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Church needs more open dialogue, says LCWR leader

By Michael Swan
The Catholic Register


TORONTO (CCN) — Having experienced five years of investigation, interrogation and suspicion as past president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States, Sister Carol Zinn of the Sisters of St. Joseph is calling for more open, honest and heartfelt dialogue across the divides within the church.

As the immediate past president of the LCWR from 2013 through 2014, Zinn led the organization which represents 80 per cent of the United States’ 57,000 sisters through the meat of a doctrinal assessment by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. That assessment was accompanied by a mandate to reform aspects of the organization. The Vatican announced April 16 that the reform process has been successfully concluded.

“The conversation needs to happen face-to-face and it needs to happen in relationship,” Zinn told The Catholic Register during a break from a conference for Canadian sisters and religious order priests and brothers in Toronto June 3. Zinn was one of the conference’s key speakers.

“We need more conversations on all levels within the church and not talk to each other through the media, but talk to each other,” she said.

Nor should the Catholic conversation be limited to official bodies, clergy and religious. All Catholics need to find ways of talking directly to each other about and despite their differences, she said.
“My hope is that there will be more and more opportunities for whatever the polarities are to listen and not move to judgment,” said Zinn.

If Catholics want to know how to start and maintain a dialogue, they have a great example in Pope Francis, said the Philadelphia-based sister. Zinn was one of a small group of women religious who met with Francis for 50 minutes May 15 to discuss the future of religious life and women religious in the United States after the conclusion of the reform process.

Zinn ruled out questions about the mandate and the doctrinal assessment from The Catholic Register, but spoke freely about polarization and the need for more conversation in the church. Following the May 15 meeting with the pope, both sides agreed to a 30-day moratorium on public comment about the reform process.

In the context of dialogue, Zinn looks forward to the June 18 release of Pope Francis’ next encyclical.

“The upcoming encyclical (on the environment) will have opportunities to listen. We tend to listen to the voices that are most like ours,” she said.

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