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. a little sad

    The Vatican ex-communicated a nun last year for saving the life of a woman by terminating a life-threatening pregnancy.

    The Roman Catholic church has no morals.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  2. beelady950

    boy oh boy, thier issues are caring for people who are poor, .........what seems to be the problem........isn't THAT what they are doing. Crazy vatican nut jobs

    April 19, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  3. Tom

    The Catholic church, as it exist under the Vatican, is just another right-wing boondoggle.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  4. Jim Hahn

    Very interesting. A bunch of celibate men are deciding how women are supposed to live? The Vatican considers women who think for themselves to be radical feminists. My second cousin has been a nun for over 50 years and is so fed up with the Church and this Pope in particular, she hasn't been to church in years.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  5. ECK

    Really? And the Catholic Church wonders why American woman left and are leaving in droves. Having been raised Irish Catholic and having been exposed to the hypocrisy that is the Catholic Church, I am now a Buddhist who practice the mantra, "first do no harm". WOW, the boys really do not get it do they? I wish them all the very best of luck.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • ed galbraith

      So...you think you have to be SOMETHING. Catholic to whatever...out of the pan and into the fire...I'd like to check in again in 10 years.

      April 20, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  6. *frank*

    Haha everything these idiotic anti-life vampires do just hastens the ruin of their disgusting Orwellian toilet of a religion hahahaha.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  7. SuZieCoyote

    These bishops are among the sickest human beings on this earth.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  8. Virginia

    Nothing new about the church trying to suppress anything that is in the best interests of women.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Robert

      The trouble with these comment boards are that anyone can say whatever they want without giving credentials or even a name. For example, who are you to use such divisive innuendo concerning the people who are just upholding the historic positions of a religeous group? Do say you disagree is one thing, but to be divisive and belittling is a very wicked thing, albeit easy to do when you're anonamous.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Treese

      Robert, I notice that Virginia is no more anonymous on here than you are.

      April 19, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  9. skyduck

    This haven for Gay pedophile men is critizing the Nuns? Give me a break!

    April 19, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Robert

      That's a very wicked thing to say. You are a very wicked person. The men at the top of the group of those who are trying to uphold these doctrines have called the offenders to account. To slandar them is wicked. YOU are the wicked person here.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Treese

      Robert, please understand that "wicked" is not a term that means the same thing to those of us who don't share your beliefs. It makes me smile that you used it so many times in your post, as if it had magic powers.

      April 19, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  10. ANOTHER Misleading Headline

    Dear Eric Marrapodi - The teaser headline on cnn's frontpage - "Vatican blasts nuns' feminism" – is completely misleading. The Vatican was not "blasting" "feminism" generally but expressing concern over certain RADICAL feminism. Omitting radical from the headline conveys the wrong and misleading impression to the reader that the Catholic Church is hostile to femininity. Please have someone correct.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • SuZieCoyote

      No – pretty clear to me. The hatred for women runs deep among these men. Any kind of situation where women are not chattel is venemous to them.

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

      Your post is misleading. The headline is actually fairly accurate.

      The record shows that the catholic church hates and subjugates women, wants them in a secondary role to men, and opposes feminism and women's rights generally.

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

      that was a reply to "ANOTHER..."

      April 19, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Robert

      Suzy, and when God throws you into Hell for being a slanderar I'll bet you're going to tell Him that He's a woman hater too. The real question here is, who died and made you judge of all the earth? Your problem is that you're proud!

      April 19, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • mary

      This reply is actually for Robert.
      Robert, you have a problem. Your obvious..shal we say..dislike of women with brains is all too apparent. Who are YOU to judge that what others say is wicked or evil? The Catholic Church has traditionally put women in a subservient position...it's how they can feel manly. And as for your comment on the pedophile problem in the Church, they are still to this day covering up the extent of the problem. We only hear about it if a victim comes forward and names the priest, Rome hasn't looked at the books to see how many priests were transferred to another city because of pedophile behaviour and brought them all to light.

      April 19, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Treese

      Robert, you're a hypocrite, you're judging Suzy.

      April 19, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Thank You, Eric

      Eric - I see that the headline teaser has been changed on cnn.com's frontpage and the misleading headline was removed. Thank you if you made the request.

      April 20, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  11. SAC

    Now there was a time when they
    used to say
    That behind every – "great man."
    There had to be a – "great woman."
    But in these times of change you
    That it's no longer true.
    So we're comin' out of the "convent"
    'Cause there's somethin' we forgot
    to say to you (we say)

    Sisters are doin' it for themselves.
    Standin' on their own two feet.
    And ringin' on their own bells.
    Sisters are doin' it for themselves.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  12. MandoZink

    My 12 years of Catholic education were academically excellent, but the nuns in grade school were twisted and mean. They saw evil where it didn't exist, and seemed to really get off on delivering punishment. By their irrational actions, they did help me understand what rationality is. I am now a man of science, an admirer of the universe we live in, and a well-informed atheist.

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


      April 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • k


      April 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  13. Bob Lewis

    In a related story: "Nuns Question Priests' Feminism"

    April 19, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  14. kurmugn

    The Catholic church never has been right on any topic.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • ajk68

      Really? You really believe that?

      April 19, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  15. Toya

    rolling my eyes at this crap. People are the main problem with religion. It never fails that they will convince themselves that what they want is actually what God, or whoever they believe in, wants. Religion is completely man made these days. Youre not following anything but the people running the churches.

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

      "Religion is completely man made these days. Youre not following anything but the people running the churches.' This is what is wrong with the Catholic church and many of the denominational Christian Churches. Christianity was never meant to be a church. It was a simple theist belief of a God and a way to love him and treat mankind. Its only tenet was love.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • mary

      Organized religion has always been man made. That's the major problem with it. Jesus didn't ask us to form a church and worship him, just live our lives and do no harm and help any who need it. Organized religion has as it sole purpose, the "keeping in line of the masses". Perhaps if it had been "woman" made it would be kinder, smarter and more practical.

      April 19, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  16. Vertebrate Catholic

    Contrary to what this predictably irresponsible article says, the bishops are not "blasting" nuns. They CDF is correcting the doctrinal errors of a particular conference of nuns for the good of the souls of those who might be misled by this conference's erroneous presentation of the Catholic faith. Gender is irrelevant. Anyone who is presenting error in the name of the Catholic Church needs to be corrected for the good of souls. It is the mission of Christ's Catholic Church to defend and teach the truth, and it will continue to do so long after CNN's web servers have decomposed.

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


      April 19, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Jim Hahn

      Oh my! Here's living proof that evolution doesn't exist.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Aezel

      Lol.....keep drinking the kool-aid.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • musings

      It sounds like there is a crackdown on nuns in general because they are not wasting a lot of time lecturing the poor against abortion and stuff like that. Recently, during the health insurance political situation, Catholic pulpits had priests obviously supporting Republicans at the behest of the hierarchy. It stands to reason that if someone is primarily for following Jesus and helping the poor, they are going to be persecuted. So the Catholic church has taken a position that they are with the rich man's party, but guess what, nobody listens to that kind of stuff but rich white men.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Vertebrate Catholic

      @Aezel, do you think the Roman empire thought the Catholic Church would outlast it? Perhaps you saw the Pope celebrating the stations of the cross on Good Friday on the site of what was once the Colosseum. 🙂

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

      Thank you. CNN is sooo anti-Catholic, they should rename themselves the Anti-Catholic News Network. They take every little thing that the church does and misconstrues it to fit their warped beliefs of how religions should be run. The Bishops didn't "blast" the nuns. And they didn't get picked on because they were females. Bishops check up on organizations all the time to make sure they are keeping the faith. If they find something that either goes against teaching or can be misinterpreted to be against the teaching, they make changes to make sure no one is led to the wrong ideas.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Root post by "Vertebrate Catholic" is an instance of a Suppressed Evidence fallacy and a case of Willed Ignorance.


      April 19, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Vertebrate Catholic

      @musings, there is nothing partisan about the Catholic Church's opposition to the unjust HHS mandate. It's simple – the Church must not be forced to fund or provide "services" to which she is morally opposed. If Democrats "get" that, great! If Republicans "get" that, great! If Libertarians "get" that, great!

      April 19, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Pope George Ringo

      To question and to think critically are themselves gifts rooted in the Divine. Was not Jesus the ultimate challenger to the conventions of his time? Did he not inspire us to do more and to be more? Perhaps the Bishops would do well to follow the example of the Nuns.

      Pope George Ringo

      April 19, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Vertebrate Catholic

      @Pope (?) George Ringo, the Church is and always has been the greatest proponent around of rationality and inquisitiveness. The Bishops are not by any means trying to discourage or suppress critical thought, that's absurd. They're simply correcting error, just as you think you're doing by critiquing a model of religion that actually believes there is such a thing as absolute truth.

      April 19, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Tom

      The Church has been here for 2000 years. It will be here for all eternity; Christ said it would last forever. The truth is the truth and Christ established the Church to preserve the truth and share it with the world.

      April 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  17. Sue

    The Vatican: men in expensive dresses and hats, trying to dictate yet again what women should do.

    Free yourselves. Ditch Christianity, especially Catholicism and the patriarchy that goes with it

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

      You have it wrong. Real Christians push back against this. You don't have to throw the Christ child out with the bathwater.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by "musings" is an instance of the No True Scotsmen fallacy.


      April 19, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  18. Davethecanuck

    Comments like the one's I'm reading here is one of the reason why I feel uncomfortable identifying myself as atheist.
    Most of these anti-religious comments I'm reading here have to be some of the most ignorant and ridiculous things I've ever read. Made even more repulsive by the way they seem to revel in their non-believing superiority as they generalize and belittle the majority for acts of a relative few. Do you guys really not see the hypocracy?
    Absolutely disgusting behaviour.

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

      Spell and grammar check, please.

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

      Get back in the kitchen, Sue.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  19. Horus

    Patriarchy is alive and well in the Catholic church. Thank god most US Catholics know better than to take seriously what the Vatican intones from its hermetic 15th century bubble.

    April 19, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  20. liveimpact

    It has never been natural to not get married. Maybe if they allowed nuns and priests to get married – all of the un-natural acts would slow down...I know it would never stop. Why dont they clean house of priests – if they did something wrong – get them out.

    Many policies are wrong – I know a girl that had a child while not married – the child had major major medical problems and they wanted to get him baptized – but the Church said no and denied the child to be baptized. WOW... That speaks volumes of their policies... It is no wonder people are leaving and seeking other outlets ...

    April 19, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Jim Hahn

      "it has never been natural not to get married"???? Men and women have been having families LONG before the ritual of marriage was invented. Life did not begin 2000 years ago. Mother Nature never needed permission to continue the species.

      April 19, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • RP

      "but the Church said no and denied the child to be baptized."

      Yeah right. A child is completely innocent in the eyes of the church. Either you are misinformed or you are leaving out a big detail.

      April 19, 2012 at 6:00 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.