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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 27, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 17
Nuns stand firm, archbishop evasive
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Nuns stand firm, archbishop evasive

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Three groups of U.S. nuns charged by the Vatican with 'serious doctrinal problems' have spoken out, categorically denying they departed from Catholic teachings, while Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, the prelate charged with disciplining them, sounded a note of conciliation.

On April 18, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) - the Catholic disciplinary body once headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI - issued a report severely critical of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the largest group of U.S. nuns.

The nuns were charged with supporting both contraception, because some of them lobbied for President Obama's Affordable Care Act, and homosexuality, because some of them set up an LGBT-affirming ministry.

The LCWR said it was 'stunned' by the Vatican report, because the CDF had never raised any issues in their annual meetings with the nuns.

NETWORK, a Catholic lobbying group mentioned in the CDF report, said they had not been contacted by the Vatican either.

'We are deeply puzzled by the findings in the Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which were just released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Despite its references to NETWORK, we were never asked to provide any information about our mission or activities,' NETWORK said in a statement.

NETWORK apparently provoked the ire of the Vatican by lobbying for the Affordable Care Act.

NETWORK's executive director Sister Simone Campbell said it was 'painfully obvious' the Vatican was 'not used to having educated women form thoughtful opinions and engage in dialogue.'

'We will keep doing our mission,' she insisted, 'caring for the least among us on the margins of society.'

'We haven't violated any teaching,' Campbell added. 'There seems to be a major disconnect, where [the Vatican] seem to think that faith can only lead to one political approach,'

NETWORK 'speaks for our members, not for a church. Helping others is at the heart of our faith,' she added. 'We are a political, not doctrinal, organization: we don't teach theology.'

New Ways Ministry, an LGBT-affirming Catholic organization which has long feuded with the Vatican, was also cited in the CDF report, and also rejected the CDF's conclusions.

'If the leadership of the Catholic Church is unwilling to listen to the idea of the leaders of some of its most dedicated members, then our Church will never be able to grow or to respond in a Gospel way to the needs of our world,' New Ways said in a statement.

'The CDF's repressive action towards LCWR further erodes Catholicism's ability to be a vital force in the world. '

Echoing NETWORK, New Ways suggested the Vatican was not receptive to women's views.

'Why are Vatican leaders afraid to hear what women religious think on topics such as homosexuality that is being so widely discussed in all other quarters of society?' they asked.

New Ways co-founder Sister Jeannine Gramick was investigated by Ratzinger in 1999, and ordered to suspend her pastoral work with LGBT people. In 2001, her order instructed her not to make public statements.

She refused to comply, and changed her affiliation to another order of nuns who would allow her to continue her advocacy work.

'I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression by restricting a basic human right [to speak]. To me this is a matter of conscience,' she said at the time.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Sartain, who has been charged by the Vatican with bringing the nuns into line, sounded some conciliatory notes.

In Rome for consultations with the CDF, Sartain said he hoped he could 'help the sisters and the LCWR recognize that we are all in this together.'

The CDF investigation is actually a 'great opportunity' for U.S. nuns, bishops, and the Vatican to 'strengthen and improve all of our relationships on every level,' Sartain claimed.

The archbishop also dismissed reports suggesting that the Vatican's action was a response to widespread support by nuns for the Obama administration's health care reform law, which U.S. bishops have condemned because it makes contraceptives available to women patients.

'There's been nothing in any conversation that I have had about the [CDF] assessment that would indicate to me that there would be any truth to that,' Sartain said.

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