The Vatican has appointed an American bishop to rein in the largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns in the United States, saying that an investigation found that the group had “serious doctrinal problems.”
The Vatican’s assessment, issued on Wednesday, 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.
The conference is an umbrella organization of women’s religious communities, and claims 1,500 members who represent 80 percent of the Catholic sisters in the United States. It was formed in 1956 at the Vatican’s request, and answers to the Vatican, said Sister Annmarie Sanders, the group’s communications director.
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.
“I would imagine that it was our health care letter that made them mad,” Sister Campbell said. “We haven’t violated any teaching, we have just been raising questions and interpreting politics.”
The verdict on the nuns group was issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is now led by an American, Cardinal William Levada, formerly the archbishop of San Francisco. He appointed Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to lead the process of reforming the sisters’ conference, with assistance from Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki and Bishop Leonard Blair, who was in charge of the investigation of the group.
They have been given up to five years to revise the group’s statutes, approve of every speaker at the group’s public programs and replace a handbook the group used to facilitate dialogue on matters that the Vatican said should be settled doctrine. They are also supposed to review the Leadership Conference’s links with Network and another organization, the Resource Center for Religious Life.
Doctrinal issues have been in the forefront during the papacy of Benedict XVI, who was in charge of the Vatican’s doctrinal office before he became pope. American nuns have come under particular scrutiny. Last year, American bishops announced that a book by a popular theologian at Fordham University, Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, should be removed from all Catholic schools and universities.
And while the Vatican was investigating the Leadership Conference, the Vatican was also conducting a separate, widespread investigation of all women’s religious orders and communities in the United States. That inquiry, known as a “visitation,” was concluded last December, but the results of that process have not been made public.
Think of it! A bunch of old men in white skirts telling a large bunch of women how to run their affairs, inside OR outside the church! And listening to the difference between a feminist theologian who teaches at Fordham University, a Catholic institution and a member of one of the religious orders of nuns in the U.S. on PBS, one was struck with the incompatibility of the two positions.
First, paying too much attention to the issues of social justice and compassion...is like telling a young child s/he is drinking too much milk; there is no way any group calling itself "Christian" can even do too much work in social justice and compassion.
Second, failing to publicly advocate for the church's position on birth control and abortion, when over 90% of all Roman Catholics in the U.S. already practice some form of birth control, is like attempting to recruit the army, after they have scattered to the ends of the earth. They have long ago, left the Vatican in the dust, on birth control, and one suspects, they are about to leave the Vatican behind on abortion, especially if and when the mother's health is threatened or the pregnancy results from rape and/or incest.
Doctrinal purity is the hallmark of this "descendent" of Peter, Benedict XVI, who formerly served the Vatican in his capacity as Cardinal Ratzinger, and excommunicated such theological rogues as Matthew Fox, now an Episcopal priest. Doctrinal purity is also not the church's best and most important offering to the world, especially as it presumes to "know" the mind of God, on specific issues declared "sacred" by the church tradition, and its infallible Pope.
The ban on female priests is another of the Vatican's "sacred cows" and we all know how regressive and uncharitable that policy is, and will continue so long as the current regime is in power. Another 'sacred cow' is unmarried priests, banning all hope of a married priesthood, in spite of the precipitous decline in applicants for holy orders, at least in the west.
And then there is the attempt to ban specific books, especially those written by feminist theologians, and especially those written by professors employed by Catholic universities, giving the authors some 'pulpit' within the church community to propagate their ideas.
At the centre of this innane posture of the Vatican is fear, the instrument of all evil, given its power to corrupt all those who fall ensnared by its spell, no matter how high the mighty may have previously risen....
- fear that Roman Catholics will be swayed by the thoughts, writings and actions of the women religious
- fear that the state will continue to ignore the church's ban on contraception and abortion in it public positions, funding and law
- fear that the church's "moral authority" will atrophy from neglect, especially in an increasingly secular culture
- fear that future Roman Catholics will demand change to which the successors of Benedict XVI would be unable to concur, and thereby start a negative snowball down a steep hill, from which it cannot be stopped
- fear that the purity and perfection of the one and only Catholic church will be so tarnished as to make it impossible to recruit new converts as the only Christian church worthy of joining
- fear that the loss of both its numbers of dollars and people (they are so intimately linked as to be literally inseparable) will make it necessary to close, sell off and reduce the importance of the church's body politic to a mere rump, incapable of spreading the word to the unwashed heathens still living in the dark of sin, and apostasy, outside the church
- and of course, fear that God's will will cease to be followed, for which there is no punishment except both excommunication and damnation, something never to be wished by any devout practising member of the faith, whether inside or outside holy orders or a religious order.
God no longer lives in Rome, nor in Mecca, nor in any other holy city of the past. God is either very present with us everywhere or S/He is NOT.