American nuns come out swinging against Vatican in face of ‘radical feminist’ accusations
Protesters in New York show support for American nuns in the face of Vatican criticism.
June 1st, 2012
09:42 AM ET

American nuns come out swinging against Vatican in face of ‘radical feminist’ accusations

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) – The leadership representing most of America’s nuns came out swinging Friday against the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, in the face of charges from the Vatican that the nuns are espousing “radical feminism” and straying from church teaching.

The Vatican’s criticism of the American nuns has “caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization,” the Leadership Conference of Women Religious - which represents about 80% of American nuns - said in a statement Friday.

The board of the group had convened in Washington this week for three days of special meetings, provoked by an April assessment from the Vatican that said America’s nuns had largely gone rogue and warned that they could be a negative global influence on the church.

The Vatican report said that at an annual gathering of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, guest speakers who preached "radical feminism" went unchallenged. The report also said the nuns were too focused on social justice and not enough on opposing abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious said Friday that the assessment “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 statement continued.

The Leadership Conference’s 22-member board said that its leaders would travel to Rome this month to meet with the head of the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the office that launched an investigation of the American nuns several years ago.

Hours later, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement from Archbishop Peter Sartain in which he vowed there was a wholehearted commitment "to dealing with the important issues raised by (the Vatican's) doctrinal assessment and the LCWR board in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, integrity and fidelity."

"I look forward to our next meeting in Rome in June as we continue to collaborate in promoting the important work of the LCWR for consecrated life in the United States," said Sartain, who heads the Archdiocese of Seattle. "The Holy See and the Bishops of the United States are deeply proud of the historic and continuing contribution of women religious - a pride that has been echoed by many in recent weeks."

Pope Benedict XVI, a theologian by training, was the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith for decades before he was elevated to papacy. In interviews conducted while he held that earlier post, he spoke often about growing the church by pruning - becoming smaller but more devout before expanding.

Church experts say that the nuns have a few options in responding to one of the most powerful offices in the church. They could accept the assessment, negotiate or resign en masse and form a new group outside the watchful eye of the Vatican.

–CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Vatican

soundoff (1,467 Responses)
  1. tony

    Let them clean the collection plates!!!

    June 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  2. Dave

    Wait til Gloria Allred hears about this?

    June 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  3. alientech

    They're not nuns, they Marxist social activists pretending to be nuns.

    June 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Cubes

      Right on the mark. Well put.

      June 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Susan


      June 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • curiouslywatching

      Are you one of the alienated bishops? As a catholic woman, I am so grateful to the sisters for their love and support of the masses. While the male clergy overall is dedicated and honest, so are the sisters. The few men have made it bad for many, including the 20% of catholic boys in Boston who have suffered abuse at the hand of the priests. Thus far the only ones to call for the protection of the poor, the abused and the downtrodden have been the nuns. They are out working in the real world, not in the fantasy land of Rome.

      I wish the Vatican would work on pulling the log out of it's own eye before it goes after the sisters, girl scouts and any other catholic females. Women will protect the children, and stand up for the poor. Even now, 2000 after the death of Christ, it is women at the foot of the cross while the men hurl insults and run away from the truth.

      These women could teach many men how to be Christ-like, just as Vatican II asked them to do. They were told to do what they were doing and are now being crucified for it. I will continue to pray for those calling for this witch hunt and believe this will lead to only greater things for those truly trying to follow Jesus. Jesus is the reason for this~~we want to honor the path of Christ, not just the hard hearted, rigid laws of the Church.

      June 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Cubes

      @Susan. That's very christian of you.

      June 1, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Elias

      You do know America is a REVERSE SOCIALIST country now don't you? Private profits on the backs of public risk. Thanks wall street you traitors!

      June 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  4. Elias

    Wow gay men not liking women? who would have thought?!

    June 1, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  5. Joe Giardina

    These "Sisters" were not FORCED into the convents. Over the years they have become social workers
    rather than building up the Kingdom of God. And these nuns do not represent ALL the Catholic sisters.
    The ORTHODOX (those who work WITHIN and FOR the Church) orders are booming.These whiners
    are in their 70's and 80's and will all be gone soon. Just like CNN lol

    June 1, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • tony

      The US is a republic. Why do you want to be in a kingdom?

      June 1, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • JCNOW

      Giardina: Oh I'm sure you're absolutely right. That's why the average age of a nun in this country is over 60. Has the pope hid all the young ones, keeping them as his own private army to pop out unexpectedly and attack women who dare to use contraception? The pope will get his wish. The Catholic church will be purged, and purged, and purged, until there's no one left but a bunch of old white men. And then finally, when the last old white man dies off, so will the church. Can't happen too soon for me.

      June 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Cubes

      @JCNOW. That will never happen. If it does Our Lord lied to us and you know Jesus Chris never lied. "Peter you are the rock and upon this rock I will find my church and the gates of hell will never prevail against it." Right or wrong is the only church that our Lord Jesus Christ founded upon Peter. All the other ones are imitations. All you have to do is research the history of christianity. When did the Episcopalian, Methodist and all of these American evangelical churches founded and by whom? Where were they 600 years ago? Good luck with your research.

      June 1, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      tony – LOL welcome to life my son. The Catholic Church to which these women pledged their obedience, is not a republic and the Kingdom of God referred to above is not of this world

      June 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  6. Recovering catholic

    I think I have a voice I was raised by Nuns ,my father was an upstanding member of the church and gave more money to the church than he did to his family. i was in 3 different catholic girls boarding schools run by 3 different orders of nuns. I and some of my classmates were systematically abused by the nuns. However that was the dogma of the time break the child so they know their place. As a child we lived in fear. you had to contend with nuns & priests within that part of the population who also had psychotic or sociopathic behaviors . Then you have children raised in fear. If you weren't worrying about whom your next attack was coming from you were subject to fear according to catholic dogma every sin became a worry for eternal damnation . These were the teachings of the catholic male hierarchy. However in defense of the nuns by profession and belief they were and still are the hands on people of the church. They work with the poor, disadvantaged ,and people who have encountered social injustice the elderly and the youth. These dedicated womyn help the flock while the Vatican continues to RULE the flock and seem to have little to know knowledge of what daily living in the real world is like. Womyn will always be second class citizens and must yet be subjugated to the will of the Vatican's totally male hierarchy. I hope that those nuns who actually have Love, or Christ, {whatever you wish to call it} in their hearts that they ignore the Vatican and continue their works of mercy , like Jesus did . The prophet and radical thinker and advocate for the whole flock not just the wealthy and powerful.

    June 1, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Cubes

      Getr yourself to a convent. You need to recover some more. You have it all wrong. The Catholic church is not a democracy. It is a theocracy. You don't have to like it. If you don't you have many other choices to go to, but remember one thing. Right or wrong the Catholic church is the Only one founded by Jesus Himself. Who founded those other churches and by what authority?

      June 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • JCNOW

      @Cube: Oh puke. Yet another one who exalts the supremacy of one religion over all others. There is no chance that the world will ever have peace as long as there are people like you on this earth. Go away and do the rest of us a favor.

      June 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  7. Design Diva

    @Catholic Clarity – You are being ridiculous. The abusive priests and the cardinals that covered up their heinous crimes are clearly at fault for the collapse of the Catholic Church. The nuns are on the right track – in the 21st century, helping and educating people. They would be very smart to break away from those male, power-hungry criminals in dresses and join the rest of the civilized world – the people who DO take care of children and the poor. Give it up.

    June 1, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  8. Patrick

    All your church are belong to nuns.

    June 1, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  9. Freemont1

    I am ASHAMED to admit I was born into a Roman CAtholic family, raised under the threat of hell and damnation were I to break a commandment.
    The Nuns were/are the 'work horses' of the 'faith. Kept us in neat little rows, ensured our education was immacualte and pristine,, and, looking back .. kept the priests hands away from our pre pubescent and pubescent bodies !!!
    I actually went a flipped through one of my year books after reading this news article .. WOW .. sure makes me think about how much these women did to educate and inform us ..
    Ahh the MAN CHURCH left my life in my 20s when I started to query REAL LIFE .. not the 'smoke and mirrors' I had been exposed to..
    The next Pope should be a POPETTE .. Pope Shrley or Laverne works for me !!!!

    June 1, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Come back to the Church my friend. You may find that though the lessons were dealt severely, the truth remains. The Church needs its people and the people need the Church, vibrant, knowledgeable and alive.

      June 1, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  10. tony

    This in not just Catholicism, or even just one pope. All religious leaders that acquire any form of power, end up being just the same. It's all about control of multiple women so that they can be used (and usually abused) more easily.

    June 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      You watch too much TV

      June 1, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  11. government cheese

    This story is 2 months old with the same picture. Only the date has changed.

    June 1, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Catholic Clarity

      Plus, nuns are cloistered so they did not "come out." Even the religious sisters didn't "come out." Just some people who think they're speaking for American nuns (who they've never met since they're...ahem...cloistered). It's like a moth to a flame. Someone got bored so they change the date on a down-with-the-catholic-church story, sit back, and watch the battle. On the one hand, I ask myself how I let myself get sucked in. Then I remember Joan of Arc and wonder if she asked herself that question. Probably not.

      June 1, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • tony

      The advertising must go on!

      June 1, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  12. ChuckB

    Unless the nun's recant, they will have to leave the Church. From the sounds of it, they are not going to back down. The Episcopal Church has orders; they could go there. Let the Roman Church get smaller so it can get better; the only downside is that those that stay will have to pony up more for the collection plate so the hierarchy can continue to live in the style of which it has grown accustomed.

    June 1, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Chris R

      They don't have to recant if they don't want to. Until and unless the Pope comes down with a threat of excommunication they don't have to do anything. It's unlikely the Pope will go the route of excommunication as this is *not* a doctrinal issue.

      June 1, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • WmHenryii

      Excellent point: even a card-carrying Muslim could be an Anglican/Episcopalian in good standing; unfortunately, however, they do not have valid orders.

      June 1, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • tony

      Best result would be a church of zero membership. Not long to then I suspect.

      June 1, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  13. raggedhand


    To be most concerned about social justice is exactly what your Jesus you have you do.

    June 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      I think an in depth reading of the report would reveal that the Vatican as well as the sisters are both concerned with social justice. They have merely taken divergent paths to achieve the same end. The Vatican asserts, rightly, that it has canonical jurisdiction over the nuns. The nuns in question must decide if they will submit to their vow of obedience or make a stand against it.

      June 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  14. guy

    The Vatican is worried about the nuns...... what about the priests????? they are the ones ruining the churches "image"

    June 1, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Catholic Clarity

      Oh I see. Just as teachers are ruining the educational system.

      June 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • Pope Benedict The Mad

      This is a fight the Vatican will lose in one way or other. The nuns are the only ones upholding the most basic unadulterated tenets of their faith.

      June 1, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Anglo-Catholic

      Catholic Clarity, if the teachers are sleeping with middle schoolers, then yes.

      June 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Anglo-Catholic – More teachers per capita are abusing children that in the priesthood. This is statistically verified. So the question CC poses is "Why isn't there an uproar to close down the school system?" Ask yourself. Why is the Catholic Church under fire while the government system is not?

      June 1, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  15. proud female dem in nc

    To the good Sisters: Keep up the good work you do. the Bishops wouldn't dirty their hands working with the poor. The Catholic Church is the white, male, old boy club!!! They live in their gilded cages and are clueless about the real world!!

    June 1, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  16. Catholic Clarity

    Some flock to these types of stories to try to attack Christians....or to focus their attack on Catholic Christians....but if some are here caring about the religious sisters in America, and if you're concerned about their "plight" or want to know more, check out the Imagine Sisters movement – on FB and youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6sge19dMVw. Quit listening to people who don't know what they're talking about. Let a religious sister tell you what it's like to be called to serve the Church in this way.

    June 1, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Thank you this was beautiful

      June 1, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  17. sir_ken_g

    Good for them. They need to leave that sad relic of a "church".

    June 1, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Catholic Clarity

      Choking a bit on your ironic use of the word relic. Yes, that's it. Relic. The bones of those who DIED for the faith.

      June 1, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • esmiranda

      If the church dies, the priests will just be plain old pedophiles without anyone's blessing. There's some clarity for you. Enjoy.

      June 1, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • dozapolis

      How little you know about the history of relics. How little you know.

      June 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  18. steven harnack

    The Catholic Church and the Republican Party; desperate to to return to a rich, white male domination of the world and everyone on it.
    , and on the wrong side of both history and progress.

    June 1, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Catholic Clarity

      Hmm.....interesting. I wonder if my black (and fantastically faithful) American archbishop might like to read this insightful remark. Have you MET any of the bishops and cardinals? Will you feel better when there is a Pope with a darker complexion? Didn't help me much once we had a president with slightly more melatonin. I try to look at the heart...the support beneath the faith.

      June 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • tony

      Actually, the quite recent history of the Church in Franco's Spain, and Pinochet's Chile is even more disgusting and wicked. Maybe as many as hundreds of thousands of babies stolen from murdered or deceived parents.

      June 1, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  19. Thomas Guerra

    U.S. nuns are driving forward, the pope is going in reverse.

    June 1, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  20. The Big BC

    The nuns have only themselves to blame. When the assessment began, many of these same women told their membership not to cooperate. If the Vatican has the facts wrong, its because these nuns refused to cooperate.

    June 1, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • sir_ken_g

      Nonsense. The Pope "got it right" alright – he just did not like them joining the current century – being still in the 15th himself.

      June 1, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • marjee123

      What a bunch of crapola. The Vatican told the Nuns not to concentrate on feeding and ministering to the poor and the needy. that they were to put all their efforts into trying to sway people's opinion about gays and lesbians. What in the devil kind of church has the Vatican trying to turn Catholics into. The job of the church is to held those in need. Not to try to influence political opinions. What they are doing is trying to deflect the fact that the Bishops deflected the public pressure about the child molester priests by transferring them some place else where they were not known and could start molesting little boys again. and you are blaming the Nuns. Incredible and dsgusting.

      June 1, 2012 at 4:45 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.