American nuns face Vatican over rogue charges
Sisters Pat Farrell and Janet Mock met with Vatican officials over claims their group had gone rogue.
June 12th, 2012
12:05 PM ET

American nuns face Vatican over rogue charges

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - After weeks of anticipation, the leaders of American's largest umbrella group of nuns met Tuesday with the Vatican to address charges the nuns had gone rogue.

At the Vatican, Sisters Pat Farrell and Janet Mock, president and executive director respectively of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, sat down with Cardinal William Levada, head of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - the church's doctrinal watchdog group, and Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, who is charged with bringing the nuns back in line with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican.

The sisters and church officials met to discuss a doctrinal assessment finding the influential group of American nuns had strayed too far from the church's teachings.

In a statement afterward, the nuns said, "The meeting had been requested by the LCWR to address what the conference considered deficiencies in the process and the results of the doctrinal assessment of the organization released by the CDF in April."

“It was an open meeting and we were able to directly express our concerns to Cardinal Levada and Archbishop Sartain,” Farrell said in a statement from the nuns' group.

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In a statement, the Vatican said, "The meeting provided the opportunity for the Congregation and the LCWR officers to discuss the issues and concerns raised by the doctrinal assessment in an atmosphere of openness and cordiality."

The Vatican reiterated that under canon law, which dictates how the church operates, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious "remains under the supreme direction of the Holy See in order to promote common efforts among the individual member institutes and cooperation with the Holy See and the local Conference of Bishops."

Cardinal William Levada, head of the Catholic Church's doctrinal watchdog group, had called the face-to-face meeting critical

"The purpose of the doctrinal assessment is to assist the LCWR in this important mission by promoting a vision of ecclesial communion founded on faith in Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Church as faithfully taught through the ages under the guidance of the Magisterium," the statement continued.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious is a group of 1,500 nuns who lead more than 300 religious orders. Together, its members represent 80% of the 57,000 nuns across the United States.

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The group's board met two weeks ago in Washington for the first time to discuss the assessment, saying it “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 group said in a statement.

The lengthy doctrinal assessment, released in April, listed a number of concerns church officials had with the sisters.

It said that at an annual gathering of the group, guest speakers who preached "radical feminism" went unchallenged. The report also alleged sins of omission, saying the nuns were focused too heavily on social justice and not enough on opposing abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage.

Levada, an American who was formerly archbishop of San Francisco, earlier had called the face-to-face meeting in Rome critical.  "Such a personal encounter allows for the opportunity to review the document together in a spirit of mutual respect and collaboration, hopefully thereby avoiding possible misunderstandings of the document’s intent and scope," he said in a statement at the time of the assessment.

"As the issues evidenced in the doctrinal assessment involve essential questions of faith, the Holy Father has given the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith a special mandate to collaborate with the (Leadership Conference of Women Religious) in a renewal of their work through a concentrated reflection on the doctrinal foundations of that work," Levada said.

The nuns' group said their leaders will return to the United States and discuss its options with members at their annual meeting in August.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious was formed at the behest of the Vatican and is still under the auspices of the Holy See. One approach the nuns are said to be considering is the "nuclear option," with the sisters resigning en masse and forming a nonprofit group outside the Vatican's reach.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

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

soundoff (702 Responses)
  1. Tom

    Organized religion is stupid!

    June 12, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • TC

      People who are against organized religion are not any smarter or better off.

      June 12, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  2. TC

    If you are not Catholic, you don't have a dog in the fight.

    June 12, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Drew

      We're all human beings so we all have a dog in the fight

      June 12, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • TC

      I would agree with you but most human beings on here have no compassion or understanding of the RCC or the nun's plight, so if you don't care and are not educated in the matter, you don't have a dog in the fight and you are just rambling.

      June 12, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Frank

      You pedophile supporters are the most vile disgusting people. You are repulsive.

      June 12, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Frank, what percentage of priest are actually pedophiles?

      June 13, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  3. Marc from Florida

    Two thousand years is a pretty good run. The Canon may be firing its last shots. What's needed to save Catholocism is sensible leadership. Unfortunately, new ideas fall victim to conformity and dogma like so many corporations. No organization better resists needed change more effectively that the Cath. church. My suggestion would be to listen to the Nuns even the thought of their detachment from the Church should send chills up the spine of the Holly See. I doubt these Nuns will be easily bullied. I look forward to their next move

    June 12, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • TC

      As history shows, many saints were once people who challenged the church and its poor leadership.

      June 12, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  4. Drew

    Team Nuns!!!

    June 12, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  5. Jimbo

    It's always good to have a group like this splinter off. The nuns will then do more good in the world for awhile. Then, they'll get powerful and corrupt in the same way the church leadership is now. It's the way things have worked since time began and it isn't going to change now.

    June 12, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  6. GeorgeBos95

    “was based on unsubstantiated accusations and (was) the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency.”

    Never ... not in the Catholic Church!

    Oh wait ... they never have transparency, and they've engaged in unsabstantiated accusations throughout their history.


    June 12, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Me

      The rules are different for men, than for women. God wanted it that way, it's in the book. Okay the book was written by men, but surely they would not be self-serving.

      June 12, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  7. Andrew

    Puck the Fope!

    June 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  8. Everett Wallace

    told yall to leave satan alone its son jesus alias albert has been crucified and it can not come off of the cross.

    June 12, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Andrew

      Bath salts???

      June 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  9. Recovering Catholic Pagan Woman

    As a former congregant when William Lavda was Archbishop in Portland, OR... those nuns don't stand a chance. He has no support of women. They are inferior. They are not worthy of holding any position within the misogynistic Catholic Church. I wish them luck, but I won't hold my breath.

    June 12, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • realityville

      Really,,,,you've got to be trolling right? Criticizing the RCC is bigotry? PLease get out your dictionary!!!!

      June 12, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • realityville

      oops, hit the wrong reply!!!!

      June 12, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  10. Russ

    The Catholic Church is about 500 years behind the times. They had an opportunity to reform after Martin Luther posted his 99 Thesis, but instead tried to stamp out dissent. No hope this time either. Too mired in their own dogma.

    June 12, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Patrick

      95 Thesis nailed to the door in Worms, Germany

      June 12, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • really

      Actually the church did reform in response to roughly 88 of them. Not that facts mean much to bigots.

      June 12, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Drew

      Let's get one thing straight; criticizing an inst itution, even one that some people believe to be holy, does not make one a bigot

      June 12, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      The Catholic Church and Popes have always done th ework of the Devil.

      June 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • really

      Believing and spreading any random, substantively false claim about said organisation so long as it is negative does show one bigotry.

      June 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • realityville

      REALLY Really,,,,you've got to be trolling right? Criticizing the RCC is bigotry? PLease get out your dictionary!!!!

      June 12, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • really

      An example of mindless one sided bigotry would be "Heaven Sent". I am sure this person either denies or has never thought deeply enough to understand that the Catholic Church was the single unifying force in post Roman Europe, held Europe together making western civilization possible. Likely never learned that the entire university system was founded, supported and spread by the Catholic church, preserving the wisdom of Rome and Greece through the dark ages.. But I am sure bigots either ignore or deny these and other factually proven historic facts.

      June 12, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Drew

      The RCC certainly did not "preserv[e] the wisdom of Rome and Greece through the dark ages." Rather, it took humanists in the renaissance to bring this wisdom back to light.

      June 12, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • really

      No reality, believing every silly propaganda foolishness is a symptom of bigotry. Like the poor fools posting about how the church and Hitler were tight. Ignoring the fact that he gassed thousands of priests and closed or burned hundreds of churches. Not any Protestant ministers or churches of course. But facts never deter a bigot.
      Read a history book sometime, and I'll read a dictionary.

      June 12, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Frank

      Why would a religion that is divinely imspired and correct reform? They would be admitting that they are wrong. Of course they do change and evolve and the delusional sheep just accept it.

      June 12, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  11. Leucadia Bob


    June 12, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  12. john

    They should just quit and go non profit. Why should they be subordinated to an organization on its way out? This will be another nail in the church's coffin.

    June 12, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  13. Russ

    The Vatican is so out of touch, they will not back down. The Nuns will have to leave in order to make their point. It could mark an important milestone in the the loss of believers in the Catholic Church in the US.

    June 12, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • say what??

      100% agree.

      June 12, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      It's possible. It's also just as likely that there will be a respectful meeting of the minds, a reconciliation of protocols and a return to ministry.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  14. David

    Religion must end one day. This people are living in the clouds.

    June 12, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • nunya

      You are so right, one such religious group shouldnt have so very much power over women and people. Catholicism is just as oppressive on women as the muslim religion is.

      June 12, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  15. tony

    The loving god either parted the red sea AND massacred hundreds of thousands in the tsunamis, or did neither. No-one in the Catholic or any other Church leader is prepared to go public and explain that, here or anywhere else. Which pretty much proves they don't believe god exists either.

    June 12, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  16. scoobypoo

    I'm meeting with the chief elf today about not picking up after their pink unicorn when out on walks in my yard.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Frank

      While you're at it could you tell him that these pesky leprachauns are getting out of hand again over here at my place?

      June 12, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  17. Leucadia Bob
    June 12, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  18. scientificpoetry

    It is truly amazing that an organization like the catholic church can still exist in modern times. It is absolute proof that there is a plethora of grossly stupid and ignorant people in this world. What reasonably intelligent person would support an organization which subjugates women and systematically hides pedophiles. Keep putting money in those collection baskets you idiots!

    June 12, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • crowing

      You have many strong points. Not all members are as discriminatory as the "all men society" or "the protection of pedophiles." Remember this Church started its roots with Christ and is the only Church that can claim the connection from the beginning. Christ said there would be challenges. When the pope is dethroned, along with the male cardinals and bishops, and harsh measures taken against the rapists; only then can the Church begin to be the Church Christ set up for our salvation. Meetings as in this article are useless except to maintain power and control.

      June 12, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Russ

      What religion? Most subjugate women. Especially the Muslim faith. Old time religions had women ranked down at the level of domestic animals. Beings to be used by man for the greater good! Christianity was different, in that it elevated Mary to a position of respect, but her role was mainly that of being the vehicle to bring Christ into the world.

      June 12, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Madtown

      the only Church that can claim the connection from the beginning
      So say the officials of said church.

      June 12, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  19. midogs2

    You go, girls..........................

    June 12, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • HippoP

      I keep seeing that line:
      "You go girls!"
      Where did it come from?

      June 12, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  20. kevgood

    I wonder if the Holy See plans to admonish the usher at church last Sunday brandishing a salad plate sized (no joke, it really was that big) Mitt Romney button. that would be a sin of commission, much worse than a sin of ommission in Canon Law.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Frank

      They should also lose their tax execmpt status if they continue to meddle in politics. Catlicks campainging for a Mormon..lol.

      June 12, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
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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.