Founded in 1956 “to further the mission of the Gospel in today’s world,” the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is the association for the principal administrators of Roman Catholic women’s religious orders in the United States. Its 1,500+ individual members represent more than 80% of the 57,000 women religious nationwide.
Originally known as the Conference of Major Superiors of Women, LCWR took its present name in 1971. Six years later, the organization was granted non-governmental status at the United Nations. In 1979, LCWR’s then-president issued a plea to Pope John Paul II for the inclusion of women in all church ministries, including ordination as priests.
Viewing the United States as an oppressive patriarchy, LCWR in 1986 stated that “the feminine experience of exclusion … [and] domination” had made its members particularly cognizant of the need to “transform” certain “conditions of life” that were unacceptable.
In 1996, more than 400 LCWR members held a prayer vigil outside the gates of Fort Benning (Georgia), home to the School of the Americas (SOA). Participants called for the School’s closing, charging that it had “trained numerous Latin American soldiers tied to death, disappearances, and human rights abuses.” The organization staged yet another anti-SOA rally two years later.
Today LCWR seeks to bring “systemic change” to a world replete with “inaccessibility to basic resources”; “suffering, oppression and violence”; “multinational corporations” that “exert [excessive] control over legitimate governments”; the misuse of religion “to justify political and personal aggression”; and “environmental degradation [that] threatens all of God’s creation.”
Rejecting capitalist efforts to promote an “ever-growing economy,” LCWR instead favors “a steady state economy that respects Earth’s limits and needs while distributing the limited resources equitably so that all are guaranteed their basic needs.” Advocating wealth redistribution on a global scale, the Conference calls for the creation of “an economy in which well-being flourishes in communities of less industrialized nations,” and where “de-growth” or “downsizing” is required of “industrialized nations that use a disproportionate share of Earth’s resources.” Further, LCWR urges Americans to “awaken from our own addiction to the industrial, consumerist economic way of life which so violates the sacred web of life.”
LCWR has been outspoken on a host of social and political issues in recent years:
Emphasizing the importance of the “preferential option for the poor,” LCWR condemns proposed government-budget cuts to the “entitlement programs” that currently serve as a “social safety net so essential to those most in need” and to “the common good.”
Rejecting the “mindset of ‘big government is bad’ and ‘taxes are a burden,’” LCWR decries “tax breaks to the super-wealthy and corporations.” The Conference also calls for legislation designed to reduce the “the gap between those with wealth and power and those with few resources.”
LCWR condemns “the rise in anti-mosque sentiment and Islamophobia nationwide”; “the bullying on a daily basis of Muslim American youth who are being called ‘terrorists’”; and the “bigotry” of “conservatives” who exploit anti-Sharia sentiment “as [a] political football on the campaign trail.”
Calling for major reforms to the American immigration system, LCWR complains that “each year more than a quarter million people are held in U.S. immigration detention … confined behind bars or barbed wire, separated from their families, deprived of basic freedoms, and subject to demeaning treatment.” To address this situation, the Conference advocates legislation that “includes family reunification, a path to earned legalization, worker protections, and an effective border policy that is humane rather than punitive.”
Strongly opposed to the death penalty, LCWR has drawn parallels between convicted murderers strapped into an electric chair, and “Jesus nailed to the cross.” Suggesting that no individual is fully culpable for his own criminal behavior, the Conference contends that “it … takes a village to raise a killer.” All human life is “sacred,” the group emphasizes, citing New Testament instructions to be “merciful,” to “do good to those who hurt you,” and to “forgive those who offend us.” Drawing a moral equivalence between the U.S. and some of the world’s worst human-rights offenders, LCWR laments that “China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia and the United States lead the world in killing their citizens or others” by means of capital punishment.
A member of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, LCWR exhorts Americans to “reduce [their] carbon footprints” by any means necessary, such as unplugging appliances that are not in use, car-pooling, using public transportation, and avoiding air travel. Further, the Conference encourages people to purchase carbon offsets as a form of “cosmic restorative justice” on behalf of the Earth, which it characterizes as pollution’s “victim” in need of “healing.”
Because LCWR’s values and objectives are highly compatible with those of Pax Christi USA, the Conference has been a recipient of Pax Christi’s Eileen Egan Peacemaker Award. LCWR also has close ties to NETWORK, a Catholic social-justice lobby, and is a member of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
In the spring of 2012, the Vatican rebuked LCWR for undermining Roman Catholic teaching on human sexuality; for promoting “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith”; for remaining “silent” on such matters of “crucial importance” as abortion and euthanasia; and for making public statements that “disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops,” who are the Church’s “authentic teachers of faith and morals.” Stating that “the current doctrinal and pastoral situation of the LCWR is grave and a matter of serious concern,” the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith launched a five-year initiative to reform the group.