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. moblair22

    now this is what a call the war on women.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • L.S.

      And this church has been in the vanguard of that war for hundreds of years.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  2. Atom Ant

    Just another case of old men trying to tell women what to do. Maybe they should start thinking about the huge numbers of American and European Catholics that their hypocrisy has turned off religion.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  3. Rick1948

    They are, after all, girls. What does the Pope want them to do? Have their b00bs cut off to prove they aren't.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  4. David

    The problem is that the Vatican wants the Nuns to submit to their rules. It's not about their rules, it's about the bible and God's rules.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Observer

      Yes. The Bible discriminates against women. Fortunately, most people ignor that.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  5. Christina Jersey

    Its really striking when one observes the similarities in the attire of a pious nun and a muslim woman. Both of them are covered head to toe.
    Strangely enough, when a nun does it, its called piety and when a muslim woman does it, it is termed as subjugation !!

    April 19, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • David

      The Catholic church is no more than a conglomeration of several religions. This was done on purpose to attract more people to their church.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • what?

      Nuns choose to be nuns. Muslim women are told they all have to wear stuff.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • kev

      wow, you are so right!

      April 19, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • David

      The Catholic church is mimicking the Muslims in that regard

      April 19, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • David

      They also mimicked other pagan beliefs when they started worshiping people and statues

      April 19, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • midranger

      David, you are not even close. The Catholic church is far from a conglomeration of religions. It is a single narrow minded organization that has had the same philosophy since Emperor Constantine.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  6. JT

    If only the RCC would care about their rape of children as they do about these unimportant things. Dogma is much more important to these criminals and this pedophile infested empire.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  7. L.S.

    It just kills me... a bunch of holier than though priests scolding a bunch of good-hearted, grown women. The so-called leadership of the Catholic church is destroying this religion. Actually, they did that long ago when they sided with the conquistadors, helped oppress Native Americans, turned a blind eye to Hitler's madness. and let pedophiles run amok in their ranks unchallenged. And now they are going to yell at these women and try to shut them down?? Not to mention the way they STILL infantilize ALL women and pretend that they cannot be spiritual or wise beings! Yet they could come back from all that by admitting their wrongs and truly following the teachings of Jesus – but they refuse to do so!

    True, Jesus-loving, Mary-loving Catholic people need to form their own new churches so they can worship Jesus without the destructive interventions of fools and bigots who call themselves holy, yet are full of hate and ignorance.

    If I sound harsh it is because I feel like this is just truly awful – awful. The church leadership needs to grow – and it is not – it is going backwards. It is heartbreaking.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Gardengirl

      Wish all Catholics thought like you. I do not understand how anyone can support that church. It's very sad.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  8. Susan

    They're just mad they can't burn us anymore.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • David

      The bible says they will burn us again just before the return of Jesus

      April 19, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • L.S.

      Sister, you are right... except that in some parts of the world, they are very much involved in violent suppression of women's rights and the human rights of gay people – such as in Africa. It is quite scary what they, and the evangelicals as well, are doing to our fellow human beings in the name of God.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  9. ds60

    Dude, anything outside "Roman Catholic Church's doctrines" is a step in the right direction.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  10. Michael Chicago

    Wake up before the Catholic church is no longer practiced anywhere but in a third world country where people are less likely to speak their mind. It is the nuns who have kept this religion alive not the men. For the most part the priests were far too busy on the golf course.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • JT

      No, the priests were far too busy raping the children of their parishioners.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  11. Pucksprite

    I love watching religion fall apart. The schadenfreud is killing me. Oh but I love it. More popcorn please!

    April 19, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • Lee

      Eat your popcorn, but the worms and bugs will be eating you before you see the demise of the Church. It's been around for 2,000 years and is going nowhere. Today's crisis are but a drop in the bucket when it comes to time. There have been scandals in the past, will be in the future. I doubt a church with over a billion members will die out before you do. They may even build a convent or church over your forgotten grave someday.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • Nope

      Oh, it won't be in our lifetimes, but rest ass.ured, jack.ass– it's dying.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      It's going nowhere, all right. Just like you, Leotard.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • JT

      Sadly, you are wrong. There will always be plenty of gullible sheep to keep these cults alive. If the RCC is not gone after their genocides and rapre of tens of thousands of children then they are indeed a powerful pedophile infested empire. They are disgusting to thinking people but there are plenty who are ensnared by their cluthces through generations of indoctrination.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  12. Ms

    Why are those nuns helping people when they could be living lavish lifestyles and covering up s3x abuse cases?

    You really have to admire the cojones it takes for the church to claim to be the moral authority on anything these days.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  13. old soldier

    It's all about control. The (male dominated) church feels threatened by free thinking females. Uh oh! God forbid free thought! This is why I don't participate in organized religion...it's NOT about God. It's about control and money for them. My faith is my own and no one else's to control.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • lroy

      The Vatican (not just the pope but the whole Holy See) rules the Church. The pope himself is head of the Catholic church. If Pope Benedict says something is wrong with the nuns, there must be. It's all about preserving the church "that the gates of hell shall not prevail it".

      April 19, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • Lee

      What money? These aren't protestant televangelists who get to keep all the money from their church. None of them drive big fancy cars or have yachts etc. I don't know where this comes from. You could criticize other facets and I might agree, but them having "money and power" isn't one of them. What power? Do they have an army? Guns? No. Argue with intelligence please, not worn out catch phrases that have little truth to them.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  14. Sylvia K. Eichhorn

    I am 75 yrs old and find real comfort in the Catholic Church. although I feel the Catholic Church needs to change. If the Roman Catholic can't/won't change the US Catholice Priests and Nuns should organize and have a US Sector which allows preists to marry and to take advantage of our educated, skilled nuns. If our nuns were priests,, there would be no shortage, and we may find our young people wanting to come back and be active members of the Catholic Church. Really, there are so many wonderful priests, that coulld do their job a a Priest, as wel as being husbands and fathers. There needs to be acknowledgment of the pedofiles and why they were protected so many years..

    April 19, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • L.S.

      I'm ready to join that church!

      April 19, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • JT

      Why does a religion evolve? So, it's always playing catch up with the rest of society? That indicates there is nothing divine about it.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • Dan

      Such church exists. It's the Episcopal Church. Fully Catholic but much more open-minded.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  15. Les

    They are kidding?
    They have pedophile priests abusing children for decades and they go after a few nuns who are spending 'too much time helping the poor?" This church needs to get a soul transplant. Or, better, those good women should just start their own church – a catholic church that knows women are people, Jesus is love, helping the poor is a sacred tax, and that men do NOT have all the answers. Not these priests, that is for sure!

    These priests ought to find some humility and learn from these nuns how to be real Christians, since clearly they do not have a clue.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • Tim


      Thanks. Your thoughts match mine exactly and are the reason I left the Roman Rite Catholic Church for the Episcopal catholic Church. It was a painful decision process, but I can't get over the belief that the Roman curia have become nothing but whitened sepulchers in contradiction to the gospel. This is little more than thei demand that nuns also widen their phylacteries and get down to the serious business of being pharisess.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  16. Nonny Mouse

    Gotta watch out for those radical feminist nuns. They're so busy out there doing actual good founded in real faith and love, they are forgetting the church's primary mission of social control. Tsk tsk.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  17. chris

    Another reason why I won't return to the Catholic church.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  18. Jim Weix

    I suppose the Pope must wonder why most of us are "Recovering Catholics".
    If I am correct, priests used to be able to marry.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  19. Bazoing

    Their church administration is not the holy priest and nuns out there in the streets. The nuns are an aging population that has paid a dowry. Perhaps these fiends are trying to drive a lot of them out and side step financial obligations associated with their old age and infirmities.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • L.S.

      Oh my god I hope that is not true – but I bet it is!

      Meanwhile the pope and his minions dress in gold.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  20. Greenspam

    What's the difference between God and Church? Very simple. Church is built and controlled by man. Worship the God, not the church.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Jim Weix

      Yes, many of us Catholics have learned to do just that. The Catholic Church is run by old fools, not by God.

      April 19, 2012 at 7:05 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.