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Vatican Reprimands Nuns for Challenging Bishops, Orders Reforms

Vatican Reprimands Nuns for Challenging Bishops, Orders Reforms

April 20, 2012 — The Vatican on Wednesday accused the nation's largest group of Catholic nuns of promoting "radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith" and ordered the group to implement reforms, the New York Times reports.

The announcement by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith results from an investigation that began in 2008. According to the Times, the nuns' group -- the Leadership Conference of Women Religious -- represents 80% of U.S. Catholic nuns, totaling 1,500 members (Goodstein, New York Times, 4/18).

In a report outlining the results of the investigation, Vatican officials said the women's conference has ignored Catholic teachings on issues, including abortion, that are of "crucial importance" to the church. The report also reprimanded the women's conference for making public statements that "disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops."

Reform Plan

The Vatican said that Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain will oversee a reform effort that could take up to five years. The plan will include revising the group's statutes; reviewing its plans and programs, including approving speakers; and making sure the organization follows Catholic prayer and ritual.

The reform also will include a review of the relationship between the Leadership Conference and a Catholic social justice lobby group called NETWORK that supported the federal health reform law (PL 111-148) (Zoll, AP/Miami Herald, 4/18).

According to the Times, during the debate on the health reform law, dozens of nuns, including some who belong to the conference, signed a statement supporting the law, in defiance of the bishops' opposition to the law (New York Times, 4/18).

The report does not specifically mention President Obama or the health reform law, but Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, said the timing of the review suggests the nuns' position on the legislation is linked to the Vatican's crackdown.

"I can only infer that there was strong feeling about the health care position that we had taken," Campbell, said, adding, "Our position on health care was application of the one faith to a political document that we read differently than the bishops" (AP/Miami Herald, 4/18).