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American nuns come out swinging against Vatican in face of ‘radical feminist’ accusations
Protesters in New York show support for American nuns in the face of Vatican criticism.
June 1st, 2012
09:42 AM ET

American nuns come out swinging against Vatican in face of ‘radical feminist’ accusations

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) – The leadership representing most of America’s nuns came out swinging Friday against the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, in the face of charges from the Vatican that the nuns are espousing “radical feminism” and straying from church teaching.

The Vatican’s criticism of the American nuns has “caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization,” the Leadership Conference of Women Religious - which represents about 80% of American nuns - said in a statement Friday.

The board of the group had convened in Washington this week for three days of special meetings, provoked by an April assessment from the Vatican that said America’s nuns had largely gone rogue and warned that they could be a negative global influence on the church.

The Vatican report said that at an annual gathering of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, guest speakers who preached "radical feminism" went unchallenged. The report also said the nuns were too focused on social justice and not enough on opposing abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious said Friday that the assessment “was based on unsubstantiated accusations and (was) the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency.”

“Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise (the nuns’) ability to fulfill their mission,” the statement continued.

The Leadership Conference’s 22-member board said that its leaders would travel to Rome this month to meet with the head of the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the office that launched an investigation of the American nuns several years ago.

Hours later, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement from Archbishop Peter Sartain in which he vowed there was a wholehearted commitment "to dealing with the important issues raised by (the Vatican's) doctrinal assessment and the LCWR board in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, integrity and fidelity."

"I look forward to our next meeting in Rome in June as we continue to collaborate in promoting the important work of the LCWR for consecrated life in the United States," said Sartain, who heads the Archdiocese of Seattle. "The Holy See and the Bishops of the United States are deeply proud of the historic and continuing contribution of women religious - a pride that has been echoed by many in recent weeks."

Pope Benedict XVI, a theologian by training, was the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith for decades before he was elevated to papacy. In interviews conducted while he held that earlier post, he spoke often about growing the church by pruning - becoming smaller but more devout before expanding.

Church experts say that the nuns have a few options in responding to one of the most powerful offices in the church. They could accept the assessment, negotiate or resign en masse and form a new group outside the watchful eye of the Vatican.

–CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Vatican

soundoff (1,467 Responses)
  1. Anna

    These nuns are voluntarily part of an organization that requires them to follow orders obediently and receive minimal pay for their work. Their work props up the power of the bishops. What do they expect? If they really want to be treated as equals, why are they supporting this particular organization? They could take their talents to any number of other organizations, religious or charitable. I really don't think they have any right to complain.

    June 1, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  2. abraham De-Lacy giuseppe casey thomas O-Malley the alley cat formaly know as (Sam Yaza)

    yup doing my job as the master revolutionary that i am. creating rebellion in the church is so much fun,.. down with the tyrant god

    June 1, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  3. HugoCorv

    I'm not Catholic, but I think the RCC is completely right on this.

    No religion is a democracy where people can vote on what to believe in. If you don't share the same beliefs, then shut up and get your azz out the door.

    June 1, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      So Pope Nazi can make whatever rules he wants, and every Catholic is supposed to toe the line, regardless of how silly?
      Grow up, that kind of mentality simply abandons any responsibility on your part. That's the coward's response!

      June 1, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Fred, way to trivialize the point. You are either truly evil or merely a simpleton. The pope rules the Church through the authority of canonical law. He doesn't just cast his whims out for everyone to follow. Either speak intelligently or stop commenting please.

      June 1, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  4. just sayin

    Pope Benedict XVI, ..... In interviews conducted while he held that earlier post, he spoke often about growing the church by pruning – becoming smaller but more devout before expanding.
    .
    He is pruning the church into oblivion. The world will pass the Catholic Church by and it will be reference page in the book of Myths. Perhaps the Pope should prune that child ra p ist log in his eye first. Perhaps the Pope shoudl learn to keep his pants up around young boys?

    June 1, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • bwhitten

      What an extremely childish response. I'm not even Catholic and I find this m o r 0n's post offensive.

      June 1, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      How is it offensive bwhitten? The Catholic Church turns a blind eye to pedophile priests, but chastises others for far more minor 'sins'?
      I find your ignorance offensive.

      June 1, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  5. Leave The Dark Ages For The Enlightenment!

    I wonder why these women signed up to serve Pope Vader and the Vatican of Darkness. Didn't they kind of know what a repressive, misogynistic, backwards, totalitarian, inhuman, intolerant, cruel, and ridiculous organization it has always been?

    Abandon the Dark Side, nuns! You don't need any organization to do good, and you sure don't need an oppressive religion. Just go do good because you are a human who likes to do good, and leave the fetters of religion behind.

    June 1, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  6. reddragon

    "pruning ...before expanding" This means the crazier and more radical you are... the better your chance of not getting trimmed by your leader. Definately Making of a Cult 101.

    June 1, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  7. Scout's Mom

    The Church has been built on the bodies of the nuns. There would be no church without them since they taught and practiced the lessons of Christ. The Pope and cardinals have become the Pharisees of today. The are stuck in an old men's club – no longer relevant in today's world. They are the cafeteria Catholics who pick the laws they wish to obey and do not advance with their hearts – their heads are stuck in the sand. Without American catholics they have no finances – they had better think this one over before they make their church and themselves obsolete. The nuns church of love and respect will go on!

    June 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  8. Frank

    If you do not believe in the position of the church then I believe you should change churches. There are over 3200 denominations of Christianity alone in the world, and Catholicism is only one of them. If you stay with the church, and you keep providing tidings, the church will never change. A church is like a business, they rely on donations and congregations to function. If the people are against what the pope states, then stop paying, and stop attending. Episcopalian churches are very similar to Catholics and do not bully their congregations as much. I personally am an Atheist, but I do not believe you should completely loose your religion over controversy. If you want to follow a religion, follow it to the end, and that means all of the hierarchy's rules. If you do not believe in the hierarchy's word then I recommend you change. Your church is over 1000 years old, and unfortunately, their positions on things haven't changed much since the end of the bronze age.

    June 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • jack

      The Catholic Church does not consider itself a denomination of Christianity, but considers itself to be The Church. They refer to other non-Catholic churches as "ecclesiastical communities." Anglican (Episcopalian) priests who decided to switch to the Catholic Church are accepted into the catholic priesthood, even if they are married with children.

      June 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  9. contessa

    It is far past time that the whole world realize we have far and away surpassed the rigid laws of the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope! This is the 21st Century, not 2000 years before Christ!! Let's see the nuns do a "victory dance", throw away their traditional clothing, and be allowed to live and breathe their "own FREE will! just like we all do!

    June 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • free man

      I always thought that the process was; you gave up your free will when you decided to become a nun. I'm guessing if you look at the oath or creed or what ever you signed or agreed to, it will state something along those lines. Its like a Tibetan monk deciding after the fact that he now wants to wear red instead of yellow because red is the "in" color today, just becaue its his free will to follow short sighted fashion of the day. One of the troubles with becoming a Catholic religious is that you are accepting the rule of the Pope. If thats not the club you wanted to join, then move on to something else and read the contract a little more closely next time.

      June 1, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      If I follow my own free will does that mean I can throw off the oppressive rules of modern traffic laws? No, true freedom comes from discipline. That discipline to the structure and order offered by religious life is what religious people anticipate. Freedom to do "my own thing as I see fit" is man's existential problem. What he sees fit is most often destructive to himself and others.

      June 1, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  10. Candid One

    Ah, the male hierarchy needs to keep women in their place. The old order of things. When God sees this, she'll be ticked.

    June 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • HAL-9000

      If god was a woman churches would be kitchens.

      June 1, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  11. Charles

    American Nuns. Why do you need Rome or the Pope. Surely you don't believe that he was chosen by God? The church is nothing without you who do all the heavy lifting. Please keep up the good work.

    June 1, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  12. Jerry

    All the "swinging" nuns should be fired. Let them go and try to get a job to sustain themselves.

    June 1, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Crazyyyy

      You like the priests because you liked the back room activities you participated in with the priests.

      June 1, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Crazyyyy

      re·li·gion noun \ri-'li-j?n\
      A mass human psychosis that usually results in participants believing in incredibly silly crap and acting like total retards.

      June 1, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • stillblive

      Fired??? They should resign in mass. They are honorable women dealing with many dishonorable men. Time for the bishops to clean their own house and then sit and listen to the good sisters.

      June 1, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  13. EvilReligion

    Think religion is not evil, when does any religion do good without a price to be paid.

    June 1, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Crazyyyy

      They are ALL cults

      June 1, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Daniel in Denver

      Religion is about two things, money and power. If you don't believe it, stop giving money to your church and stop doing what they tell you to do. Then, check to see how much they 'love' you.

      June 1, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  14. lois

    Most of the coments on this topic are ridiculous.
    The Vatican is going after the nuns for their money.
    The Church is broke due to the large payouts related to pedophile priests. The Vatican wants the nuns money/estates.
    Hopefully the nuns can beat them back.

    June 1, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Leslie B.

      You're kidding, right? Nuns don't have any money. Unlike diocesan priests, they take vows of poverty.

      June 1, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  15. I'm tired - sick and tired

    When priests molest children the correct response is to call the police not offer buy-outs or re-locations. When genocide is committed the correct response is to step in and provide shelter, escape or a cry for help not to turn away and offer no comment or segregation of the races. When you have a shortage of clerics you offer the position to your religious nuns not to married former Church of England clergy. If we are all created in the image of God then even a woman deserves the opportunity to be a priest, a bishop, a cardinal, a pope. I am a 60 year old Catholic women. I have had enough of being treated like a second class person. My weekly contributions have decreased over the past two years from $50 to $25 to .50 cents per week. Instead I am sending my money to the Demcratic candidates who I believe in. I do not believe in the current hierocracy of my Church.

    June 1, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • pozin

      You lost me when you said you were donating to politicians you believe in. Politicians are another self serving group that has lost its way. They are the ones that drove us to this financial crisis and I do not see anyone on the political horizon with the integrity and moxie needed to correct the deficit. I despise both political parties for different reasons but the Democrats love to spend money we do not have and usually the money goes to undeserving people.

      June 1, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  16. Haitianus

    I am not convinced that somebody who is not or who has never been catholic can comment fairly on matters of the Church.

    June 1, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Crazyyyy

      Yeah, because only cult members can talk about their cults

      June 1, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Crazyyyy

      Top Ten Signs You're a Christian in Name Only
      10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
      9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
      8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
      7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Al lah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
      6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
      5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
      4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
      3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some id iot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
      2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
      1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.

      June 1, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Popenschmirtz Evil Incorporated

      Nice attempt at stiffling free speech! How about I flip that over for you and see how you like it:

      I am not sure that a Catholic, who is duty-bound to accept and obey his leadership without question, can comment fairly on matters of the Church.

      June 1, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • sam

      Sadly, not convinced that catholics can, either.

      June 1, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Lol

      and what gives you right to talk about atheists? by your own logic, you do not have the right unless you had been an atheist before. Did you ever reject your god as a farce?

      June 1, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      Why not? Most of us know more about the Catholic church and it's rules than Catholics do.
      Just because we are smart enough to call Shenanigans, doesn't make our statements invalid.

      June 1, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      I offer the above comments as evidence supporting Haitianus' comment

      June 1, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  17. Louisiana Man

    GO NUNS..

    for decades the nuns have been relegated to second class citizens in servitude to the priests..

    whilst the good hierarchic of the good christian fraternity of the priesthood gave their fellow brethren a pass on crimes of pedophilia..

    the priest have the gall to criticize the nuns who have suffered unbearably under the scoring heat of five layers of heavy..black layers of a hot mandatory habit..whilst the priest run freestyle of any choosing of wardrobe..

    sisters of orders..stay the course and stick to our guns..you have support!!

    June 1, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  18. OhhBoy

    The day humans stop believing in magic is the day we have world peace.

    Think im wrong, go light a candle and pray for something the chances it will come true are the same as flipping a coin. Saying god works in mysterious ways is just a colorful way of saying random chance

    June 1, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  19. pozin

    As an ex-Catholic I can only shake my head at the Vatican hierarchy. They have done so much this past generation in making ex-Catholics. The Vatican lost its chance to regain people's trust by not aggressively going after the pedophiles and those that protected them. If I were Pope I would have ex-communicated these low lifes and turned them over to the police. Until they do they will never regain the peoples' trust nor should they.

    June 1, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  20. Nilkinggary

    I suspect the bishops are having a Susan Kamen moment but without sufficient sense to know when to reverse course, Pity.

    June 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
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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.