During their interventions at the Synod, American Sisters Mary Bernard Nettle, LSP and Mary Waskowiak, RSM provided a clear illustration of the differences that separate their organizations: the newly created Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) respectively.
Both nuns are attending the Synod as auditors, each as presidents of her organization of women religious.
Sister Waskowiak, from the LCWR, began her intervention by recalling that the organization she heads was created 41 years ago and "comprises 94 precent of the 83,400 women religious in the United States." She called for a more prominent place for women in the ecclesial structure, demanding an "appropriate mechanism to separate jurisdiction from ordination so that the non-ordained, particularly women, may participate in decision-making processes" within Church areas relevant to them. Further embellishing her desire for a diffusion of ecclesial authority, she also suggested the creation of a inter-American organization composed of bishops, religious, and lay people dedicated to "implementing the desires of the Synod."
In her turn, Sister Nettle, head of the CMSWR, representing some 60 women's congregations, highlighted the need for each order to remain faithful to its own charism, and concentrated on describing one of her congregations, the Little Sisters of the Poor. She reminded the assembly that the "elderly must be protected from suicide and euthanasia," and that "accompanying the elderly on their journey towards the kingdom means leading them to pray for themselves and others, affording them the benefits of the Sacraments, and with their families, assisting them in their dying."
Sister Nettle, with her more strongly traditional exposition of the role of religious life, won significantly warmer applause from the assembly of bishops.
According to the Vatican's Congregation for the Religious, the United States is the only country in America with two official women religious organizations. The Pontifical approval of the CMSWR-- a response to the special crisis facing women's religious orders in the United States-- was granted by the Vatican four years ago. Although it now represents about 7 percent of women's religious institutes, the CMSWR is growing rapidly, unlike the LCWR; the congregations belonging to the CMSWR account for about 35 percent of the total of new religious vocations in the US.
Although the many different women religious participating in the Synod represent different currents of religious thought in the Continent and recognized the Holy Father's exhortation to promote the "female gender," none brought up the theme of the possibility of priestly ordination of women. On the contrary, they noted that they themselves must demonstrate by their work the vast field of action that they are called to occupy within the Church.