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A Vatican investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an umbrella group representing 80 percent of Catholic sisters and nuns in the United States, found serious theological errors in statements by members, widespread dissent on the church’s teaching on sexuality and “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” a church report released Wednesday stated.
The church appointed Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle to oversee “reform” of the women’s organization.
NETWORK, a Washington, DC lobbying group founded by Catholic sisters in 1971 was singled out as “silent on the right to life”; the organization’s head said the group was not consulted during the inquiry. She said that its focus on poverty, immigration and health care stems from its founding mission.
“I think we scare them,” Sr. Simone Campbell, a lawyer who serves as the executive director of the lobby said of the church’s male hierarchy.
The leadership conference represents the vast majority of the country’s 57,113 Catholic nuns and sisters, who work in education, health care, social services, parish ministries, religious education and chanceries. The spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, is a member of an LCWR order, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.
Although the assessment focused on the leadership of the LCWR, the findings cited “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life.”
Conflicts between Catholic sisters and nuns and the male episcopate have become a familiar theme in Catholic life as of late. In October, the U.S. Bishops’ doctrinal conference offered a formal critique of theologian Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, who they said inappropriately over-emphasized feminine descriptions of God in a new book. After the head of the Catholic Health Association, Sr. Carol Keehan, voiced approval for the Obama administration’s attempt at a compromise on the HHS birth control regulations, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said he was “disappointed that she had acted unilaterally, not in concert with the bishops.”
Campbell sees the current tension between male and female Catholic clergy as a part of a post-Vatican II democratic evolution within the church, but worries that the male leaders fail to recognize the “witness of women religious.”
“I made my vows over 40 years ago to serve the people of God and that service is unseen in this document,” she said in an interview.
“It’s painfully obvious that the leadership of the church is not used to having educated women form thoughtful opinions and engage in dialogue,” Campbell said.