Political Animal


April 19, 2012 11:10 AM Vatican Moves To Rein In Nuns

By Ed Kilgore

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Vatican agency (and distant descendant of the Roman Inquisition) once led by Pope Benedict XVI, has issued a document rebuking the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the umbrella groups that often speaks on matters of public policy for America’s 55,000 nuns. Its alleged sins include association with “radical feminists,” an unwillingness to speak out on behalf of “the church’s biblical view on family life and human sexuality” (code for opposing same-sex marriage, contraception and abortion), and most of all, its failure to follow the lead of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on controversial issues. A smaller but closely associated group founded by nuns to promote social justice, Network, was also reprimanded by CDF.

The timing of the action is interesting indeed. According to David Gibson of the Religion News Service, the investigation of LCWR was apparently initiated in 2008 and concluded in 2010, with the pope signing off on sanctions early in 2011. Hard to believe it’s a coincidence that the Vatican moved to curb the nuns for implicit insubordination against the Bishops just as the USCCB announced a big summer series of protests for “religious liberty” keyed to categorical opposition to the Obama administration’s efforts to implement a contraception coverage mandate, particularly since LCWR has been notably willing to support compromise efforts and earlier supported the health reform legislation that authorized the mandate.

Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times quotes Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, as acknowledging the political intent of the rebuke:

“I would imagine that it was our health care letter that made them mad,” Sister Campbell said. “We haven’t violated any teaching, we have just been raising questions and interpreting politics.”

It’s noteworthy that an American, former San Franciso archbishop William Cardinal Levada, now heads the CDF and issued the rebuke. And he’s clearly putting his former colleagues from the USCCB in charge of the nuns’ “rehabilitation,” reports Goodstein:

He appointed Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to lead the process of reforming the sisters’ conference, with assistance from Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki and Bishop Leonard Blair, who was in charge of the investigation of the group.
They have been given up to five years to revise the group’s statutes, approve of every speaker at the group’s public programs and replace a handbook the group used to facilitate dialogue on matters that the Vatican said should be settled doctrine. They are also supposed to review the Leadership Conference’s links with Network and another organization, the Resource Center for Religious Life.

There’s a separate investigation, dubbed a “visitation,” also underway under Vatican auspices to examine the overall situation of “women religious” in the U.S., that could lead to other sanctions and “reforms.”

And I’d bet it’s just a matter of time until other conscientious objecters against the Bishops’ declaration of culture war, such as the Catholic Health Association (itself led by a nun, Sr. Carol Keehan) and various Catholic colleges and universities, get a taste of the lash and some sternly worded advice and direction.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • stormskies on April 19, 2012 11:18 AM:

    Yet more evil repression/ oppression of women by the male dominated "Church"....... burning at the stakes will be next ......

  • Josef K on April 19, 2012 11:23 AM:

    As a Catholic, this just reinforces my distance from Mother Church. I wish a more humble person could take the Throne of Peter and realize the era of Papal primacy is long gone; but then given the make-up of the Sacred College, that's like asking the moon to quit orbiting the Earth.

  • maggie on April 19, 2012 11:34 AM:

    "radical feminists"... I don't know why they bothered with adding the word "radical" - to them pretty much anyone who believes women are human beings is a "radical"

  • stevio on April 19, 2012 11:35 AM:

    No one expects the Spanish Inquisition...

    Nauseating. The robed crusaders will expect nothing but mindless, lemming-like compliance to the flawed and somewhat ridiculous hierarchy of a falling organization that but for it's money would have long ago collapsed from the sure weight of it's mindless adherence to man made dogma and cult-like stupidity...

  • boatboy_srq on April 19, 2012 11:37 AM:


    1) Cardinal Nazinger is elected Pope.
    2) Rick Santorum runs for GOP nomination for US Prez on a platform of (among other odious things) conviction that "liberal Christians" are some form of heretic.
    3) The US RC council of bishops squalls about "religious liberty" when faced with requirement that they tolerate heretics in their midst who insist on coverage of contraception in their health care.
    4) And now we have sanction on the LCWR.

    Progression? Counter-Counter-Counter-Reformation, perhaps?

    Anyone who says Romney dismisses Romney as a member of a religious cult needs to take a good hard look at what's happing with the RCs.

    This is one day I'm exceedingly glad to be a (mainstream) Protestant.

  • Rugosa on April 19, 2012 11:38 AM:

    As a long-lapsed catholic who left largely based on the church's teaching about women, I can only say I hope these nuns simply leave the church and start their own.

  • Rick B on April 19, 2012 11:40 AM:

    Well, well. So the Catholic celibate old men bishops are expressing their distaste for modern women who speak out and disagree with them. Those bishops really do not deal well with social change, do they? Nor are they at all happy with secular governments which do not tug the forelock when the Bishops speak.

  • SYSPROG on April 19, 2012 12:00 PM:

    Well they couldn't convince 'regular' women that they were actually talking about RELIGIOUS LIBERTY when they were taking away their rights so now they go after those pesky NUNS that according to them aren't REAL women anyway...charming.

  • ComradeAnon on April 19, 2012 12:01 PM:

    "Henry the eighth I am, I am." Why does this song keep popping up in my head?

  • old men rule :<( on April 19, 2012 12:02 PM:

    There has always been a war on women in the Catholic Church. Grandmother and mother had to cover their heads as if unworthy, considered lesser beings who could not be near the altar. They were just to volunteer their time for church bazaars and cook for free for church events.
    When husband and I tried to marry in a major catholic college basilica, I was informed by Benedicten monks they could annul his previous 6-month marriage if I sent ten thousand dollars to the Vatican.
    Just more white males trying to be the enforcers creating barriers, ceilings, stumbling blocks and hurdles for women-- while collecting cash.
    Oh and did I mention the nuns in the parish where I grew up lived with a vow of poverty, looked ghastly pale and probably clinically depressed, while the parish priests were handed money routinely, counted the donations, and had their own cooks and maids at their plush and confortable rectory.

  • Quaker in a Basement on April 19, 2012 12:04 PM:

    So this is the "religious liberty" congressional Republicans are so quick to defend?

    Orwell estate on line one, gentlemen.

  • beep52 on April 19, 2012 12:19 PM:

    I used to think the arrow of time pointed in only one direction. Seems to be wavering a lot lately.

  • DRF on April 19, 2012 12:19 PM:

    It's not my place to criticize the internal workings of someone else's religion, but the optics on this are terrible. A group of elderly, celibate men are now going to oversee and, in effect, control, a group of women who have dared disagree on some political issues and have invited to speak at conferences a few individuals that the men don't approve of.

    So this women's organization is now going to be run by men because the Pope disapproves of them.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on April 19, 2012 12:23 PM:

    Its alleged sins include association with “radical feminists,” an unwillingness to speak out on behalf of “the church’s biblical view on family life and human sexuality”


    One naturally wishes that the Bishops were equally as wrathful against the Church's association with "radical pedophiles" and the Church's unwillingness to speak out on behalf of the corrupted sexuality of defenseless children. The hypocrisy is sickening...

  • Monkey in Holland on April 19, 2012 12:23 PM:

    Bet the bishops wouldn't go after this nun!

  • TCinLA on April 19, 2012 1:04 PM:

    Nice to see Ratzi the Nazi, the only Pope to serve in the Hitler Youth, demonstrating that the "moral leadership" of the Catholic Church hasn't changed since the Borgias.

  • cmdicely on April 19, 2012 1:18 PM:

    The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Vatican agency (and distant descendant of the Roman Inquisition)

    Its not a "distant descendant" of the Roman Inquisition, it is the same body established in 1542 as the "Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition."

    Its been renamed twice since, but saying its a distant descendant is like saying Academi is a distant descendant of Blackwater.

  • Texas Aggie on April 19, 2012 1:50 PM:

    I remember years ago, a graduate classmate of mine, a nun who was head of the Biology Dept at St. John's University in Minnesota, complained that the priests in the department showed her absolutely no respect. At the time I thought to myself that she should have realized when she chose to be a nun that disrespect for women was one of the pillars on which Roman Catholicism stood. If that pillar were ever knocked down, the catholic church as we know it would disintegrate and disappear. Since that time, I have seen absolutely no evidence to the contrary.

  • schtick on April 19, 2012 2:22 PM:

    I'm so glad I told them where they could stuff their church policies years ago. It's another rich boy club with prayer added. You pay them off, you get what you want. The rest of you middle-class poor folk that believe in their teachings need to donate at least 10% of your weekly pay just so they will smile on you. It's made up just like our country's political system and that is exactly what it is.

  • Ken on April 19, 2012 3:26 PM:

    @Josef K: that's like asking the moon to quit orbiting the Earth.

    At this rate, they may soon revisit that apology for the Galileo affair.

  • Doug on April 19, 2012 4:09 PM:

    As an Atheist, I think they are doing this to take some of the Focus of the Priest Pedophilia Scandal away and try to shift it on this. I just think how advanced our World would be if there never was a Catholic Churh.

  • G.Kerby on April 19, 2012 5:10 PM:

    "... singing Ave Maria, gee it's good to see ya, doin' that Vatican Rag"


  • Richard on April 19, 2012 6:56 PM:

    Jesus never stepped in to stop anyone from terminating a pregnancy, but he did stop a judicially-endorsed execution. So naturally the church endorses capital punishment and opposes abortion. I can't imagine why you think this appears to be contradictory.

  • Michael Kirchner on April 19, 2012 7:01 PM:

    "My Jesus, the Jesus I believe in, weeps for mankind...."
    Bishop Tutu, at a recent meeting at the Ford Foundation.

  • joanneinDenver on April 19, 2012 7:04 PM:

    Meantime, back at the criminal trial in Philadelphia, the inside out of how predator priests were moved from parish to parish, continues.

    The MSM, out of what? professional courtesy? has declined to cover the trial.

    I predict the crescendo of public posturing by the church's finest picturing themselves as victims, will occur when the verdicts are reached.

  • Schmuckatelli on April 19, 2012 7:26 PM:

    Seattle 2012: Duram Praestigiator Progenitus.

  • Doug (not the one @ 4:09 pm) on April 19, 2012 8:55 PM:

    I agree with Sgt. Gym Bunny. The hypocrisy is indeed sickening!
    Not one single admission that what was done to "protect" the Catholic Church from the crimes of some of its members should NOT have taken place. It seems to me that simple statement (regardless of the speaker's actual feelings) would have helped in easing the rightful anger of those who have suffered, both from the original crimes and from the Catholic Church's attempts to cover up those crimes.
    It seems "infallability" now applies to every clerical member of the Catholic Church and not just the Pope.

  • Steve P on April 19, 2012 11:14 PM:

    I guess Der PanzerKardinal is going to re-establish the authority of the church which was lost during the on-going sexual abuse scandal by beating up on the one segment in the American church that played the least part in it--and sending out the bishops who did most of the cover-up to do it.

    Maybe he can put Cardinal Law in charge of the American Inquisition--that is, unless the subpoenas are still in force.

  • sherrie heckendorn on April 20, 2012 12:59 AM:

    Its so hard to have any respect for the catholic church, when they refuse to include women to be considered as equal with men. Men are allowed ED treatment and their is no ruling against viagra, but women cant use birth control. Where is the fairness, the love, the compassion and most important, the respect for women. In this day and age of too many children and widespread poverty in the world, and in the usa, where everyday, more and more social net programs are threatened and cancelled. Why are they not protesting that? Women are not property, and men would not be here without women, do they forget that or do they only think of control and demeaning women

  • Jim on April 20, 2012 2:00 AM:

    Re. Catholic hospitals. The bishops don't have much control. My recollection is that when an Oregon bishop tried to pressure a hospital there to conform, they said thank you but we'll do it our way. He stopped masses there, and removed other religious connections which escape me now, but otherwise pretty much had to "go fly a kite."

  • bewilderbeast on April 20, 2012 8:07 AM:

    If these were choirboys being naughty they could just do the traditional rape thing. But being (ugh!) nuns, these weirdos in dresses and crazy (expensive) hats will "reform" them - by taking them back a few centuries. Good ladies: The right thing to do is LEAVE this evil church!

  • Mark Anderson on April 20, 2012 1:19 PM:

    Just what Republicans want for all American women.

  • Betsy russ on April 21, 2012 11:05 AM:

    Among the vows taken by religious is the vow of obedience.

  • BobN on April 22, 2012 1:03 PM:

    The Church does not "oppose gay marriage". It opposes ANY recognition of same-sex relationships. It opposes ANY gay-rights initiative, including workplace anti-discrimination ordinances. In the world as a whole, it fights against efforts to decriminalize homosexual behavior and efforts to curb the spread of AIDS when those efforts are aimed at men who have sex with men.

    STOP giving them a pass as though it were just about a slight difference between marriage and civil unions.

  • holly smith on April 22, 2012 4:11 PM:

    There are some small but IMPORTANT ways we can make our objections known:

    Stop putting money into the collection basket on Sunday.

    Start conversations with others about this oppression of US Sisters. Our silence makes us co-conspirators.

    Send a donation to the LCWR - we can do so on their website.

    Find the film 'Pink Smoke Over the Vatican,' about the drive for women's ordination. It's fabulous!

  • Rev. Ray Dubuque on April 29, 2012 4:36 PM:

    If I could escape from the Catholic Church after 24 years of education in Catholic schools and seminaries culminating with ordination to the priesthood and a teaching position in a Catholic seminary, almost anyone can. I'm not selling anything or telling people how to live their lives. All I want to do is to help people to free themselves from the tyranny and stupidity of the Roman Catholic church, by exposing the truth about this very human, very dishonest organization at a site you can find by Googling "Jesuswouldbefurious" or "CatholicArrogance" (one word).