatican appointed Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to provide "guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work" of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The archbishop will be assisted by Bishops Leonard P. Blair of Toledo, Ohio, and Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., and draw on the advice of fellow bishops, women religious and other experts.

In the early 1990s, Bishop Hector Lopez Hurtado, now bishop of Girardot, Colombia, was the Vatican's delegate to the Latin American confederation.

He told CNS that the Vatican took action against CLAR because of growing controversy.

"There were a lot of differing and strong opinions," he said.

At the time, those involved in the transition spoke of deep divisions between the church's hierarchy and the religious.

"There are those who fear that the religious are becoming radicalized, that we will become extremists, siding with the poor and against the rich," Sister Maria Evangelina Villafuerte, provincial superior of the Institute of Maria Reparadora in Mexico, told CNS in 1991.

News reports from 1989 state that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, recommended wholesale changes to the "Word-Life" plan.

The Vatican had first suggested CLAR make revisions to the plan. However, after receiving a report from Cardinal Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict XVI -- it decided to take the added step of demanding preapproval of yearly pastoral operations, according to news reports.

Taking over the organization's leadership "was a difficult decision," Bishop Lopez said. "But I think it was important that the new leadership worked with the organization to try to make the transition" easier.

"Today, it's fair to say that it is more conservative, but I don't think that was entirely because of the changes that took place in the early 1990s," Bishop Lopez said. "Society has changed."

Father Naranjo said the process made clear the importance of dialogue between institutions.

In Rome April 22, Archbishop Sartain told Catholic News Service that his main role in the reform process would be to "facilitate relationships and understanding."

The archbishop expressed his "personal appreciation for the role of religious women in the United States" and "all the extraordinary things that they've done."

Saying that he hoped he could "help the sisters and the LCWR recognize that we are all in this together," the archbishop called the reform a "great opportunity" for women religious, U.S. bishops and the Vatican to "strengthen and improve all of our relationships on every level."

- - -

Contributing to this story was Francis X. Rocca in Rome.


Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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