Here are some additional tidbits to help you understand a little more fully what is going on with religious orders in the United States. There has been a lot of talk lately about the Leadership Conference of Religious Women (LCRW). That is not the only conference that exists. There are, in actuality three such congregations.
In the United States there are many religious orders. The councils or conferences are made up of representatives of each of these religious orders. Think of it like this: In you town you might have a Chamber of Commerce that is made up of business owners. They come together to have a voice as the business community, share resources, and build up a healthier economic environment. Yet none of the business loses its own identity. In a limping analogy that is the same thing that you have here with religious life. The different religious orders have their leadership be part of a congregation to achieve much the same thing but in a spiritual realm. So you might have the Notre Dames and the Ursulines that belong to the LCRW (see below) or the Sisters of Life and the Nashville Dominicans that belong to the CMSWR (see below.)
The LCRW, according to their website, “is an association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States. The conference has more than 1500 members, who represent more than 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in the United States. Founded in 1956, the conference assists its members to collaboratively carry out their service of leadership to further the mission of the Gospel in today’s world.”
There is also the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM). According to their website, “CMSM serves the leadership of the Catholic orders and congregations of the more than 17,000 vowed religious priests and brothers of the United States, ten percent of whom are foreign missionaries. CMSM provides a voice for these communities in U.S. church and society. CMSM also collaborates with the U.S. bishops and other key groups and organizations that serve church and society.”
Now, you may have noticed that the LCRW reports that it has in its membership about 80% of the 57,000 women religious of the United States. That leaves thousands women religious who are not represented by them. They are represented by a different organization.
The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) according to their website, “is a canonically approved organization founded in 1992, to promote religious life in the United States. Its statutes were definitively approved by the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life on October 26, 1995. Composed of major superiors of women religious with communities in the United States, the group is dedicated to Mary, Mother of the Church and Patroness of the Americas. Members of the Council wish to serve the Church and to foster the progress and welfare of religious life in the United States.”
Why are there two councils of women religious? Here is the Wikipedia history: “In October 1995 Pope John Paul II (and the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life) designated the CMSWR as a canonically approved national association of Women Religious for the United States who felt the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) did not represent their views. Composed of the leaders of women religious communities in the United States, the group is dedicated to Mary, Mother of the Church and Patroness of the Americas.
“In January 2009, the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life announced it would conduct an apostolic visitation of U.S. women religious to examine their quality of life, ministries, and vocation efforts. The chairperson for the CMSWR, Mother Mary Quentin Sheridan, R.S.M., welcomed the visitation and encouraged members to cooperate.”
So consider this: there are approximately 57,000 religious women in the United States give or take. You can’t get two Catholics in one room to agree that the temperature is correct – there is no way that all religious are going to agree on everything. Many (in all three of these groups) have welcomed everything that the Vatican has to say, some agree with a lot of it but not all, and some are aggrieved that anything was ever said. More than likely you only heard from one subset of persons out of these three possibilities. That is because they are the only ones that will sell news. It is much more interesting to buck Rome than it is to say, “Gee, isn’t that swell.”
No matter how you might fall in these debates, remember that you are dealing with a diverse and intelligent group of people with different ideas on how to make the Church and the world a better place. Do not think that there is a single will in these matters. That would be a ridiculous assumption for any group of people on any topic.