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. junior

    There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.

    Bishop Fulton Sheen

    June 12, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Drew

      Very condescending, how typical of the Vatican

      June 12, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Your quote simply confirms how out of touch the Catholic hierarchy is with reality.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Get Real

      Fultie was a dreamer... and was adept at obfuscation.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Get Real

      "Skippy" was cute and whimsical, though, but without an iota of reality.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  2. raforrester

    In contrast to the hierarchical power structure of the Vatican, many Catholic priests have left the power structure to form other organizations that are actually following the example of Jesus. One of these is the White Robed Monks of St. Benedict. I see no reason that the nuns should not do the same. Jesus said the most important commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor, but the Vatican places obedience far above those.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  3. 42

    Not religious in anyway, but Catholicism just doesn't really seem to be what Jesus preached about. Not saying I know either, I wasn't alive then. I did research various religions before choosing to be agnostic. One thing though that really bothers me is that the Catholic church seems to be everything that Jesus preached against. Wasn't he against the corruption, power, abuse and richness of the Pharisees? Does anyone know how rich the Catholic Church is? How bloated in power they became over the centuries? Suppression of free will and knowledge if against Church doctrine?

    Yeah sure they have charities and all that. But do you really think Jesus wanted huge gold filled churches with statues of saints erected to help someone find their pathway to God? Priests that abuse children? History of torture? Hx of condoning wars to make themselves more rich?

    If Jesus was alive today, what would he say to the pointy hats at the Vatican?

    June 12, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  4. alex chapman

    The Holy See ? Didn't Jesus say call no one Father?

    June 12, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  5. Colin

    It is so encouraging that, on a national blog like CNN, the comments are almost universally negative about the Catholic Church. This is strong evidence that the national trend among educated people is away from the belief in gods and other sky-fairies.

    And best of all, the Vatican cannot burn or ban the internet. We will continue to have direct, unrestricted and unfiltered access to impressionable young minds. A mind opened by science and reason cannot be resealed by dogma and superst.ition.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • The "Real" God

      May God bless you and enlighten you before the day of your judgement.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • Drew

      Free access to information is a big problem for authoritarian structures like the Chinese government and the Catholic Church

      June 12, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • Moby Schtick


      Thanks for posting!! The RCC needs to go away, in my opinion. I'm not an "anti-christian" atheist, and I still enjoy the bible and many of my christian friends and their ideas, but I can't stand Catholicism. What might be the biggest sticking point is their unwillingness to consider contraception in areas of the world with very limited resources. The poorer a society, the more babies they have and a large percentage of those babies die very young and only know an existence of horrible pain from disease or starvation. The RCC won't allow contraception in those geographies, and so they are LARGELY responsible for the horrible suffering of millions of infants. That's pretty disgusting behavior in my view. Those folks need clean water and contraception more than a stupid religion that offers up magic-spell prayers that fail more often than "work"

      June 12, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • alex chapman

      Colin, I believe in a Creator & also believe that the Father sent Jesus down to Earth to try & SHOW & TELL us how He wants us to live to 1-Be in harmony with the rest of the Universe & 2-Have a good place for our souls to go to upon our departure from this life. Now the Catholic Church & almost all organized Religion run by Human Beings, I've got problems with that.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  6. SensibleJoe

    Who says the nuns are rogue? It's the Vatican that behaves in a rogue manner these days...

    June 12, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • Drew

      The patriarchy wrote the rules in such a way that anyone who disagrees with them is wrong, because they are always right

      June 12, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • YouGoGirls!

      Anyone who attended Catholic school for 12 years like me knows that the Nuns do everything while the priests do a one hour Mass 3-4 times a week. The rest of the time, God knows what? Meanwhile the Nuns run the school day and night with ridiculously low pay and are supposed to be 100% subservient to the male priests "in charge" of them.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Jacqueline R.

      That's exactly what I thought - who says they're "rogue"? Media outlets slap on a headline with little thought to the implications that certain words have.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  7. sopenco

    For those Catholic / sisters reading this, you know St. Malachy's prophecy and what time it is. Now is the time for humility and submission, not the pride and rebellion the media and it's subscribers at large will try to feed you. Use some discernment. LCWR leadership is assessing the viability of a power play right now. Don't empower them. Don't let them lead you away and deceive you. Remain faithful. It doesn't matter how many miles you've run in this race if you fall at the very end. Be strong. Keep your eyes on the prize.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  8. Patrick

    These nuns should just leave the RC church en masse. These nuns are real Christians. The RC church hierarchy are not.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  9. Hasher Iva

    Of course the assessment of the church's review of the LCWR wasn't transparent. Transparency is the last thing the Church wants.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  10. realityville

    1. You believe that the pope has personal conversations with God (that nobody else ever hears) and is infallible when speaking 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. egocentricity, 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 disdaining 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 if 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 life-after-death lands 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 Bible.
    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 disdain 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 Moses, time and again, offered his wife up for the “pleasures” of the Egyptians to save his own skin.
    8. You believe that your god will cause anyone who does not accept your Bronze 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 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” to the extent you see a difference).
    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. Maybe, if they pray hard enough to their sky-fairy, the Catholics can turn them into 10

    June 12, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • VelveteenLady

      If you had a point, it was obfuscated by the size of your post. Additionally, a cogent person does not use diatribe as a method of making a point.

      June 12, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  11. "militant" catholics

    Good for them, but why waste time at the vatican? They aren't going to get it.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  12. Barry G.

    Good for her!

    We need more courageous people–people like Joan of Arc.

    Of course Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul were courageous too, and they weren't afraid to stand up for what was right, no matter what the cost.

    Thank God for people like this.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  13. "militant" catholics

    i told the priest that i was leaving the catholic church because i didn't like how they treated women. he said "lots of militant women leave the church". i never thought of myself as militant, but evidently women that leave the church are militant. no wonder there's a recovery group in our town for recovering catholics.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • "militant" catholics

      just that he said that made me feel like he was an abusive guy.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • Drew

      "militant women" is just code for women who dare to question patriarchy and aren't content with second class citizenship. Good for you!

      June 12, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      A priest following an abusive religion should be suspected of being abusive himself.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  14. Frank

    A few nuns stray a bit from rigid doctrine and dogma and the Vatican goes ballistic. Tens of thousands of priests rape tens of thousands of children and they are protected and rewarded by being forwarded onto other unsuspecting children. This pedophile infested cult and its supporters and enablers are disgusting.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Tens of thousands? Hyperbole much?

      June 12, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • musings

      Amen to that.

      But you have to wonder why they were so intent on maintaining the cover-up. Didn't they care about the next generation of Catholics? Didn't they care about the judgment of God? Why were they so accepting? I have some ideas about that, which include the idea that most priests are gay and they were afraid of being tarred with the same brush as the pedophiles if it got out. I also thing they cared about power and money so much that they were advised (by their in-house counsel) to stone-wall the thing and engage in cover-up for as long as possible. But caring about the people they were supposed to serve? No more than many a politician on the take.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  15. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    Whoa, black betty (bam-ba-lam)
    Whoa, black betty (bam-ba-lam)
    Black betty had a child (bam-ba-lam)
    The damn thing gone wild (bam-ba-lam)
    She said, "i'm worryin' outta mind" (bam-ba-lam)
    The damn thing gone blind (bam-ba-lam)
    I said oh, black betty (bam-ba-lam)
    Whoa, black betty (bam-ba-lam)

    Oh, black betty (bam-ba-lam)
    Whoa, black betty (bam-ba-lam)
    She really gets me high (bam-ba-lam)
    You know that's no lie (bam-ba-lam)
    She's so rock steady (bam-ba-lam)
    And she's always ready (bam-ba-lam)
    Whoa, black betty (bam-ba-lam)
    Whoa, black betty (bam-ba-lam)

    Whoa, black betty (bam-ba-lam)
    Whoa, black betty (bam-ba-lam)
    She's from birmingham (bam-ba-lam)
    Way down in alabam' (bam-ba-lam)
    Well, she's shakin' that thing (bam-ba-lam)
    Boy, she makes me sing (bam-ba-lam)
    Whoa, black betty (bam-ba-lam)
    Whoa, black betty bam-ba-lam

    June 12, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  16. MTP

    I just have a mental image of all these nuns storming the Vatican with rulers in hand ready to slap some knuckles.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Now that is funny

      June 12, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  17. musings

    Too much social justice? Can't have that. Talking points are defined with an eye to power. Social justice – that's too much work. It never ends. The poor you will always have with you. The heavy lifting is done by those ministering to the poor, not men sitting back in fancy palaces making statements in the pretense that they have the power of damnation over others.

    So the ones who really put in the hard work are called onto the carpet and accused of being radical. They are. They are at the roots of the problems, the grassroots. And I would say to the hierarchy: "Cupiditas radix malorum est." Greed is the root of all evil.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  18. Drew

    Aren't the nuns doing exactly what Jesus did?

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

      Condoning birth control?

      June 12, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • Drew

      Opposing organized religion and interceding for basic human dignity. Birth control is a part of that, because it allows women to control their reproductive cycles and their own lives.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • HugoCorv

      No, they're doing the opposite of what he did. Jesus said to the adulterous woman "Go, and sin no more". The nuns have taken out the "and sin no more", leaving only the "Go" and using that to justify sinning in any way they want. He condemned s e x u a l immorality and murder as sins, and in fact raised the bar on them, rather than lowering the standard. These nuns are modern-day Jezebels.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • Pope loves TWINKS

      Jesus slept with his male buddies so no the NUNS are not doing what Jesus did.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Pope loves TWINKS

      "These nuns are modern-day Jezebels."
      So I take it you want the Pope to throw them out the window to be eaten by the dogs.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  19. Jim H

    Mothers & Sisters, please continue to resist the 'hate' that the Vatican is attempting to place in your hearts, you are truly Warriors for Jesus Christ and care for those that have trouble caring for themselves. Something Cardinals and Bishops have forgotten over time. The Vaticans' main concern now is money, for they believe money = power. Bust as Christ himself said, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven". And there are very few poor Cardinals or Bishops in this world. When Christ overturned the money changers tables in front of the temple he was trying to tell everyone that prayers are not answered based on the amount of money you give, but the amount of LOVE you have and pass on to others. So smile when the Pope orders you to 'hate' certain people and return to your calling to help those that have trouble helping themselves. You will be welcome with open arms at the gates of heaven. I often wonder what excuse the child molesting priests will try to say to gain entrance or if they've been servants of satan the entire time,,, and those that protected these minions will not gain entrance either. One should look in the mirror before trying to tell others how to act. God Bless you All.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • Dave

      Nice simplistic view on the cleansing of the Temple. Far from true true meaning, that's for sure. I suggest some study might be in order...

      June 12, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  20. Colin

    Don't worry ladies, if the Grand Wizard of Pedophilia excommunicates you, you are in good company.

    What do the following authors all have in common – Jean Paul Sartre, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke, and Blaise Pascal:

    (a) They are among the most gifted writers the World has known;

    (b) They concentrated on opposing dogma and opening the human mind and spirit to the wonders of free thought and intellectual freedom;

    (c) They were intimidated by the Catholic Church and put on the Church’s list of prohibited authors; or

    (d) All of the above.

    June 12, 2012 at 3:54 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.