June 4, 2012 — A group representing Catholic nuns in the U.S. announced on Friday that its leaders will travel to Rome to defend against recent criticism from the Vatican, the New York Times reports (Goodstein, New York Times, 6/1).
In April, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith accused the Leadership Conference of Women Religious -- the largest group of Catholic nuns in the U.S. -- of promoting "radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith" and ordered the group to implement reforms (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/20).
In particular, the Vatican criticized the nuns for making public statements that "disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops" and for focusing too heavily on helping the poor and disenfranchised and too little on fighting abortion and same-sex marriage. During the health care reform debate, many influential nuns defied the bishops' efforts to forestall the overhaul because of concerns about abortion (New York Times, 6/1).
As part of its reprimand, the Vatican appointed Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle to oversee revisions to the conference's statutes; review its plans and programs, including approval of its speakers; and ensure the sisters follow traditional Catholic rituals and prayers.
LCWR remained silent on the issue for six weeks while its leaders considered a response, the Oklahoman reports. After a three-day meeting last week, the group's board "concluded that the [Vatican's] assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency" (Zoll, Oklahoman, 6/3). The group called the sanctions "disproportionate to the concerns raised" and said they "could compromise" the nuns' ability to "fulfill their mission."
LCWR's president and executive director will visit Rome on June 12 to speak with Sartain and Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican's doctrinal office. The group is not expected to take further steps until after its leaders return from Rome and members gather at a nationwide assembly meeting in August (New York Times, 6/1).