Report rips 57,000 U.S. sisters as ‘radical feminists’ at odds with Church teaching
Evandro Inetti/Zuma Press
The Vatican has issued a scathing condemnation of America’s largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns, declaring them promoters of “radical feminist themes” for taking liberal stances on contraception, homosexuality and female priests.
Four unsuspecting members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 57,000 U.S. nuns, were handed the highly critical report during an annual pilgrimage to the Vatican on Wednesday.
“God really is, literally, the only one who knows” what is going on, Sister Annmarie Sanders, spokeswoman for the organization, told The Daily.
The church appointed Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle to oversee a top-to-bottom overhaul of the country’s largest umbrella group of sisters, which conducts religious leadership training programs and advocates on behalf of the poor and the victimized.
The Vatican report, written by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the Maryland-based nuns’ group faced a “grave” crisis because of “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” that have marked the sisters’ teachings and speeches.
The women also were castigated for public remarks that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.”
Sanders told The Daily that her group was surprised by the Vatican’s condemnation and uncertain about what to do next. “We really don’t know,” she said. “We’re going to consult with our board members.”
In 2010, as debate raged over President Obama’s reform of medical care, American bishops opposed the health care overhaul, but several nuns who were also group members signed a statement supporting it.
The report not only chastises the nuns for their health care stance, but takes their lobbying group to task for being “silent on the right to life.”
Sister Simone Campbell, a lawyer and executive director of Network, the nuns’ Washington advocacy organization, was openly critical of the report.
“It’s quite visceral,” she said. “It’s like a sock to the stomach.
“The idea that Women Religious in the United States is not being faithful to the Gospel is just shocking,” she said. “The fact is that our lives are committed through these vows to living the Gospel, and while we have amazing richness in the spiritual life, we give up a lot to do this.”
The Vatican has been investigating the conference since 2009, Sanders said. But the group had no idea the investigation was completed or that she and her fellow nuns would be reprimanded.
One portion of the scathing report seized on references made by nuns to the church’s “patriarchy.”
Such language “distorts the way in which Jesus has structured sacramental life in the church,” the report said.
Sartain is in charge of rewriting the group’s statutes, approving its speakers and scrutinizing all programs and plans.
Campbell said she didn’t know what “was in [the Vatican’s] mind.” But the report, she said, stems from a fundamental problem — “leadership doesn’t know how to deal with strong women, and so their way is to try and shape us into whatever they think we should be,” she said.