The Vatican has attacked the largest group of American nuns for allegedly promoting radical feminism. It appointed a bishop to “reorganise” the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).
This is in stark contrast to how the church has handled its ongoing sexual abuse scandal among its men.
The Vatican crackdown appears connected to the political campaign the US Catholic hierarchy has waged against proposals for healthcare reform. The hierarchy claims that reforms requiring Catholic employing institutions to pay medical insurance covering contraception and abortion would be an attack on religious freedom.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the church’s highest disciplinary body, said on April 18 that the LCWR faced a “grave” doctrinal crisis, and had ignored issues of “crucial importance” to the church, such as abortion and euthanasia.
The Vatican also denounced LCWR public statements that “disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops”, who are the church's “authentic teachers of faith and morals”.
It did not cite any examples of such LCWR statements.
But the Vatican specifically mentioned the fact that the LCWR is linked to Network, a liberal Catholic social justice lobbying organisation. Network, which formed in 1971 and explicitly supports the Vatican II reformist wave, endorsed the Obama administration’s healthcare reforms.
The CDF statement said the LCWR leaders “collectively take a position not in agreement with the church's teaching on human sexuality”. The CDF found “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” in LCWR programs and presentations.
The Vatican ordered Bishop Peter Sartain of Seattle to administer and “reform” the LCWR over the next five years, including its affiliations.
The British Catholic newspaper The Tablet’s Rome correspondent, Robert Mickens, told the London Independent that the CDF move against the group follows attacks on dissenting Irish priests and was part of “a crackdown against any forms of dissent particularly in the US and Western World”.
He said: “Make no mistake, these crackdowns come from the very top. And what's so frightening is that while these attacks on the liberal leftwing are going on, Pope Benedict continues to cosy up to the far-right, anti-semitic Society of Saint Pius X's [a schismatic Catholic organisation that operates outside the established hierarchy].”
Another indication of the Vatican’s mood was given on April 5 when, in his Maundy Thursday sermon Pope Benedict publicly slapped down a group of Austrian priests who have called for ordination of married men.
The Pope also mentioned in passing that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the opening session of the Second Vatican Council.