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