Nuns push back on Vatican report, calling it unsubstantiated and scandal-causing

JIM WATSON AFP/GETTY IMAGES A building in Silver Spring, Maryland, April 23, 2012, which houses the office for the Leadership … Continued

JIM WATSON

AFP/GETTY IMAGES

A building in Silver Spring, Maryland, April 23, 2012, which houses the office for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious(LCWR). T

Leaders representing most American nuns pushed back on Friday against a stinging Vatican report that was issued in April and called for their “reform.”

After a special meeting this week in Washington, the 21-member board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious issued a statement calling the Vatican report “unsubstantiated “ and saying it has “caused scandal and pain” and exacerbated polarization throughout the Catholic church community.

The board of the conference, whose members represent the vast majority of the 57,000 nuns in the United States, met for three days to consider how to respond to the Vatican report accusing the group of “radical feminism” and of publicly undermining the leadership of the bishops.

The full 1,500-member conference will meet in August to determine more specifically how to react, but Friday’s statement was an unusually bold reaction to the Vatican’s doctrine-enforcing arm and seemed to imply the women may choose to rebel.


View Photo Gallery: Many Catholic  nuns have become known in the broader world. Two of the Americans listed have been canonized. 

“The sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise [the nuns’] ability to fulfill their mission,” Friday’s statement said.

The April report by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith assigned a Seattle archbishop to oversee the “reform” of the Leadership Conference, including possibly changing the group’s statutes and who speaks at events.

At issue in the Vatican report was whether the Leadership Conference has strayed too far from church norms and the priorities of the bishops, including opposition to same-sex marriage and how to minister to gays and lesbians. The Conference has focused far more on issues like poverty and immigration reform and personal spirituality. It has not emphasized some subjects the bishops are prioritizing, including fighting the White House’s mandate requiring employers to provide contraception in health-care packages.

Friday’s statement noted that dozens of vigils have been held around the country in support of the nuns in recent weeks.

The board, it said, “believes that the matters of faith and justice that capture the heart of Catholic sisters are clearly shared by many people around the world. As the church and society face tumultuous times, the board believes it is imperative that these matters be addressed by the entire church community in an atmosphere of openness, honesty and integrity.”

The statement said that Conference President Sister Pat Farrell and executive director Sister Janet Mock will return to Rome June 12 to meet with officials about the women’s concerns. Some people close to the Leadership Conference have said one option the women considered in their meeting this week was to break off from being an approved church body, but that that outcome seemed very unlikely.

Reaction to the Vatican report embodies tensions today among many American Catholics over how involved church officials should be in partisan politics and what the church’s priorities should be. Pope Benedict and his predecessor have focused on clarifying church teachings and demanding church institutions — such as hospitals and schools — fully promote official church positions, particularly on sexuality, traditional marriage and contraception.

While many Catholics have rallied to the support of the Leadership Conference, others — including some nuns — have celebrated what they see as the proper rebuke of women accused of harming the unity of the Catholic Church. Recent demographic reports show many American Catholics leaving the faith, which more traditional experts attribute to confusion over what the church really teaches and a descent in recent decades into relativism.

The spiritual lives of Leadership members’ “is more likely to be influenced by the Enneagram and Deepak Chopra than by Teresa of Avila and Edith Stein,” Catholic scholar George Weigel wrote last month. “Their notions of orthodoxy are, to put it gently, innovative; and their relationship to Church authority is best described as one of barely concealed contempt.”

Written by
  • OscarNovember

    I do believe its time to consider a split from Rome and forming a Catholic Church of the Americas. Its reached a point that we would be better served by governing ourselves. Yes the church needs a little reform if it is going to survive.

  • purpledog

    The problem with that is that a few conservative American Bishops are driving this schism, so they’d have to be sent packing. I’d be more likely to stay involved if the nuns were given power positions (Cardinal, etc.) and were allowed to serve Mass. You’d see major shifts in priorities away from the overt alignment with the GOP that seems to be the primary mission today.

  • comeagainbaltomd

    the truth is that nuns or priests compose a tiny ruling class that supposedly represents the Catholic Church. Why does a small group deserve excessive tax breaks? Catholic Hospitals, Catholic Retirement Communities, Catholic Retreats, Catholic Real Estate Holdings, all of this is barely managed by clergy or nuns. Most Catholic facilities are run by corporations, it is nothing but a big business that enjoys special and undeserved benefits.

  • cucklebur

    Your story needs to say “some” bishops and not imply it a majority consensus. These are right wing clergy trying to influence an election.

  • usapdx

    The Vatican is lost speaking to educated women and those born in America with independence. Does the Vatican produce these FOG BANKS to keep attention from the Vatican’s real problems?

  • MattBlanc

    I have a feeling that the American Episcopal church would be happy to welcome women who have dedicated their lives to addressing poverty and helping those who the Catholic Church despises – the gay and lesbian community. While the Episcopals are also losing members, I doubt that their leaders would go in for the “witch hunt” that this report is. SHAME on the VATICAN — hope the pope trips on his own fancy Prada pumps!

  • Paul

    It is time to cut this disobedient, fractious cult of nuns away from the Church body as one would an abscess. This will not be the first schism the Church has survived, and it probably won’t be the last. The rebellious nuns can start their own little ‘church’ and pretend to be priests and do whatever tickles their fancy, but they will do it without the benefit of apostolic authority. In so doing, they will join the disgraced ranks of Henry VIII, Arius, Nestorious, and every other disgraced Catholic whoever raised a voice against the authority of the Church. The Church is better off without them than with them. The younger generation of Catholics are responding in large numbers to the traditional values of the Church, while the ultra-liberal factions of the sixties are dwindling. Religious orders are based upon obedience to the Magesterium of the Church, just as nations are supposedly based upon accepted concepts of law. If one violates the law, they can expect to be punished. The satanic inspired spirit of rebellion has more than once challenged the authority of the Holy Church, but the Church, founded “on a rock,” shall weather the storm and emerge from the residue stronger than ever. It is high time to clean out the Augean stables. There is no room for compromise with the spirit of rebellion and disobedience. If the Church can discipline ultra-conservative bodies like the SSPX, she is more than justified in expelling this group of ultra-liberal feminist nuns, who need a lesson in humility.

  • Congleal

    Absolutely spot on! Just like to comment concerning the picture used in this story as well as in the linked gallery. It is interesting that the traditional nuns with habits were displayed instead of the real nuns of today who have disgarded habits as well as adherence to solemn vows!

  • annie0107

    who will care for the sick, the hungry and the molested???

  • MeriJ

    > who will care for the sick, the hungry and the molested???

    No longer a priority. People who waste their time on that nonsense are showing contempt for the leadership of their bishops. It’s all about birth control and stopping the gays now.

  • Mary Palmer

    Catholic Church is just a gaggle of lazy, spoiled, Democcrat child molesters wearing dresses and silly hats

  • MeriJ

    True, this is not a Republican vs. Dem issue.

    For those who missed it, Mary’s comment was in response to the one just below that was deleted, which used the same words but with Republican instead of Democrat.

  • MeriJ

    Individuals in the church, including its nuns and bishops, might be of any political persuasion.

  • John28

    Do you mean the educated women who voluntarily took vows of poverty, chastity and OBEDIENCE?

  • DavidJ9

    The Pope is mad that there was an honest man or woman working in the Vatican who was offended by the corruption endemic to the organization. Since the documents show that the Vatican is utterly corrupt, they will pick on the weakest people they can. Since they refuse to treat women as human beings, women will be the victims of the Vatican.

  • DavidJ9

    The women did not know that they would be asked to obey evil demands from the Vatican. No honorable person should follow the demands of any bishop. From the Pope down, the corruption of the Vatican appears to have poisoned almost every bishop in the organization.

  • DavidJ9

    Ever since he ran the Inquisition (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), Ratzinger has been doing all he can to appoint reactionary bishops who intend to undermine the reforms of Vatican II. That, combined with the evidence of corruption in the Vatican tell us that no moral person would follow Benedict.

  • bgreston

    Radical feminism? Does that mean a bunch of amazon women going after priests? I think my church, the Catholic Church, is guilty of non-humanism, male chauvinism, and sheer hypocrisy.

  • MeriJ

    “…the Vatican report accusing the group of “radical feminism” and of publicly undermining the leadership of the bishops.”

    “The Conference has focused far more on issues like poverty and immigration reform and personal spirituality. It has not emphasized some subjects the bishops are prioritizing, including fighting the White House’s mandate requiring employers to provide contraception in health-care packages.”

    “Pope Benedict and his predecessor have focused on clarifying church teachings and demanding church institutions — such as hospitals and schools — fully promote official church positions, particularly on sexuality, traditional marriage and contraception.”

  • MeriJ

    There you have it in a nutshell. Fighting poverty and promoting personal spirituality vs. battling the Obama administration on health care coverage for birth control pills and aggressively opposing the civil rights of gays.

    Is it acceptable for anyone in the church to choose different priorities than those power-obsessed men at the top? Are the nuns showing “contempt” for the bishops if they focus more on serving the poor than fighting gays and the profound evil of contraception?

    Gosh, where oh where would Jesus stand in this schism? Oh yeah, that guy.

  • MeriJ

    Because the extraoridinary teachings attributed to him have remade the modern world and are the foundation of the institution we are discussing.

  • dclc

    Way to go, sisters!

  • amelia45

    Way to go, Sisters!!!

    The Sisters are on the front lines of delivering health care and actually being Jesus in the world. The bishops are on the front lines of teaching. So be it but don’t confuse the roles.

    I am 100% with the Sisters in seeing the HHS rules as very livable. After all, all the Catholic hospitals and universities in European countries, Canada, Australia, Mexico, South America and others countries where birth control is made available by government are just as Catholic today as they were the day before those countries allowed birth control.

    The Catholic bishops, my bishops, may, in a fit of pique, decide to close Catholic hospitals – but we have to ask why it is okay to have Catholic hospitals and universities everywhere else where contraceptives are universaly available and it isn’t allowed to here.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    Clerical power over undiscerning minds is the foundation of the institution under discussion. The teachings attributed to Jesus (an appropriate choice of words) have certainly influenced the narrative of civilization but no more so than those of Socrates, the Buddha, Confucius, Homer, Shakespeare, etc.

  • MeriJ

    > but no more so than those of Socrates, the Buddha, Confucius, Homer, Shakespeare, etc.

    Pretty good company to be in, I’d say.

  • farkel44

    Yeah, the ties with Socialism and Donkey Non-profit Abortion providers do not bring scandal…the Reiki and Gnostic Mystic Horse Sheet does not bring scandal…but a rebuke by the system you were sworn to abide by brings “scandal”… a joke.

  • nicolinesmits1

    Geez, Paul, are you trying to live up to your name as a byword for misogyny here?
    Never mind that the women in the LCWR are actually doing what the gospels recommend, instead of agonizing over rituals and going through the charade of “humility” by washing the feet of one’s fellow bishops during Lent.

  • JTBJordan

    Obviously these nuns pose a threat to the Church and should be dealt with as in the past, when heretical women were clearly identified, tried and punished. Certain habits of these women give them away, for example if they have marks on their bodies that if pricked, do not bleed. Older women are especially suspect, as they have most likely reached their age due to powers from the devil. Nuns with pets, especially cats, need to be watched. However most notably nuns who sympathize or associate with outcasts can clearly be defined as witches, as specified in the helpful book by Jakob Sprenger, “Mallefarum Maleficarum” used by His Holiness Innocent VI to help identify and drive out heretical depravity, uproot and destroy these dangerous witches in the blessed Inquisition.

  • amelia45

    Go, Sisters. There are tens of thousands – if not millions – of Catholics who support you in what you do. You are not “radical feminists” – you are the face of Jesus in the world. Yes, that does make you radical – because Jesus was radical.

    What I most hope is that the Pope creates a Vatican based committee composed of nuns, with a hierarchical structure that positions the top leadership in positions of power equal to cardinals and bishops. The Church needs women, the voice of women, the viewpoints of women, to truly be a Church of all people.

    Of course, there is no chance of this. But sooner or later, the Church has to let women and laity into some positions of oversight and authority within their own Church. Without that, we will continue to have things like the child sex abuse scandal and the culture of priviledge that our hierarchy assumes.

  • Hocr

    What a disgrace for pope Benedict and his criminal cardinals to ask these nuns to reform. These nuns are doing the work of Jesus caring for the sick, the poor and all those groups that need help. Yo cardinal Dolan explain to us why you paid a bonus to child molesters. Cardinal Dolan and many other cardinals should be in jail. I have thought let’s get rid of pope benedict and his band of idiot cardinals and replace them with these nuns. Our church would improve in a nanosecond

  • persiflage

    Hey Rosemary,

    If you’re going to say something nasty about democrats do try to spell their name correctly…….your middle left finger was obviously under the control of malignant forces.

  • persiflage

    left middle finger?? Ominous sign…..

  • persiflage

    Thank you St. Paul – you were always an inspiration although you never liked women much.

  • Hocr

    I hope the pope resigns

  • belugajedi

    How often have you heard of a pedophiliac nun? Quite frankly I think the ladies would do a much better job running the catholic church than the boys have done these last 2000 years.

  • verbummilitant

    You don’t seem to understand. These nuns attack the souls of children. They are no less pedophiliac than the homosexual priests who attack boys.

    There would be no catholic church if these nuns were in charge. The 2007 LCWR conference keynote address suggests:” The search for the Holy may have begun rooted in Jesus as the Christ, but deep reflection, study and prayer have opened it up to the spirit of Holy in all creation. Religious titles, instutional limitations, [and]ecclesiastical authorities no longer fit this [Sojourning] congregation, which in most respects is Post-Christian…A wholly new way of being holy that is integrative, non-dominating, and inclusive. But a whole new way that is not Catholic Religious Life.”

    The “ladies” just may not be our best bet to run the catholic church. Unless, of course, your intent is to destroy the institution and replace it with the chaos of finding God in the mirror each morning.

  • belugajedi

    Perhaps the ‘institution’ needs to go away. Why does a man with the title ‘Pope’ and a cadre of men who are fallible need to be between me and my God. The RC church is nothing more than a foundation – similar to that of a government. As we see with every government in the world…..power corrupts. What is important is how we treat one another, have we followed the simple words Moses laid down on a tablet, and do we worship God. I don’t need anyone….man or woman….to be the intermediary to translate my message to God for me. Imagine if everyone respected one another, put away the many religions they followed, and simply followed the 10 commandments….what a peaceful and Godlike world we would have. Signed…..a Roman Catholic.