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April 19th, 2012
03:05 PM ET

Vatican blasts American nuns, calls for reforms

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - The Vatican is turning up the heat on a group of nuns it says are operating outside of the Roman Catholic Church's doctrines.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the church’s doctrinal watchdog, on Wednesday announced the conclusion of a years-long “doctrinal assessment” investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 80% of the Catholic nuns in the United States.

The “assessment reveals serious doctrinal problems,” said the report, which called for major reforms.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith appointed Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle to institute those reforms.

The report singled out a Washington, DC social justice group called Network, which is run by nuns and the Resource Center for Religious Institutes, which assists members with financial and legal resources.

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The Vatican report, made public by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the doctrinal assessment began in part because of the group’s dissent on the Holy See’s teaching on the ordination of women and human sexuality.  The Catholic Church ordains only men to be priests and says sex is to be reserved for between a man and woman who are married in the eyes of the church.

The assessment said that a Leadership Conference of Women Religious conference yielded “manifest problematic statements and serious theological, even doctrinal errors,” that went unchallenged.   It also said the event promoted “radical feminism”and decried the “prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR...”

While the assessment praised the social justice work of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Network and the Resources Center for Religious Life, it said the groups were “silent on the right to life from conception to natural death” and on the Church’s view on “family life and human sexuality.”

The report also took note of public statements from the nuns that opposed the Catholic Bishops. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious and Network vocally disagreed with the Bishops' conference's position on the Affordable Care Act, which they supported and the Bishops did not.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith called the current doctrinal and pastoral positions of the groups “grave and a matter of serious concern,” because of the global influence of the groups.

Pope Benedict XVI approved the request from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith to intervene and the implementation of their recommended changes, the doctrinal office said in its assessment.

Some of the changes to come include a revision of the LCWR statutes, a review of programs including their annual general assembly, and a review of their ties with Network and Resource Center for Religious Institutes.

Cardinal William Levada, a former Archbishop in the United States and now the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, said in a statement that the the Vatican process is aimed at “fostering a patient and collaborative renewal of this conference of major superiors in order to provide a stronger doctrinal foundation for its many laudable initiatives and activities.”

The sisters, for their part, expressed surprised at the findings. “Because the leadership of LCWR has the custom of meeting annually with the staff of CDF in Rome and because the conference follows canonically-approved statutes, we were taken by surprise," the Leadership Conference of Women Religious said in a statement.

"This is a moment of great import for religious life and the wider church," the statement continued. "We ask your prayers as we meet with the LCWR National Board within the coming month to review the mandate and prepare a response.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Bishops • Catholic Church • Christianity • Pope Benedict XVI

soundoff (1,705 Responses)
  1. Debbie

    Thou shalt not kill comes to mind. Also if you read the early Christians who were taught by John the Apostle, they mention abortion specifically as murder. If you contend that John misunderstood what Jesus taught for 3 years, I guess I cant help you. Can you explain when you think a person becomes a person and why?

    April 20, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • *facepalm*

      Also if you read the early Christians who were taught by John the Apostle, they mention abortion specifically as murder.

      Sources, please.

      April 20, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • BRC

      When their body is capable of independently perfroming all biologically required functions to sustain their own life, with a bias towards a brain capable of reactive though (ie responding to input~ feeling pain). Meaning that if the body is not fully idependent, but the brain is functional, then I would personnaly tend to recognize it as a life. Before that it's not a life, it's a potential life, one that historically has about a 50/50 chance of actually becoming a life.

      April 20, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • Jim in PA

      Funny how conservatives view killing your own child as the ultimate sin, but bombing cities and killing other people's children is merely collateral damage. I would take the anti-abortion crowd more seriously if they were all anti-war and if they were strongly pro-birth control.

      April 20, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      dont forget shall not kill has been changed to shall not murder so that they can justify killing in wars and stuff.

      April 20, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  2. PM Ohio

    The Roman Catholic Church is out of touch with modern society. 95% of American catholic women use some form of birth control, but the Church would rather simply control women as chattel and submit to thier husbands and expect people to allow the church to control thier bodies and lives.

    April 20, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  3. Muldoon in Ohio

    This cannot be a good sign for the future of the catholic church. Benedict's wishes for his church to become a small group of "true believers" may become a reality before he exits this life. As for me, I'm beginning to think that Episcopal or Lutheran participation is where I may be headed.

    April 20, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • MK

      There is corruption, hypocrisy and ridiculously confining rules in every religion. Stay away from it and think for yourself.

      April 20, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Bob

      Why do you need any religion?

      April 20, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  4. Debbie

    I dont think JC considers not killing children and old people stale doctrine.

    April 20, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • Jim in PA

      Can you clarify for me the number of times Jesus addresses birth control and abortion in the New Testament?

      April 20, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • James

      Who said anything about killing old people?

      April 20, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Scargosun

      Again, Debbie, feel free to solve this problem by paying for all those kids coming into the world that will not have proper nutrition and care. Then you can get on your soap box all you want. If you are not planning to come up with a realistic solution then go away. Would I have an abortion? No. I practice contraception but it seems your kind would like that to be unavailable as well. That make so much sense I can barely stand it (that's sarcasm by the way). If you want to be barefoot and preggers your whole life, that is your CHOICE, you know why? Because we are not in China.

      April 20, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  5. me

    I am an ex-Catholic. When I read this article, I am thankful for my choice to leave this organization when I came of age.

    April 20, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  6. Jim in PA

    Hey Pope, you know who else was a radical that challenged stale and oppresive doctrine? I'll give you a hint; he goes by the initials "JC".

    April 20, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  7. B

    I mean seriously, who can actually take the Catholic Church seriously??

    April 20, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  8. Alex

    srsly F this German Pope.
    The Nuns are CLEARLY better Christians than you.
    How dare you call them Radical Mr Pope.

    April 20, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  9. Debbie

    I see. If Bob is starving, kill someone else to free up food.

    April 20, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Bob

      There is a limit to the number of people that can sustainably live on earth. We have passed the limit. What we know from biology is that when the limit is passed the population will eventually crash. Happens with every species. The more people born beyond the sustainable limit the more people will die. This is our situation today. Abortion and birth control prevents this, thus, abortion is moral.

      April 20, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Zog, Caveman Extraordinaire

      If we worked harder at growing food more efficiently and started using more of the Earth's surface area to do it in, we could easily sustain many more billions. Oh, we need more clean water, too. Not impossible, just very unlikely.

      April 20, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  10. Scargosun

    There go the big men in the Catholic Church trying to step all over women again. When are they going to get that they can't populate the world without willing women?

    April 20, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • Zog, Caveman Extraordinaire

      I think you are forgetting the last 2 million years when willingness wasn't all that big a requirement.

      April 20, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  11. willard43

    The Roman Catholic Church is nothing more than the most recent incarnation of the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar was a "pontifex maximus" too, if you know your Latin AND your history. To equate this with faith, Jesus (who the Romans executed for the Jewish Pharisees), or a Christian God, is ludicrous. The fact that anyone pays any attention to this organization amazes me.

    April 20, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  12. Marie Therese

    It would seem,the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith should examine the Vatican! Perhaps it is time for another reformation. God bless the Nuns.

    April 20, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • TelH

      Considering the current Pope was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 until he was elected Pope in 2005 ... probably not going to happen.

      April 20, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  13. Debbie

    Why is it bad that I dont want to pay for people to murder their own babies?

    April 20, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Bob

      Because people are starving.

      April 20, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Scargosun

      Well then you can check a little box on your tax return that says you'll pay more for the care of all those unwanted, abused and neglected children. If you don't then you will be sinning because it will mean you lie about your position.

      April 20, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • Peter (CA)

      You can't tie it up in such a little package. Abortion is a horrible decision for anyone to have to make. Very few people treat it as lightly as the right wing thinks people do. Besides, one way to cut back on the number of abortions is to make birth control as readily possible as we can.
      Now I suppose comes the argument about when life begins.

      April 20, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  14. MikeTexoma

    The church fathers cannot be oppsitional toward science, and the church fathers cannot be flat earth people if their purpose is to draw people toward Christ. Science does not hold the ultimate answer, but it does offer an emperical reality. Part of the emperical reality is that the apostle Paul did not get everything right, and the Catholic church ought not continue in Paul's name to push women away from Christianity. Clearly, It is ungodly to do so.

    April 20, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Peter (CA)

      You sir are a thoughtful and insightful person. You realize there isn't any place for that in these debates, right?

      April 20, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  15. *facepalm*

    Whoever is the PR person in the Vatican REALLY needs to get sacked.

    April 20, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  16. Carol Palmeri

    just look who is talking..... the man who protects child molesters.

    April 20, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  17. MK

    Oh good, another way for the big bad men of the catholic church to hold down those pushy, loud, overbearing women! (Shouldn't those women be off cleaning the rectory so the celebate men can be free to clean their own rec.tums?)

    April 20, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  18. Squeezebox

    I'm Catholic, I'm female, I'm an adult, I'm a virgin, and this is why I DON'T WANT TO BE A NUN!

    April 20, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Bob

      If you have a problem with the virgin part I could help.

      April 20, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  19. TooDark

    So the men in dresses disapprove of what the women in dresses are doing? Too funny.

    April 20, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Robert

      Idiot.

      April 20, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  20. rememer this?

    ms, I back Reverend Jack and his Roamin' Cadillac Church

    April 20, 2012 at 10:15 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.