Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — While a Vatican investigation or demand for reform can feel like the end of the world to the group or institution involved, Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., said his experience has been that such actions are not devastating and actually can be opportunities.
Bishop Lynch spoke to Catholic News Service May 10 about his advice to U.S. religious women after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ordered a reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an organization of superiors of most of the women’s orders in the United States.
Interviewed during his “ad limina” visit to the Vatican, the bishop would not comment on the discussions which the bishops of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina had with Vatican officials, including those at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
But, before coming to Rome, Bishop Lynch had written a piece for his blog about the doctrinal congregation ordering the reform of the LCWR and his suggestion that the sisters not panic.
The bishop told CNS he did not think the Vatican move was encouraged by U.S. bishops, who “prize and love” the sisters in their dioceses.
“If you looked at my statistics, the thing that perhaps pains me more than anything else and hurts my soul is that in the 16 years I’ve been privileged to be the bishop of St. Petersburg, I’ve lost 50 percent of my religious women to old age and death,” he said. When he became bishop, there were more than 300 sisters working in the diocese.
In his blog, the bishop had urged LCWR members to remain calm and prayerful, saying the reform could be an opportunity for reflection, dialogue and improved relationships rather than some kind of wrenching restructuring.
When the apostolic visitations of U.S. seminaries were announced in the early 1980s and again 20 years later, and when the Vatican announced it was studying the role and authority of bishops’ conferences in the mid-1980s, Bishop Lynch said, people reacted as if it were “Armageddon,” but the seminaries and the bishops’ conference survived.
“I believe that there are these moments in the church and one can either go berserk over them or one can accept them with a certain relative calm and prayer and that’s what I recommended to my sisters and I stand by that,” the bishop said.