After Catholic leaders at the Vatican have condemned American nuns for caring too much about poverty and social justice, and not fighting against abortion or marriage equality, a group representing thousands of religious women is considering how to strike back.
According to CNN, the Vatican's powerful Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith has been investigating the group and its members for several years. The Vatican group's report, issued in April, on the annual Leadership Conference of Women Religious claims that the women hosted speakers espousing "radical feminism." It also says the nuns are focused too much on social justice and not enough on opposing abortion, marriage equality, and euthanasia.
Sister Simone Campbell of the liberal advocacy group Network said the Vatican's report will do more harm than good.
"For myself, the shock made me numb at first, and then I was profoundly sad that my life as a woman religious and my commitment to serving the poor would be so denigrated by the leadership of our church," she said. "All we do is work for love."
She added, "Our church is being torn apart for political reasons."
The roles and dress of American nuns have changed in recent decades, but American women in general have seen far greater ones. Instead of wearing full habits and teaching in parochial schools, many nuns now wear lay clothes and can be found working at soup kitchens or for other social causes. But the population of nuns is decreasing and aging; the average age is now 70. Fewer women are entering the religious life, partially because leadership roles that were once only available to nuns are now available to women outside of the church.
The board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 80% of the 57,000 nuns across the country, has been meeting in Washington, D.C., this week. Leaders and members of the organization have three options in dealing with the report: accept it, negotiate its findings, or resign en masse and form a new group that is not overseen by the Vatican.
“What’s really at stake here, in the larger significance, is the future of the church,” Sister Maureen Fiedler of the order of Sisters of Loretto, said to CNN. “Whether we’re going to go back to the old church before the Second Vatican Council.”