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. De Burka

    Everybody is free to make their own choices, no matter how immoral others may view it, but representatives of the Catholic Church have no right preaching against Catholic teachings. They have a 2000 year old, well founded system of beliefs and doctrine founded by Jesus Himself that we as Catholic Americans have no right to claim is false.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Lynsey Pug

      The Pope and old men who run the Church no longer focus on the teaching of Christ. They focus on maintaining their own power. Jesus would be proud of the Nuns for truly emulating his values.

      June 12, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Drew

      They actually have every right. You can go ahead and excommunicate them, but they are human beings and are ent itled to speak their minds

      June 12, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Madtown

      well founded system of beliefs
      Very debatable.

      June 12, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • sam stone

      You have a right to claim anything you want about church doctrine.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  2. wunty

    Glad to see the Pope cracking down on the nuns but doing nothing about the child molesting priests...great job!! NOT!!

    June 12, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Drew

      Yes it's very impressive... what a big man the pope must be, bullying all these women!

      June 12, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      gotta have priorities...

      June 12, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • JEJ

      Pimp hand needs to be strong yo!

      June 12, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  3. Elena Thompson

    I totally support the sisters and suggest we all redirect our contributions accordingly.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • OnlyOne

      I already have. I suggest you register your contribution to the LCWR on behalf of your local bishop, too – if you'd like to turn the dagger a bit.

      June 12, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • CS

      ...to the lesbian defense fund?

      June 12, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  4. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    Movie – 'Nude Nuns With Big Guns'

    Band – 'Naked Nuns With Machine Guns'

    June 12, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      i loved that movie, starring Sister Fister. she's a bad mama-jama!

      June 12, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  5. Colin

    Ten signs you are a Catholic.

    1. You believe that the pope has personal conversations with God (that nobody else ever hears) and is infallible when he elects to speak “from the chair” on matters of Church doctrine. You then wistfully ignore the fact that Church doctrine changes and that former popes therefore could not possibly have been “infallible”. Limbo, for example, was touted by pope after pope as a place where un-baptized babies who die go, until Pope Benedict XVI just eradicated it (or, more accurately, so watered it down as effectively eradicate it in a face saving way). Seems all those earlier “infallible” Popes were wrong – as they were on Adam and Eve v. evolution, heliocentricity v. geocentricity, immaculate conception, and a host of other issues that required an amendment of official Church doctrine. You also ignore the innumerable murders, rampant corruption and other crimes committed over the centuries by your “infallible”, god-conversing popes.

    2. You reject the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours. You are blissfully (or intentionally) blind to the fact, that had you been born in another part of the World, you would be defending the local god(s) and heralding the incorrectness of Catholic beliefs.

    3. You begrudgingly accept evolution (about a century after Darwin proved it and after accepting Genesis as literally true for about 2,000 years) and that Adam and Eve was totally made up, but then conveniently ignore that fact that your justification for Jesus dying on the cross (to save us from Original Sin) has therefore been eviscerated. Official Church literature still dictates a belief in this nonsense.

    4. You disdain native beliefs as “polytheist” and somehow “inferior” but cannot explain (i) why being polytheistic is any sillier than being monotheistic. Once you make the quantum leap into Wonderland by believing in sky-fairies, what difference does it make if you believe in one or many?; nor (ii) why Christians believe they are monotheistic, given that they believe in god, the devil, guardian angels, the holy spirit, Jesus, many demons in hell, the Virgin Mary, the angel Gabriel, thousands of saints, all of whom apparently make Earthly appearances periodically, and all of whom inhabit their various life-after-death lands (limbo, purgatory, heaven, hell) with magic-sacred powers of some kind.

    5. You bemoan the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, 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 or the 3,000 Israelites killed by Moses for worshipping the golden calf (or the dozen or so other slaughters condoned by the bible). You also like to look to god to for guidance in raising your children, ignoring the fact that he drowned his own – according to your own Iron Age mythology.

    6. You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that God impregnated Mary with himself, to give birth to himself, so he could sacrifice himself to himself to “forgive” an ”Original Sin” that we now all know never happened.

    7. You criticize gays as sinners, but have no problem when Lot got drunk and committed father-daughter in.cest (twice) or offered his daughters to a mob to be gang ra.ped, or when Abraham, time and again, offered his wife up for the “pleasures” of kings to save his own skin.

    8. You believe that your god will cause anyone who does not accept your Iron Age stories to suffer a penalty an infinite times worse than the death penalty (burning forever in excruciating torture) simply because of their healthy skepticism, yet maintain that god “loves them”.

    9. You will totally reject any scientific breakthrough that is inconsistent with your established doctrine, unless and until it is so generally accepted as to back you into a corner. While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you of the deep inanity of your silly faith, some priest doing magic hand signals over grocery store bread and wine is enough to convince you it is thereby transformed into the flesh and blood of Jesus, because of the priest’s magic powers (or “sacred powers” if you prefer the more euphemistic term).

    10. You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to Lourdes, Fátima and other magic places and prayers in general. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. The remaining 99.99% failure was simply “god moving in mysterious ways”. The fact that, if you ask for something repeatedly, over and over, year after year, sooner or later that thing is bound to happen anyway, has not even occurred to you. A stopped clock is right twice a day.

    11. You accept the stories in the Bible without question, despite not having the slightest idea of who actually wrote them, how credible these people were or how long the stories were written after the alleged events they record occurred. For example, it is impossible for Moses to have written the first five books of the Old Testament, as Catholics believe. For one, they record his death and events after his death. In fact, the chance of the Bible being historically accurate in any but the broadest terms is vanishingly small.

    Heavens, I could not fit them into ten. Hey, I know, I'll act like a Catholic and pretend 10 is 11 and 11 is 10.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  6. CS

    I don't care what the nuns stand for. If they are females that don't like to get laid I'm against them.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      but S.EX is evil!!!

      June 12, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  7. OnlyOne

    Watch your backs, sisters. There's no telling what those ugly old men will do once they've got you locked up in their little castles.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  8. Bootyfunk

    Did you hear the one about the man who opened a dry-cleaning business
    next door to the convent?

    He knocked on the door and asked the Mother
    Superior if she had any dirty habits.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  9. Rick Freeman

    How do you get a nun pregnant, you dress her liker an alter boy

    June 12, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • CS

      Only the nuns are lesbians....

      June 12, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • HFalls

      I believe you mean altar boy. An alter boy sounds more like a eunuch.

      June 12, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  10. alex

    the catholic church cant see the forest for the trees. Enough with the bull crap that these old turds are throwing out. What did you do about the preverts in the cloth. Nothing absolutely nothing that why your religion is a dying breed not fast enough some would say.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  11. ReaganDem

    The real issue is that the hierarchy of the church and priests need bodies to fight their battles, a distraction but most importanlty and someone to blame for all of their troubles. I commend the nuns for going along to play this tired game and placate them wiithout committing to any agenda. The priesthood is tainted but the nuns still have their reputation intact although their numbers are also dwindling.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  12. onestarman

    The office was renamed 'Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith' in 1904 – from 1542 when it was established, until that time it was know as THE INQUISITION – No Kidding. Besides hunting 'Witches', Heretics and 'Hidden Jews' it has been charged with investigating the 'most grave' offenses of the Catholic Church – Including PEDOPHILE PRIESTS – The VATICAN however would like to DIVERT ATTENTION away from Priests and Bishops Immorality and the CORRUPTION in the Vatican that caused a WHISTLE-BLOWER to be arrested and held in the Vatican's GITMO. Instead it has decided to ATTACK the SERVANT SAINTS of the CHURCH its NUNS.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Colin

      You gotta luv this stuff. They still, to this day, have official "exorcists" who run around treating the mentally ill by telling them some evil spirit is possessing them. They also still have a list of banned books.

      Good thing they can't burn the internet, amigo!!

      June 12, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • OnlyOne

      Cardinal Dolan, one of those "princes of the Church" (sic) and head of the USCCB was recently implicated in a pedophile cover-up. So yes, screaming and pointing at the nuns, the government, the sky – all work for him, anything to divert the attention of his flock.

      June 12, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  13. Reality


    The following vitiates the "so what" differences between said nuns and the Vatican:

    Saving Christians like said nuns and Vatican officials from the Infamous Resurrection Con/

    From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

    Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

    To wit;

    From a major Catholic university's theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:

    "Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
    Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

    Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

    Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.

    The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

    Only Luke records it. (Luke mentions it in his gospel and Acts, i.e. a single attestation and therefore historically untenable). The Ascension ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers.

    The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "

    "In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."

    The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.

    With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

    An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,


    "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

    p.168. by Ted Peters:

    Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. "

    June 12, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • Tired of Religion Perverting the World

      Oh, how the religious like to merely cut and paste their own scriptures and claim it proves their viewpoints...

      June 12, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Had you read the post you would see he is illustrating where there is scholarly debate on doctrine. He seems to be opening an argument for the Vatican to change its position. However, lack of knowledge is always helpful when one wishes to be tired of religious people citing scripture, so you hang in there big boy.

      June 12, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • OnlyOne

      Interesting points. I thought I'd let you know that at least one person here did read and take note.

      June 12, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      Reality has actually had 3-4 posts that he has posted constantly for longer than I've been on this blog (about 9-10 months), and they are exact copies.

      June 12, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Reality

      And that is why there is typically the note: ONLY FOR NEW MEMBERS OF THIS BLOG

      June 12, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  14. CS

    Vatican OR nun...one thing is apparent from this...religious people love to tell other people how they should think and what to do. "FREEDOM" is a foriegn concept to them all.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  15. Tired of Religion Perverting the World

    Remarkable: No mater how often the blindly religious are challenged, they still can produce no evidence of the bases of their religions other than to quote the religion itself. One would think the Shy god junkies would be better prepared by now.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      they're finding it hard to produce evidence for something that never existed. go figure.

      June 12, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • Tired of Religion Perverting the World

      Sky God junkies I meant.

      June 12, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • CS

      Get some kooks together like David Koresh did, write your own book. Only don't go nuts. Do some good to get more people to jump on board. Then bury the book in a cave....in a few thousand years...BINGO! You are a god!!!

      June 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  16. ForGoodOfAll

    I support what the sisters are doing 100%. I hope more join the ranks in protest against the Vatican. Best wishes for success, sisters!

    June 12, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      I doubt you even understand the issues. You just like a good street fight.

      June 12, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  17. onceacpa

    It is all about control. Happy to see these Nun's doing what they feel is morally right.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  18. Bill Deacon

    My prediction is that the nuns will accept the recommendations of the Vatican. When they do, I hope that they are able to clarify the recognition that the work they have so diligently been involved in, while important, is secondary to the larger processes that the Vatican is trying to stress. Then the world will witness the strength of a cohesive Catholic Church. Allelujah, Allelujah Amen

    June 12, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Drew

      With all due respect, I think you are deluded. The Catholic church is under huge stress right now for a variety of reasons, and you are crazy if you think everyone is just going to be bullied back into the fold. The old dress wearing men at the top might have to actually compromise; that's how politics works

      June 12, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • Luch

      my prediction...the liberal non-catholic order of nuns are dying out and the traditional true Catholic orders are increasing and taking up more positions within the church so a return to orthodoxy is coming Praise God

      June 12, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Drew

      What makes you think the "liberal" clergy are dying out? If anything they must be growing. Some people are starting to realize that the church's as sinine stance of contraception, for instance, can only hurt it

      June 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • onestarman

      @Drew – The Mistake we make is in assuming that the Vatican will respond like RATIONAL people would do and Re-Evaluate its Position in the Face of SO MUCH Blow Back – However the TRADITION of the Church has been to respond to Disagreement in its Political Pronouncements with FIRE.

      June 12, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      It's not politics

      June 12, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • OnlyOne

      Luch – keep dreaming. I'm sorry, but God doesn't support your petty little agenda. It's THY will be done, not MY will be done.

      June 12, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Drew

      Bill Deacon, it actually IS politics, no matter how much you want to deny it. It is a human system in which people are competing for power and influence, so yes, it IS politics

      June 12, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  19. weezer

    Rogue nuns....sorry, but it sounds like a Terry Gilliam animated short.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  20. GAK

    Where was Cardinal Leveda when his priest's were abusing children?? He is the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith isn't he? Isn't part of his job to see the children aren't abused by HIS priest's? It seems the Holy Father should be doing something about that scandal and not worry about the nuns doing good work and balancing doctrine with reality!!!!

    June 12, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Drew

      The pedophiles didn't challenge the patriarchy, so they were never a threat or a concern

      June 12, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      did you guys hear, the vatican put forth a new I.D. card that recognizes their members as priests AND members of NAMBLA at the same time. no more having to carrry two darn I.D. cards anymore.

      June 12, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • Luch

      instead of posting stupid comments...check your facts...Cardinal Levada was not even at the Vatican whne the abuse scnadal was going on

      June 12, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • OnlyOne

      @Luch – check YOUR facts before calling others stupid. Levada was an official of the CDF from 1976 to 1982, then a part-time member from 2000 to 2005, before returning to Rome to head the organization in 2006.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:01 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.