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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. midwest

    Why should the men in the Catholic Church be any different from the men who lead our US government, medical services, insurance companies, etc.? There has always been a double-standard for men vs. women – and the Church is just doing what many men in power do...which is to keep women "in their place." Heaven forbid (excuse the pun) that these nuns support the Affordable Care Act! Where are all these Church leaders regarding the use and coverage by insurance companies of such products as Viagra – as we all know are used and abused. I have yet to hear ONE sermon refer to this – but have heard several rants during sermons about the evils of the health insurance issue. I've made a hasty retreat a few times during such sermons. It's a man's world, and these nuns dare to upset the apple cart. Go ladies, go!!

    April 20, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Converted Catholic .... no more...

      Well put! Completely agree!

      April 20, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  2. Former Catholic

    The Church has made it very clear they have no interest in women or children's basic rights. They didn't spend much time, money or energy investigating priests that molested little children but instead spent it all on covering it up. The threat of enlighted, educated women challenging the system is too much for the "good ole boy" system of the Catholic Church. The Church does not practice Christ's teachings.

    April 20, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Gorky

      Serves these stupid nuns for attaching themselves to the church in the first place

      April 20, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  3. Chris R

    My cousin was a Glenmary nun who left the order along with 40 fellow sisters when the rules regarding their mission became too constrictive. It became evident that the Church was more interested in maintaining 'discipline' than allowing the sisters to attend to their mission of service to the poor of Appalachia. I see that happening here as well. Instead of engaging in dialog the Church leaders are shutting down the conversation before it can really start. It's a shame because I know, like before, it's going to drive away some of the most dedicated servants.

    April 20, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • sjenner

      Right on point. Conformity and obedience in all things great and small, significant and irrelevant. I suppose the next step is rules on how religious should pull on their socks in the morning.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  4. Peter

    ONe of the biggest forces for evil I've ever known is the Church.

    April 20, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  5. teddy812

    T/G this is the last of all the Pope's according to the church. Maybe then they will come into the 21st century.

    April 20, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  6. TR6

    Welcome to the last days of the RCC. Sit back, relax and watch it tear itself apart from the inside

    April 20, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  7. Everett Wallace

    Continue to pray in your secret place and I'm sure good things will come your way. Just do not step behind the pulpit. They (the church leaders) have done you a great favor by not allowing you to do what they do. Take a good look at the churches and you will truly see GOD and how Much HE is displeased with it, besides The Earth is HIS church not these buildings and rituals which takes place in them.

    April 20, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  8. sjenner

    This episode just shows how far the papacy has staggered to the right, confusing the message of the Christ and Majesty of God with the petty social morays of a small German boy who grew up in a radically conservative, patriarchal society and family before and during WWII. And true to stereotype, Ratzinger can't handle and doesn't understand individuality or respectful, faithful dissent, within non-Germanic traditions and cultures. Merely because the Pope is German, doesn't automatically make us, or require us all to be, German. (Last time I checked, the Roman Catholic Church was founded by Jews, and later elaborated on by Greeks and Romans–not Germans.)

    St. Thomas More, in one of the most famous moments in English jurisprudence, during his trial for high treason for supporting the hegemony of St. Peter, stated that "If I am silent, that is to your advantage, and that of the law; for silence is consent." Apparently not to Ratzinger, who would now play the role of Henry VIII.

    atzinger seems bent on stamping out the intellectual variety and vibrancy of the Church, driving out those faithful who don't conform to his narrow view of who's pure enough, and conforming enough, to be considered "Catholic." This one man is doing more damage to the Church than any enemy of the Church could have hoped to accomplish from the outside. I sincerely pray that he takes his growing infirmity as a hint from God, and retires.

    April 20, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • gerald

      This man is rising the Church from the ashes of liberalism that has crept in. Churches that embrace liberalism (i.e. Anglicanism, Presbyterianism, ELCA, etc.) are in decline. Those who stay true to scripture and tradition rise. Benedict's actions now may well decrease the Church in the long term as people like you get out. But in the end he is taking the best path.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Dan

      Then again, they knew what they were getting into when they signed up and took b=vows to uphold the doctrine of the RCC. If they have outgrown the church of their vows, perhaps they should find one more in keeping with their own mores.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • sjenner

      Gerald and Dan, this man is not lifting the Church out of anything. He's accelerating its decline: and yes, in the West, the Church is in decline, at this point a more accelerated decline than any of the Protestant congregations you list. As for vows and obedience, it's a question as to how those obligations are taken. These nuns have dedicated their lives to the Church and her mission of service. And they are much ignored and taken advantage of by the hierarchy in doing so. Now they are being attacked and condemned for not being vocal enough on the issues de jure. It's not even that they are actively dissenting. It's that they are not loud enough! And that is now radical? Being a Roman Catholic and even a religious is not a commitment to slavery. The current occupant of St. Peter's throne doesn't seem to appreciate that there can be a variety of opinion and debate, and yet those in dissent can still be Catholic, loyal and faithful. For him conformity in all matters great and small is the mandate of faith. Let's just hope Ratzinger doesn't rule heliocentrism a heresy once more....

      April 20, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Primewonk

      Gerald wrote, " This man is rising the Church from the ashes of liberalism that has crept in. Churches that embrace liberalism (i.e. Anglicanism, Presbyterianism, ELCA, etc.) are in decline."

      How do you reconcile what you wrote, with the bible showing your Jesus to be the biggest liberal ever? When was it that you fundiots (fundamentalist îdiots) perverted theimage of your Jesus?

      April 20, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • Ndlily

      Do not paint all Germans with the same brush, even all Germans of a particular era. The pope is a religious zealot. Religious zealots are all the same regardless of their dogma or pedigree.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • PopeStephen

      Having been educated by both the Jesuits and the Holy Cross Fathers, I applaud you for accurate and articulate assessment. This continued crusade against the social issues continues to baffle me. The misplaced priorities of the current Church leadership sadden me deeply. Those priests (and nuns) responsible for educating me instilled a social consciousness stemming from the Gospels. This is something I’m passing along to my own children. As the church leadership chooses to devote countless amounts energy on these singular social wedge issues, they are completely missing the things which affect our daily lives. These nuns are in the trenches daily, trying to improve lives on numerous levels. They aren’t bureaucrats isolated from their congregation. Come on, does gay marriage really have any effect on me and how I raise my children? It’s insulting to think it does. However, ‘love your neighbor as I have loved you’ certainly does.

      But that’s okay, as long as they spend hours and hours ensuring that consubstantial is properly translated from Greek to Latin to English, I’m fine. Seriously? As anyone who remains Catholic after studying church history will tell you, the Catholic Church is a community of faith and these very flawed and very human vicars of Christ will be gone soon enough. Thus making room for news sets of bureaucrats which may or may not form new councils which may or may not bring the Latin Mass back. Afterall, at the time of the Synodus Horrenda I’m sure there were those who thought it was a great idea.

      April 20, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  9. ron

    The age-old war on women in the Catholic Church continues. What would a day in the Catholic Church be without women? For all practical purposes it would collapse. Only a bunch of old men with no influence would be left. I hope it happens.

    April 20, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • sjenner

      With Ratzinger doing all he can to render the Church a shrill little voice on the side lines, you may get your wish.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • gerald

      The gates of hell shall not prevail no matter how hard they try and how hard you wish. Sorry.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  10. Lawman

    No one has time to read such a long article to find out the actual issue. Can you give some highlights on the side?

    April 20, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  11. th

    I grew up catholic but don't believe in everything the church teaches. Especially when it comes out of the mouths of priests. Look what they did to all those kids. How can anyone believe anything these guys say anymore. They are so far out there that it is unbelievable. They don't want birth control but who is going to take care of all the babies when the parents can't? The Repubs want to take all the help away.

    April 20, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Jesse

      The Vatican won't be happy until Mexico City has 22 million more people and the last remaining 4 trees are cut down to make room for a Catholic parking lot.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Howard

      I also grew up a Catholic, and I've pretty much abandoned my faith. However, I did then and still do hold the nuns in the very highest regard. As far as I'm concerned, they're just about the only non-hypocrites in the Church. Unlike the priests, for the nuns the vow of poverty really means POVERTY (thanks in no small part to the priests and bishops).

      Personally, I cannot fathom why any woman would be a part of Roman Catholicism, unless they enjoy being treated like they just don't matter except to cook the meals, clean up, and have the babies.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • gerald

      less than 2% of priests have commited such actions and you condemn them all. Ah guilt by association. Isn't it grand. Crimes of abuse are less prevalent in the priesthood than in the general population. Your judgement is clouded.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Dan

      Gerald, while I agree with you on teh percentage of priests who committed theses heinous acts, I have to say that the greater problem was the very active role that the RCC took in covering it up, even going as far as threatening the excommunication of anyone that went to the police. They were left with no recourse except to complain to their local bishop, who was part of the cover-up. The bishop of Boston, if you recall, was summoned to Rome after he was exposed and then promoted to cardinal.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • george

      gerald, You should consider that 2% with some perspective. Thats 4,300+ priests in the US alone, and thats just who has been implicated in the crime. Imagine how many children haven't come forward. The crime of *raping children* Even more have been involved in cover up in a system designed for cover up leading all the way to the top. Still, this is nothing compared to the amount of children born with HIV in Africa who are destined to find themselves orphans before even getting out of their diapers, thanks to church doctrine. George W Bush invested in retroviral drugs in Africa reducing the AIDS rate by 10%. Imagine how much the HIV rate would go down if they could have access to condoms without the Church pulling out essential health services. People should give their money to more humane charities who actually care about children and families. The Church clearly cares more about preserving nonsensical archaic doctrine, which most of its congregation disagrees with and does not follow, than it does about humanity. It's hard to believe that the RCC still exists.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 20, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • midwstrngrl

      do you ever have anything of real consequence to say? prayer is a state of mind. nothing more.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • RWESTUPID

      Don't you ever get tired of posting this stupidity?

      April 20, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Merc

      I've been praying for you to stop posting inanities and outright lies for some time now, and you haven't. If prayer changes things, shouldn't you have been struck by lightning by now?

      April 20, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • feartheswans

      Prayer changes some things, action changes everything. Remember, prayer is an action.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Herby Sagues

      Can you cite one example? People who is prayed for, die. Sick people being prayed for don't recover any faster (there's lots of research on that). When people ask for mountains to move, they don't. Lost limbs don't regrow. When people ask to be saved during some accident, they have exactly the same rate of success as those that don't pray. And prayer doesn't make us better either: the rate of god-fearing people entering jails is higher than the ratio of those that don't break the law. Believers are overrepresented in jail and in death sentences compared to atheists.
      It amazes me that such a large portion of the population would operate under the belief that prayer has any positive benefit without ever seeing any proof that such is the case. But of course, that's the very definition of "faith". Believe without cause. I prefer to call it irrationality though.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!.*!~.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Dan

      @ Herby "the rate of god-fearing people entering jails is higher than the ratio of those that don't break the law"

      Really, Herby? Cite the research! G-d fearing? Define it! The overwhelming majority of Americans believe in G-d, that does not mean that they fear him. You sound like the gay community trying to "prove" that they actually make better parents and using nothing but fault-ridden studies to do it.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • just sayin

      The chance of parole is greater for people of faith therefore there are 'few' atheists in prison.
      In the case of accident how would you know what or if those that don't "make It" prayed ?
      In the case of regeneration you are only assuming that of all the people over all the years that have lost limbs, no one has had a regenerated limb due to prayer. Simply put there is no way for you to know that.
      Examples of prayer changing things have been given multiple times, but just for you here is one, slavery. Reference William Wilberforce. God bless

      April 20, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "In the case of regeneration you are only assuming that of all the people over all the years that have lost limbs, no one has had a regenerated limb due to prayer. Simply put there is no way for you to know that."

      sorry, i almost wet myself laughing at this.
      you are seriously trying to put this forward as an argument? really?

      April 20, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  13. kentuckyscience.com

    Who was the greatest man to have ever been born out of a mothers womb or the greatest man to have ever lived? Jesus is the Son of God, so the obvious answer would be Jesus. However, Jesus says that John the Baptist was the greatest. Jesus was not a liar, so why did he say the John the Baptist was greater than the Christ born of a virgin womb? John the Baptist is associated with loving God, since he prepared the way for Grace. If you are a Christian and you think that Grace is above the greatest commandment you are wrong. Don't take my word for it, read Luke 7:28. Jesus makes it clear that even those who love God the least in the Kingdom of God is greater. Talk about humility, that is remarkable humility by Jesus Christ. Jesus is associated with Grace, one can only get to heaven through the son. This fact alone should make Jesus the Greatest man to have ever come from a mothers womb, however Luke 7:28 can't be overruled. John the Baptist condemned Herod to Hell for being an adulator, since he had no desire to change his ways and Love God. (Mark 6:14-29) John the Baptist is associated with loving God, since he prepared the way for Grace. Why does this matter? John the Baptist got his head cut off for speaking the truth about consequences. It is obvious that Herod used his position as King to do whatever he wanted with complete disregard to God’s Word. That is why John rebuked King Herod! Herod was sinful and unrepentant for his actions. If a preacher tells his congregation that all they need to do is accept Jesus and be saved by Grace without informing them of the consequences of not being born again, then why should they have any regard to God's word? John the Baptist was not afraid to speak the truth about the importance of loving God. Money made Herod appear to have authority. How much authority does he have now?

    April 20, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Rene

      ...and what do you know about Zeus?

      April 20, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • feartheswans

      Osiris did this thousands of years before Jesus was born.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Merc

      "Money made Herod appear to have authority. How much authority does he have now?"

      Probably the same amount of authority that your so-called Messiah has now.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • stonrdude

      I am quite sure no one will read your dribble because it is too long and does not give a darn about King Herod. Prayer does no good as there is no one to listen. The pope and bishops are old men and not interested in anything except money and more princely robes. The Catholic church needs to go and go soon!

      April 20, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  14. AJ

    2000 years gone and yet no difference. If these people fight among themselves, how can they preach to others.

    April 20, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  15. Devin

    Nuns are the ones doing innappropriate things.........do you really want to go there Vatican?

    April 20, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  16. LMD

    WTG Nuns! It is about time that the church be taken down a few pegs and realize once and for all that women are as equal as men! I am sure if they actually followed the lessons and teaching's of their "Jesus" they would see that almost all they practice is against what he was about.Give 'em He** Sister's!

    April 20, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  17. ART

    Men rule and dont you nuns forget it especially in the catholic religion oh and dont forget the earth is still flat

    April 20, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  18. JDinTexas

    Go nuns! At least you never hear of nuns violating young boys.

    April 20, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Rene

      I didn't realize that anyone was still listening to the Vatican these days.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • gerald

      A smaller percentage of priests committ such absue than in the general public. But you make it sound like all preists do. Could you be prejudice? No, not in Texas.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  19. Rollie Lal

    Go Nuns! Time for the Vatican to join the equality and human rights norms of the 21st century. Maybe it's time for yet another (drumroll here) split in the Catholic Church! I think I see Martin Luther jumping up and down somewhere over that cloud yonder...

    April 20, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • gerald

      Ya, I'm sure Martin Luther is happy for the gays.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  20. jimbo

    Bennie continues to take the Catholic hierarchy down the road to irrelevance.

    April 20, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • RWESTUPID

      ...where they belong!!!

      April 20, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • gerald

      Time will tell but I highly doubt the gates of hell will prevail jimbo. They will try of course.

      April 20, 2012 at 11:31 am |
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About this blog

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.