Vatican Ends Battle With U.S. Nuns

Apr 17, 2015
Originally published on April 17, 2015 2:06 pm
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For six years, the Vatican has been investigating the main group that represents nuns in America. The church argued that they don't focus enough on doctrine opposing same-sex marriage and abortion. Well, now the Vatican has unexpectedly ended its crackdown, and this is seen as the latest sign of a shift in tone under Pope Francis. Here's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: A brief report, signed jointly by the Vatican and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, declared the investigation had reached its goals. By declaring mission accomplished two years ahead of schedule, the Vatican is seen as having ended a strident showdown that antagonized many U.S. Catholics. The crackdown was launched by the Vatican's theological watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, by its previous head, U.S. Cardinal William Levada. The nuns group was accused of promoting certain radical feminist themes incompatible with Catholic faith and called for a five- year doctrinal overhaul. In 2012, American Cardinal Raymond Burke called on the group to convert to what he called the true nature of religious life.

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RAYMOND BURKE: And to accept gratefully and humbly what the Holy Father is asking through his representatives and to reform the organization. If it can't be reformed then it doesn't have a right to continue.

POGGIOLI: The crackdown triggered protests in support of the group that represents 80 percent of the 57,000 U.S. Catholic nuns. The sisters mobilized grassroots support through the successful Nuns on a Bus campaign, a symbol of their unwillingness to back down. Even Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley acknowledged at the time that the crackdown had been a disaster. But the joint report does include some concessions. The group, which had been criticized for hosting speakers with views not always in line with church teaching on sexual morality, will ensure in the future that they have due regard for the church's faith. After the document was signed, the nuns' delegation met with the Pope. The LCWR statement said (reading) our conversation allowed us to personally thank Pope Francis for providing leadership and a vision that has captivated our hearts.

The Vatican and the nuns agreed not to speak to the media for at least a month. And last night, at a black-tie event at the North American College - the American seminary in Rome - many top U.S. cardinals and bishops were present, but there was no sign of the LCWR nuns.

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POGGIOLI: The gala event ended with entertainment by the seminarians. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.