An American archbishop has been appointed to oversee reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the United State's largest organization of Catholic nuns, after the Vatican accused the group of promoting "certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith."
Based in Maryland, the Leadership Conference represents about 57,000 nuns and offers a wide range of services, from leadership training for women's religious orders to advocacy on social justice issues. Most troubling to the Vatican, it seems, were positions taken by the group concerning homosexuality and its support for the health care overhaul signed by President Obama. The Vatican also castigated the group for ignoring what the Church thinks are more "crucial" issues, like abortion and euthanasia.
Sister Beth Rindler of Detroit, who is part of the National Coalition of American Nuns as well as a member of the LCWR, told The Daily Beast she is shocked by the report. She believes it is a gender issue between the Vatican men and the American nuns. “The church in Rome believes in the patrimony of God. But we believe that God created men and women equally,” she said. “That’s where we clash.”
The New York Times, in an editorial today, said the nuns "clearly are caught in a classic crossfire of church doctrine, politics and hierarchical obedience."
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The Christian Science Monitor: Vatican nun crackdown hits US group for 'radical feminist' ideas
The report from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said the organization faced a "grave" doctrinal crisis, in which issues of "crucial importance" to the church, such as abortion and euthanasia, have been ignored. Vatican officials also castigated the group for making some public statements that "disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops," who are the church's authentic teachers of faith and morals."
Church officials did not cite a specific example of those public statements, but said the reform would include a review of ties between the Leadership Conference and NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby. NETWORK played a key role in supporting the Obama administration's health care overhaul despite the bishops' objections that the bill would provide government funding for abortion. The Leadership Conference disagreed with the bishops' analysis of the law and also supported President Barack Obama's plan.
Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, said in a phone interview that the timing of the report suggested a link between their health care stand and the Vatican crackdown. The review began in 2009 and ran through June 2010, a few months after the health care law was approved. The report does not cite Obama or the bill.
"I can only infer that there was strong feeling about the health care position that we had taken," Campbell said. "Our position on health care was application of the one faith to a political document that we read differently than the bishops."
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The Daily Beast: Nuns Gone Wild! Vatican Chastises American Sisters
“That’s why the men in the Vatican want control, what they see as influence, we see as enlightenment,” saysSister Beth Rindler, adding that some nuns are brainwashed into thinking they are lesser beings than their male counterparts. “What woman truly believes she is not equal to a man?”
The Vatican’s investigation was launched in 2009 as part of an overall study into the reason behind the dwindling number of American nuns. The number of Catholic women choosing religious life in the United States has declined steadily since 1965, down from 180,000 to fewer than 60,000 today. When the investigation was launched, many American nuns were skeptical that they were being targeted. Sister Beth Rindler of Detroit, who is part of the National Coalition of American Nuns as well as a member of the LCWR, says she is shocked by the report. She believes it is a gender issue between the Vatican men and the American nuns. “The church in Rome believes in the patrimony of God. But we believe that God created men and women equally,” she told The Daily Beast. “That’s where we clash.”
Sister Rindler believes the Vatican is focused on the American sisters because they tend to be more independent than their European, Latin American, and African colleagues. While nuns in the rest of the world still wear conservative habits and head covers, the majority of American nuns stopped the practice shortly after the Second Vatican Council reforms. Many American nuns also live independently and reach high education levels—all while still serving the church. Rindler says she believes that the hierarchy in Rome is really worried that the American nuns will influence other sisters around the world. “That’s why the men in the Vatican want control, what they see as influence, we see as enlightenment,” she says, adding that some nuns are brainwashed into thinking they are lesser beings than their male counterparts. “What woman truly believes she is not equal to a man?”
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New York Times Editorial: American Nuns, Conscience and the Vatican
A crucial focus in the inquiry appears to be the fact that dozens of American nuns involved in the conference and in antipoverty and hospital work provided prominent support to President Obama’s health care reform. Conference leaders said Vatican investigators had pointedly raised the issue and the fact that the conference had split with American bishops, who opposed reform.
The sisters’ leaders said they reaffirmed their opposition to abortion but also claimed the right to speak out on a “moral imperative” like health care, just as the bishops had.
The nuns clearly are caught in a classic crossfire of church doctrine, politics and hierarchical obedience. It would be a tragedy, far beyond the church, if their fine work and their courageous voices were constrained.
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