Archbishop Gerhard L. Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is pictured in a Jan. 11 photo in Rome. Photo by Paul Haring/courtesy Catholic News Service

Nuns say they will continue dialogue despite Vatican criticisms

(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.

Archbishop Gerhard L. Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is pictured in a Jan. 11 photo in Rome. Photo by Paul Haring/courtesy Catholic News Service

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, who leads Rome’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Photo by Paul Haring/courtesy Catholic News Service

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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.



  1. “The LCWR, which represents about 80 percent of the nuns in American orders,”

    I don’t think that statement is accurate. The heads of the orders are the ones belong to the LCWR. The LCWR has no members except the “mothers superior” so to speak. So no regular nuns are in the organiztion, just the bosses. if there were an organization of the heads of the major car companies, would we consider that organization to represent all the workers? Hardly

    So the LCWR only represents the a few dozen boss nuns, not the rank and file.

  2. We already know enough about the work of the sisters discussed in this article to know that they’re committed to the Lord’s work. We already know enough about the two bishops mentioned to know that their interests lie elsewhere.

  3. The U.S. nuns should call a screeching halt to the misogynistic attitudes and practices of the Vatican. If necessary, they should separate completely and unite with Episcopalians or some other branch of U.S. Christianity where they can be respected.

    The Vatican under John Paul and Benedict and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinals Levada and Mueller have far over-stepped the bounds of philosophy, theology, history, sociology, psychology, and civility. The nuns should tell them they are taking no more of their ugly domination.

    Nuns are intelligent, learned, and good people. They do not need men in the Vatican telling them how to live, what ministries to pursue, or how to pursue them. Uncountable Catholics in the pews would follow the good nuns out of the doors and not return. And stop paying all the bills for the male clergy to live in luxury.

    The invented magic power of the sacramental priesthood is not needed. There is a “priesthood of the people,” to quote the brilliant Martin Luther who also was a victim of the scurrilous behavior of Vatican agents and its bishops around the world.

    We can have a church of our own, following the precepts of Jesus honestly, not sexually molesting youth and then hiding those sins and crimes in dioceses all over the world under the direction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger and that congregation’s prefect, took over the management of that debacle from the debilitated John Paul who should have retired years before he died.

    Who’s running that disgusting Vatican show? Where is Pope Francis in all this? It proves, just as with the 2008 financial recession in the U.S. and around the world that “Too Big to Fail” is a guarantee of failure. It is unjustified and unpursued corruption. The Catholic Church under the papacy continues to be as evil as it ever was. There is no hope for a change for the good. It continues to be evil because of the very size of its management.

  4. Wrong, “dermotontol,” the members of the LCWR are chosen by their communities in very democratic ways. It is representative. Democracy, of course, is hated by the autocracy of the Vatican-run Catholic Church.

  5. Not only the “interests” of Mueller and Sartain, but the misogynistic interests of the whole Vatican curia. This debacle is a clear display of exactly how powerless popes are. Benedict was right when he sat at his desk and told a high clerical visitor, “My authority goes no further than that door.”

    Of course, that’s the way it should be. We are all capable of learning, thinking, and deciding for ourselves. We do not need a gang of hypocritical celibates in the Vatican publishing catechisms for us to memorize or even attempting to dictate what we believe and how we live out the precepts of Jesus.

  6. your posting reminds me of something I heard some years ago after Roman catholic and Anglican Benedictines concluded a meeting to share on their common experience in the religious life: they were so clear about the closeness they shared that they regarded themselves as Benedictines first, and Anglicans and Roman catholics second. The Roman ecclesiocrats are squandering a treasure when they approach with a heavy hand the women religious in this country. As you observe, they’re a highly competent, well-educated bunch whose commitment to the Gospel trumps – or should trump – everything else. But the Vatican boys would prefer to sacrifice them to the fancy that some of what the sisters say makes them squirm a bit.

  7. We need less empty blabbering from the LCWR, and more OBEDIENCE.


  8. The more I consider the obscenity of the presumption and manner in which Cardinal Mueller and Archbishop Sartain and Sartain’s two assistant bishops treat the U.S. nuns, the angrier I become. The pedophile clergy has no room to be telling any other adults how to be spiritual, how to be religious, how to act!

    Shame on the curia, and shame on the people in the pews for putting up with these insults. These nuns are adult, mature, intelligent, learned, spiritual, and good women who are practicing the precepts of Jesus. That is more than can be said for Mueller, Sartain, and the whole raft of misogynistic, “celibate,” pedophiles, and otherwise corrupt clergy, especially those who presume to manage the church from the top in the Vatican.

    Where is Francis that he allows anyone to behave in publicly like Mueller and Sartain. We expected that from John Paul and Benedict, and from Benedict’s successor at CDF, Cardinal Levada, Mueller’s predecessor. They should be fired promptly! Of course, one of the gravest faults of the church is that it’s run by clergy. That has been the cause of all the corruption in the church since the Council of Nicaea.

    The people in the pews must demand a final say about how their church is managed or they should walk out of the church doors and never return. It is the people in the pews who pay all the bills, including supporting the luxurious life style of royal prelates.

  9. “The Roman ecclesiocrats” are the cause of all that is wrong with the church–and there is a very great deal very wrong with the church. It is long past the time that the people in the pews take over their church and teach the clergy–all the clergy–how to behave according to the Gospels, according to the precepts of Jesus. After all, it is supposed to be his church, right?

    Forget all that nonsense dogma. It doesn’t mean a thing when the ruling priesthood like Mueller is so corrupt. The people in the pews must once again take control of their church. The clergy have always done a disastrous, non-Gospel, non-Jesus job!

    Francis should fire Mueller and appoint Elizabeth Johnson in his place!

  10. You are blind, deaf, and totally out of touch with history and current events when you write about ignorant, blind obedience as you do. You need to know your church, especially its history, before you start defending the status quo of the misogynistic celibates at the top.

  11. According to some ex-nuns I have talked with, the reason the leadership of many orders of nuns is radical is that many of the more traditional nuns who vote for the leadership of various religious orders have been driven from their orders leaving radical nuns to vote fellow radicals into leadership positions.
    There are many more traditional orders of nuns which are growing, but these more traditional orders want nothing to do with the LCWR. The most prominent of these are Mother Teresa’s religious order and Mother Angelica’s order which runs a popular Catholic media across the world.

  12. Nuns are an endangered species of medieval society that has no place in the modern world. They have no protection concerning wages and benefits, nor do they have any vesting in retirement pensions. This vulnerability is why many must swallow their pride and stay. Disgracefully, the Church has the option of paying Social Security in a lump sum and then keeping* the money. Poor exploited women. More Christian moral corruption.
    (*the nuns are “encouraged” to turn the checks over to the Church.)

  13. Deacon Bresnahan: Your argument doesn’t hold any water. The LCWR accounts for 80% of nuns in the U.S. So where are you getting the claim of “many more traditional orders.”

    The fact that the average age of U.S. nuns is now 73 years and the drought of nuns matches the drought of people in the pews are other signs that you ignore.

    There is more than one way to be religious. There is more than one way to be respectful and civil. The Vatican and most bishops are in dire need of lessons from the people in the pews in everything. And the nuns sit in the pews!

    You may want to belong to the old, pre-Vatican II church. That’s fine, but accept the fact that your fellows and your church are fast disappearing–and that is a very good thing for religion. It means the people in the pews are finally insisting on having a say in the management of their church. Any church will only be better for that. After all, those are the people who pay all the bills.

  14. Rome should not be surprised at the disobedient progressive liberal voices demanding inclusion in the 21st century. Rome itself set the stage when it granted equal authority to the Pope and its hierarchy to create doctrine with Holy Scripture. Rome was the first to create the idea that you can make up doctrine as you go along. The only difference is who holds the power: the higher ups or the people who chose to believe the stuff.

  15. Well, Francis made clear the LWCR needs to correct themselves and fully supports the investigation. Perhaps it will happen before the LWCR dies off as the majority of that group are over 70. Meanwhile, the other group of Sisters are young and growing. As far as your comments on abuse, the LWCR is also guilty of crimes against children. Your quick to judge clergy, however, as already proven by studies and the investigation by the AP and USA Today, the highest rate of abuse is from married men. Largest group: Public school teachers and there is no oversight. It was announced last year the rate of pedophilia/sexual a use of children is highest from public school teachers and California leads the way with three times the number than the entire credible cases within religious faith groups. So, presented with the facts, I recommend you keep your Anti-Semitic comments to yourself.

  16. I’m not sure what you’re on about, Deacon Bresnahan. It’s time for you to see that the Past is not where it’s at anymore. People driven from their Orders by radicalism — come-on now. They could have remained and made their voices heard, couldn’t they? Jesus Christ is there for everybody and all that matters is Him and His Message — not carping on about people who don’t agree with you. I wonder what was the reality behind the decisions taken by those ‘who were driven from their Orders’. If it wasn’t tragic, it’s laughable.

  17. An excellent reply, gihlcan, From here in Europe I can say that I admire the LCWR. I particularly admire their courteous replies to the CDF and their refusal to carp and rant. They present their defence in a calm, scholarly vein and give the respect to the CDF that it refuses to give to them.

  18. These nuns should begin to consider their vow of “obedience.” If they lose the blessing of the Vatican, their NUN careers will be over.

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