Catholic Church | Pope Benedict | Religion

Vatican Censures Nuns; Sisters Strike Back

The membership of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious comprises about 80% of the 57,000 nuns in the United States, and they're sticking it to the Vatican.

It didn't have to be this way. Until April, America's nuns were minding their own business, feeding the poor, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless; all of the good things that nuns are wont to do while their male counterparts are misbehaving. Then the Vatican labeled them "radical feminists" and accused them of "serious doctrinal" malfeasance, and announced it would send a team of high-powered, manly bishops to put the little ladies in their place.

As the New York Times explained it at the time:

The Vatican’s assessment ... said that members of the group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, had challenged church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

The sisters were also reprimanded for making public statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” During the debate over the health care overhaul in 2010, American bishops came out in opposition to the health plan, but dozens of sisters, many of whom belong to the Leadership Conference, signed a statement supporting it — support that provided crucial cover for the Obama administration in the battle over health care.

Battlenuns... Word of the Vatican’s action took the group completely by surprise, Sister Sanders said. She said that the group’s leaders were in Rome on Wednesday for what they thought was a routine annual visit to the Vatican when they were informed of the outcome of the investigation, which began in 2008.

“I’m stunned,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby founded by sisters. Her group was also cited in the Vatican document, along with the Leadership Conference, for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping “silent” on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Too much charity, in other words, and not enough sanctimony. To rectify the imbalance, the Vatican announced it would send three doctrinally secure bishops to overhaul the nuns' policies, rejigger their hierarchy, approve speakers at their meetings, and generally dictate their behavior for a period of up to five years.

Now, after a month of silence, the nuns have said: No.

From Friday's Times:

After three days of discussion and prayer in Washington this week, the 21 national board members of the group decided they could not accept the Vatican’s verdict, and would send their president and executive director to Rome on June 12 to open a dialogue with Vatican officials.

Sister Pat Farrell, president of the leadership conference, said in a telephone interview on Friday, “We do want to go and speak the truth as we understand it about our lives.” She said the sisters had been “stunned by the severity” of the Vatican’s pronouncement, which accused them of transgressions that included promoting radical feminism and contradicting the bishops. The sisters were also concerned that the assessment was conducted almost entirely by written communication, she said, with only “minimal contact” with officials at the Vatican office that issued the conclusions, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Among the accusations the nuns considered “unsubstantiated” was the Vatican’s charge of promoting “radical feminist themes,” Sister Farrell said.

“Even large sectors of the church itself have legitimate concern and want to continue to talk about the place of women in the church, and rightful equality between men and women,” said Sister Farrell, who is a member of the leadership team of the Sisters of St. Francis, of Dubuque, Iowa. “So if that is called radical feminism, then a lot of men and women in the church, far beyond us, are guilty of that.”

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  1. If the nuns and likeminded priests would break from the Vatican, I might go back to the catholic church.

    Posted by: mike128 | Jun 3, 2012 3:29:36 PM

  2. The Nuns/Sisters of today are not the poorly educated young girls that the church sent in to classrooms to "teach" 80 kids per class. They are not the meek young women who said: Yes Father to whatever they were told. Today's Nun/Sister is a liberated and well educated woman who is committed to carrying out what they see as the gospel command to feed the hungary, tend to the poor and sick etc. While I am no longer a believing Catholic, I think they are just about the only thing worthwhile in Catholicism. Isn't it interesting to see that most of them dress in modern clothes while the male Catholic hierarchy still go around in what must be called DRAG.

    Posted by: andrew | Jun 3, 2012 3:43:10 PM

  3. You know, Brandon K. Thorp. The picture included with this entry made me completely fall in love with you even though I KNOW I will never have a chance... SIGH

    Posted by: WayneMPLS | Jun 3, 2012 3:46:20 PM

  4. The "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" is otherwise known as the Inquisition

    Posted by: Steve | Jun 3, 2012 3:48:23 PM

  5. "Now, after a month of silence, the nuns have said: No."

    Something about the way this was written just did it for me. I always love BKT's weekends 'cause he's just a little sassier than the norm.

    Posted by: Michael | Jun 3, 2012 3:48:32 PM

  6. We need to hear more stories like this in the news... about the Vatican's complete unwillingness to enter modern times... and that they won't give up money and power, which is really what this is about. If more people see what organized religion does to enslave people to a tyrant, then more people will rebell. Hell, if NUNS are protesting against the Pope, maybe more of the congregation will wake up to reality. Good for you, sisters!

    Posted by: GraphicJack | Jun 3, 2012 3:54:12 PM

  7. Kudos to the women of the LCWR(of whom my aunt is a member) for standing up to Pope Palpatine. Looks like its time for an American Schism.

    Posted by: Beejers | Jun 3, 2012 3:54:27 PM

  8. They may need to call-in Sister Bertrille (Sally Field as "The Flying Nun") to provide air cover. What's the Vatican going to do, send in the Swiss Guard?

    Posted by: Anastasia Beaverhausen | Jun 3, 2012 3:57:34 PM

  9. I just cut-and-pasted that pic and sent it off to a dozen friends and family. I'd read the NYT articles, but was completely enthralled by your choice of image to accompany the reprint. Sistahs, indeed!

    Posted by: Wavin' Dave | Jun 3, 2012 4:00:31 PM

  10. Thanks to Michael, WayneMPLS, and Wavin' Dave, and a happy Sunday as well. Cheers!

    - BKT

    Posted by: Brandon K. Thorp | Jun 3, 2012 4:04:24 PM

  11. GraphicJack - You hit the nail on the head. There is more to this than "theology" differences. It is likely the boys want control of the nuns' organization money. My guess is the nuns will start a new organization and take every action possible to protect their programs.

    Posted by: Angela Channing | Jun 3, 2012 4:26:01 PM

  12. What is this radical feminism? Its really called having a voice. These women are the backbone of the Church. For me they are the reason the Church still exists. They are working with the poor the marginalized and the victims of societal greed! They live in modest housing among the people, not in palatial buildings adorned with gold. They are ballsy and intelligent--and that will take them far. I say ordain a few of them and call it a day!!

    Posted by: John Schaal | Jun 3, 2012 4:47:54 PM

  13. I met and worked with a nun while I was an undergraduate. She was fun, bright, and sassy. I'm certain she would have a few choice words for Pope Gargamel.

    Along the same line, I also met a Benedictine Brother when I was an undergraduate. I got to know him a lot better than I knew the sister. He had a bit of confessing to do after our time together.

    Posted by: Mike in the Tundra | Jun 3, 2012 5:01:43 PM

  14. The real issue with the Vatican here is that nuns take a vow of poverty and keep it. No shiny palace and no amount of money can crack a Nun. They live simple lives. Money and Power is what Priests and Bishops and the Pope live for while the Sisters disregard the wealth and corruption of Rome to live in the real world. They deal with real people and real world problems. Not being able to control women is general is the Vatican's biggest fear, having the Sister actually live the Message and make them look the corrupt fools that they actually are everyday has probably angered them beyond belief so much so that at the worst time possible they would choose to ignore its own house of lies, greed and corruption to focus on the Sisters whom are held in high regard by most people.
    I wouldn't help Dolan if he was on fire but if a Sister needed help crossing the street I would toss my burden to the ground to give her aid.
    The Vatican is Dead to the world but the Nuns are alive and well, respected and loved for the sacrifices and gifts they freely share. The Vatican is openly mocked and ignored, rightly so, for living in Gold Palaces, unimaginable wealth and privilege ignoring the world and living in hubris contrary to the Message while people are starving worldwide, children are raped and their attackers are hidden by the organization itself and its spokespersons outright boldface lie at every occasion. It should surprise anyone that they will destroy what they can't control whenever possible and crush any woman who may put their power, wealth and privilege in jeopardy Or you know the exact opposite of what Jesus would do as usual.

    Posted by: Mickey | Jun 3, 2012 5:42:12 PM

  15. Nuns are the ones that do all the heavy lifting and thankless jobs. "You go girls"!!

    Posted by: BOB | Jun 3, 2012 5:45:20 PM

  16. P.S. I bet the Vatican would make Maggie Gallagher Mother Superior if they could get away with it.

    Posted by: Mickey | Jun 3, 2012 5:48:27 PM

  17. P.S. I bet the Vatican would make Maggie Gallagher Mother Superior if they could get away with it.

    Posted by: Mickey | Jun 3, 2012 5:48:28 PM

  18. I love the nuns photo. It reminds me of a similar image that was part of a caption contest. The winning entry was "How do you solve a problem like Maria?"

    Posted by: James in Hollywood | Jun 3, 2012 5:50:18 PM

  19. JAMES in H - thanks for that laugh!

    Posted by: TJ | Jun 3, 2012 6:07:50 PM

  20. Nuns with guns! Go get those backward minded Church sisters!

    Posted by: jaragon | Jun 3, 2012 6:13:18 PM

  21. I am still shocked that the Vatican could say something like the nuns are focusing too much on working with the poor. WTF??? Isn't feeding the poor and clothing the naked, helping the downtrodden, aren't these the main points of Jesus' message?

    Posted by: Reggie777 | Jun 3, 2012 6:22:21 PM

  22. The should be sending a delegation from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to Rome.

    Posted by: dearcomrade | Jun 3, 2012 6:23:41 PM

  23. So I guess the boys forgot who taught them through grade school, high school and maybe college. It also appears they opine that Mother Teresa's work was in vain; if so, why is she being considered for sainthood??? What the hell are these guys smoking anyway???

    Posted by: Jim | Jun 3, 2012 7:15:02 PM

  24. Makes one ask if Jesus & Catholicism isn't a load of bunk when "His Church" is an organised criminal enterprise.

    Posted by: mikeflower | Jun 3, 2012 7:28:02 PM

  25. The Christians are all about keeping women down and in their place, as well as keeping any body down who does not go along with their agendas. They have some oppressive people in positions of power who are like Christian Hitlers who are anti-women rights and anti-gay rights and anti-minority religions who do not go along with or bow down to their hate and madness. They have had 2,000 years and all they do is keep people down like they are the religious police. They plainly do bad things to people and children and think that they are above the laws.

    Posted by: Dave | Jun 3, 2012 8:37:05 PM

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