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Nun Doesn't Have to Retract Abortion Stand

April 01, 1986|RUSSELL CHANDLER | Times Religion Writer

A Los Angeles Roman Catholic nun, threatened with expulsion from her order for signing a 1984 abortion-related advertisement, said Monday that the Vatican had closed her case without requiring her to retract her signature.

A statement issued by Sister Judith Vaughan and two of her superiors in the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet said the resolution involved "a process of dialogue" and a meeting between Vaughan and two Vatican officials. "I have absolutely not changed my mind or my position," Vaughan said in an interview Monday. "I was asked to retract but . . . I was clear that I couldn't do that . . . I said the ad was, in fact, a call for dialogue."

Given an Ultimatum

Vaughan was one of 24 nuns given a Vatican ultimatum to either retract support for the Oct. 7, 1984, advertisement, published in the New York Times, or face dismissal. The nuns joined 73 other Catholics in signing the paper, "Catholic Statement on Abortion and Pluralism."

The ad said: "A diversity of opinions regarding abortion exists among committed Catholics. A large number of Catholic theologians hold that even direct abortion, though tragic, can sometimes be a moral choice."

After publication, the U.S. Catholic bishops said the statement contradicted "the clear and consistent teaching of the church that deliberately chosen abortion is objectively immoral."

With Vaughan's case closed, only three of the 24 nuns still face possible dismissal.

Shelter for Women

Vaughan, 40, said her provincial superior, Sister Kathleen Mary McCarthy of Los Angeles, has asked the Los Angeles Archdiocese's welfare bureau to lift a ban that prohibits Catholic social workers in Los Angeles County from referring homeless women to a shelter Vaughan operates in East Los Angeles.

The prohibition, contained in a memo dated Jan. 14, 1985, and signed by the late Msgr. John P. Languille, was addressed to the archdiocese's directors of Catholic social service. The memo said "no referrals, under any circumstances, are to be made to the House of Ruth (shelter) because of the pro-abortion position of Sister Judith Vaughan, director."

Father R. David Cousineau, present director of the archdiocesan welfare bureau, could not be reached for comment Monday.

The six-line statement issued by Vaughan, McCarthy and Sister Miriam Therese Larkin of St. Louis, president of Vaughan's order, said the steps for resolving Vaughan's case included "a process of dialogue with appropriate persons within the religious congregation, continued prayer and reflection, as well as the pastoral visit with two representatives of the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes on March 19, 1986, in Washington, D.C."

Signature Not Required

Vaughan said the Vatican representatives had not asked her to sign any statement of loyalty or retraction. She said the issue of abortion did come up during the Washington meeting, but that she did not state her views.

"What I did was to call attention to the complexity of the issue and the need to talk to women who struggle with abortion," Vaughan said. "Anyone who develops moral teaching in the church needs to be in dialogue . . . with those who hold a dissenting view . . . about complex moral issues.

"My own feeling was that Rome wanted this resolved--so much so that finally they were willing to talk with us directly."

Last week, the Sisters of Loretto announced they had resolved with the Vatican the cases of six sisters who had signed the 1984 advertisement.

"We had no intention of making a pro-abortion statement," the six Loretto sisters said in a statement agreed upon at a meeting with Vatican officials in Denver on March 21. "We hold, as we have in the past, that human life is sacred and inviolable. We acknowledge this as teaching of the church."

Two nuns from the Sisters of Notre Dame said their cases are still unsettled because they have refused to sign a similar agreement. The other unresolved case involves Sister Caridad Inda of Mexico, a member of the Sisters of Humility of Mary. Vatican officials reportedly have not met with her.

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