(RNS) The American nuns who were publicly scolded by the Vatican’s top doctrinal official for disobedience and promoting unorthodox beliefs have rejected the criticisms, and say their "attempts to clarify misperceptions have led to deeper misunderstandings” between Rome and the organization representing most of the 50,000 sisters in the U.S.
But the leaders of the umbrella group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, also said in a statement that the April 30 conversation with Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, who leads Rome’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “was constructive in its frankness and lack of ambiguity.”
“It was not an easy discussion, but its openness and spirit of inquiry created a space for authentic dialogue and discernment,” the four sisters representing the LCWR said late Thursday (May 8).
“This work is fraught with tension and misunderstanding,” they said. “Yet, this is the work of leaders in all walks of life in these times of massive change in the world.”
The LCWR, which represents about 80 percent of the nuns in American orders, has for two years been under orders from the Vatican to refocus its social justice mission to stress issues of sexual morality -- including opposition to abortion and gay marriage -- and to heed to traditional church doctrines and beliefs.
The Vatican's doctrinal office also said the LCWR must overhaul its bylaws and that speakers at the group's annual assembly must be approved by a trio of U.S. bishops, led by Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, that is overseeing the reform for the Vatican.
After an initial burst of controversy and a backlash against Rome’s takeover of the LCWR, negotiations between the nuns and the Vatican seemed to be going well -- until Mueller’s talk that opened the latest round of discussions.
In his address, Mueller told the sisters that they continued to endorse “fundamental errors” of belief and they were in effect thumbing their nose at Rome by not seeking approval before honoring a theologian whose work has been criticized by the hierarchy.
Sartain, who was present at the talks in Rome, also issued a statement saying he fully agreed with Mueller’s criticisms.
The four sisters of the LCWR said in their statement that “despite maximum efforts through the years, communication has broken down and, as a result, mistrust has developed” at Mueller's office. They said that this negative experience was not true of their visits with other departments in Rome over the past week, which were “marked by genuine interaction and mutual respect.”
The nuns did stress, however, that the frank conversations with Mueller and Sartain were “constructive” and they deepened their commitment “to stay at the table and talk through differences.”
“What created an opening toward dialogue in this meeting was hearing first-hand the way the CDF perceives LCWR,” they said. “This is a very complex matter, yet LCWR was heartened by the attempt of both CDF and LCWR to find a way through that honors the integrity and mission of both offices.”
“We have come to believe that the continuation of such conversation may be one of the most critical endeavors we, as leaders, can pursue for the sake of the world, the Church, and religious life.”
There was no word on when the two sides would meet again.
KRE/AMB END GIBSON