Anna O'Connor holds a sign "Honk for Nuns" to passing traffic during a rally to honor American nuns at J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo. on Tuesday June 19, 2012. The event was organized by local residents and the nationwide organization Call to Action, a Catholic movement working for equality and justice in the Church and society. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Vatican ends controversial investigation of US nuns with olive branch

Anna O'Connor holds a sign "Honk for Nuns" to passing traffic during a rally to honor American nuns at J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo. on Tuesday June 19, 2012. The event was organized by local residents and the nationwide organization Call to Action, a Catholic movement working for equality and justice in the Church and society.

Anna O'Connor holds a "Honk for Nuns" sign to passing traffic during a rally to honor American nuns at J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo., on June 19, 2012. The event was organized by local residents and the nationwide organization Call to Action, a Catholic movement working for equality and justice in the church and society. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

(RNS) The Vatican on Thursday (April 16) officially ended a controversial seven-year investigation of American nuns with a face-saving compromise that allows Pope Francis to close the book on one of the more troubled episodes that he inherited from his predecessor, Benedict XVI.

“We are pleased at the completion of the (investigation), which involved long and challenging exchanges of our understandings of and perspectives on critical matters of religious life and its practice,” said Sister Sharon Holland, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the umbrella group of nuns that had been under investigation, in a statement released after a meeting in Rome with the Vatican’s top doctrinal officials.

Brazilian Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, speaks with Sister Sharon Holland, center, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, at the conclusion of a Vatican press conference for release of the final report of a Vatican-ordered investigation of U.S. communities of women religious on Tuesday, December 16, 2014. Also pictured is Sister Agnes Mary Donovan, far right, coordinator of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service

Brazilian Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, speaks with Sister Sharon Holland, center, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, at the conclusion of a Vatican press conference for release of the final report of a Vatican-ordered investigation of U.S. communities of women religious on Tuesday, December 16, 2014. Also pictured is Sister Agnes Mary Donovan, far right, coordinator of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“We learned that what we hold in common is much greater than any of our differences.”

A brief statement from Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and leader of the effort to rein in the nuns, who were seen as too liberal, shed little light on what the long-running investigation achieved and seemed aimed at moving past the contentious saga.

Mueller said he was confident that the mission of the nuns “is rooted in the Tradition of the Church” and that they are “essential for the flourishing of religious life in the Church.”

The original report, issued almost exactly three years ago, had accused the nuns of promoting "certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith."

In another indicator of the thaw in relations, the delegation of American nuns met later Thursday with Francis for 50 minutes in a warm encounter that seemed to underscore the sisters' affinity for the pope's focus on social justice and his pastoral outreach to the world.

"Our conversation allowed us to personally thank Pope Francis for providing leadership and a vision that has captivated our hearts and emboldened us as in our own mission and service to the church," the nuns said in a statement.

"We were also deeply heartened by Pope Francis’ expression of appreciation for the witness given by Catholic sisters through our lives and ministry and will bring that message back to our members.”

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

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


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Both the nuns and Mueller's office agreed not to speak further to the media for the next month, and the joint statement and two-page final report issued Thursday seemed to represent a quiet and merciful end to what had been a noisy showdown between Rome and the nuns -- and one the Vatican never seemed likely to win.

The investigation of the LCWR, a network of 1,500 Catholic sisters that represents about 80 percent of the 50,000 nuns in the U.S., began quietly in 2008 but had been a serious public relations headache for Rome since April 2012.

That's when the Vatican’s doctrinal office surprised the nuns -- and the American hierarchy -- by publishing a harsh assessment of the LCWR and announcing plans to effectively take over the group and institute a sweeping overhaul.

Mueller's office charged that the American sisters were straying too far from traditional doctrines in the theological speculations of some members and said the sisters were focusing too much on social justice issues, such as caring for the poor and advocating for immigrants. The CDF was also upset that many sisters were active in promoting health care reform in the U.S.

The Vatican office also said the LCWR members should spend more time advancing church teachings on sexuality and abortion.

Mueller's office -- which Benedict had led for a quarter century before he was elected pope in 2005 -- charged three U.S. bishops with overseeing a reform of the LCWR and gave the prelates a final say over many of the group’s activities.

The sisters rejected those charges, calling them "unsubstantiated," and the report sparked a furor in the U.S. and an outpouring of support for the nuns. The controversy was yet another crisis that dogged the final year of Benedict’s troubled papacy.

Many U.S. bishops were also frustrated at having to answer for a Vatican investigation they had nothing to do with and often disagreed with.

When Francis was elected two years ago, it was widely expected that he would try to wind down the investigation, and he signaled that he did not want to waste much effort on such internal disputes.

"Perhaps even a letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine (of the Faith) will arrive for you, telling you that you said such or such thing. … But do not worry. Explain whatever you have to explain, but move forward," he told a visiting group of nuns and priests from Latin America three months after he was elected.

A separate and broader Vatican review of women’s religious orders in the U.S. ended last December with a positive report and an almost effusive exchange of praise between representatives of the American nuns and Vatican officials from a different Vatican office.

That investigation had been launched in 2008 by a conservative Vatican churchman, Cardinal Franc Rode, who said he was troubled by reports he had received from U.S. church sources claiming that a “secularist mentality” and a “feminist spirit” had affected the U.S. nuns.

Rode was later replaced by Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz of Brazil, a more progressive churchman and a strong supporter of Francis’ more conciliatory approach. Braz shepherded that review to a more harmonious conclusion.

(Left) Vern Barnet, a member of Episcopalian Grace and Holy Trinity Church in Kansas City and Brother Jim Krause (right) of St. Anthony hold a sign addressing the Vatican during a rally to honor American nuns at J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo. on Tuesday June 19, 2012.  The event was organized by local residents and the nationwide organization Call to Action, a Catholic movement working for equality and justice in the Church and society. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow

(Left) Vern Barnet, a member of Episcopalian Grace and Holy Trinity Church in Kansas City and Brother Jim Krause (right) of St. Anthony hold a sign addressing the Vatican during a rally to honor American nuns at J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo. on Tuesday June 19, 2012.  The event was organized by local residents and the nationwide organization Call to Action, a Catholic movement working for equality and justice in the Church and society. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

But Mueller, also a holdover from Benedict’s papacy, is seen as much more of a hard-liner and seemed determined to take a tougher approach. Just last September, Mueller renewed his criticism of the LCWR and sought to downplay the size and importance of the group.

The nuns took a more low-key approach, expressing a willingness to discuss the outstanding issues with the Vatican while defending their priorities and commitment to social justice and the kind of theological inquiry that riled conservatives. They also made it clear they might drop their official Vatican affiliation rather than agree to unacceptable limits on their autonomy.

The final report issued Thursday indicated that the nuns acceded to some oversight of their publications and choice of speakers for their annual conference to ensure doctrinal orthodoxy, and both sides agreed to a new set of statutes for the LCWR.

Both sides also reaffirmed a commitment to maintaining unity and keeping the faith and spiritual practices of the Catholic Church at the heart of their common mission.

How implementing those recommendations will play out in the coming years is somewhat unclear, but the report seems to make it clear that both sides are eager to put the episode behind them.

KRE/MG END GIBSON

Comments

  1. Great article. Thanks, David Gibson.

    “had accused the nuns of promoting “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

    Religion is constructed by throwing spaghetti at a wall. Whatever sticks for a while is the new Dogma.

    The Nuns know. The old spaghetti has no use in the modern world. They interact differently with society than the priests do – they have more acceptance for all the changes over the last decades: gays, lebians, women’s issues and rights, etc.

    Well that spaghetti fell off the wall a while back. The church never spots it on the floor until it is too late.

    The new spaghetti is still being boiled. When the Vatican is ready it will throw it at the wall as it always does – this is how Theology gets made and new rules for nuns will follow.

    Instead of just accepting and helping everybody as a doctor or fireman would do, religion is busy building filters and theologies to bang over other people’s heads first.

    Religion is…

  2. Defending Catholic nuns, how sweet of you. Your perception of them, though, is wrong of course. Nuns are subservient to Rome and the Pope has filtered out the feminist/lesbian non-religious who try to influence the nun’s vocation.
    Their jobs are as teachers, nurses,, social workers, and cloistered mendicants…….all under the Roman Pontiff who has approved their Order. Disobedience ultimately incurs excommunication, for they do not act on their own authority.

  3. James,

    “Disobedience ultimately incurs excommunication”

    I wish! Wouldn’t that be liberating for them?
    Unfortunately this is bogus. The Church needs someone to do the dirty jobs. Excommunicating the nuns would be like firing all your servants.

    That is why it never happens! The dying Catholic religion needs every warm body it can get.

    4,000 churches close each year.
    60% of all churches opened 80 years ago are Gone.
    3,500 people leave the church every single day.

    Why?
    Because there is nothing to this stuff. Religion is simply not needed, not coherent, it divides people into groups for no good reason and it is EXHAUSTING trying to force it to make sense:

    “ZOMBIES walked for Jesus to show support for his cause” – (Matthew 27:52)

    Nonsense

  4. and one the Vatican never seemed likely to win.

    Give it 10 or 15 years and the actuarial tables will take care of the problem these wretched orders present. Enjoy your ‘victory’, Mr. Gibson.

  5. I’ve been watching this one for a while. There was a radical element within the LCWR that had drifted far from the Catholic Faith, and these nuns would not even reply to the Vatican’s request for information, and clarification. It would be like ignoring a request from the IRS. Subsequently an agreement was worked out, and all is now good. The cream will always rise to the surface, and that is exactly what happened. This article views this whole incident through a political lens, but let that never happen! The salvation of souls are at stake! Pride and politics amount to nothing before God Almighty.

  6. Another apologetic for this pontificate. The U.S. sisters made concessions before receiving this so-call “olive branch.” They agreed that:
    “1. LCWR’s publications should “address spiritual matters rather than engage in formal theological inquiry” and be based on “sound doctrinal foundations”.
    “To this end, measures are being taken to promote a scholarly rigor that will ensure theological accuracy and help avoid statements that are ambiguous with regard to Church doctrine or could be read as contrary to it,” it said.
    2. The group, which had also been criticized for hosting speakers with views that were not fully in line with Church teachings on sexual morality, would see to it that in future they “have due regard for the Church’s faith”.”
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/16/us-vatican-nuns-idUSKBN0N71PZ20150416

  7. 1. They ‘made concessions’. How brutal.

    2. The orders in question have long since abandoned their charism and recruit almost no one. (One sad old member of the Congregation of St. Joseph told me that annual entry into her congregation declined by 97% after the 2d Vatican Council). They run such wonderful apostolates as this high school here

    http://wafflinganglican.blogspot.com/2005/11/no-good-deed-goes-unpunished.html

    Until the lot of them are too old and then they turn it over to a lay board who run it the same way.

    3. So the interests of the larger community are exactly what? To the extent that religious life survives in the occident as a corporate and spiritual reality, it will not be manifest in these orders.

  8. What cream where? Religious orders in America will be a remnant, and it’s a reasonable wager a remnant very different from these orders.

  9. Addressing Greg’s: The cream will always rise to the surface, and that is exactly what happened.
    You are naive, I’m afraid, or else trying to boost image.
    The one thing the RCC MUST do is decide on what its doctrine of the faith is for these times then determine where and how its members fail to align. Hypocrisy is not an option. Allowing a group of priests or bishops to sell porn (Germany), live in excess (including their sexual pursuits), do the MT narrative to die quick when you state “creation and life” are of the faith … and the many other personal exploits causes the institution to lose credibility. I do not agree with Roman Catholicism and will never become one in this, but I do believe that it has the right to be-exist-if not silencing others or imposing itself in areas where it does not belong, and this is the issue. Where does the RCC belong in our Society? I don’t want its big head meeting with the Pres. What has it to do with these affairs? cont …

  10. cont … If it is a Political Party then state this, but it cannot play both sides of the field in the way it has. It’s too large, and all over the damn place. It has so many views depending on where you go, differing significantly from what you state on these articles, Greg.

  11. The one thing the RCC MUST do is decide on what its doctrine of the faith is for these times

    There is no ‘doctrine for these times’. There is merely doctrine. Which is what bothers the collection of silly and disagreeable eunuchettes left in these orders. (Bothers Cdl. Kaspar too).

  12. Art, you are correct that religious orders will probably perish in the USA, as we have become too self centered here. But the cream that rises to the top, are the sisters who took to heart the position of Rome that they ceased to be Christ centered, and instead had begun worshiping themselves, (springing from the radical feminist movement). And those who chose to look within, realized that Rome was correct, and that they had lost their way. They now have agreed to refocus their Orders in a Christ centered way. Who could ask for anything more?

  13. Greg, you can call your institution whatever your little heart desires, but the more it pushes “in these times” the more it will be pushed out, and where does it go to get its support? Corruption … and it moves into areas where the people suffer under stifling laws, or haven’t yet had much of a chance for choice. Choice is always the handiwork of the Redeemer, despite what your doctrine imposes on the people. You crank at the Humanitarian sects but it will be these (of all beliefs) that will be cornering the markets, and either the RCC will be in opposition of the efforts of these due to its formal doctrine, or pretending.
    Now, you claim the RCC is a Christian body, but who aligns with its dogma? Nobody can agree—the laity are not in agreement, and look at the politics! You can’t be so in denial on this. I think you live in a dream world … spouting off Catholic doctrine and your members say to me when I ask: Sh** if I am in church for some gathering, I never tell …

  14. … never tell the priest of the divorces, the abortions, the sexual preferences. The only Catholics you and others like you talk about are printed on some postcard sold in the little iconography shops 🙂 They aren’t REAL! These are fairy tales your institution embellished in their zeal for that “one doctrine” … that “one church” … for CONTROL.

  15. Opheliart, You are correct; the Catholic Church is going out of favor. But it really doesn’t matter if there is only one Catholic left on this planet, or one billion. In fact Jesus said very clearly that there would be very few true followers left on this earth when he returns (Luke 18:8). So those who are Faithful to Christ, are faithful to his Church. That is where the guarantee is (Matthew 16:18). Jesus promised that the Church which sees its unity in the Apostle Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, will never teach error, otherwise the “gates of hell” would have closed in around the Church, and Christ guaranteed that would not happen. So stop looking at the human side of the Church; look instead at the promises Christ made concerning that Church. You would make a good Catholic; at least you have the guts to proclaim your belief.

  16. For the past 40 years I’ve known Catholic priests who are married and live their married lives secretly. Married with children. I know nuns who give their all in dedication to their community, the lives they minister to, and to their vows. The Catholic Church has been corrupted by the masculine dominance of wealthy cardinals and bishops. Pope Francis is making sweeping changes. Those wealthy and arrogant cardinals and bishops are frothing at the mouth with rage at what Francis is doing.

  17. Nobody knows who you are on the internet. Best to leave arguments from authority derived from your personal biography out of it (especially when the odds of it being true are fairly long).

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