When the Vatican released a scathing report in April excoriating a group that represents the majority of Roman Catholic nuns in the United States for deviating from church doctrine, the group kept mum.
The report included a slew of positive and negative comments about the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the group called out by the Vatican for promoting “radical feminist themes.”
Still, the sisters were quiet. Until now.
In a statement released Friday, the conference's board of directors said the doctrinal assessment released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — the church’s enforcer of orthodoxy – was “based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency.”
The board members met this week to discuss the assessment, which accused the conference of deviating from church doctrine, such as opposing male-only ordination.
The Vatican also said that, although the conference was vocal on social justice issues, it had failed to speak out enough on other church concerns, such as opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion. Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, was singled out for criticism in the assessment.
“Network’s relationship with LCWR was mentioned as one of the problems despite the fact that Network was never asked to provide information about our mission or activities,” Stephanie Niedringhaus, the lobby’s spokeswoman, said an email to The Times. “This is just one of the many errors in the assessment and process by which it was put together.”
The eight-page assessment called for reform, and the Vatican designated Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain to oversee changes in the group “in order to implement a process of review and conformity to the teachings and discipline of the church.”
The conference, however, didn’t think the punishment fit the alleged crime.
“The board felt the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and they could compromise the [LCWR’s] members’ ability to fulfill their mission,” Sister Annmarie Sanders, spokeswoman for the group, told The Times.
In order to talk things over, the group's president, Sister Pat Farrell, and the executive director, Sister Janet Mock, will meet with Sartain and Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in Rome on June 12, Sanders said.
The conference said assessment caused “scandal and pain throughout the church community” and caused greater polarization within the church.
“As the church and society face tumultuous times, the board believes it is imperative that these matters be addressed by the entire church community in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, and integrity,” the statement read.
Sartain, in a statement, also pledged to discuss the issues raised by the assessment “in an atmosphere of openness, honesty, integrity and fidelity to the church’s faith.”
“The Holy See and the bishops of the United States are deeply proud of the historic and continuing contribution of women religious — a pride that has been echoed by many in recent weeks,” Sartain wrote. “Dramatic examples of this can be witnessed in the school system and in the network of Catholic hospitals established by sisters across America, which are lasting contributions to the well-being of our country.”
The conference, which has more than 1,500 members representing more than 80% of the 57,000 women religious in the United States, represents the majority of nuns who work in education, healthcare, religious education and social services.
After the discussions in Rome, the conference will gather its members in regional meetings and its annual August assembly to determine its official response to the Vatican report, Sanders said.