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US 'feminist' nuns sent back to the cloister by new Pope

Published time: April 15, 2013 23:39
Pope Francis (Reuters / Alessandro Bianchi)

Pope Francis (Reuters / Alessandro Bianchi)

Pope Francis has reaffirmed his predecessor's rebuke of the main organization of US Catholic sisters - the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) - accused by the Vatican of "radical feminism" and of failing to obey church teaching.

Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, the new head of the Vatican's doctrinal department, has met with the leaders of the women's group and said the Pope was set to continue Benedict XVI's line with them.

"Archbishop Mueller informed the (LCWR) presidency that he had recently discussed the doctrinal assessment with Pope Francis, who reaffirmed the findings of the assessment and the program of reform," the Vatican's statement says.

Last year, a Vatican report claimed the LCWR had serious doctrinal problems and promoted radical feminist themes inconsistent with the Catholic faith.

For instance, the nuns supported President Barack Obama's healthcare reform, part of which makes insurance coverage of birth control mandatory. Vatican says it distorts the biblical view of family life.

Also, LCWR has requested women to be included into all dimensions of church services, including priestly duties.  

Sister Pat Farrell (R), president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), and Sister Janet Mock, the executive-director, walk in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican (Reuters / Max Rossi)

Following the report, Vatican administered a LCWR reform and appointed Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain and two other bishops to oversee a rewriting of the conference's statutes, to review its plans and programs, approve speakers and ensure the group properly follows Catholic prayer and ritual.

The Vatican crackdown raised a wave of popular support for the sisters. People held parish vigils, protested outside the Vatican's embassy in Washington and a US Congressional resolution commended the sisters for their service to the country.

Following Francis' election, LCWR expressed hope the harsh line will change. Francis has called for a more "tender" church and one that serves society's poorest - precisely the message the American sisters have stressed in their ministry in hospitals, hospices, soup kitchens and schools that serve some of the most marginalized in the US.

Leadership Conference of Women Religious represents more than 80% of the 57,000 Catholic nuns in the United States.

Despite their dashed hopes for a tender and ethical response, the LCWR said it had faith changes would come eventually. 

"We pray that these conversations may bear fruit for the good of the Church," their website comment stated.