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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 20, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 16
Seattle archbishop to lead Vatican crackdown on nuns
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Seattle archbishop to lead Vatican crackdown on nuns

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seattle's Roman Catholic Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who recently opened churches in his jurisdiction to a petition drive against marriage equality, has now been appointed by the Vatican to lead a crackdown on the largest U.S. nuns' association.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) represents about 80% of the 57,000 nuns in the U.S. The group was founded in 1956, and has come under fire from the Catholic hierarchy for endorsing President Obama's health care reform, including provisions on abortion and contraception.

Sartain is to oversee a complete overhaul of the LCWR, which will include rewriting the group's statutes, reviewing all its plans and programs - including approving speakers - and ensuring that the organization conforms to Catholic prayer and ritual.

The Vatican said the overhaul would include a review of ties between the LCWR and NETWORK, a Catholic social-justice lobby.

Sartain will be assisted by Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, and Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, according to the Catholic News Service.

Local Catholic sources speaking to SGN on condition of anonymity said that Sartain is considered a leading candidate to replace Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who has already reached the church-mandated retirement age of 75. This new assignment is seen as grooming Sartain for advancement.

A report released on April 18 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's watchdog organization once headed by the current pope when he was merely Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, contained a long list of complaints against the LCWR.

The nuns' public statements showed 'a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith,' the Vatican charged.

The Vatican report specifically condemned the LCWR for being 'silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States.'

'Further, issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church's Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching,' the Vatican said.

'Occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops, who are the Church's authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose,' it added.

The report also said that in 1977 the LCWR took a position against reserving priesthood to men only, and that subsequent statements by the nuns on the issue were 'a matter of serious concern.'

'This public refusal has never been corrected,' the Vatican said.

In response, the LCWR charged that it had been ambushed by the Vatican.

'The presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,' the nuns said in a statement.

'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.'

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, said that the timing of the report suggested a link between the Catholic hierarchy's vehement opposition to Obama's health care reforms and their decision to crack down on the nuns.

'I can only infer that there was strong feeling about the health care position that we had taken,' Campbell said. 'Our position on health care was application of the one faith to a political document that we read differently than the bishops.'

Nick Cafardi, a canon lawyer and former dean of Duquesne Law School, told AFP that he has worked over the years with many nuns and that the charges in the report do not reflect his experience with them.

'I don't know any more holy people,' Cafardi said of U.S. nuns. 'I see a lot more holiness in the convents than I see in the chancery.'

The Seattle archdiocese was invited to comment for this story but did not respond by press time.

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Seattle archbishop to lead Vatican crackdown on nuns
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