Tag Archive for Holy See

Vatican Slams American Nuns for Feminist Thinking

Photo by Michele Oliveira

An umbrella group of Catholic nuns in America was targeted by a Vatican investigation that accused them of being silent on abortion, homosexuality and disagreeing politically with American Bishops

By Team FI

On 18 April, 2012, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith accused an umbrella group of American nuns – the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), of having “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” and “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life”. The report has stunned the organisation, sending shockwaves through the community.

The sore points for the Vatican were that American nuns chose not to propagate the Church’s stand when it came to issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and ordination of women and the report equated silence to endorsement. LCWR came in for particular criticism.

As per the report “While there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States.” The Vatican has given the organisation a period of five years to tow the party line or face consequences and has appointed Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle to oversee the work.

LCWR responded in a statement on their website that they are “stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.” The organisation’s working partner – Network, a Washington, DC lobbying group founded by Catholic sisters in 1971, involved in healthcare and poverty programmes was also targeted. Letters from a few in the group were cited as “protesting the Holy See’s actions regarding the question of women’s ordination and of a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons.”

“I’ve no idea what they’re talking about,” Sister Simone Campbell, head of Network, told the BBC. “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.

The report has also criticised American nuns for taking political stands that were in direct contravention of positions held by the bishops — “who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals”.  Sister Campbell felt that the report was a result of Network’s support for President Barack Obama’s healthcare bill. “There’s a strong connection,” she said. “We didn’t split on faith, we split on politics.” The nuns had chosen to disagree with American Bishops who viewed the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act as backing state-funded abortion.

The investigation which began in 2009 apparently has its roots in the decreasing numbers of Catholic women choosing to become nuns – from 180,000 in 1965 to less than 60,000 currently.

The Vatican-ordered investigation called the Apostolic Visitation had Mother Mary Clare Millea, who has a doctorate in canon law from Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University, investigate the matter. As per a report in The Daily Beast, Mother Mary Clare Millea “visited scores of religious houses and convents and interviewed hundreds of mothers superior who oversee the nearly 400 religious congregations in the United States. She excluded nuns living in cloistered or contemplative convents and instead focused on the 57,000 religious women who work in schools, agencies for the poor, universities, and churches.”

Her findings were submitted to the Cardinal William Levada, head of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who would in turn write the final report which would be approved by Pope Benedict XVI.

Featured photo by Michele Oliveira

Women’s Rights: Divided they Stand

UN women's rights

India stood amongst the conservative governments in opposition to the progressive governments in the debates on women and girls’ human rights issues during the 56th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women which ended without any agreed conclusions in March 2012

By Team FI

The 56th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) held this year at the United Nations Headquarters, New York was one of the most controversial and divided sessions in the history of the commission. The session began on 27 February and continued to 9 March 2012.

The following is an analysis of the session by the Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR).

The 56th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women witnessed ferocious debates on several issues related to women’s and girls’ human rights. The debates between the conservative and progressive delegations were so polarized, that at the end, for the first time in CSW’s history, the governments could not reach an agreement. Thus, there was no “Agreed Conclusions” at the end of the two-week meeting.

Egypt had a major impact on this final situation, as the Egyptian delegate continuously underlined that he was speaking on behalf of the African group – 27 countries. Caribbean Communtiy (CARICOM) had also a very blocking effect, although it did not express a clear position on many of the issues. Jamaica, speaking on behalf of CARICOM, very often took the floor to intervene on behalf of the conservative block.

Moreover, the delegates could not reach an agreement on the “Women, the Girl Child and HIV/AIDS” resolution either. Consequently, there was only a “Procedural Resolution” on “Women, the Girl Child and HIV/AIDS” .

Most Contentious Issues

Opposition of conservative governments to the term “Harmful Traditional Practices”

“Harmful traditional practices,” is a major source of women’s human rights violations and since the Beijing Platform for Action, is mentioned as a women’s human rights violation in many UN negotiated documents. The term had come under attack by some conservative governments at the 2010 CSW meeting. The 2011 CSW witnessed a much stronger and coordinated effort by conservatives to have the term deleted from all new documents, signaling a significant backlash.

Countries that wanted to have the word “traditional” deleted, and instead revise the term as “harmful practices” were the Russian Federation, Syria, Egypt, India and Chile. Those who strongly supported the retention of the term in various resolutions and the conclusions were Turkey, Mexico, Uruguay, EU, Switzerland, South Africa and Israel.

Unfortunately, in the 2011 “Maternal Mortality Resolution,” harmful traditional practices has come to be narrowed down to Female Genital Mutilation, which is detrimental not only because it negates many other traditional harmful practices defined in other UN negotiated documents such honor crimes, early and forced marriages, dowry related deaths among others, but also such a limitation can imply a stigmatization of African cultures.

“Early and forced marriages” vs. “Child marriages”

There was a coordinated effort by Iran, the Holy See (Vatican), Russian Federation and India to delete any references to “early marriages,”. They have instead proposed the term “child marriages.”

The recognition of “early and forced marriages as a harmful traditional practice” has been there since Beijing+5. The term “child marriage” is very confusing, as the definition of the “child” varies a lot based on geography and culture. For instance, states within the US define “child” differently. According to the culture of many Muslim countries, a girl child is one who has not yet had menstruation.  Thus, in many Muslim countries, “child marriage” can be interpreted as the marriage of a girl who has not yet reached puberty. The countries that strongly voiced their support for the retention of the term “early marriages” were Turkey, Switzerland, Australia, the US and the EU.

“Reproductive rights and sexual health” as human rights

Until the very end opposed by the Holy See, supported by Norway, US, Australia, Japan,  Ireland, Uruguay, Australia, Turkey and Switzerland.

“The central role of the family in reducing the vulnerability to HIV”   

SADC wanted to insert the term “reaffirming the central role of the family in reducing the vulnerability to HIV,” as a main issue in the preambular paragraphs. This was opposed by many countries such as Australia, Canada, US, Uruguay and Costa Rica, which demanded evidence for it – which could not be provided by SADC – and most importantly, because such an assertion would imply that the family should be responsible for the care and support of people living with HIV/AIDS, which is very detrimental for women, as women are the main unpaid caregivers in many countries.

“Negotiating safer sex”

Firmly opposed by the Holy See and the Russian Federation.  The Holy proposed “responsible sexual behavior” instead.  Supported by the EU and Canada.

The reaffirmation of the 2011 UN Declaration on HIV/AIDS

Although Iran was the only country that opposed the reaffirmation of the 2011 UN Declaration on HIV/AIDS – accepted by the UN General Assembly – this insistent opposition provided a major obstacle to reaching a consensus on the HIV/AIDS resolution. Strong statements supporting the declaration were made by Australia, the EU, Turkey, the US and SADC.


Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development (APWLD), a network of feminist organisations and women with 180 members representing groups of diverse women from 25 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, initiated a petition campaign –  “Say NO to safeguarding “traditional values” over women’s human rights!” The campaign which ended on 5th April 2012 has got over signatures from over 5400 organisation and individuals from all over the world.  The petition is to be sent to the governments who participated in the session and to the United Nations.