Vatican drops takeover of US nuns

2015-04-16 19:05
A delegation of The Leadership Conference of Women Religious during an audience in the pontiff's studio at the Vatican. (L’Osservatore Romano, Pool Photo via AP)

A delegation of The Leadership Conference of Women Religious during an audience in the pontiff's studio at the Vatican. (L’Osservatore Romano, Pool Photo via AP)

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Vatican City - The Vatican on Thursday unexpectedly ended its controversial takeover of the main umbrella group of US nuns, signalling a major shift in tone and treatment of US sisters under the social justice-minded Pope Francis.

The Vatican said it had accepted a final report on its overhaul of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and declared that the "implementation of the mandate has been accomplished."

When the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took over the LCWR in 2012, it accused the group of taking positions that undermined Catholic teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality while promoting "certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith."

It envisioned a five-year overhaul to fix a "grave" doctrinal crisis, fuelled by concerns among US conservatives that the group had strayed from church teaching by not focusing enough on issues like abortion and euthanasia.

The Vatican appointed a bishop to oversee rewriting the statutes of the LCWR, which represents 80% of the 57 000 Roman Catholic nuns in the US, reviewing all its plans and programmes - including approving speakers - and ensuring the organisation properly followed Catholic prayer and ritual.

In a final joint report, the congregation and the LCWR said the group's new statutes show its focus on Christ and being faithful to church teaching. It said an advisory committee would be created to ensure manuscripts in LCWR publications are doctrinally sound. It said speakers at LCWR events must use the "ecclesial language of faith" in their remarks and said there was a revised process for selecting award winners.

"Alleluia!" tweeted Sister Mary Ann Hinsdale, a theologian at Boston College and member of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. "LCWR investigation by CDF is over!"

The Vatican takeover, combined with a separate Vatican investigation into the quality of life of US nuns, had deeply wounded the US sisters who oversee the lion's share of the Catholic Church's social programmes, running schools, hospitals, homeless shelters and soup kitchens. The crackdown resulted in a remarkable outpouring of popular support for their work and fuelled allegations of the church's heavy-handed, misogynistic treatment of women.

In December, the Vatican's quality of life investigation ended with sweeping praise for the sisters for their selfless work caring for the poor. Thursday's conclusion of the doctrinal assessment signalled a similar positive conclusion.

Christopher Bellitto, a church historian at Kean University in New Jersey, said the announcement Thursday was "a complete vindication" of the sisters' group and American nuns in general.

"Anything coming out of the Vatican this morning is nothing other than a fig leaf because they can't say 'oops' in Latin," Bellitto said.

After presenting the final report to the congregation's prefect, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, a delegation of LCWR officials met with Francis and discussed his "Joy of the Gospel" apostolic exhortation, which lays out much of his vision of a church that is merciful and looks out for the poorest.

While insisting on a message of mercy over morals, Francis has also frequently dismissed legalistic and theological arguments that he says can impede the church's evangelizing mission.

"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 LCWR 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."

Read more on:    roman catholic church  |  pope francis  |  us  |  vatican city  |  religion

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