RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Pesta writes: "American sisters issue a blazing response to Vatican claims that they are showing signs of 'radical feminism,' saying the church has caused them 'scandal and pain.'"

Sister Claudia Bronsing takes part in a vigil at St. Colman Church in Cleveland, Ohio, in support of Catholic nuns who were criticized by the Vatican. (photo: Michael McElroy/NYT)
Sister Claudia Bronsing takes part in a vigil at St. Colman Church in Cleveland, Ohio, in support of Catholic nuns who were criticized by the Vatican. (photo: Michael McElroy/NYT)

American Nuns Fight Back Against Vatican Crackdown

By Abigail Pesta, The Daily Beast

02 June 12


merican Catholic nuns issued a fiery response to recent Vatican claims that they are showing signs of “radical feminism” by failing to vigorously promote church teachings on issues such as abortion and homosexuality. The sisters said Friday that the Vatican’s assessment had “caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.”


AP Photo

In April, the Vatican released a highly critical report on the main umbrella group of U.S. nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, or the LCWR, a group that trains sisters and holds general assemblies. The study, conducted by a Vatican unit called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, acknowledged the “great contribution” of nuns in “schools, hospitals, and institutions for the poor,” but said nuns had “stayed silent on the right to life from conception to natural death.” Further, the study said, “the church’s biblical view of family life and human sexuality are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes church teaching.”

To remedy the situation, the Vatican appointed Seattle-based Archbishop Peter Sartain to oversee the nuns for as long as the next five years, providing guidance and reviewing plans and programs, including general assemblies and publications.

Board members of the nuns’ organization met in Washington, D.C., this week to discuss a response. In a statement Friday, they fought back. “The board members raised concerns about both the content of the doctrinal assessment and the process by which it was prepared," they said. "Board members concluded that the assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency. Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission.”

The board said the next step will be for LCWR president Sister Pat Farrell and executive director Sister Janet Mock to meet in Rome on June 12 with Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop Peter Sartain, the man appointed to oversee the nuns, to discuss the board’s concerns. “Following the discussions in Rome,” the nuns said, “the conference will gather its members both in regional meetings and in its August assembly to determine its response to the CDF report.”

The matter “has deeply touched Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the world, as evidenced by the thousands of messages of support as well as the dozens of prayer vigils held in numerous parts of the country,” the sisters said. They added that “the matters of faith and justice that capture the hearts of Catholic sisters are clearly shared by many people around the world. As the church and society face tumultuous times, the board believes it is imperative that these matters be addressed by the entire church community in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, and integrity.”

“What is clearly unusual—and much to be applauded—is the sisters’ determination to continue the dialogue in public, with clear words, calling the Vatican to transparency.”

Mary Johnson, a former Catholic nun who worked with Mother Teresa for 20 years and wrote a book about it called An Unquenchable Thirst, said she was heartened by the nuns’ response. “I love these sisters—so determined to dialogue with a Vatican that has continued to misunderstand and accuse them,” she said. “If anyone can move the Vatican toward more integrity, it will be the sisters of the LCWR.” Johnson pointed out that there are more nuns in the U.S. than priests, with 55,944 sisters and 39,466 priests. Most of the nuns are in their sixties, she said.

“What is clearly unusual—and much to be applauded—is the sisters’ determination to continue the dialogue in public, with clear words, calling the Vatican to transparency,” Johnson continued. “The LCWR was publicly hauled out on the mat by the Vatican. American sisters have broken a month of silence with four stunning paragraphs that identify the accusations as unsubstantiated, the process as flawed, and the sanctions as heavy-handed. I applaud the sisters’ call to honesty and integrity.”

Critics note that women don’t have to become nuns and take a vow of obedience to the church. Johnson counters that the church needs to modernize. “The Vatican works like a dictatorship. They want blind obedience, as opposed to thoughtful ideas,” she told The Daily Beast when the Vatican released its report. “The bishops insist that a faithful Catholic must submit to them. But people need to be able to think for themselves, and the church needs insight from all quarters if it’s going to grow.”

Archbishop Sartain, the new boss of the American nuns, responded to the nuns' statement Friday, saying, "Both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and I are wholeheartedly committed to dealing with the important issues raised by the doctrinal assessment and the LCWR board in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, integrity, and fidelity to the church’s faith. I look forward to our next meeting in Rome in June as we continue to collaborate in promoting the important work of the LCWR for consecrated life in the United States."

In the Catholic weekly America Magazine, he recently said he sees the conflict as an opportunity. “Through the years, there have been inevitable conflicts and misunderstandings between religious congregations and their bishops ... They exist today as well," he said. "Disagreements regarding mission, apostolate, discipline, doctrine, style of life, and personality have often been at the core of such conflicts. Each situation was an opportunity to seek reconciliation and collaboration at the heart of the church ... Such a pivotal opportunity is now before us.”

In that article, he went on to criticize the nuns. In reference to the Vatican report, he said, “Given particular attention are LCWR General Assemblies, addresses, and occasional papers. Though not intended to serve as theological treatises per se, some of these addresses and documents have theological undertones or implications not consistent with church teaching. Others have directly contradicted church teaching ... Assembly presentations have at times proposed models of religious life that are not in sync with the very nature of religious life.” your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+82 # humanmancalvin 2012-06-02 10:07
Damn it, ya gotta keep these women in their place or before you know it they'll have the same rights as men. How in the world do younger intelligent thinking people support this outdated dinosaur? After absolute proof of all the rapist pedophiles & the cover ups of these sickies by the church leaders, the uncontested proof of turning a blind eye to Nazi atrocities in order to continue passing out the body of Christ & speaking Latin. When will the dominance & power of this warped mega-beast end? The church now is trying to subvert American law & just may succeed with the help of the GOP that will bow & curtsy to the heat turned up by supporting zealot Evangelicals. From the purely bull crap war on Christmas to the continuing effort to sneak Creationism into public school to preaching politics from the bully pulpit, it is way past time to pull the plug on churches being Tax Free.
+22 # joestecher 2012-06-02 12:00
Very well and succinctly stated. Applause. Applause.
Pull that plug. Render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar's. i think that's written somewhere.
+28 # joestecher 2012-06-02 12:08
The redibility of the Catholic Church is quickly eroding. From a majority of Catholic women who in fact use some form of birth control, to the cover-up of pedophile priests; from the leakage of secret Vatican documents and prosecution of (at least) the Pope's butler to starting a war with a group of thoughtful, hardworking female devotees; from the huge decline in members of both the priesthood and the "nunhood" to the revelation that the Pope has (at least) one "Butler" while his folk is starving; from the revelations about complicency with the Nazi regime to the utter failure of the Vatican to confront the leaders of the only other religiously-bas ed state -- Israel. The Catholic Church is rotten.
+39 # Alexis Fecteau 2012-06-02 10:08
How many more reasons do they have to give to leave this damn church!
+35 # reiverpacific 2012-06-02 10:31
I wonder if these sisters could excommunicate themselves and form a more progressive arm of whatever they wish to call it to allow them to follow their faith and be supportive of women's unique issues, spiritual and physical?
It would be quite a statement to the dinosaur Vatican and it's former Hitler-Youth Ponitif.
+5 # unitedwestand 2012-06-03 01:25
I would think that these nuns are somewhat financially dependent on the church. If they fight for their rights, I believe they can truly affect change that is very needed. The whole chastity thing needs to change, the closed society in the priesthood needs to be opened and questioned, and they need to stay the hell our of our man made laws and government. We know what they are capable of from the past, the popes were like dictators and then the inquisition and then how they behaved during WWII and then we have the pedophile situation. This is no longer a religion that deserves tax exempt consideration or respect. (But then I feel the same way about most religions.)
+37 # myungbluth 2012-06-02 10:47
How about letting those ancient bishops and cardinals try doing the work the nuns typically perform - that is, if you can trust them around your children. Now that the Catholic (which is SUPPOSED to mean "universal") hierarchy has gotten all right wing nutty and political - TAX THE CHURCHES!
+13 # mstrdig 2012-06-02 10:58
it is a radical feminist act to be a nun indeed, at all. when sartain injects the word, "personalities, " into his complaint against the appropriate indignation, not just evinced by these women of cloth, slightly inferior (in vatican view). but by catholics en masse, he only belittles the church he represents. the "dialogue" has become two bit penny ante gabbling. the church has done so many wrongs, and those, consecrated by its hierarchy , which happens to consist only of men.
+22 # ENetArch 2012-06-02 10:58
One point that was missed in this article is the level of knowledge you have to have to become a none. Each sister has to hold a Masters Degree. So these women are by no means sheep, they are in their own right leaders.

From my perspective, the Vatican has chosen to start a war that it will not win. Good luck guys. You're gonna need it.
+34 # Lisa Moskow 2012-06-02 11:07
Go Sisters go!

You are the spirit of service.
+27 # dick 2012-06-02 11:17
"The Man appointed to oversee the nuns." Are they mischievous little children? "Until natural death." Do the pedophilia enabling males in Church leadership decline medical intervention? "Radical feminists." That's a COMPLIMENT, idiots. Doctors Without Borders: radical healers. The sisters have figured out that demands for transparency is the most revolutionary, & Christian, act a Catholic can perform. The sins & ills of the morally corrupt Church patriarchy will burn in sunlight. You go, Sisters. Save Catholicism. Save Christianity from the crazies & perverts.
+17 # Rich Austin 2012-06-02 11:39
Overall, churches are doing no better than holding their own.

As generations die away, the ones coming up are less likely to seek out spiritual “guidance” from prelates whose avocation it is to preach bias and intolerance. Younger people are just not having it.

Doddering old men no longer have sway over what people – particularly women – should or should not do. And why should they? Some TV evangelists, and preachers at so-called mega churches, have lived lives of “do what I say, not what I do”. Homophobes turned out to be something quite different in practice. Swaggart-types yodeled their “wages of sin” malarkey yet sought out the company of women of the evening, or resorted to other means of gratification with the help of the photos in a few “adult magazines”. One even blamed unions because “Johnny can’t read”.

Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Joyce Meyer, Pat Robinson, Kenneth Copeland, and Randy and Paula White are just a few of the Bible-thumpers who live high on the hog in multi-million dollar houses, own luxury cars and yachts, and travel first-class! Around the world a number of preachers have hauled in big bucks from their obedient flocks. The includes the Pope.

Here is the sad thing about all this: Much of the clergy are loving, non-judgmental, and sharing souls. Ditto for nuns. Sadly, their voices and works are lost in the cacophony coming from religious shills who give piety a bad name.
+28 # Regina 2012-06-02 11:44
It's taken 20 centuries for women to stand up to the self-generated male hierarchy of the Catholic Church, despite their dicta and their hierarchy. Today's women religious have the intelligence and the will to set those good-old-boys back on their rumps. Go-go-go!
+19 # marianpo 2012-06-02 11:45
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the modern name of the Inquisition. Really.
+10 # CAMUS1111 2012-06-02 12:00
too bad the pope's mom didn't practice effective birth control...
-34 # Joeconserve 2012-06-02 12:11
I suggest that the secular humanists of the LCWR stop calling themselves nuns and leave the Church. They no longer understand Catholicism.
+25 # myungbluth 2012-06-02 14:16
Pretty obvious that it's the hierarchy (and maybe you) that doesn't understand Catholicism - not the nuns. I wonder what Jesus would do. I'd follow HIS ideals before I'd follow the bishop's.
+12 # Billbb 2012-06-02 17:41
Nor do any of us who truly follow the humble path of Jesus.
+14 # ruttaro 2012-06-02 20:59
Jesus would be right with these wonderful voices of conscience and compassion (from Latin: "Suffer with"!) In my view, women were the first true apostles and disciples. They went to the tomb while the men cowered in the attic. It may be written that Jesus loved John the most but then again John or one of the men wrote that. Had to to keep women in their place. As a "was catholic" I still admire the Church for its call to social and economic justice and at least the American Church has stayed true to that by calling Paul Ryan's budget a war on the poor. However, by any objective observation, the ones who carry that message with the fire of their conviction in their acts and the mesmerizing compassion in their hearts, are the good Sisters, the Nuns. It is they who unite words with deeds, they are the ones most devoted to Christ today as were the two who went forth on that first Easter ready to confront the Roman guards so that they could anoint the body. Courage, conviction, compassion that is why their works smother with grace the words and responses of this Church of old men with no vision. The sisters have called the Church to return to the people; the shepard to his flock. Sisters, you are the shepards. Keep leading because all Christians who know the teachings of Christ will follow. Let the old men cower in the proverbial attic. Who says history doesn't repeat itself. To use an old 60s saying: "Right on Sisters.
+15 # isafakir 2012-06-02 14:46
it's the BISHOPS who don't understand catholicism:fee ding the hungry, healing the sick, teaching the poor and forgiving the sinner. The bishops give the Church over to the Francos, the Salazars, the Duvaliers: sign treaties with today's political right against the disenfranchised . Quoting Joeconserve:
I suggest that the secular humanists of the LCWR stop calling themselves nuns and leave the Church. They no longer understand Catholicism.
Jesus: it'd be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea Matthew 18. Matthew 25: the those on his right, ‘Come, ...35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’...40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed...42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

Catholicism is not right wing politics.
-22 # Joeconserve 2012-06-02 15:31
I just returned from participating in the celebration of the Mass. If you don't understand my last sentence then any comment you might have on Catholicism has no meaning.
+6 # unitedwestand 2012-06-03 01:56
Just because you went through the ritual of the Mass doesn't mean your opinion can't be questioned. I have some sympathy for the blindly religious of the faith, as I was raised in it and still have family who are pretty devout. When they priest molestation cases started to become known, I think they felt much shame and could not discuss it at all. The shock that they had been so gullible was hard to accept, but still maintained that it had nothing to do with their core beliefs. You, Mr. Joeconserve sound like one of those.
You do have my sympathy, but not my respect for deciding not to demand changes and transparency. What is even worse is that the church is now trying to influence our Constitutional laws and government, and once again wanting to subjugate women. To that I say: GET THE HELL OUT OF MY UTERUS AND GOVERNMENT
+7 # Doll 2012-06-02 20:13
Yes, Isa, I love that Jesus quote.

It proves that the generous, the liberals, are the ones who make it. And the conservatives, who only think of themselves, are the ones who are cursed.

Sometimes I think that the religeous right is the anti-christ. They do everything Jesus said not to do and hate everything he said to do.
+2 # humanmancalvin 2012-06-02 19:03
Mr. Joeconserve, I wonder if you support the sexual activities of your wonderful church leaders. Or you will probably state that none of that silly monkey business is true, it is all a big attack on the Catholic church. Amiright Joe?
-7 # Joeconserve 2012-06-03 07:57
Nope, you are wrong. Priests are to be held to a high standard, and they have been. The Church has paid a heavy price for priestly stupidity. But, the Church has also cleaned out the offenders, though, as in any group of humans there will be a need to continue monitoring and dealing with those who violate the rules. Now, if the public schools would do the same. Or, society in general.
+4 # unitedwestand 2012-06-03 01:39
Your comment proves how twisted the "conserve" mind has become. You no longer can tell the difference between who is in the right and who is wrong. I assume that in criticizing the nuns you have no problem with the behavior of the priests in that very cloistered society. Because priests answered to no one, for decades they molested little boys and then it was covered up from the very top of those that were in the holier than though standing. Sure, they look real nice in their Sunday dresses, but they don't deserve your support or respect as they are behaving now. If you care about the church, question what they do and demand changes that might help as these intelligent nuns are doing.
+2 # rockieball 2012-06-03 14:07
Yea!!! What is not to understand about a religion that uses women as a whipping post for all the ill's mistreatment's and wars of MAN-kind. The Crusades Woman's fault. The Black Death woman's fault. Any world war and religious persecution of any kind woman's fault. I'd laugh my ass off if God did come down for judgment day and it was a woman.
+17 # chomper2 2012-06-02 12:40
Notice how the Archbishop is so unimaginative that he has to plagiarize words from the nuns letter ("openness, honesty and integrity"), to which he then adds "and fidelity to the church's faith," which of course translates into "shut up and do as I say." I shudder to think of the poor nuns going into the lion's den to discuss "dinner"; why couldn't this meeting be held at a neutral site, like others do when discussing conflicting interests. I suggest a nice beach in Bermuda, with appropriate attire mandatory.
+16 # isafakir 2012-06-02 14:30
these are the exact same men who used secrecy and intimidation to deny the most fundamental human decency to innocent victims of patriarchal abuse, all over the world and who actively intentionally systematically deliberately illegally protected abusers and perpetrators while destroying the lives of the church's most innocent victims. matthew 18: it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

but the nuns are accused of siding with the innocent. what kind of god damned [sic] accusation is this.
+13 # hbheinze 2012-06-02 16:09
+8 # Billbb 2012-06-02 17:34
Sartain states: "Assembly presentations have at times proposed models of religious life that are not in sync with the very nature of religious life." Yet no diocese or monastery was taken into receivership over child rape. What can these old men be thinking?

When I read that the nuns had responded that the Vatican had “caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization, " I thought they were instead referring to the child abuse scandals. It might be a good idea for these men to get the logs out of their eyes before taking on the nuns clear sight.

And yes, I'm a man and over 65.
+13 # ABen 2012-06-02 18:13
The Catholic Church lost the moral high ground about four centuries ago. The Church now seems interested mostly in protecting its wealth and power. While many individuals are inspired to do good works by the strength of their faith, one does not need an authoritarian, staunchly patriarchal bureaucracy to explore and exorcise their faith. I applaud this inspired action by the nuns; the Catholic Church has long been in need of some womanly compassion and understanding.
+3 # Billbb 2012-06-02 19:21
Yes, let's put the mother back (and I'd say the holy, too) into the Holy Mother Church!
+6 # AnastasiaP 2012-06-02 19:49
The entire "investigation" has no moral authority since it was directed by Cardinal William Levada who was involved in messy sexual abuse coverups in both Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco. A fine one he is to be accusing anyone else of anything.
-6 # haole guy 2012-06-02 23:55
Studies have shown that 1% of Catholic priests are d %3 of Protestant ministers are pedophiles. Most Christian denominations have been infiltrated, for years, by Zionists. The anti-Christ is on the attack. Its a global Way of The Cross.
+2 # moby doug 2012-06-03 03:34
To give you an idea just how reactionary the RC heirarchy is, the Bavarian guy at the top of the pile, Pope Benedict, was a Hitler Jugend.... He also gave the utterly disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law, who covered for many Boston area rapist-priests, a cushy job at the Vatican.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.