Questions Answered

  • Can you explain what the general rights and duties are of the state in regard to the family?
  • What does the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) mean by their term “Creative Fidelity”?

Question: Can you explain what the general rights and duties are of the state in regard to the family?

Answer: The answer to this question depends on the principle of subsidiarity. According to this principle, it is not the function of the higher community to usurp the functions of the lower community as the common goods involved in both societies are very different.

There are, in fact, three communities in which all men must participate for them to experience the complete moral formation of human life. They are:  the family, the state, and the Church. The first two are natural, the last is supernatural. Each has its own common good and order.

The common good of the family is the procreation and education of children, and the unity of the parties. This is the most basic natural society, and it is the proper place for basic human formation in the virtues. For this purpose, the order needed to ensure the perfection of the family is two parents, a man and a woman. Though the roles of the parents are intertwined and are complementary, the presence of each is somewhat different for different stages of child development. The woman’s role is that of education and formation in the primary years emphasizing emotional affirmation. This is an attitude towards the existence of children which emotionally communicates to the children that they are good, that they exist in their own right because they are spiritual beings. Children are not objects of use, but subjects of love. The man’s role in education is primarily intellectual affirmation in the adolescent years during which children also advance in the virtues, and the father spiritually supports children by being a beacon of truth and moral formation. Both roles demand disinterested love. In fact, the Church affirms that the chief education of children is not in subjects, but in virtue. This is the reason the family is called a “domestic church” by Pope John Paul II.

A certain amount of economic security is necessary for these roles to be carried out in peace. For this reason, a standard of living is necessary to ensure this domestic peace, and so in Catholicism, the economic order of business and property is an extension of the family. The parents are the primary educators because the children have spiritual souls, and their existence as people is the result of both the material act of sex, and the direct creation of the soul on the part of God.

The purpose of the state is to ensure, primarily, that families are able to carry out this mission in an ordered way. Defense of the community, and the regulation of good laws, are ordered for that purpose. The order necessary to carry this out can be any form of government: oligarchy, democracy, or monarchy, or a combination of all three which ensures this in a disinterested way.

The state may regulate commerce, for example, but not supplant it, as this is a part of the order of the family. If the state does regulate it, this is to encourage commerce, or the family, to carry out its mission in its own context using the resources characteristic of that sort of society. The Church has always steered a middle course between a complete denial of state regulation, as would be the case in an exaggerated capitalism, and a complete and total state regulation, as would be the case in Marxism, or totalitarianism of any form. It is the business of the state to encourage the lower community to pursue good goals by good means. Supplanting the lower community is disordered and leads to social unrest.

The same would be true of the Church, which exists to lead people to heaven. In fact, the Church is completed and perfect only in the communion of saints. On earth, through the sacraments, the Church provides all the means for people to go to heaven, but the Church is still in struggle because she is made up of people who are imperfect in struggle. Though the Church may speak about family and political matters, this is only in the context of the moral formation of the Christian conscience. “Not that the Church has a mandate to regulate economic life. But the social and economic orders cannot be divorced from the moral order, and it is her privilege and duty to affirm and proclaim the unchanging principles of morality” (Address of July 16, 1947, Pius XII).


Question: I was recently reading a book called Sisters in Crisis Revisited, by Ann Carey, in which it was stated that the response of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) to Vatican correction of their speakers, and their general  stance on Catholicism was “Creative Fidelity.” Can you explain what that is to me? Is it Catholic?

Answer:  The book in question is Sisters in Crisis Revisited, by Ann Carey, published by Ignatius Press in 2013. This book recounts the long history of the progressive wing of women religious in the United States up to the recent investigation conducted by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. While this history is interesting, the statement in question is LCWR’s response to the report of the Congregation. The Congregation’s report named several areas in their literature, as well as speakers at their meetings, that contradict central points of Catholic doctrine. The Vatican issued a mandate requiring the sisters to change these things. The head of the LCWR responded by saying: “A response of integrity to the mandate needs to come out of our own understanding of creative fidelity” (Ann Carey, Sisters in Crisis Revisited, Kindle edition 5853). “Sister Pat said that in their order, members had moved from a ‘hierarchically structured lifestyle’ to a ‘more horizontal model,’ which, she said, had been ’empowering, life-giving.’ This evolution, she said, had changed the sisters’ understanding of obedience … Does it allow us the freedom to question with informed consciences?” (Ibid.) In many other statements, the religious opined that their lived experience was the origin of consensus, which alone justified obedience. They also hoped that their dialogue on this subject would serve as a model for the whole Church to dialogue with authority.

The concept known as “creative fidelity” is thus rooted in a concept of truth which denies the objective nature of truth and, instead, looks on the individual conscience as the sole source of truth.  This idea is merely the application of a philosophy which has characterized much of the thought of Western Europe since Immanuel Kant.

Kant basically held, along with Hume, that it was impossible to arrive at real, objective universals through the senses. Subjects, like God and the moral law, could not be understood from commonsense, everyday experience. This is an idea which would be completely foreign to someone like St. Thomas Aquinas, who certainly thought that man could arrive at metaphysical truths, which are real and objective, through sense knowledge. But Kant maintained that metaphysical truths could not be known by what he called pure reason. In this context, religious obedience would be reduced to a contest of wills for power since the whole idea of embracing a common truth would not be possible. Law and authority would be completely exterior impositions on the interior freedom of the subject.

Yet, Kant did think that absolute truths must exist. He was a pious Lutheran. If they could be arrived at through theoretical reason, then their source for him must be practical reason. God must exist because if he did not, man would feel unfulfilled. What kind of God this was did not matter. There was no rational examination of him possible. Further, the law was merely a postulate of people’s needs. “The greatest good for the greatest number” created human good and, thus, human morals.  There was no objective natural law.

This position has been summarized in the maxim: man’s ideas create the truth of things; the truth of things created God; God creates nothing. God becomes a projection of the human subject, and whether he exists or not, in any particular way, is not important. What is important is that he means something to the subject. Truth becomes completely subjective. God’s existence and truth become a projection of practical reason, and, therefore, there is no real way to describe him. What means something to one person, does not to another. The only solution is to vote. The vote can change the truth and the good, day by day.

Applied to religious obedience, this means that the subjective experience of the individual produces the good. There is no objective essence of man. If the subject and the superior (if there is one) agree, well and good. If not, the subject is absolved from any command. The informed conscience is not informed by an objective exterior law, which expresses something about the nature of a human being, but merely by subjective need. This position can, in no way, be reconciled with Catholicism. Catholicism has always taught that there is objective nature, which is the standard for the formation of the conscience.

Moreover, the specter of religious claiming that the vow of obedience frees them from adherence to higher authority in the Church is contrary to the Code of Canon Law. The Code is clear on the subject of religious obedience: “The individual members are bound to obey the Supreme Pontiff as the highest superior by reason of their sacred bond of obedience” (Canon 590, 2).  For a member, or group of members, of a religious order to claim that their superiors can ignore the Pope is a malformation of conscience.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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  1. Avatar Martin B. Drew says:

    Yes the vow of obedience professed by priests, brothers and nuns makes those persons sacrifice their wills to another with love for God and neighbor within a particular religious order to serve the mission of the catholic Church. The Papal magisterium can be obeyed with love by religious orders since all that is asked of them is to follow their rule from their founder. An observation I have is in Europe, Italy and France I visited, religious men and women wear their habits but in the US some do and some don’t . One cannot know them if no habit. I was taught by Jesuits in Dallas in the 40’s and they wore the blackrobe but now they don’t. And some nuns I saw in Calif. and in Dallas wearing secular clothes. It seems that the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are forgotten.