The Catholic Church is reprimanding and reorganizing an umbrella group of U.S. nuns for what Vatican investigators say are "serious doctrinal problems" regarding the promotion of "radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith." An investigation into the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) was launched in 2008, and scrutinized some nuns' habit of speaking out on policy issues pertaining to social justice. Here's what you should know:
What exactly is this nuns' group?
The group was formed in 1956 at the Vatican's request, and today, four out of five American nuns belongs to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. One of the organization's main functions is to speak out on policy issues, "especially those pertaining to social justice," says Abby Ohlheiser at Slate. It also provides leadership training to the more than 57,000 nuns it represents.
Why was the group investigated?
The probe set out to review LCWR's "plans and programs and its relationship with certain groups that the Vatican finds suspect," says David Gibson at The Washington Post. The investigation was conducted by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which Pope Benedict XVI led for more than 25 years prior to becoming pontiff.
What "radical" themes are the nuns accused of promoting?
First off, the Vatican isn't pleased that nuns spend so much time working with the poor while remaining largely silent on abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage. But perhaps even worse, the Vatican says, is that some members of LCWR have publicly challenged church teaching on issues like homosexuality and abortion. For instance, when American bishops came out against Obama's health care overhaul in 2010 because it would provide government funding for abortions, many members of LCWR signed a statement supporting ObamaCare — "support that provided crucial cover for the Obama administration," says Laurie Goodstein at The New York Times. The sisters are now being reprimanded, chiefly, for making public statements that "disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church's authentic teachers of faith and morals."
How have the nuns responded?
Sister Annmarie Sanders, LCWR's communications director, says the news took everyone by surprise. The group's leaders were in Rome for what they thought was a routine visit when they were informed that their organization was being reprimanded and overhauled. "I'm stunned," says Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a social justice lobby group with ties to LCWR. "We haven't violated any teaching. We have just been raising questions."
What happens now?
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith now has five years to revise LCWR's statutes and replace its handbook, and will have final approval of every speaker at the group's public programs. The nuns group's stances on policy issues will also be revised to more closely reflect the Vatican's, while an investigation will be launched into its ties to NETWORK.
How are Americans reacting?
It's a mixed bag. Popular Jesuit Rev. James Martin has launched a Twitter campaign — #WhatSistersMeanToMe — to gather support for the nuns and "acknowledge the hidden ways these women have generously served God, served the poor, and served this country." But many conservative Catholics are pleased, says the Associated Press, having long complained "that the majority of sisters in the U.S. have grown too liberal and flout church teaching."