The Vatican Fears U.S. ‘Feminist’ Nuns April 26, 2012

The Vatican Fears U.S. ‘Feminist’ Nuns

Last week, the Vatican appointed Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle to oversee “reform” of the largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns in the United States, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

And by reform, they mean silence.

The LCWRcreated in 1956 by request of the Vatican itself — is comprised of 1500 Women Religious (sisters), representing 80% of the 56,000 religious sisters in the United States.

In 2009, the Vatican decided to begin an Assessment of the LCWR “as a result of several years of examination of the doctrinal content of statements from the LCWR and of their annual conferences” with the belief that some statements “disagree[d] with or challenge[d] the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.”

Now, three years later, the Vatican has provided their Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR.

It begins pleasantly enough:

The Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contribution of women Religiousto the Church in the United States as seen  particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years.

Then they tell you what they really think:

… (The Doctrinal Assessment) does not intend to offer judgment on the faith and life of  Women Religious in the member Congregations which belong to that conference,  nevertheless the Assessment reveals serious doctrinal problems which affect many in Consecrated Life.

The Vatican is up in arms because the LCWR women are exploring their faith and *gasp* forming their own opinions of what living through Christ means to them.

These sisters are being accused of:

some Religious “moving beyond the Church” or even beyond Jesus.  This is a challenge not only to core Catholic beliefs; such a rejection of faith is also a serious source of scandal and is incompatible with religious life.

protesting the Holy See’s actions regarding the question of women’s ordination and of a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons

radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith

The LCWR are surprised by what the Vatican had to say and offered this statement on their site:

The presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was stunned by the conclusion of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. We had received a letter from the CDF prefect in early March informing us that we would hear the results of the doctrinal assessment at our annual meeting; however, we were taken by surprise by the gravity of the mandate.

In an effort to remedy this “grave” situation and “matter of serious concern,” Archbishop Sartain, in taking control of the Conference, is writing new laws, displacing the leadership, and prohibiting “political” activity (like social work, according to Rome).

However, in all of their finger pointing misogyny, the Vatican doesn’t cite specific examples of public statements the LCWR made that are so condemning.

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby founded by sisters and affiliated with LCWR, theorized as to what did it: “I would imagine that it was our health care letter that made them mad… We haven’t violated any teaching, we have just been raising questions and interpreting politics.”  Her group was also cited in the Vatican document, along with the LCWR, for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping “silent” on abortion and same-sex marriage

According to Christendom College’s Donna Bethell:

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious is an entity established by the Vatican, approved by the Vatican, its statutes approved by the Vatican for the purpose of supporting the Women Religious in their life and work.

In laymen’s terms, “We own you, no independent opinions or views allowed.”

So how does the Vatican respond? With a traditional Catholic PR move.

Despite the scathing accusations they made in their report, has an article in which Pope Benedict and Archbishop Sartain are praising the LCWR:

He said he hopes “to work in a positive way,” recognizing “the wonderful contribution of religious women in the United States, and to work in a way that shows our continued love and support for their extraordinary contribution.”

Archbishop Sartain made his remarks in Rome only days after Pope Benedict XVI also publicly praised the contribution religious women make to the U.S. Church and society.

So, you praise them… yet accuse them of near blasphemy?

How the times never change when it comes to this religion. The outright hypocrisy would be surprising were the whole Church not built upon it.

The Vatican is scared. These nuns are thinking on their own, forming opinions of their own, working through their faith in a modern world and actually helping people in their programs.

As atheists, we see the gross injustice, we can look at these situations and understand the real meaning behind their “assessment”: it’s all about power and control. Specifically, it seems, women in religion still aren’t getting it. The men who run religion believe women to be inferior, are angry and fearful of women not doing exactly as their told, and are exerting their “muscles” to keep women from advancing… all under the cloak of “God.”

There is no love loss between me and the Catholic Church. I see the charity that women like the LCWR are doing, but it doesn’t negate the child rape and sexual abuse program, the hypocrisy of living through Christ and helping the poor while being the greatest possessor of material riches in the world, the inferiority of women, the hatred of homosexuals and all around guilt indoctrinated in people for being… themselves.

Every dollar anyone gives to their Catholic parish helps contribute to their Vatican opinion, their atrocities, their vile teachings. How can anyone continue to support an organization that insists on attacking the women in their own ranks simply because they fear them becoming equal?

What we can do is continue to point out the inequality and injustice and continue to do our own good work for humanity. When those who grow weary of the hate, who realize they are pawns in a power struggle, are ready to break free, we will be there as a vast and diverse community that welcomes reason with our Humanism.

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  • Kevin S.

    Within the next twenty-to-thirty years, I bet American catholics will break away from Rome and form their own church. It’ll probably keep the same ceremonies and mass structure, but they’ll equalize women and accept LGBT. They’re already too far away from the Vatican for reconciliation on those issues, and the more Rome tries to re-establish its grip and not allow for diverging opinions, the more American catholics will ignore them.

  • Fsq

    When will this awful, evil and archaic organization of pedophiliac old-men go the way of the dodo?

    They bring the world down. It is so sad to see the cognitive dissonance with cafeteria catholics and their tacit support of this horrid and evil entity.

  • Otto

    There’s been a lot of sympathy for nuns as a response to this story.  I have some trouble with sharing in that feeling.

    When nuns take orders, they take a vow of obedience – they vow to obey anyone above them in the hierarchy.  It’s not just a requirement of the job, it’s a religious vow.  They’re not allowed to rock the boat.  If they have a problem with that, they shouldn’t become nuns.  If they discover they have a problem with that after they take orders, they should leave.  There is a lot of room in the world to accommodate women who want to serve humanity, or even women who want to serve humanity in the name of god, without requiring them to be nuns.

    By choosing to remain within the church, they continue to support and encourage a system in which no woman can ever act contrary to authority without punishment.  (As well as having other undesirable qualities, like covering up child rape and lying about contraception and so forth.) 

    If you take a job and are told that you have to not only obey what your boss says but are required to believe whatever he believes, and you’re okay with that, then I have very little sympathy for you when you realize that you made a bad choice but continue to stick with it.

  • Well, nuns are pretty scary, whether they are feminist or not!

  • sunburned

    The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

  • SJH

     I think you may have a misunderstanding of the Church’s teachings. I think you may want to study its teachings a little more before you try to interpret their statements. This is especially true if you are going to take the time to make accusations against them.
    It seems to me that the Church has been an overall positive force for women. It has been a beacon and has stood at the forefront of the battle for women and their true freedom from the societal illnesses that have plagued us.

  • Duke Airanda Tension

    It’s not just the nuns in the USA that get silenced:- 
    Brian Darcy is was one of the few priests to speak up about the cover up of abuse etc in the catholic church.  Why am I not surprised?

    Properly read, the bible is the biggest argument for athiesm in the world – Isaac Asimov

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Catholic leaders skewer Paul Ryan budget plan

    Rising Republican star Paul Ryan has been condemned by Catholic leaders
    for saying his controversial budget plan was inspired by church

  • Reginald Selkirk

     It seems to me that you’re full of caca.

  • dantresomi

    and its issues such as this and the  big house cleaning that the Vatican did in the 70s and 80s when it came to the debate about Liberation Theology that most Catholics have no clue about. It makes sense why so many stay and continue to donate $$$. 

  • Otto

     The Church’s stance is that every single woman who uses birth control has committed a mortal sin and is therefore going to hell unless she confesses what a sinner she is and never uses it again.  The Church tells women in Africa that condoms don’t work against AIDS.  The Church says that lesbians are such morally aborrent worthless things that governments should forbid them from marrying.  The Church says that no woman, ever, can be ordained – in fact, that if a priest ordains a woman, he suffers the same penalty, under canon law, as if he’d raped a child. 

    Having the temerity to think that a woman could interpret god’s will is, according to the Church, the moral equivalent of raping a child.

    Now, what, exactly, are the misunderstandings you’re seeing?  What are the positive factors that outweigh those actions?

  • T-Rex

    It’s fun watching this cult implode on the world stage.

  • Roxane

    Ironic, considering that for many if not most Americans, feminist nuns have more moral authority than the central hierarchy does.

  • T-Rex

    You’ve obviously never read the Bible…and have been sniffing glue if you think any religion has been a positive force for women.

  • Yeah, I’m going to guess that you’re a male? Meaning you’ve no idea what it’s like to be a woman in the church. Newsflash: It sucks to be treated like a pet or breeding stock with no mind or value beyond babies. Been there, needed therapy for that.

  • littlejohn

    Yeah, but in the Catholic Church, apparently there is no punishment for raping a child. They do it all the time with impunity.

  • ortcutt

    I’m always pleased for the Vatican to make itself unpopular by attacking people who work hard every day to actually do some good.  On the other hand, I don’t see how any of this really matters.  The truth is that there are hardly going to be any nuns left in a generation.  In 1965, there were 180,000 nuns in the US.  Now there are 56,000.  By 2020, there will only be 40,000 and only about half will be under age 70.  Many nuns will be needing care rather than providing it.  This institution is simply dying out.  We’ll need to explain to our grandchildren what a nun was.  Sure, there will be a group of religious zealots who will still join convents, but in a country of 300 million, it’s not a number that merits any public attention.  

  • The Church has been an overall positive force for women?

    Damn, now I have to clean out all the coffee I spit over my keyboard!

  • Not true. You have to say you’re sorry. Not to the victim, of course, but the ghost that will forgive you on behalf of the victim.

  • Apparently this is to woo the ultra-conservative crazies like the Society of St Pius X.  Having grown up in that cult, any mention of it sends an almost Pavlovian fear response coursing through my body.  He’s always sympathized with them and he’s trying to pull them back into the fold at the expense of these nuns and women in general. 

  • Cdunphy

    Speaking as a woman and a former RC, chaplain who grew up around nuns and who has left the church in part to due to its paternalistic misogyny;  I can say without question that this institution hates and fears women.  

  • Fsq


    You cannot be serious. This has got to be some sort of comedic attempt!

    Talk about cognitive dissonance! The catholics have done more to fuck women over for the last several centuries than most other organizations combined. How can you possibly even believe one iota of what you just said?

    THIS. THIS is the problem. The idiot catholics have been drinking the kool-aid, oh excuse me, the “blood of christ” for so long they are actually beginning to believe the bullshit, lies and spin given to them by a bunch of evil old men in dresses and fucked up hats.

  • GettingHoldofGod

    Don’t take this as a personal attack, just an objective observation based on evidence. Atheism seems to be more about anger than about facts. There are numerous false statements in these posts, and lots of anger. Look at the language, for goodness sake. It wouldn’t be allowed in any environment of sensible and courteous discourse.
    If you folks would overcome your anger and acknowledge the reasonableness and good faith of the vast majority of the world’s faithful, then we could start getting somewhere.

  • Jason Loveless

    That’s quite the title you’ve assumed for yourself — arbiter of sensible and courteous discourse. You, of course, realize that the post is hardly characterized by anger, and that it is trivially easy in the Wide World of Internets to find commentary on religion (from multiple sides) that would make the OP seem like fluff in comparison. In any case, I’ll gladly direct my strident p’shaws at whomever suggests that anger is not a perfectly justifiable response to the child abuse cover-ups and handwaving that are solely attributable to church leadership. 

    In your haste to tone-scold, you’ve managed to miss the fact that the author’s point doesn’t assume a lack of reasonableness and good faith on part of the laity. It’s quite possible to be a reasonable Catholic and not fully realize that one’s contributions to the church serve only to perpetuate the authoritarian policies pursued by the current administration. 

  • Guest

     Ok. Lots to address here.

    First off, atheism is about not believing in god. Period. That’s literally the only qualification.

    Second, you tell us to overcome our ‘anger’ and accept that most religious people aren’t crazy, but you believe all atheists are angry based on this one comment thread. We call that hypocrisy.

    Thirdly – angry? Really? The other tab I have open right now is a five-page forum thread filled with people bitching about TV Tropes, and it’s way angrier than anything I see in this thread.

    Fourthly – If you believe that it is wrong to be angry when a religious institution discriminates against its members, who are *actually* helping people, because they want to be treated as equals and because they’re not *loud* enough about denouncing homosexuality – well, you might need a remedial course in ethics.

    Of course, all this only applies if you’re not a troll. If you are, feel free to disregard this.

  • kagekiri

    The “Reasonableness of faith”, huh?

    An “objective observation based on total lack of evidence” says there’s no good or respectable reason to believe. A proper analysis of scripture versus reality says that scripture is often just entirely wrong compared to actual evidence, and even internally inconsistent in theology.

    You want to have us respond with “facts instead of anger”, ask us to be “sensible and courteous” in our discourse, but you yourself just say we’re wrong and being unreasonably angry…where are your facts?

    How about you actually address things you see as factually incorrect in the post instead of tone trolling all atheists?

    Calling your opinion it an “objective observation based on evidence” doesn’t make it one, unfortunately for you. It may not even actually be a personal attack, but it’s still a pretty petty way to argue anything.

  • Getting hold of God

    I do believe that the standards of courtesy are pretty generally recognized, not just personal to me. I don’t look down on anyone for losing their temper, that’s not my point. My point is that we’re missing an opportunity to have a rational conversation.
    The author of the article is more reserved than some, but the reliance on resentment and disregard of facts is still there. Take the comment about a “program of child rape.” That’s a very serious accusation. But he does not know, or for some unstated reason he disregards, the ratio between the total number of Catholic clergy who served in religious life int the United States between 1960 and the present, and the total number of those people who were accused of any impropriety toward children.
    It’s like this. I work hard on my yard, and I’ve got a lot a flowers, trees, drought-tolerant shrubs, and on the whole it looks pretty good. But there are some persistent patches of crabgrass. I have a neighbor who ignores the flowers, trees and shrubs and keeps complaining about the crabgrass. He blogs about my crabgrass and writes letters to the editor. People who’ve never been to my yard think it’s full of crabgrass.
    But I promise I will never scold anyone, or look down on them, or insult and belittle them or their beliefs. It’s against my religion.

  • Fsq

    Fuck you and your meaningless sign-off of passive aggression…your “peace”. You do not mean that, nor does it elevate you to some moral soap-box to look down upon us. If anything, you should be clamoring to get onto our good side.

    Second, your tone assumes anger is a bad thing. It is not. In fact, when a group like the catholics has a track record of horror, anger is a key component to taking down the evil empire.

    In the words of the wonderful Chris Hitchens, you are a vile little turd.

  • Fsq

    Someone has ties to Quebec!

  • Miss_Beara

    “Positive force for women.”




  • This isn’t surprising. American Catholics just don’t seem to grasp that the church isn’t a democracy. What the hierarchy says goes. They’ll ignore the laypeople who disagree (and will happily take their money), but they go after their clergy when they fail to spout the party line.

  • adapa69

    Women surprised that church men are telling them they are wrong… yeah not going to get a lot of sympathy.  You’d think nuns would know better than most what the offical stance is in regards to women speaking their mind.

  • adapa69

    The reason people view the church as promoting a culture of child rape is not because we think 50%+ of the  priests are pedos, it’s because the church has gone to great lengths to protect pedo priests

    They use their considerable wealth and power to protect monsters while threatening the victims with hellfire.

  • Bill the Cat

     They will loos an awful lot of the clergy in such a move ( I know, I know, small loss) at the clergy will loose their kiddie diddling escape to Rome clause.

  • Bill the Cat

     (Note to self – proof read…)

  • Bill the Cat

     As someone who had an up close & personal relationship with Sister Marie DuSade – It is pretty tough to feel courteous to either nuns or the Catholic hierarchy. Do yourself a favor – Read the new testament – the 4 gospels will be fine. Now, Compare the church curia  to the chief priests, and the everyday clergy to the Pharisees – and then apply the advice of the words attributed by the JC character in the book – and flee that GD organization.

  • History repeats itself in the same old themes, the same old songs sung over and over again, yet things slowly change. This song is called, “Reason Should Persuade Versus Authority Must Dominate.” Look for this theme in conflict after conflict. The Authoritarians reach their threshold of tolerance for the embarrassing truths told by the Reasonists, and so the Authoritarians come down on them suddenly, heavily, even violently, like a huge rockslide onto a stream. The rocks and debris bury the stream, damming it up.  …For a while. But reason, like water, keeps slowly finding its way, percolating, eroding, trickling, eroding, flowing, eroding, steadily wearing down the barriers once again. Yet things slowly change. Each time the cycle turns, the Authoritarians have less rock to use.  Each time they assert their dominance, it is less impressive, less intimidating than the time before.

  • Getting hold of God

    It doesn’t aid clear thought to talk about what “the church” has done. That’s like complaining about “the government”, or “Democrats,” or “Arabs.” Anyhow, the bishops who failed to report child abuse complaints to the proper authorities should have done so. They and the clergy who committed these acts are not being sheltered.
    Dealing inadequately with child abuse is a societal problem. The treatment of the church hopefully will wake up the schools, youth organizations, sports leagues, etc. to the fact that they have to protect children and punish abusers.

  • Getting hold of God

    Bill, I am sorry for your experience. I mean that sincerely, not just as a throw-away line. May the unhappy person who treated you this way find healing, and may we all find God’s mercy.

  • Getting hold of God

    I gather that you’re not the friendly atheist that’s advertised at the top of this blog. Regardless, I wish you peace. If all we do is shout insults, then we abandon reason, deny our humanity, and embrace the darkness. Not my agenda.

  • Reason_Being

     “Every dollar anyone gives to their Catholic parish helps contribute to
    their Vatican opinion, their atrocities, their vile teachings. How can
    anyone continue to support an organization that insists on attacking the
    women in their own ranks simply because they fear them becoming equal?”—-Well said Shannon.  I too have blogged on the situation with the nuns and on the idea of moderate Catholics being silently complicit in the horrors and misogyny of the Church.

    The reality of the situation really is clear.  Rome is taking a hardline stance on many issues.  They are not concerned about how they appear in public when it comes to dealing with the cases of child rape, misogyny, etc.  They know they will continue to lose some members over this.  It would appear to me that they are emboldened by the successes of the evangelical protestants and have decided they are okay with moving in that direction. 

    The RCC is a very dangerous group.  Sure they say outlandish things like ones highlighted in your post, but they also work in other ways.  Each of their big PR moves and lawsuits in the U.S. are attempting to redefine the First Amendment.  That is no small thing and the consequences of their success, if they prove successful will be felt for decades. 

    Good post—the RCC needs more ire from secular communities. 

  • bismarket

    Did they say scandal? They did didn’t they OM(take you pick)G! They obviously forgot to keep a firm hand on their women folk. I don’t know, it’s their minds you see, they wander, before you know it they’ll stop believing in Jesus. The horror!

  • bismarket

     Tends to happen to male virgins, or anybody really. Hate what you don’t understand!

  • bismarket

    I understand what your saying, but surely the best way to change any organisation is from within & not many will deny that the Catholic church cries out for change?

  • bismarket

     I like your blog, so i got the rss.

  • bismarket

     I tend to disagree, if they did that they would most likely be ex-communicated by the Pope & therefore will NOT be “True” Catholics. That is a Rubicon i doubt many would be willing to cross.

  • Fsq

    If you support the catholic church, and think we atheists are angry at “god” then go fuck yourself. 

    And bullshit. You do not mean, nor wish for peace. It is insincere and loathsome to even try and use that for your purposes.

    As for your agenda, yes, if you support, even by just going into a church, you are as guilty of promoting a hate filled and intolerant agenda against LGBT, women and others.

    As stated go fu…..well, you know how the story goes.

  • bismarket

     Couldn’t have put it better, i think you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head (I LOVE  metaphors). I think people underestimate those old men in Rome, they’ve had so much power for so long, i can’t see them willingly giving any up.

  • Reason_Being

     Thanks.  I think the RCC is far more dangerous than they appear.  I am not a big fan of the Protestant fundies pushing evolution and their other nonsense either.  However the RCC is more or less choosing to take on Obama and the First Amendment—that is some bold and dangerous stuff..

  • Thanks bismarket!

  • Yup I hail from La Belle Province.

  • The author of this piece (me) is a she. Not that I mind being called a he, but in case you were confused about the pronoun used to denote someone with a vagina I thought I’d inform you.

  • Daniel Schealler

    Why feign surprize?

    The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith used to be known by a different, slightly more grandiose title.

    The Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition.

    Yes, that’s right. It’s the freakin’ inquisition. Not to be confused with the Spanish Inqusition, all you Monty Python fans – it was the Roman Inquisition. But still the inquisition all the same.

    They were renamed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1965.

  • Otto

    Well, that hasn’t worked in a few hundred years.  It seems that “surely” the only way to convince the Catholic church that it is wrong is if so many people leave it because of its harmful beliefs.

  • Karen Locke

    I was raised Catholic, am now an atheist, and there’s no way in hell I’d ever drop even a cent in a Catholic church’s  collection basket.   So why did I just give some money to the scholarship fund at the Catholic all-girls high school I attended?  Because these nuns are so subversive, they teach young women to think critically, to believe in themselves, to dare whatever career inspires them, to be their own women and to never, never give in to men for the purpose of humoring them.

    No wonder the Vatican is afraid.

  • Neil

    “Feminist nuns” seems like an oxymoron at first glance, but then, I guess there were “abolitionist slaves”, at least until their goal was achieved. 

    I wonder how much coercion or simple inertia is involved in being a nun, and how hard it is to leave…it seems to me that being a feminist would preclude being a devotee to such an institution, but then, as people grow and change and learn while the organization does not…I guess some interesting things could happen.

  • Neil

    Of course, it is catholic officials defining “radical feminists” here.  Do they really mean “radical feminists”, or just any nun who isn’t on her knees, flagellating herself bloody and begging jesus to forgive her for being born the same gender as Eve the Eternal Scapegoat? 

  • Kevin S.

    Many already reject the authority of the pope.  Why would what he say stop them?

  • Kevin S.

    Not being sheltered, huh?  Do you know what Ratzinger was doing in Ireland before he became Pope?  Do you know what Dolan was doing in Milwaukee before he became archbishop (then Cardinal) of New York?

  • Fsq

    Ahhh, c’est bon ça….

    I lived in Montreal for a year – Westmount – and to this day, of all the cities in the world I’ve been to, Montreal is my favorite!

    But WOW is Quebec a catholic province!

  • Fsq

    Crabgrass is not raped children.

    And you are not concerned with peace or other such bullshit.

    Go fuck yourself.

  • bismarket

    I did not know that, i was under the impression that to BE a Catholic you pretty much had to submit to his authority. Do Catholics who ignore/disregard the Pope still consider themselves to be fully Catholic & more importantly how does the Church view them?

  • bismarket

    I don’t know if NOTHINGS changed? I think the switch from Latin Mass was a pretty big deal (at least to Catholics) & almost caused schism when it happened, although i agree with you in the main, the Church is seen as more irrelevant all the time & their un-willingness to change anything important will probably mean it will eventually die. What worries me is that we know from history just how nasty they can get when they’re feeling threatened & although they don’t have the power they once had, i still think they could cause a lot of trouble.

  • bismarket

     Seems we agree on a few things, what’s the name of your blog?

  • Reason_Being   It would appear we have similar views of the RCC

  • amycas

    The Catholic Church is ruled by hierarchy, so yes, in this case, it is reasonable to say “the church” did such-and-such, if the hierarchy approved and sanctioned the action done.

  • amycas

    Also, dealing with child abuse is not a societal problem. In almost all other organizations, if child abuse is discovered, the person responsible is reported to the proper authorities. Other organizations don’t go out of their way to protect the abuser. Now there are a few notable exceptions (Penn State anyone?) but none of those covered up abuse to the same extent or for as long as the Catholic Church did.

  • amycas

    That made me laugh, but I have to point out that not all people with vaginas use feminine pronouns. 🙂

  •  And vice-versa!

  • Fascanti1

    up to some people especially The USA, we should have all kinds of practicing perverts  running the church including the pope…………..all matters should be voted on…give the church a slow death………..But like Jesus said: not even gates of hell shall not prevail against it”I don’t understand, all this practicing sinner, that want change why don’t you just  form your own church, and all you want in the name of GOD?

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