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.”


  1. mike128 says

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

  2. andrew says

    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.

  3. says

    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

  4. Steve says

    The “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” is otherwise known as the Inquisition

  5. Michael says

    “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.

  6. GraphicJack says

    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!

  7. Beejers says

    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.

  8. Wavin' Dave says

    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!

  9. Brandon K. Thorp says

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

    – BKT

  10. Angela Channing says

    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.

  11. John Schaal says

    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!!

  12. Mike in the Tundra says

    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.

  13. Mickey says

    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.

  14. BOB says

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

  15. Mickey says

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

  16. Mickey says

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

  17. James in Hollywood says

    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?”

  18. Reggie777 says

    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?

  19. dearcomrade says

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

  20. Jim says

    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???

  21. mikeflower says

    Makes one ask if Jesus & Catholicism isn’t a load of bunk when “His Church” is an organised criminal enterprise.

  22. Dave says

    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.

  23. ratbastard says

    Many gays on here are obsessed with religions, especially Catholics. Reality is Catholics in America are MORE liberal and gay friendly than even mainline Protestants, let alone pentecostal evangelical Baptists and Protestants [technically, Baptists are not Protestant, since they never evolved from the Catholic church. Neither are Mormons.]

    IMO all organized religions….ALL of them, are ridiculous. This includes Jews [God’s chosen people? Really? Isn’t that like the German’s under the Nazis calling themselves the master race?], Muslims, etc. Fanatics in general [true believer shills who see things in rigid black and white, who follow a ‘party line’ and talking points. Not to be confused with the paid wh*re shills.] amuse me.

    I like how some posters will always manage to twist any story to fit their agenda or narrative. Some posters regarding this story are trying to make it appear like a female vs male issue for example [naturally, being ‘progressive’, the posters imply males are bad, females are suppressed and really superior]. Fits nicely with President Obama’s publicly admitted campaign strategy to s*ck up to female voters and write off and demonize men. Especially of course, white men.

    Reading posts on TR, even deciphering TR’s choice of articles to high-light, is like what I imagine it must have been like for people in the old USSR, who had to master the art of reading between the lines to figure out what really was going on and being said. Way too much political correctness and BS that goes far beyond stuff specific to homosexual civil rights.

  24. if the shoe fits says

    Bishop to Pope: “Oh my God! What’s next? Are they going to say that priests don’t have magical powers?” (while fondling his gold crucifix anxiously).

    Cardinal to Pope: “Excommunicate the leader, and the rest will fall into line!” (pointy hat falls off as he gesticulates).

    Pope replies: “But then she might not send me my franchise payment! This Vatican costs a lot to run! Oh, those……” (staring wistfully at new Prada catalogs).

  25. ratbastard says

    I would like to live to see the day the British and commonwealth nations [who have Elizabeth as their head of state] kick these ‘royals’ out on their a**. The very concept of birthright ‘nobility’ and hereditary head of state is incredibly insulting to any citizen of an advanced society and nation, or at least it should be. That said queen or monarch is also titular head of a state sponsored religion is even more obscene.

  26. says

    Yes Sister! Go Sister!
    Although I’m an atheist now, I still recommend nun-run coed-schools because of the pragmatic and humanist approach nuns have toward education. That is, if the only other choice is pubic school or priest-run boys schools.

  27. Chris says

    Hey, I started a Facebook group a couple of weeks back called “Nuns are Awesome” when the story about the report broke. Feel free to join!

  28. Derek Pearce says

    Ratbastard, you’re points about Catholics being more liberal than the majority of Protestants is true. You could get into the breakdown, and separate the moderates like the Episcopals and some Methodist blah blah from the crazy Baptists and Pentacostals etc etc. But your general point is still valid. However, when people dis the Pope or Catholic church, they’re fighting against stupid orthodoxy and ancient sacred cows that have nothing to do with how to be a good neighbour. The critics are not against normal everyday Catholics who live in the real world and balance being part of their Church with the stuff of everyday life. Jesus’ teachings are closer to those everyday folks’ experience than it is to the fusty hierarchy. Man, and I say this all as a complete atheist. So RATB, when you see people attack “the Church” they’re really just frustrated with the stupid imposition of old-man values upon basic human relations, but they’re not angry with the people who go to Mass. So make a divide between attacking “Catholics” and criticizing the out-of-touch-fearful-of-a-Vatican-Council-III farts who run the org.

  29. Daniel Berry, NYC says

    The Vatican can’t seem to stop itself from words and actions that are not just un-Christian but self-defeating. The defeat can’t come quickly enough.

    I just hope the sisters have bank accounts the Vatican can’t get its hands on. If not I’m sure plenty of support of that type will find its way into the sisters’ hands. This time the Vatican has chosen its battle very poorly. Even non-Roman catholics are upset by this.

  30. Bad Humor Boy says

    The inquisition to purge John XXIII’s liberating Vatican II policies, initiated by John Paul II, continues with a vengeance under Benedict XVI. The “Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR” is the most demeaning and caustic ever rendered public in modern times; a travesty of injustice that reflects the intrinsically disordered condition of this reactionary culture.

    As a friend and former nun said of these events: “…we don’t toe the line or kowtow deep enough for them.” Nietzsche went to the heart of it when he said this doctrine was “…fit only for slaves!”

    The Bishop of Rome – with the presumption of “infallibility” and the ratcheting-up of required obedience reaching absolute, has evolved into an institution ever more naked in its quest for total power. Il Papa consequentially presides over a Magisterium rife with corruption that may yet prove to be of equal proportions!

    “Jesus wept.” Well, I would guess considering what is being done to the least among us in his name! These corporate religionists have become a plague on the house of freedom. They now have zero-tolerance for any but those who come with “fear and trembling” in total submission to their dictate! All claim an exclusive franchise to sell eternal life insurance policies which permits them to fleece the sheeple in perpetuity! It’s the most fool-proof grifter’s scam in history!

    Forget the fear, and the trembling! There’s nothing left due to these criminal enterprises but a deep and abiding loathing! They all warrant prosecution under RICO!

  31. says

    Ratzinger is an extremist fundamentalist…..he always was , even as head of the Inquisition (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).
    All of the entrenched right wingers were delighted at his accession.
    Now we are reaping that whirlwind.this dolt actually still believes in his own infallibility, a concept which most rational church members regard as nineteenth century aberration.

  32. Swiminbuff says

    Backoff your Holiness. These ladies run your schools and your hospitals and pretty much any other Catholic organization that retains a positive image. You and your Bishops however have been discredited as protectors of pedophile priests and oppressors of women & minorities. The Nuns have street cred, you don’t!!

  33. JeffB says

    Andrew’s post nailed it on the head! I couldn’t agree with him more! The clergy remain cloaked in bigotry and homophobia, while the nuns live real, authentic lives in the reality of today’s world. While I no longer give money to the Catholic church, I do support many of the charities that help the Sisters in their mission to assist those in need.

  34. andrew says

    I worked with Sisters/Nuns for 35 years as a lay teacher/guidance counselor in a big urban Catholic high school and saw first hand how they evolved from the “whatever you say father” types to bright, well educated and independent women. They no longer kiss the ring of the local bishop but now challange him to follow them in making real their vision of the gospel message.I am no longer a believing Catholic but they are what is left of the Catholicism that I once admired.

  35. andrew says

    What is the average age of a nun/sister in the USA? At least 65. As good as these women are very few young women are joining convents. There are so many other positive choices.