April 19th, 2012
03:05 PM ET

Vatican blasts American nuns, calls for reforms

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - The Vatican is turning up the heat on a group of nuns it says are operating outside of the Roman Catholic Church's doctrines.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the church’s doctrinal watchdog, on Wednesday announced the conclusion of a years-long “doctrinal assessment” investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 80% of the Catholic nuns in the United States.

The “assessment reveals serious doctrinal problems,” said the report, which called for major reforms.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith appointed Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle to institute those reforms.

The report singled out a Washington, DC social justice group called Network, which is run by nuns and the Resource Center for Religious Institutes, which assists members with financial and legal resources.

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The Vatican report, made public by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the doctrinal assessment began in part because of the group’s dissent on the Holy See’s teaching on the ordination of women and human sexuality.  The Catholic Church ordains only men to be priests and says sex is to be reserved for between a man and woman who are married in the eyes of the church.

The assessment said that a Leadership Conference of Women Religious conference yielded “manifest problematic statements and serious theological, even doctrinal errors,” that went unchallenged.   It also said the event promoted “radical feminism”and decried the “prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR...”

While the assessment praised the social justice work of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Network and the Resources Center for Religious Life, it said the groups were “silent on the right to life from conception to natural death” and on the Church’s view on “family life and human sexuality.”

The report also took note of public statements from the nuns that opposed the Catholic Bishops. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious and Network vocally disagreed with the Bishops' conference's position on the Affordable Care Act, which they supported and the Bishops did not.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith called the current doctrinal and pastoral positions of the groups “grave and a matter of serious concern,” because of the global influence of the groups.

Pope Benedict XVI approved the request from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith to intervene and the implementation of their recommended changes, the doctrinal office said in its assessment.

Some of the changes to come include a revision of the LCWR statutes, a review of programs including their annual general assembly, and a review of their ties with Network and Resource Center for Religious Institutes.

Cardinal William Levada, a former Archbishop in the United States and now the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, said in a statement that the the Vatican process is aimed at “fostering a patient and collaborative renewal of this conference of major superiors in order to provide a stronger doctrinal foundation for its many laudable initiatives and activities.”

The sisters, for their part, expressed surprised at the findings. “Because the leadership of LCWR has the custom of meeting annually with the staff of CDF in Rome and because the conference follows canonically-approved statutes, we were taken by surprise," the Leadership Conference of Women Religious said in a statement.

"This is a moment of great import for religious life and the wider church," the statement continued. "We ask your prayers as we meet with the LCWR National Board within the coming month to review the mandate and prepare a response.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

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

soundoff (1,705 Responses)
  1. dc3gal

    You go girls! Show them who's boss already!!!!

    April 19, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  2. augustghost

    Next Jerry Springer show...Nuns gone wild...spring break Vatican....Jerry, Jerry ,Jerry

    April 19, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  3. Joel

    What would happen if the nuns just told the Vatican to take a flying leap?

    April 19, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • dc3gal

      I wish they would!!!

      April 19, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • JamesT297


      April 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Tom

      They pretty much did. That's why they're being censured.

      April 20, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Kevin H

      Well let's see – Martin Luther didn't actually tell the papacy to go to hell – and he was ex-communicated. The nuns are saying through their US organization that they're shocked. Luther not only expressed shock, he stated publicly that he was in every sense a congregant of the "One True Faith". So what about nuns who favor heretical notions such as – say health for the general public, women as celebrants and leaders of faith – and other such heresies. Well what happens is – first they're censured – then they're expelled by the faith. The church hierarchy knows, however, that expelling them is tantamount to making war on Western women – so they're treading very lightly. Of course they want to reinforce patriarchal authority and they don't care two hoots about women's rights or welfare – but what can they do? Maintaining Middle Age doctrine in 2012 must be absolutely exhausting, poor men.

      April 20, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  4. michael2u

    The church is the same no matter where you live.. they want anyone who are not straight or male to follow and do as they are told...I say do you and forget about others telling you to be subservient .

    April 19, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Prostestant Loser

      Hmmm, what if Jesus – when dying on the cross for all mankind's salvation – didn't submit to Our Father's wishes that he give up his earthly life to pay for the pride, lust, anger, envy, covetousness, sloth and anger that continually makes men and women fall from grace?

      Yah, ok.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  5. Margaret

    Sounds to me like it is time for a new "reformation".

    April 19, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • JamesT297

      Too late. The reformation happened over 500 years ago and we are deep into the post reformation period of enlightenment. I think the nuns are adding another brick to the load of messages that religion is long past useful or believable.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • David

      Don't forget that the Catholic church burned anybody alive that would not convert to Catholosism for 1260 years. That's what prompted the first reformation. The next persecution will be worse.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  6. Betty

    The sisters and women of the Catholic Church need to rise and become more active, visible and try to affect church in the church that the men has brought to its knees. We just got changes in the liturgy. What a joke! WEre these guys kidding. The changes were totally idiotic and meaningless. If men don't want to be priests, let the women in or there will be no church left

    April 19, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • ES

      Why waste energy fixing something unfixable. Just leave.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • JamesT297

      So, what's your point. It's irretrievably gone already.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Isaac

      Be real now. You know and I know that all of you are sheep. Whatever Vatican (foreign State) tells you, you will do. Without women in the church, RC organization would die within a year but they know that a threat of no baptism or no confirmation and you will come crawling. You always have and you always will. You have been raised that way. That is why almost every Catholic country in the world is performing so poorly. That is why we must not allow you Catholics to come to power because you will ruin the good old US of A. When we see you stand up for your rights then we will think about accepting you as full citizens. Until then you are nothing but slaves of another foreign power.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  7. TehKitty

    Oh, those cheeky American nuns and their new-fangled ideas!

    April 19, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • dc3gal

      Oh I know right? You go ladies!!!

      April 19, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Treese


      April 19, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      "cheeky American nuns"

      surely this is a freudian slip, no?

      April 19, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  8. Cris

    Time to tell the Iron Ladies to grab a ruler and head to Rome, there are exposed knuckles that need a bit of the "true foot soldiers" attention!

    April 19, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  9. brett

    yup, lets see a bunch of bigoted men telling women what to do, how can anyone take this organization seriously.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • asdf

      Because most people are morons and believe in the flying spaghetti monster and his son zombie jesus.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • asdf

      In the eyes of the church little boys are more valuable than women. Of course they make better partners for the priests as well.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Prostestant Loser

      wait, then let's just as correctly see a bunch of bigoted, liberal-minded and non-Catholic-guided nuns go to Rome and be put in their place.

      Ex-communication is needed for these nuns. It would do them good to be out in the real world, spouting off their feminist BS to the masses without hiding under the convenient "authority" and misleading error of a perception of the Catholic Church sanctioning their lies and near-blasphemies.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  10. Andrew

    oh catholics, you so crazy

    April 19, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • TheThinker

      Ya, well we were doing great when Led Zeppelin's bass player was Pope!

      April 19, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  11. jcg

    Ahhh it's nice living in the 21st century.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  12. Vidyashanti

    All doctrains are for for preservation of church's power and nothing to do with faith.
    Humans are granted brains so that they can decide by them shelves.In all religions clergy assumes that they are incarnation of God & they know better then everyone else.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  13. 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

    Their hats are as goofy as the men's!

    April 19, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Cris

      Without the Nuns to attend to the sick and needy, The Vatican would be a bunch of old men walking around in funny little hats with their dusty books.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Squeezebox

      You haven't seen the nuns lately. Very few of them wear habits or veils anymore. The only way you can tell who's a nun is that big ol' cross necklace she's wearing (usually made of plastic or wood).

      April 20, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  14. Lincolnite

    While the picture associated with the story shows nuns in their religious habits, the problem nuns are the ones that have abandoned the traditional habit, in addition to abandoning the traditional teachings of the Church.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Southern Guy

      Oh. You mean they're entering the 20th century? What's next – entering the 21st century!?! :-o!!

      April 19, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • dc3gal

      Oh Horrors Lincolnite!!!

      April 19, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • SensibleJoe

      The real problem is with Roman Catholic bishops who, while maintaining their traditional dress code, have abandoned the ethics and values of Jesus Christ by choosing to protect the establishment rather than human beings - by shielding and shuffling around child-abusing clergy, rather than defrocking them and turning them over to the law for criminal prosecution.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Isaac

      Yes, they have and for that there should be an Inquisition. Please think of some good penalty. They could look at videos of pedophile priests but that would be an eternity, would it not? They could look at the latest scandal at the Vatican Bank- money laundering? Yes, nuns could sink their teeth into that one! That should teach them how to really sin. Or, they could make themselves bishops because in about 20 years they could be brought back into the fold just like that crazy anti-Semitic society of Lefebre. Of course, maybe the greatest sin is that they have not learned Latin. They have been to busy looking after the poor and the sick.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Jim Hahn

      Heavens!!! I always knew it was the habit that made a woman a nun. My second cousin the nun hasn't worn one regularly since the early 60s. She's a great teacher, a delightful lady and a hell of a lot of fun. She also thinks the Church stinks and hasn't been to church in years. Imagine what he Catholic Church would be like if women were in charge? Kind, gentle, caring, understanding, etc.

      Instead it's about money and power as are all things with men.

      April 19, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  15. sir_ken_g

    What you expect from an organization run by eunuchs and dwelling in the dark Ages?

    April 19, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Don McLaughlin

      Would that they were Eunuchs! All children would be safer. AND..
      WHile the bombast about the freedom of a quasi religious business ( the Church and directly related health care is exempt) to demand that ALL their employees NOT receive the same health care benefits as the modern world, they continue to train exorcists. ( Yes! Really ... new classes.... Oh my ???....) Will religious freedom demand that the rest of us include (pay for) an occasional de -Demonizing.
      TO place this all in perspective, some religions forbid BLOOD transfusions. Can thay demand that their businesses healthcare not pay for blood transfusions?
      Where does this end?

      If we must provide special benefits ti suit their politics, why not lift the church tax emption. That means .... stay separate and out of public policy or hop in, taxes and all, and pay the price we all do to participate...

      April 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  16. nino

    Marcus, you're absolutely right!!!

    April 19, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  17. Respect

    The 2 most hated and arrogant groups on the Planet: The Catholic Church and Feminsts going at each others throats, I love it.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • tkogrady

      Well, that's not very respectable, respectful or arguement worthy of respect . . .

      April 19, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • dc3gal

      LOL and guess who is going to win!!!!!! You go ladies!!!!

      April 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  18. Dan, Tx

    The nuns will correct their errors and we'll move on. Why do people want to criticize Catholics? At least the Pope recognizes the Scientific validity of Evolution. If you want to talk about ignorant religious groups, it is those protestants who embrace ignorance and deny Evolution. .

    April 19, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • sir_ken_g

      When will they correct their penchant for little boys?

      April 19, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • David

      Correct their errors?

      Wow – just wow. Arrogance at its finest.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • TheThinker

      @sir_ken: man, talk about yesterday's news... do you also make jokes about telephones with dials?

      April 19, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Lallis

      Dan honey, it was a Catholic priest that came up with the Big Bang Theory.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Isaac

      You are a genius Dan! Which Protestant groups are you speaking of? Methodists? Not! Anglicans? Not! Presbyterians? Not! I could keep going but you are really talking about a very small percentage of evangelicals and what does that have to do with anything? If you want to talk about RC then do consider that your Pope apologized to Galileo 400 years after his death. But, deal with the issue. Your nun population has dropped by 80% in the last 50 years. I wonder why. I has nothing to do with any moral scandals. Stop protecting that which cannot be protected. America before your crazy religion!

      April 19, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • David

      To embrace evolution is to deny creation. I believe that God created man, we did not evolve from any micro amoebic

      April 19, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  19. tkogrady

    The global human population is rougly 51% female . . . yet the church's decision making is entirely from a male perspective. Weren't we all created in God's image, male and female alike?

    April 19, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • JamesT297

      Nope –

      April 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • ERic

      I believe the story says that MAN was created in Gods image. Woman was created afterwards, from one of Adam's rib. To recal. Man was created in God's image. Women were created in Adams's ribs image. If you're going to drink the Kool-aid, you should take the time to learn the teachings of the religion.

      April 19, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • David

      Man and woman were created in God's image.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • Treese

      This is for Eric:

      Galatians 3:28 New International Version (NIV) There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

      April 19, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Anti-rhetoric

      Eric, the Bible is free on the internet. You are so lazy and pseudo-intellectual I bet you think this post is about you.

      Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.


      April 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  20. Sue

    You Go, Sisters! Time to shake up the Vatican. Time that the "doctrines" of the church catch up with their parishoners' needs and desires. This is all over birth control? How many Catholics rely on the rhythm system these days? Where would the Catholic Church be without their nuns? Their priests are going to jail and they can't recruit men fast enough to replace them. Time to Shake Up the Catholic Church. All people are created equal- men and women!

    April 19, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • ajk68

      The Church does not advocate the "rhythm method" these days. They have kept up with the times, which apparently you haven't. There are much more accurate methods of NFP that are based on scientific data. These methods also don't involve filling a woman's body with chemicals or foreign objects; they are much healthier.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:40 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.