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. sam stone

    Maybe if they dressed up like altarboys, they would have a better chance

    June 12, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  2. Go Nuns!

    It sounds to me like the Nuns are at the heart of the church, and it is the upper echelon of the church that has strayed. What happened to focusing on helping the poor, educating the children and running hospitals?
    Well, apparently it doesn't get as big a crowd as preaching hate, oppressing women/controlling their bodies, harassing girl scouts and trying to turn this country into a theocracy. Oh and do we still think that not a soul in those pews uses birth control or condoms? Get real. Don't get me going on the abuse scandals because it's just so tragic and the response was...and is so poor.

    The pope's response to the AIDS crisis in Africa shows just how out-of-touch the church is.

    I applaud these nuns for trying to bring the Catholic Church into the 21st century. As an Episcopalian with Catholic friends and extended family, I'm not trying to be hateful. I've been to some beautiful catholic churches and am amazed by how far and wide the reach of the church...and its help can be.
    I know there are good priests, nuns and people out there and I'm very sure not everyone in the church agrees with it. I feel bad for them because the "inquisition" style folks are drowning them out.

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

    Pope John Paul ll exercised a living will in his last days yet the LCWR is in trouble for failing to add speakers staunchly proclaiming euthanasia?

    June 12, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  4. Gopherit

    The outcome of the nuns having been summoned to Vatican City will be that they must toe the line or they will be removed from their orders and possibly excommunicated. The Roman Catholic Church still operates like a version of the old Roman Empire, with the pope in the role of Caesar and even having had conveyed upon him some of the attributes of divinity which had been ascribed to many of the Roman emperors.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • TopView20

      All empires eventually fall.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • LeeCMH

      We are in an age of enlightenment. The more people turn to Reason and away from Religion, the less power the hateful religious organizations will have. They will eventually fall as powerful empires leaving a bunch of hateful zealots.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      The only term for this is sad and... evil. Where are the gates of hell, if they are within the church, persecuting people who have helped the poor? Is the church trying to steal convent property to pay for the sins of the priests?

      June 12, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  5. LeeCMH

    Tax all churches, synagogues, mosques.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Learn to Fish

      Tax all charities.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  6. Colin

    The AIDS epidemic will kill tens of millions in poor African and South American countries before we defeat it. Condoms are an effective way to curtail its spread. As the Pope still has significant influence over the less educated masses in these parts of the World, he has exercised this power by:

    (a) Using some of the Vatican’s incomprehensible wealth to educate these vulnerable people on health family planning and condom use;

    (b) Supporting government programs that distribute condoms to high risk groups;

    (c) Using its myriad of churches in these regions to distribute condoms; or

    (d) Scaring people into NOT using condoms, based upon his disdainful and aloof view that it is better that a person die than go against the Vatican’s position on contraceptive use.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Drew

      Hey Colin, a lot of people died of AIDS sure, but just think how many new people were allowed to be born to also die of AIDS!

      June 12, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Drew thinks it would be better if you had not been born than that you become ill.

      June 13, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  7. Bootyfunk

    Bible Fun Facts:

    do you know who your father is? were you born out of wedlock? was one of your relatives 8 generations back a b.astard? let's see what the bible says about b.astards:

    A b.astard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD (Deuteronomy 23:2)

    uh oh. looks like b.astards aren't allowed to go to church. sorry, orphans - you're unclean in the eyes of the Lord. looks like even your children's children's children's children are cursed with your unclean spirit.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Pope loves TWINKS

      Jesus was a bast @r d and Mary was obviously a w h ore. Interesting where our Gods come from.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  8. D

    i totally support the radical feminist sistas.....don't drink the koolaid while there and do not agree to "go for a ride."

    June 12, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Drew

      The pope's going to make them an offer they can't refuse

      June 12, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  9. Freedom From Religion

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

    If that's not the pot calling the kettle black, I don't know what is!

    June 12, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  10. AJ

    It is informative that if you Google the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, you discover that this is the organizatonal unit within the church that administered the Inquisition during the middle ages. The more things change.....wait we don't allow change.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  11. TopView20

    It is encouraging to note that the American public and most of the world recognizes that the teachings most opposed to the message of Jesus are those of the Vatican. The Vatican has continued to stray on all matters of faith. Nevertheless, the Vatican erroneously believes that whatever action the Church takes is the infallible will of God. Hence, the great misguidance continues. Obviously, the Holy Spirit is enlightening all the world, while the hierarchy in Rome remains in opposition. I congratulate all the bloggers on this article for expressing their thoughts.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  12. LeeCMH

    How dare those Nuns try to bring attention to the starving and away from the stomp the gays bullhorn.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  13. RKT

    I had the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in high school and college during the 1960s-1970s. A very forward looking group of women, well-educated, strong ethic of social justice. I got called on the carpet by one of them for being a hypocrite about something I said vs. did. She was right. I will never forget it. She taught me that living what you believe is very difficult. I learned a lot from them.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  14. MobiusEight

    Ladies and Gentleman, photos of people who have never gotten laid! I think I see a flaw in this plan...

    June 12, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      Dionysus, god of o.rgies and wine, was a much funner god than Yahweh.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Pope loves TWINKS

      I have to agree.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  15. YouGoGirls!

    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 4:18 pm |
  16. Judy

    Nuns going rogue? how about priest abusing? stop the nonsense vatican..

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

      One item can be enacted right now. TAX all Church stocks, bonds and property.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  17. Rchmd2004

    As a Roman Catholic, I am sick of nuns who dress in short skits and wear enough makeup for 3 women, and yes I have sat behind them at Mass; there is nothing about them indicating they have taken Holy Orders. These women knew right from the get go what was expected of them as nuns; if they wanted to be liberated women, they should have chosen a life in the working world instead of in Religious Orders. Shame on every single one of them. They have chosen to take this track in life to draw attention to themselves. If you cannot walk the walk do not dare claim to be a member of that holy calling.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • 900rr

      Do you really believe in "jesus mambo jumbo" ... feel sory for you

      June 12, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Colin

      Thanks Mel Gibson, good post

      June 12, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • YouGoGirls!

      Your comment smacks of "old person". Get with the program, it's 2012, and women are not slaves of men any longer.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      there's this really hawt nun that strips down at the local club, Sister Fister - go check her out. she's got dirty habits!

      June 12, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • IAM

      It's good to be a Protestant. Don't have to believe in all that Catholic mumbo jumbo. Idol worship and all.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Norm

      ......now take off the frock and assume the position....

      June 12, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • gene

      The best thing you said is that you sat behind them at mass. That's where you belong, behind these great nuns. This is the 21st century not the 16th. When the church protects pedophiles and picks on nuns, what message does that send.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • John/kc

      Maybe if the Bishops want the nuns to give up on social justice, the nuns will just become a nonprofit outside the reach of the church, then the old boys club can just rub their knuckles while the nuns preach social justice, which they should. Catholic Bishops family plan starts at conception and ends at birth. After they are born, the church doesn't care if they eat, have health insurance or die, just so they aren't in the womb.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Erica

      I've gone kindergarten through college in catholic education. I have also worked for the archdiocese in Philadelphia. I have come across a lot of nuns and none of them wore makeup and short skirts. You just defined a whole group of dedicated women into one category simply because you sat behind some attractive nun at church. By the way, nuns do not receive the sacrament of Holy Orders because they are female. They take a vow of poverty. Priests receive Holy Orders and a vow of poverty is optional.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Rich

      It's rogue (Operating outside normal or desirable controls) NOT rouge (A red or pink cosmetic for coloring the cheeks or lips). I always get confused with those to words too.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Pope loves TWINKS


      As a Roman Catholic, I am sick of nuns who dress in short skits and wear enough makeup for 3 women, and yes I have sat behind them at Mass; there is nothing about them indicating they have taken Holy Orders. I praise the Pope for protecting the ra p is t priests. They are the Holy Church's concern, not the public."
      Thank you for your support Rchmd2004. God Bless you.

      June 12, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • sam stone

      Wow, short skirts and makeup.....did they give you a chubby?

      June 12, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  18. 900rr

    They should bring some boys to bribe pope

    June 12, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • Pope loves TWINKS

      Oh yes!!!!!!!!!

      June 12, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  19. Norm

    "Rogue Nuns"
    Sounds like an awesome new xbox game.
    Big machine guns, ammo belts and grenades.
    Fighting the forces of evil.....
    Warriors for God.........
    Smiting the wicked and forcing the heathens to repent at gunpoint.

    June 12, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  20. Bill Deacon

    Drew, I will remember this string and I hope you will. One or both of us may learn something.

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

      Certainly, I'm sure whatever happens with this whole thing will be interesting and instructive

      June 12, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Frank

      Bill Donahue, is that really you...head pedophile supporter?

      June 12, 2012 at 4:20 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.